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#379 Anti-Platonism and Moral Realism

July 20, 2014

Dr. Craig,

Congrats on finishing the first draft of twelve years of work on abstract objects and aseity.

Your Facebook announcement reads, "I now find anti-realism to be a more plausible position."

Can you be an anti-realist about some things and a realist about others? For example, do you no longer give the realist resolution to the Euthyphro Dilemma, no longer ground the Good in God's nature? Couldn't abstract objects be grounded in the Logos (divine, rather than Platonic, essentialism)?

Thank you for all you do for Christ and his Kingdom!

Maryann Spikes, President
The Christian Apologetics Alliance

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Dr. craig’s response


Thanks, Maryann, for giving me the opportunity to clarify my position on this issue! The short answer to your question is, No, I haven’t changed my mind about the proper resolution to the Euthyphro Dilemma. Let me explain.

The target of my work on divine aseity is not realism but Platonism. I reject the view that things like numbers, propositions, properties, and possible worlds are abstract objects existing independently of God because such a view is incompatible with God’s status as the sole ultimate reality. My anti-Platonism is right in line with my rejection of what I have called Atheistic Moral Platonism, the view that moral values are Platonic abstract objects. In my published work I have pressed three objections against Atheistic Moral Platonism.[1]

So when I say that objective moral values and duties exist, the emphasis is not on metaphysics but on the objectivity, as opposed to the mere subjectivity, of moral values and duties. I mean to claim that certain things are objectively good/evil and certain actions objectively right/wrong. This is realism in a different sense of the word. Moral realism in this sense is the view that moral statements are objectively true or false. Moral realism in another sense is the view that there are mind-independent objects out there which are moral values or duties and which must be included in your ontological inventory of things. I’m a moral realist in the first but not the second sense.

What, then, makes moral statements objectively true or false? God Himself, a concrete object if ever there was one! He is the paradigm of moral goodness, and His commands to us constitute our moral duties. Thus, Platonism is avoided, the objectivity of moral goodness and duties secured, and the Euthyphro Dilemma adroitly circumvented.

Now I have no theological beef with non-Platonic realism, such as divine Conceptualism, which takes things like numbers, propositions, properties, and possible worlds to be grounded, as you note, in the Logos, as thoughts in the mind of God. Similarly, one could say that justice, for example, is a divine thought and is an objective moral good because God Himself is just. Or one could drop the Conceptualist part and simply affirm that it is objectively good to be just because God is just. I never meant to affirm anything more than this latter claim.

As for your question, “Can you be an anti-realist about some things and a realist about others?,” not only can one be a realist about certain entities but not about others, one can even be a Platonist about some entities and not about others! So long as the abstract objects are created rather than uncreated, God’s unique aseity is not challenged. So, we may ask, are there any created abstract objects? Certainly things like numbers, propositions, properties, and possible worlds, if they existed, would be uncreated. But what about certain art objects, like literary works and musical compositions? According to Christy Uidhir in his recent book Art and Abstract Objects,[2] the standard view in aesthetics today is that there are such things as art abstracta and that artworks are of necessity created objects. It follows, then, that some artworks are created abstract objects. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is, on this view, an abstract object created by Beethoven which is multiply instantiated in various copies and performances. Like Uidhir himself, I’m not inclined to realism about such abstract art objects (though I am in a different sense a realist about aesthetic statements’ being objectively true or false!), but I have no theological objection to them. If you want them in your ontology, help yourself.

Similarly, I now tend to see Conceptualism as superfluous, if not objectionable, with regard to things like numbers, propositions, properties, and possible worlds. The same would be true of moral values. The important point is that the objectivity of moral truths is based in God, not abstract entities independent of God.

  • [1]

    Reasonable Faith (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2008), pp. 178-9.

  • [2]

    Christy Mag Uidhir, “Introduction: Art, Metaphysics, and the Paradox of Standards,” in Art and Abstract Objects, ed. Christy Mag Uidhir (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 7.

- William Lane Craig