Constitutive v. Regulative Rules in the Church

Are the rules of Mormonism constitutive or regulative? The distinction comes John Searle’s justly famous article “How to Derive ‘Ought’ from ‘Is'” (Searle borrowed the terminology from Kant). He wrote:

Some rules regulate antecedently existing forms of behavior. For example, the rules of polite table behavior regulate eating, but eating exists independently of those rules. Some rules, on the other hand, do not merely regulate but create or define new forms of behavior: the rules of chess, for example, do not merely regulate an antecedently existing activity called playing chess; they, as it were, create the possibility of or define that activity. The activity of playing chess is constituted by action in accordance with these rules. Chess has no existence apart from these rules. . . . Regulative rules regulate activities whose existence is independent of the rules; constitutive rules constitute (and also regulate) forms of activity whose existence is logically dependent on the rules.*

Mormonism, it seems to me, is at least in part a normative activity. It has certain rules. The question is what sort of rules are they. Are they rules that simply govern how one behaves in a Mormon context, or are they in fact that context? My working hypothesis is that certain sorts of Mormon rules are simply regulative, while others are constitutive. This matters because it changes how one thinks about breaking theses rules. Consider, for example, the rules governing baptism and the rule that you ought to wear a white shirt while passing the sacrament. It would be nonsensical, I think, to sprinkle an infant while insisting that one was performing a Mormon baptism. On the other hand, it would be equally nonsensical, I think, to suggest that someone who passes the sacrament in a blue shirt has not “really” passed the sacrament. Thus, it seems to me that constitutive and regulative rules have differing claims on us. To violate a constitutive rule is at a very fundamental level to repudiate the practice that one is engaged in. The violation of regulative rules, on the other hand, simply involves a repudiation of the particular pragmatic judgments embodied by those rules.

It is tempting at this point to think that the distinction that I am getting at is normative, ie constitutive rules are rules that I think are good while regulative rules are rules that I think are bad. However, I think that the distinction has more analytic bite than that. For example, even if I believe that the sacrament prayers would be better were they phrased in less exalted and inaccessible language, it is nevertheless the case that I can’t use an alterative prayer of my own composition and still claim that I am blessing the sacrament in the Mormon sense. Ordinances are, of course, the easiest sort of constitutive rules to identify, but I think that we would make a mistake if we thought that the distinction simply tracked the distinction between rules of ordinances and other rules. The most powerful illustration of this is the simple fact that the method of performing ordinances has evolved over time. The question then becomes how one identifies the proper formula for an ordinance. The answer to this question, of course, is Church Doctrine (whatever that might mean). If this is right, however, then the fact that we think of certain aspects of Mormonism as being governed by constitutive rules — ie ordinances — necessarily implies that Church Doctrine operates as a set of background constitutive rules, which means there is an important sense in which to reject Church Doctrine is to reject the practice of Mormonism at a very fundamental level. It is not simply a matter of disagreeing with this or that policy, but rather is more akin to playing checkers rather than chess.

*John R. Searle, “How to Derive ‘Ought’ From ‘Is’,” 73 Philosophical Review 43, 55 (1964).

43 comments for “Constitutive v. Regulative Rules in the Church

  1. So members who support the church and follow the rules, but quietly disagree with certain doctrines……are de facto apostate?

  2. I agree that most of Mormonism is constitutive, not regulative. The General Handbook of Instructions is a good example of regulative rules. Virtually all of the Doctrine and Covenants, on the other hand is constitutive.

    So constitutive are the commandments, doctrines and ordinances of God, in my opinion, that a sufficiently substantive change in them would make salvation, as we understand it, impossible. i.e. those ordinances (in the general sense) do not only define what it means to be Mormon, they define or constitute the requirements of salvation itself. (That is why other denominations ordinances and creeds will not suffice – the Lord has something very particular in mind the substance of which those forms do not satisfy)

  3. Searle’s distinction seems problematic to me.

    Rather than chess, consider football. Football evolved over the years from games with varied rules that involved two groups of people somehow trying to advance some sort of ball. This eventually led to quite different forms of football: american football, soccer (“association football”), rugby, etc. At no point in these developments would we deny that the players were playing football. So there is no single rule, or even set of rules, that can be said to be logically necessary to football. What what is required at every stage of development is that there are some rules that are agreed upon by the players at that stage.

    Maybe rather than making distinctions between different kinds of rules, it would be better to observe that some activities (games, ordinances) are by their nature constituted by rules more strongly than others. The difference is how the activity is defined, rather than the nature of the rules themselves. Most every rule could be said to be “consitutive” simply by defining an activity that requires adherence to that rule. It’s not that the rules of table manners are by their nature less “constitutive,” but merely that the activity “eating” does not require them. We might well talk about an activitiy (e.g. “dining”) that does require adherence to such rules.

    As you note, mormon ordinances have changed over time. I’d say some of the changes have been about as great as if baptism were changed from immersion to sprinkling. If the church leaders declared that baptism would henceforth be done by sprinkling, then that would be baptism. Likewise, if the church leaders declared that the sacrament must be passed in a white shirt, then that would be the sacrament.

  4. Without leaving a sustained opinion, I merely note that constituitive rules can change to, and remain constitutive, since groups themselves experiences changes. Everyone just has to agree that the rule is still constitutive, though it is different.

  5. Searle’s distinction is a failed attempt to overcome the naturalistic fallacy, which states that you can’t deduce “ought” type statements from facts. The basic difference between the constitutive statement and the regulative statement is that the constitutive statement hides it’s normative content in tacit assumptions.

    There are two ways to address this. Ayer or Russell are going to say that the tacit assumptions keep the premises from being purely factual, and will try to break out the assumptions with something approximating a formalization.

    Carnap is going to view this as a proposal for how to use language. Specifically, we should use it in such a way that “ought” type statements follow from constitutive statements. It is easily shown, however, that languages that block such a deduction have a more richer, more expressive semantic than those that do not.

    I agree with Ayer and Russell, though Carnap’s argument is handy to show that Searle’s endeavor is not a very clever one to begin with.

  6. Mike: Congratulations, once again you have managed to misunderstand what I was saying.

    DKL: Searle would argue that the hidden tacit assumption is a tautology, and therefore it’s being tacit or not does not undermine his point. He would argue that it is tautalogical to say something like, “If one is playing chess, one ought to obey the rules of chess.” In this context, it is tautalogical because rule following is what it means to play. Nevertheless, “playing chess” is a fact about the world. I can look at two people hunched over a 64-squre board and determine whether or not they are playing chess or playing checkers. I think that Searle has the better of the argument because I think that there are certain sorts of institutions that can be identified as a matter of social fact which are also inherently normative. The real problem with Searle’s argument, it seems to me, is that the ought that he gets from his is is quite weak, and comes no where near filling out the richer sorts of oughts that we ordinarily encounter.

    Ed: Your criticism rests on two problematic assumptions. The first is that when we are talking about american football, rugby and the like we are talking about the same thing. I think that Searle would both agree and disagree. He would agree that the rules of American football are not constitutive of rugby, but he would argue that this is because they are different games. He would nevertheless agree that football and rubgy are both instances of the same class, but I don’t know that he would claim that the class has constitutive rules.

    The question is whether something like an ordinance that changes over time is like rugby and American football, ie a matter of family resemblences rather than shared constitutive rules, or whether there is some set of meta-rules that are constitutive of both the ordinance before and after change. I think that there is such a meta-rule, and your gesture toward the prophet announcing that baptism will hereby occur via sprinkling implicitly acknowledges such a rule. You are not claiming that an ordinance can simply drift from one form to another form over time and remain the same, but rather are claiming that there is some procedure by which constitutive change can be differentiated from non-constitutive change.

  7. Nate, once Searle concedes that the hidden tacit normative assumption indeed makes it a tautology, then he’s effectively conceded his normative declarative statement is masquerading as a purely factual one.

    Carnap goes further. By taking Searle’s argument as a purely linguistic proposal. Thus, he’d break down your example as follows (using the name Bob for our hypothetical chess player):

    S1: Bob is playing chess.
    S2: Bob ought to follow the rules of chess.

    In Searle’s proposed language (we’ll call it L1), we can infer S2 from S1 without ambiguity. In Carnap’s proposed language (we’ll call it L2), this will not follow. Carnap’s proposed language requires a third sentence:

    S3: One ought to follow the rules of the game one is playing.

    Thus, Carnap’s language (L2) will allow the inference of S2 from S1 + S3. Which demonstrates that S1 in Searle’s language (L1) is logically equivalent to the following sentence in Carnap’s language (L2):

    S1´ (S1 prime): Bob is playing chess, and one ought to follow the rules of the game one is playing.

    Searle’s language (L1) holds S1 to be semantically equivilent to S1´. Consequently, there is no sentence is L1 expressing the meaning that S1´ has in Carnap’s language (L2). This shows the disadvantage of Searle’s language.

    To this it may be objected that Searle’s language more closely follows normal usage. Perhaps, but to quote Carnap:

    A philosophical thesis on logic or language, in contrast to a psychological or linguistic thesis, is not intended to assert anything about the speaking or thinking habits of the majority of people, but rather something about possible kinds of meanings and the relations between these meanings. In other words, a philosophical thesis does not talk about the haphazard features of natural languages, but about meaning relations, which can best be represented with the help of a constructed language.

    Moreover, Carnap’s tidy little peice of analysis points to the fact that there are enough loaded meanings (loaded in the sense that Searle’s languag [L1] loads S1´) in common usage to support the embedding of nearly any un-controversial normative construct into ostensibly factual statements, creating what Searle calls constitutive statements.

    This is why I think that Searle is simply wrong on the relationships of the meanings and the distinctions that he imputes to the constitutive statements he describes.

  8. I don’t think chess (or anything that is strictly synthetic for that matter) is a very good example, because there are no apparent constraints on how we might modulate the rules of chess, and still have the game be chess-like.

    The kingdom of heaven is not like that. We cannot just have any rules whatsoever and still be like heaven, or even have any of the essential / defining properties of heaven.

    For example, God could not save mankind, nor establish his kingdom on a principle of hate, idleness, disobedience, or destruction. Each principle, if advocated as such, is sufficient to destroy the work of God, and God does not have any choice in the matter. All four of those principles inevitably characterize damnation, however.

    So as I see it, a regulative principle is something that God (or his servants here on earth) has extensive discretion over form and manner, without destroying the essential aspects of the ultimate objective – e.g. loving unity in the kingdom of heaven.

    For example, God could change the visible form of various ordinances, but if he changes the substance of the covenants, it would almost certainly be necessary to make compensating changes, because the kingdom of God cannot be built up without covenants and laws, in the general sense of the terms. e.g. that which is governed by law is perfected and sanctified by the same.

    A second example is that the kindgom of heaven cannot be established without a suffering atonement. God does not have the discretion to decree that neither Christ nor his Saints should suffer. Without suffering, service, and sacrifice, both spiritual and temporal, there is nor can be no salvation nor exaltation. All would be fallen and all would be lost except for the Atonement that must be made.

    As such the Atonement, laws as such, and covenants, in the general sense, are consitutitive, not regulative principles of the kingdom of heaven. They are a sine qua non of salvation, and the reason why they are essential is ultimately tied back to natural law of matter, spirit and intelligence.

    The ought of love is not properly speaking a natural law, but a divine one. However the consequence of not loving, is indeed a natural law, an unalterable ‘is’, not an ‘ought’.

  9. re: 6 Do I get some kind of award for that? At least I waded through the whole thing and thought about it. Anyway, I should not have commented. Way too much arcane content in this particular string.

  10. Yes, Mike, you get an award. Sorry that I was so curt. I am not trying to call anyone an apostate in this thread. I am trying to figure out if a particular set of philosophical concepts can make sense out of what it might mean for Church Doctrine to be normative, and the particular way in which Church Doctrine is normative. You’ll notice that my suggested conclusion at the end of the post was not a stinging inditement of those who have reservations about Church Doctrine. The point of the conversation is really not to make doubters feel bad, or to brand the heterodox as evil. I do have a basic intuition that by participating in the “Mormon game” you have certain obligations. I am trying to make sense of the source of those obligations. It’s philosophy not an indictment.

  11. DKL: It seems to me that Searle’s point is not that S1′ is impossible in Searle’s language, but that Searle asserts that the statement “S1 and not S2” is logically contradictory. It seems to me that S1′ can be said in Searle’s language without difficulty. It is simply tautalogical and redudent to say so. He is making a claim about the logical relationship of meaning, not about common usage or pyschology.

  12. Nate, that’s exactly the shortcoming that I’m identifying in Searle’s proposed language. Saying that S1´ is redundant in Searle’s language is exactly the same as saying that it’s semantically equivalent to S1. It’s exactly the fact that it is redundant that indicates the semantic hole created by Searle’s proposed deduction.

    We’re in agreement about the fact that Searle is getting after the relationships between meaning. With the Carnap quote, I intended to anticipating an objection that Searle, Austin, Sellars and others sometimes made to the use of artificial constructions to illustrate the logical relationships of meaning elements.

  13. I tend to agree with DKL up to a point in this. Although the Wittgensteinean point might be an appeal to the referees of the game. That is at what point is one simply not playing the game correctly and at what point is one playing an other game? If I move my knight up three and across one have I stopped playing chess or have I merely played it wrong? The sense of “ought” seems tied to that question. Put an other way there seems

    I suspect one could reformulate DKL’s “Carnap pretending” to imply a question of what it means to play a game. I think one could easily say that to play a game entails that one ought follow the rules of the game. That is wrapped up in what it means to play.

    I do clearly disagree with Carnap about constructed versus natural languages though. But I’ll not get into that sense I’m not sure one can discuss this issue without ending up in natural languages. Artificial languages are useful but I’m not sure can tell us much in this area since the question is so tied up with natural languages.

    Mark, it’s interesting you take the approach you do given your Ockhamist view of God. To what degree could God change the rules to get to heaven? This is related to what we talked about at my blog yesterday. If God can change the rules of heaven (i.e. they are under his power) doesn’t that affect the debate? Or are you merely for the sake of discussion holding God’s actions static?

  14. Way too much straining at gnats here. I like Mark Butler’s comments. We all sense that there is some kind of hierarchy of rules in the Kingdom. For example, I do my best to follow the Word of Wisdom, particularly the points that allow me to qualify for a Temple recommend. However, I would in no way place the WoW in the same class as the commandment to love my neighbor as myself, which to me seems clearly to be an essential element of my covenant with Christ.

    I don’t believe the thinking about church rules in a hierarchy should be done to justify the breaking of the rules. Rather, it should be done to help one know how to allocate one’s energy and resources.

  15. DKL & Clark: I suppose that I really don’t get Carnap’s point about having a richer and more expressive language. If we have some language that allows us to assert logical contradictions as true, there is a sense in which it is “richer” than a language that allows us to do otherwise, but this doesn’t make the assertion of logical contradictions any less nonsensical. It seems to me that you have to deploy a real argument about why Searle is wrong for assuming that play entails obligation. I don’t see that lauding the richness of imaginary languages gets you there.

    I think that the Russell-Ayer claim that statements like “He is playing chess” are not purely factual makes more sense. I am really less interested in arguments over the supposed naturalistic fallacy than in understanding the ethics of game playing and cheating. I think that Searle is correct in claiming that a statement like “He is playing chess” necessarily means something like “He is acting in purported accordance with the rules of chess,” in other words that the activity necessarily involves an orientation toward a certain set of rules such that those rules have normative force. Other wise, we aren’t playing chess, we’re just pushing little statues aimlessly around a board.

    For example, I have been “playing chess” with my son for about a year. Initially playing chess meant something like “playing with chess men like they were toys from Happy Meals.” IOW, just playing with them as fun shapes or toys. Later, he grasped that the pieces were related to the board, and were supposed to stand on the squares. Later still, he grasped turn taking. And so on. He now knows how all of the pieces move with the exception of more esoteric moves like castling or the en passant rule. He also has a basic grasp of the object of the game (kill the other guy’s king). His understanding of these rules, however, is necessarily normative. He understands that you aren’t allowed to move a pawn backwards, etc. etc. I am not sure if he is really playing chess quite yet, but it seems to me that the answer to that question hinges on the extent to which he both understands the rules and object of the game and accepts those rules as binding while playing.

  16. Reach Upward: What makes you think that the point of this exercise is to justify breaking rules? No one has suggested that…

  17. Clark, there is clearly a threshold past which one ceases to play chess. For example, if I decide that Queens can move only one square and rooks can move diagonally, then I think it’s pretty clear I’ve created (at the very least) a variation on “traditional chess.” On the other hand, pointing to the Goodrich Blimp to divert your opponent while you surreptitiously relocate your pawn to a more advantageous position is pretty easily chalked up to mere cheating.

    But I’m pretty sure that the location of this threshold doesn’t have anything to do with the question at hand (I’ve posted a pretty long quote from Popper that reflects my feeling about the value of precision and definitions as such over at Purim; in this case I think asking about the threshold for playing chess is a bit like asking “what measures the Metre stick in Paris?” in response to a question about the world record in the 100 meter dash.) Nobody posited any situations that problematize the location of the threshold, so for the purposes of this discussion, it’s best to accept that the threshold exists, and leave the location of the threshold as an entirely separate matter.

  18. Clark: Doesn’t your question about incorrect playing and new games hinge on the way in which the rules are established. For example, if you and I sit down to play chess and we decide that we aren’t going to play with the en passant rule I take it that there is no problem with our doing so. Our game, however, would not be considered chess for purposes of a FIDE ranking. I’m not sure that we can get any deeper in our answer than that. I don’t think that there is some Platonic version of chess that we must correspond to in order to really be playing chess. On the other hand, our agreement to dispense with the en passant rule seems like a very different sort of thing than our sitting down to play FIDE ranked chess and then insisting that the en passant rule does not apply. This seems contradictory to me. Playing FIDE ranked chess necessarily implies that the en passant rule applies because the constitutive rules of the game are subject to clear procedures for their change, and the eradication of the en passant rule has not gone through those procedures.

    The question of whether or not sprinkling can be a proper Mormon baptism is not answered, I take it, but trying to figure out what the essence of Mormon baptism is like. Rather, it is done by looking to the constitutive rules of Mormonism, which I take to be Church Doctrine. CD, of course, is a necessarily muddy and imprecise set of norms, but that simply means that the scope of our obligations when playing the Mormon game are muddy and imprecise. I don’t see that muddy imprecision, however, necessarily changes the validity of the claim that the normativity of the rules flows (at least in part — I am fine with finding other sources of normativity) from the fact that we are playing the game.

  19. Nate, Carnap, Russell, and Ayer are basically making the same statement. The response to Russell and Ayer (for example, by virtue ethicists like Alistaire MacIntyre’s) is to say their reasoning is circular. Specifically, they start with the assumption that all normative conclusions must have normative premises, and then proceed to analyze language in a way that validates that claim. One has to embrace some form of linguistic realism to counter that argument (as Russell freely did, and Ayer later did with some reservation).

    Carnap’s tidy analysis is useful for showing exactly why it’s a bad idea to theorize about meaning in such a way that it allows the normative or optative statements to be deduced from factual statements. And he does so in a way that is agnostic to the baggage associated with the question of linguistic realism. Besides, you’re equivocating in the meaning of the sentences (between Searle’s proposed language and Carnap’s proposed language) to characterize Carnap’s language by saying, “that [the more granular approach] allows us to assert logical contradictions as true.”

  20. Nate, first my all important caveat – I just don’t study ethics. So I’m a bit out of my element here and apt to get something terribly wrong.

    When you say, “I think that Searle is correct in claiming that a statement like ‘He is playing chess’necessarily means something like ‘He is acting in purported accordance with the rules of chess'” is what is problematic. We don’t say someone misplaying a game is not playing the game. A basketball player who breaks a rule isn’t suddenly not playing the game. The referees impose penalties. For instance in our chess example if I mismove my knight my opponent tells me I can’t do that. But if I do make that mistake and my opponent were to tell me I wasn’t playing chess then clearly something wrong is going on.

    It is this fundamental undecidability over what is not playing the game and what is misplaying the game that I’m focusing in on.

    As I said I didn’t find DKL’s appeal to artificial languages helpful. But if I were to go that way it would probably be in a more Davidson sense of speaking of truth by a move to a metalanguage. That is an act of translation. The problem is that I personally don’t think natural languages can be translated to a finite artificial language. That is I think the problem of language some attempt is unsolvable in finite terms.

    But I agree with you that this is more of a tangent. I think it relevant perhaps precisely because Searle might be doing this translation attempt in a subtle way. And perhaps the problem of translation is also the problem of this undecidability I mentioned.

    Put an other way, are we sure we can decisively distinguish between the constitutive and the regulative?

  21. Manual trackback. It seems to me that Mormonism’s eternalistic ontology allows the possibility that regulative rules are more fundamental than constitutive ones, because there may ‘things’ that are backwardly eternal and independent of God, but not ‘rules’ (at least at the social if not physical level) that are backwardly eternal and independent of God. That is, Mormonism does not share the assumption of many other theologies that ‘things’ and ‘rules’ are created together by divine fiat.

    Also, I am not sure if it matters, because in an important sense it not up to us to decide what is normative or not—much less to say why.

  22. Nate (#18) — sorry that post appeared after I’d finished mine. (I’m debugging in an other window) On a fundamental level what I’m saying is that the decision seems not to be something objectively decideable at the point of the action. That is if I move my knight up three and over one we can’t at that point distinguish whether it is merely a mistake or a change of game. That’s what I mean by undecidability.

    Contra DKL (#17) I think this key to the discussion. The reason is that unless we engage in a dialog with the referrees of the game we can’t tell when something is regulative or constitutive. That is, as I see it, by looking at the rules and the play we can’t tell the regulative apart from the constitutive. Something more, beyond the game, is necessary. (For instance talking to the referrees about the game is really meta-talk about the game and not talk of the game)

    The reason I think this key is that I don’t think we can really say what is or isn’t regulative in church rules. And I think that has powerful implications.

    I’d note that this gets directly to Mark’s appeal to Ockham to understand LDS theology. While I personally doubt the Ockhamist reading of God in LDS theology I think the issue of what is fundamental and what is “expedience” is an important one. We might guess, for instance, that the Word of Wisdom isn’t constitutive due to the temporal issues. (i.e. the Word of Wisdom appears only to be in effect in its current state for about 100 years out of thousands) Thus one can infer that it isn’t constitutive. But, as others pointed out, the rules simply might have changed such that it is constitutive for the entire community.

    But unless we can engage in dialog with the referree (in this case God) we can’t really tell.

  23. Christian, could you expand? I’m not quite seeing what you are saying. Recall that constitutive rules need not be static. Consider for instance the rules of NBA basketball which change every few years. They are, however, still constitutive. But say the uniform of teams is regulative.

    I have a hard time seeing how eternalism entails regulative is fundamental. Recall that the debate isn’t over whether rules are akin to static platonic forms or some other real general. Far from it, although as I mentioned to Mark that can enter into the debate.

  24. Clark: The claim is not that a person who disobeys the rules is no longer playing the game, but rather that he ought not to disobey the rules. As for figuring out when you are misplaying a game and when you are playing another game, why can’t we simply look to intention and convention. If someone intends to play chess, and then distracts you with the good year blimp to push a pawn up one square, there is no problem in saying “He’s cheating.” The question is why is cheating wrong. I think that the answer has to be something like, cheating is wrong by virtue of playing the game. (There is nothing inherently wrong about moving a piece one way on a board rather than another way.) How can simply playing a game create obligations to follow the rules of the game? Because the act of playing is inherently normative. To play is to submit to the authority of the rules that constitute the game.

  25. Christian: The question I suppose is do we believe in eternal social institutions or eternal social practices, or does the uncreatedness of persons create the possiblity that even the eternal is conventional.

  26. Nate looking to intentions means looking beyond the game and can only be ultimately discerned through dialog. So you are making my point. The issue about “ought not disobey” though depends upon being able to decide if one is disobeying the game.

    Put an other way going back to DKL’s #7. Do we know when we are playing a game? Certainly in games like chess this is quite easy. In more complex games it is not so easy. In religious matters especially, I’d argue, it is quite difficult to discern the regulative from the constitutive.

    Christian, I’ve not had time to follow the link yet. I may make comments there.

  27. Over at his response to Nate Christian raises a great point. If something is essentially social and certain social conditions can’t be reduced to physicalism, then are they constitutive or regulative? I’m here thinking of some of Blake’s arguments for God’s nature developing out of the nature of relationships. It does seem to blur the distinctions.

    As I understand it constitutive doesn’t just mean convention but by nature. So there could be constitutive rules that aren’t conventional. (i.e. say in some schemes the fundamental laws of the universe)

    It’s a blurry area but it seems key to what Nate’s trying to establish.

  28. Nate’s original question: “The question is what sort of rules are they. Are they rules that simply govern how one behaves in a Mormon context, or are they in fact that context?”

    My main point is that it doesn’t make sense to talk about different kinds of rules, since any rule is only regulatory or constitutive relative to some defined activity (or context). For example, the rule “each player may take only a total of five minutes for his moves” might be seen as regulatory for “chess” but constitutive for “speed chess.”

    Furthermore, language will almost always be ambiguous enough that it won’t be clear whether a rule is “logically necessary” to an activity or not (see Sorites paradox). So for purposes of argument you may define the “Mormon context” activity however you like, but others may use the idea differently.

  29. Nate,
    I agree with the importance/interest of distinguishing between constitutive and regulative rules, but it sounds like you’ve simply rephrased or, rather, put into an ethical/legal context, the question of distinguising between doctrine and policy. I think the distinction between the two isn’t emphasized often enough. The sacrament prayer would likely be considered by most to be a matter of doctrine. The obligatory wearing of white shirts and (if you were a priesthood holder in my old Virginia ward) a blazer or suit coat while passing the sacrament, thankfully, is a matter of policy. Aren’t the constitutive v. regulative and doctrine v. policy arguments essentially the same?

  30. Clark (#13),

    [Trying to keep this relevant…]

    There are two way one can map Ockham’s theology to LDS theology. One is pretty much as is – making a very close mapping to Mormon neo-absolutism. The other way is with a surgical division between the absolute (unrestricted but timeless) and ordinate (restricted by the former, but temporal) power of God, and declare the timelessly absolute “power” to be natural law, and the ordinate power to be the basis of divine law. The second way is very much like classical Mormonism, (e.g. no ex nihilo creation, a precept neo-absolutists have a difficult time explaining).

    Now assuming that natural law is roughly akin to the laws of physics, plus the basic properties of eternal intelligences and the way thay interact, it is reasonably clear that prior to any social organization of any kind, the world “in the beginning” would be unmitigated chaos – a Hobbesian law of the jungle, every intelligence trying to do its own thing, a never ending conflict of wills. And all this despite natural laws such as conservation of energy, or the ones that make it impossible to accomplish much of anything without effort, and so on. To me this state is indicative of the natural man, even prior to the body as we know it, not that intelligences cannot desire what is right, there is no organization to prevent never ending conflict between intelligences with different desires – no social or divine law, in other words.

    Now I view divine law as a work of authorship on the part of the divine council, lead by the Most High. Now strictly speaking they can author whatever (ordinate, not natural) laws they want. However, unalterable natural laws constrain the degree to which leglislated ordinate laws will be effective in accomplishing their purpose, which is first and foremost to end the chaos in a way that all can have a reasoned liberty, be happy, and find joy.

    Now, arguendo, suppose they authored a moral law (ordinance was the original term) that one should hate his neighbor. That would fail, because hate not only preserves the initial chaos, it makes it far worse – destruction, interference, revenge on purpose, instead of by accident or as a natural weakness.

    There is no possible way, under the constraints of those natural laws, or truely unauthored, everlasting and unalterable eternal principles, that an ordinance or command to hate ones neighbor is going to bring about a society of peace and happiness.

    As such, love, which I believe is a naturally occurent, willed not necessary, phenomenon in its most primitive form, is an unavoidable constitutive principle of the kingdom of heaven. It is not the type of thing the divine council could legislate otherwise.

    Anything they can legislate otherwise, such that as long as everyone follows the same rules salvation is still possible, is a regulative principle. The visible form of the ordinances, or like Nate said whether one should wear a white shirt or a blue shirt, or all sorts of social conventions simply designed to promote harmony and unity, but which seem to have no other rationale of necessity, are the type of things I consider regulative. I believe most of the GHI falls into the latter category – they are policies, generally adopted on principles of expedience that might change at any time, according to the circumstances of the time.

    The sign of a fundamental doctrine of the Church, however, is that it cannot change its character very much without losing its salvific power, ultimately making the work of God a thing of naught. And it is on those things that we must be most careful about. i.e. the violation thereof is not only contrary to the will of God, it is contrary to the nature of an everlasting community of love and peace.

    And such a community can only be founded on the basis of willing social obedience to laws and principles, both constituitive and regulative. Anarchy is damnation. Obedience to properly authored divine laws is life and salvation – provided of course that all the members of the community do so, which is the reason why no unclean (disobedient, rebellious) thing can inherit the kingdom of God.

    [Hopefully that is revelant enough for the purposes of discussion here]

  31. DKL, The testimony of the scriptures, plus classical liberalism, human experience and history from the dawn of civilization, and so on. That is not scientific evidence, but there is extremely compelling pragmatic evidence about what makes a healthy society that is directly in line with the principles taught in the scriptures, and of course the historical accounts therein. There are also a broad variety of philosophical arguments, but that is probably essentially the same as classical liberalism.

    I brought up Ockham elsewhere because he largely set the theological foundation for religious classical liberalism a few centuries later, in two very important ways both relating to free will. At first the influence of that idea caused a practical medieval crack-up (antinomianism, loss of faith in the divine character), later on it practically distinguished the good side of the Protestant Reformation, plus much of Rennaisance humanism. (He doesn’t deserve all the credit here – Aquinas and others did a lot of good for the latter, for example, by promoting what I would call the ideal of the second nature, a divine nature of creation)

    Liberty under law just doesn’t have much intellectual currency in a world of static forms authored by a timeless God, where mankind’s sole liberty is to comply or rebel – i.e. no federalism, no agency (delegated discretion), no essential creativity, just echoing forms – social, political, artistic timelessly cast in stone. In some ways the medieval vision was superior to what we have now, but it certainly did not properly capture the ideal of Christian liberty.

  32. Mark, if you ever want to do a guest post or two at my blog on Ockham feel free to email it to me. (Especially since I’m so busy with babies – I could use a guest post or two)

    The one thing that catches my eye is how close what you outline is to Peirce. But I’ll not threadjack the discussion on that.

    The only complaint I’d have is whether these “moral laws” are contingent or whether they are due to the limits of the intelligences. i.e. is this the only way to reduce the chaos? In which case God ultimately isn’t really the author of the law or is it just that God by sheer force of will imposes this moral law but it could have been otherwise.

    That’s not to say that along the way there may not be arbitary but somewhat essential laws passed for later development. This would, for instance, be analogous to cosmology where symmetries develop which correspond to physical laws during the early cooling of the universe. The symmetries (and thus laws) could have been different but in a certain sense they are now fixed.

    So as to not threadjack let me make the connection to Nate’s point clear. How is one to categorize such phenomena?

  33. Clark,

    The distinction that I am trying to make here is completely meaningless in a world without libertarian free will. One of the problems here is that the term “law” is overloaded in the English language between a natural or descriptive law, and an ordained or legislated social law.

    So take something like love – Whether to love or not is a choice, and whether others should be required to love or not is also a choice, but the first order consequences of love are most definitely not a choice.

    So we have two kinds of laws that apply to love, what cannot be otherwise (the timelessly absolute or natural), and what some society prescribes (ordained or prescriptive).

    I am saying that God did not author the first order natural consequences of love or not loving. i.e. intelligences were free to love or not love (at least in some primitive sense) from the very beginning, and the consequences of their common failure to love made the world such as it was a chaotic and undesirable place where nothing ever got accomplished – no order, no peace, no happiness.

    So by some means over time a council was formed, the details are irrelevant – the ups and downs of pre-mortal history probably fills libraries in heaven, we have no details on that. All we know from Joseph Smith and the scriptures that God established laws for our progression.

    There are two critical aspects here – why establish laws unless there is a problem that needs to be remedied, or a circumstance that needs to be improved? And also the implication that God of course was immanent in the world and established ordinate (social) laws, which spirits were free to choose to obey or disobey, just like contemporary social laws, mores, and norms. There is no account of God ever granting intelligences free will. He later gave them agency, but that is something rather different, more akin to the idea of freedom within a stewardship.

    Another aspect to keep in mind of course is God as a metonym for the divine council. i.e. we say God did this and God did that. Well according to Joseph Smiths commentary on the semantics of the Hebrew term ‘Elohim’ we cannot always easily distinguish between God as a person and God as a council.

    But in metaphysical terms, no power ever established what is literally absolute, because that strictly speaking a contradiction. Potency is the potential of something to be or have been other than what it is, and what is absolute is that for which there was never any potential to be otherwise. So we have an unexplained metaphysical freedom of sort, but it has been cast in stone for all eternity, and certainly it is hard to conceive of an embodied or immanent divine council having the sort of metaphysical freedom that presumably the God of the philosophers both had in eternity and did not have in temporality. In short, as far as I am concerned metaphysical freedom is both a mystery, and a practical oxymoron. Natural law is what it is and no one ever made it that way. Of course it is not very extensive (information rich) either – we could probably write it down on one page, if we knew it all.

    Now if one wants to say that God authored natural law, I would responds and say that what you really mean according to the framework I have described, is that there is no natural law. And for half a dozen scriptural and meta-ethical reasons that idea makes no sense. There has to be at least a primitive good that is both absolute (non-discretionary) and independent of God, but that good cannot be a deterministic necessity, without making the concept meaningless. An intelligence that never met God must have some ability to distinguish him (the supreme representaive of social good) from the devil (the supreme representative of social evil), or all ethics are arbitrary.

    So what I am saying is that natural law (e.g. the natural consequence of the free choice to love, or not to love) constrains what kind of social laws the council in heaven can legislate or ordain and accomplish the objective, every bit as much as say the laws of economics constrain the effectiveness of the schemes of contemporary legislators.

    If the divine council ordained that spirit-intelligences should hate their neighbor, the result would be continued or increased chaos, not happiness, cooperation, and peace. (i.e. the divine council does not have the discretion to override natural law and make wickedness (in the primitive sense) lead to happiness).

    Or back to your original question, I am saying that there are natural goods, and natural evils, prior to divine leglislation of any kind, but instantiations of natural goods and natural evils are generally not the result of any deterministic law of nature, but rather generally the result of free choice of individuals to cooperate or not to cooperate, or to love, or not to love.

    And then the wisest of them get together and say we need to formalize these obvious principles into a system and teach it to others, so that we can eliminate the constant conflict of wills and come together in a unified society where there is no war nor material conflict any more. And then we have the beginning of the divine council, and indeed the beginning of celestial civilization.

    And what makes an ordinate law constitutive is the degree to which it could be changed and still be able to acheive the overall objective of the legislating body. For example Chess without any pieces would not satisfy the goal of having a challenging contest or pasttime, likewise it seems rather unlikely that a sanctified society of love and peace could be acheived without covenants for each member to freely obey the laws of the society, to be anxiously engaged in good causes, to always seek the highest good, the law of the spirit, and not the letter alone.

    Anything regulative is that which can be changed as a matter of expedience or temporal circumstance, without destroying the ability to achieve the fundamental purposes of the society as a whole.

    [I apologize for the length – one cannot abbreviate most even moderately effective arguments, unfortunately. I have a feature suggestion. What would be nice is if long messages only had the first so many lines display on the comment display page, with a “Read more” link for longer comments, like the Slashdot system for long comments]

  34. Of course Mark what would be ideal is that youlink to a post at your own blog. (grin) And don’t apologize for the length. I enjoy reading your comments even if no one else does. But perhaps when then get tangential it would be helpful to put up a separate post.

  35. I’m as pragmatic as they come and I’m reading this dialog kind of like this: constitutive rules affect my salvation, regulatory rules don’t.

    If I want to sustain my life, I need to eat a meal. How I eat it might affect my social standing, but otherwise has no bearing on whether I live or die.

    I’m with Evan. Isn’t this really a matter of doctrine vs. policy? Are there regulatory rules that affect my salvation? Somebody enlighten me before I mistakenly disqualify myself from the game.

  36. Brenda,

    I believe regulatory rules as such do affect salvation, or they wouldn’t be necessary. The key here is the difference between the whole society obeying a different regulatory rule (like driving on the left side of the street) and just one person choosing to follow a different rule. The consequences can be very serious.

    There are a long list of areas where we have conventions that could have been otherwise, just as long as they are conventional. Many aspects of manners and etiquette, for example, could have been otherwise, but greatly ease difficult social situations. And then there is the whole matter of spiritual unity, and not stepping on others toes unnecessarily, minimizing offense, promoting fellow and sisterly feeling, and so on.

  37. Brenda I think the Word of Wisdom is arguably a regulative rule that affects your salvation in our LDS community but not say if you were a member in 1830.

  38. I would say that the Word of Wisdom definitely had a spiritual basis long before it was revealed, it just was not formalized as such. The story of Daniel and his friends is indicative of the blessing of eating healthy food and avoiding strong drink, for example.

    There also appears to be a strong correlation between temporal health and ability to be sensitive to the spirit. As a rule, I think that commandments that the Lord just makes up as tests of faith that have no basis in the natural law of the spirit (i.e. that have do not have positive natural consequences of the sort that do not require explicit divine intervention) are rather rare.

    As such, we cannot say that the Word of Wisdom is purely regulatory. The Lord may very well indeed be teaching a principle that is constitutive of the celestial order, i.e. a discipline that has consequences without which sanctification cannot fully occur. Whether that discipline must be acquired in this life or in the next is no bar to whether it is constitutive of the order of heaven. That is my understanding, anyway.

  39. Nate (#26) replies that “the uncreatedness of persons create the possiblity that even the eternal is conventional,” but because both “chess gamesâ€? (constitutive) and “a polite dinnerâ€? (regulative) can be regarded as “conventional,â€? I don’t understand what his point is. So it still seems to me that Mormonism’s eternalism—or, in the alternative secular version, evolved human natures with a much deeper history than any human social conventions—potentially give regulative rules a higher normative status than constitutive rules. This strikes me as the opposite of what would be assumed in traditional ex-nihilo theologies, and what apparently has been assumed in Nate’s post, namely, that constitutive rules have higher normative claims. At the very least, I think it suggests that in both Mormon and secular worldviews the constitutive vs. regulative analysis may not ultimately be all that helpful in sorting out the strength of normative claims. Indeed in backwardly eternal or very deeply evolved histories it may not even be possible to completely disentangle constitutive and regulative.

  40. Christian (#41),

    It appears to me that you are adopting different definitions of constitutive and regulative than what Nate intends. I do not see Nate as referring directly (per se) to the natural law vs. ordinate law distinction in his definitions, but rather to the essential vs. incidental rules governing a religious society. i.e. an essential (constitutive) rule is that which if changed dramatically, one is no longer engaged in the same activity, where a regulative one is one that can be changed according to circumstance and opportunity without raising the same doubt.

    The way I see it there are four common theories of constitutive rules of religion:

    1. What makes a constitutive rule is solely determined by timeless laws of nature (whether identified with God or not)

    2. What makes a constitutive rule is largely determined by accidents of nature, plus a few natural laws.

    3. What makes a constitutive rule is solely determined by the will
    of God and he could conceivably change such rules at any time

    4. What make a consitutive rule is determined by the will of God, but the choice of rules are constrained by natural law, particularly natural moral law.

    These theories are roughly: (1) Theological platonism, (2) Moral accidentalism, (3) Theological hyper-voluntarism, (4) Theological hybrid natural-voluntarism

    Famous adherents (roughly): (1) Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, (2) Dawkins, (3) Calvin, (4) Ockham.

    Now I understand Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon prophets to both be in category (4), for reasons I have previously mentioned – notably the necessity of a suffering Atonement. Paul appears also to be locatable in this category, for the same reason.

    Category (1) seems impossible to reconcile with the personality of God or the doctrine of exaltation, and only barely with the creativity of God, and hardly at all with the power of God.

    Category (2) it is hard to see where God fits in at all.

    Category (3) seems to work only because of theological determinism (no free will in persons).

    Category (4) has merits I have previously described.

  41. I forgot theory (5): What makes is constitutive rule is completely up to us. (Religion is a matter of preference alone).

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