Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Aesthetic Argument

The aesthetic argument for God's existence is an intriguing subset of the teleological (design) argument. Think of the following:

1. Music displays simplicity in diversity. (Premise)

2. Simplicity in diversity is beautiful. (Premise)

3. Therefore, music is beautiful. (From 1 and 2)

What makes a song so aesthetically pleasing? If it were all the same (simplicity), it would be boring. If it were all different (diversity), it would be chaotic. It is the combination of these two elements that makes music beautiful to the listener.

Consider now the laws of nature. They are simple (e.g. Newton's law of universal gravitation) throughout a great diversity of objects. This makes the laws of nature beautiful.

4. The laws of nature display simplicity in diversity. (Premise)

6. Therefore, the laws of nature are beautiful. (From 2 and 4)

7. Beauty is the product of design. (Premise)

8. Therefore, the laws of nature are the product of design. (From 6 and 7)

Music isn't beautiful by chance alone, much less by some physical necessity (law). Rather, music is the expression of a personal agent, such as Mozart or Bach. What this suggests is a parallel of design between music and the laws of nature. Given that both exemplify beauty, we may infer that the laws of nature are the way they are because of the design of a personal* agent.

*Or in the view of Christians, tri-personal.


  1. From Facebook:

    Me: "Mike, what do you think about a hybrid moral/desire argument for God that goes (in super-truncated form) like this: to will is to will the good; to will the good is to believe that The Good per se exists to be willed; hence, to will good at... all proves the existence of the Good Itself, which we call God; hence, to will prove that God exists, and exists as the ultimate good. ?

    "A sub-argument: to will well is to will what is taken to be good; only if one believes there is something which is To-Be-Good itself can one really believe one is "willing good"; hence, to will good is to will God; all willing is to will good; hence all willing is to will God; hence all willing proves God exists. ? I'm going from Thomas' Commentary on the Sentences Articles 1 and 2. Too Lonergian for you? Love you, hope to hear from you. I guess those hot dogs had some use."

    M. Liccione: "I doubt this premise: "only if one believes there is something which is To-Be-Good itself can one really believe one is "willing good." That's a psychological generalization for which there is no empirical evidence."

    Me: "By Lonergian I meant Lonerganian, or however his species of thought is described.

    The point of that premise is that, a relativist, who denies the existence of "absolute good," cannot genuinely will x as an absolute good, and hence can only ...will x as something he knows to be not absolutely good. Ask him why he wills x. He'll say because x is good. But x is only supposedly good on his own relativism, so he can't consistently say he's willing something good, since for him "good per se" is a fiction. As a result, willing x, as something one knows is not truly and wholly good, equates to willing something bad (since not willing good is willing bad). I think the footwork comes in keeping "absolutely," "truly," wholly," and "intrinsically" clear and consistent. I don't think it's a general assumption about psychology, but an intrinsic feature of willing. More thinkering...."

    Liccione: "In that case, the point is conceptual not psychological: a relativist can will what appears to him to be good, but qua relativist he cannot give a self-consistent account of what's "truly" good. But that just builds the conclusion into the premise."

    Me: "I knew you were going to say that, about the conclusion in the premise. That's my worry too in a more extended post I hope to put on my blog. I realize you're not much taken with retorsive arguments but I also have a hunch you'd like to see... an argument from desire that works well. That's what I'm going for. Having said that, I'm very curious what you make of Thomas' claims in his commentary on the Sentences (and other places) about God as the ultimate aim of the will. Do you think that is possibly a sound *philosophical* position to take? Or is it by nature an instance of theology being the handmaiden to philosophy? I.e., informing reason by faith that the will only finds rest in God."

    Me again, later: "Dear Mike, What I'm saying is, Thomas not only claims God is present as the ultimate end of every act of willing, and as the ultimate form of every act of reasoning, but also grounds his account of free will based on the former, so I would love to hear more about how to mount these positions 800 years later without "r...etorsive" tactics. I think [James] Ross could have mounted these claims in a respectably analytic way, but he is no longer with us. Perennis should start up again. Love,"

    You've written about the arg from desire before, so I wanted you input here. I do intend to post something more substantive at FCA about all this, wtih a fair share of quotations from Thomas.


  2. I think you're on the right track. A lot of what you write is already implicit or explicit in the Fourth Way. An argument from desire need not grapple with axiology or the objectivity of goodness, however. You can do an end-run around the relativist's objection by pointing out that everyone desires happiness. Even someone who commits suicide desires happiness; otherwise he/she wouldn't be committing suicide.

    Yet, everyone also desires nothing-but-happiness - what I call "perfect happiness" - with no admixture of sadness. Now, given that this is a universally-held desire, all we need to demonstrate is the following premise:

    1. Every innate, universal desire corresponds to a reality that can satisfy it. (Premise)


    2. Perfect happiness is an innate, universal desire. (Premise)

    3. Therefore, the desire for perfect happiness corresponds to a reality that can satisfy it. (From 1 and 2)

    I attempt to demonstrate (1) by induction. For hunger, there is food; for curiosity, there is knowledge; for sexual desire, there is sex; and so forth.

    All that remains to be shown is that (3) is more plausible on theism than on atheism, and this can be done easily. Nothing in this world can satisfy the desire for perfect happiness, given the temporary and limited nature of this world. This is why C.S. Lewis quips, I must have been made for another world.