Monday

A disagreement with Plato's view of 'a priori' morality

Plato’s theory of a priori knowledge is different from Paul’s view that God’s law is written on the hearts of people. Plato’s theory rests on the fact that people’s souls are reincarnated into different bodies with prior knowledge that must be awakened in order for recollection to occur. Paul’s view, on the other hand, is that moral law is written on people’s hearts. Humans are awakened to that law as they “use their faculties correctly” (Pojman, 44), or as they follow their consciences. Rene Descartes referred to this as the “natural light of reason.” As people follow what they innately know to be correct, they become more moral. Perhaps this light of reason will eventually lead human beings into a relationship with God as they walk in the light that they are given.

Soren Kierkegaard said that humans “have innate knowledge of God’s existence, free will and immortality” (Pojman, 44-45). One can see this innate knowledge of free will in the behavior of a two year old as he or she struggles against authority to get his or her own way. The innate knowledge of God’s existence is also demonstrated in the openness of a child’s heart to God’s love as it is made known to them. An innate knowledge of immortality is evident in the hopes expressed when a loved one dies. “He/She’s in a better place,” people will often say.

I find it difficult to believe Plato’s theory based on the experience in geometry with Menos’ uneducated slave. Just because a person is uneducated does not mean that he or she is incapable of grasping a concept when guided by a series of questions. In this case Menos and Plato (Socrates) are assuming that the slave has no intelligence because he was uneducated. They assumed that his intelligence had to come from something obscure like a prior life. Plato’s theory assumes that human beings are not equipped with distinct gifts and natural intelligence. This against the Biblical view of human nature, that humans were created in the image of God intelligently, morally and spiritually. Because of this, humans are able to reason, to worship and to choose between right and wrong.

If humans have God’s law written on their hearts, then they would have a priori morality. Because Paul said in Romans 2 that even Gentiles had a law written on their hearts, every human being would possess a priori morality. This would mean, as Professor Bankard said in reaction to my CAP paper, that every human has the ability to act in a moral manner. By choosing or not choosing to do so, human beings display free will. Plato’s theory makes it sound like human beings have no free will. They can possess only that to which they are awakened. This, then, puts the responsibility of morality outside of free will. We can easily put the blame for our actions on someone else like a parent, a teacher or even Satan.