William Lane Craig says he does not know how they would respond to his three points against Atheistic Moral Platonism

In this video Craig offers three criticisms to what he calls atheistic moral Platonism.

(I suspect Christian Platonists about morality, like Terence Cuneo, would object to this term. And, I have never seen any metaethicist ever use this term. It should simply be called Moral Platonism or a robust non-naturalism à la Enoch, as opposed to Parfit’s Quietism.)

When asked by a questioner, Craig says that he does not know how the atheist moral Platonist would reply to his three criticisms. Really? I don’t expect Craig to accept their reply, but I find it odd that he wouldn’t even know how they would reply. I’ll quote Craig’s criticisms in full then offer standard replies.

Criticism 1: The view seems unintelligible. What does it mean to say, for example, that the moral value justice, just exists? It’s hard to make sense of this. It’s easy to understand what it means to say that some person is just, but it’s bewildering when somebody says that, in the absence of any people, justice itself just exists. It becomes even more bewildering when you reflect on the fact that justice itself is not just anymore than loyalty is loyal or intemperateness is intemperate. So, if there were no people around who are just, then how could justice exist? It seems like there wouldn’t be any justice, this abstract object is not just, there aren’t any just people, so justice wouldn’t seem to exist, which contradicts the view that justice just exists on its own as an idea. Moral values seems to be properties of persons, and so it’s hard to understand how moral values like justice can exist as an abstraction.

Reply: This first criticism doesn’t seem to be specifically about atheism or morality, but about Platonism from someone with Aristotelian leanings.  (Briefly, on Platonism, there are external abstract properties that are exemplified by particulars, and there are such things and unexemplified properties.  On the Aristotelian view, all properties are immanent in the particular, and there are no unexemplified properties.)  We can equally imagine Craig saying: It’s easy to understand what it means to say that some concrete object is red, but it’s bewildering when somebody says that, in the absence of any concrete objects, redness itself just exists. Since one of Craig’s philosophical specialties has to do with abstract objects, I’m sure he’s heard of the third man argument; so he should know the reply. The idea is that it seems to the Aristotelian that the form of red must itself be red, but, then it seems we need another form to account for the redness of the form of red and we’re off to an infinite regress, in which case Platonism never solves the original problem of accounting for the redness of a particular, say, an apple. One reply, given here and here, is to say:

Plato’s theory of forms proposes that for any irreducible simple element F exhibited by particulars, the primary function of the form F is to explain (give being or existence to) the F-ness of those particulars that partake of F.   Specifically excluded from Plato’s description is any attempt to explain the F-ness of F.   Plato does not open the possibility of an infinite regress of forms of F-ness, each of which explaining the F-ness of the forms of F-ness below it in the hierarchy.   The form of F can explain the F-ness of the original plurality of F particular things.   But it cannot explain the F-ness of F.   That requires no explanation because he maintains that F-ness is equivalent / identical to F.   Hence, the move in the Third Man Argument to demand a “higher level”Form in order to explain the F-ness of the larger set of things that includes the Form of F is specifically invalid.

Criticism 2: Secondly, this view provides no basis for moral duties. It tries to give a basis for moral values, but it has nothing to say by way of an explanation of our moral duties. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that moral values like justice, loyalty, mercy, forebearance, and so on, just exist. How does that result in any moral obligations for me? Why would I have a moral duty to be, say, merciful? Who or what lay such an obligation on me? Notice that on this view moral vices such as greed, hatred, rapacity, selfishness, and sloth also exist as abstractions. So, why are we morally obligated to align our lives with one set of these abstractions rather than with some other set of these abstractions. Atheistic moral Platonism, lacking a moral law giver, has no grounds for moral obligation.

Reply: Craig says that our moral duties are constituted by divine commands, but in the 17th century, theologian Ralph Cudworth noticed that this type of divine command theory cannot account for all moral obligations.  (This criticism survives today and is talked about by metaethicists like David Baggett, C.S. Evans, and Terence Cuneo.)  It seems that Craig would agree that we’re obligated to obey God’s commands, but what accounts for that obligation? On a DCT, where all duties are constituted by God’s commands, God would have to command us to obey his commands in order for us to be obligated to obey his commands. But why are we obligated to obey that 2nd order command? God would have to command us again, and we’re off onto an infinite regress. It seems, for Craig, there has to be at least one obligation that can’t be accounted for by God’s command—namely, the obligation to obey God’s commands—in which case DCT is false. Maybe it’s just a necessary truth that we’re obligated to obey God’s commands, but that opens the door to say that it’s a necessary truth that we’re obligated to follow the golden rule (or whatever). If at least one obligation is not accounted for by a command, it wouldn’t be queer, in the Mackian sense, that a second is.

Criticism 3: And, finally, number three, it’s fantastically improbable that the blind evolutionary process should spit forth precisely those sorts of creatures who correspond to the abstractly existing realm of moral values. This seems to be an utterly incredible coincidence when you think about it. Remember that this realm of moral values as an abstract realm is utterly independent of the natural realm. It is causally unconnected with the natural realm. So how is it that exactly that kind of creature should emerge from the blind evolutionary process that corresponds to this independently existing moral realm. It’s almost as though the moral realm knew that we were coming. I think that it’s far more plausible to think that both the natural realm and the moral realm are under the authority of a God, who gave us both the natural laws and the moral law, than to think that these two independent realms of reality just happen by coincidence to mesh. So for those reasons, I think that atheistic moral Platonism is a less plausible theory of ethical values and duties than is theism.

Reply: Here, there seems to be two criticisms: (1) an epistemological problem for platonists, (2) an argument similar to Plantinga’s EAAN. As for (1), one way for the Platonist to reply, for abstract objects in general, is given by Michael Loux in his Metaphysics A Contemporary Introduction book:

And they will argue that the Aristotelian’s contention that the Platonist faces insoluble epistemological problems is overblown. They will insist that while some universals have no instances in the spatiotemporal world, many do; and they will claim that our knowledge of exemplified universals can be captured by a thoroughgoing empiricism. As they see it, we come to have cognitive access to these universals simply by experiencing the spatiotemporal particulars that exemplify them; whatever other knowledge we have of universals is grounded in our knowledge of these exemplified universals. Thus, we come to know about some unexemplified universals by extrapolation from our empirically based knowledge of instantiated properties, kinds, and relations (p. 43).

On how “moral realm knew that we were coming”, the most famous reply is David Enoch’s pre-established harmony—to borrow a phrase from Leibniz. The idea is that there is a pre-established harmony between what is evolutionarily advantageous and what is good—a happy coincidence.  For another, similar reply, see Knut Olav Skarsaune’s Darwin and Moral Realism.  Skarsaune proposes that:

if pleasure is usually good and pain usually bad, then the required relation between evolutionary pressures and the evaluative facts (realistically understood) exists [since] evolution has caused us to value reproductively beneficial things by making us such that we take pleasure in these things, and caused us to disvalue reproductively harmful things by making us such that these things cause us pain. … But now if … pleasure is usually good (for the subject), then to the extent that evolution has influenced our evaluative beliefs through the mechanism just described, that influence has been truth-conducive.

As for (2), the literature on Plantinga’s EAAN is vast—too much for me to want to repeat here.  See James Beilby’s Naturalism Defeated and Plantinga & Tooley’s Knowledge of God.

The point isn’t that these replies to Craig are good (I’m skeptical of reply 1 and 3), but that it is odd that Craig would say that he’s not aware of the responses.

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