If the common source of the natural order and the karmic order is impersonal, we are still in need of some account of how and why it would be such as to produce these two quite different sorts of order in the cosmos. These questions, it would seem, are much more readily answered if we postulate a personal source of both the natural and the moral order—that is to say, a God who desired that there be created persons, and who wished to provide a stable natural order within which they could live and exercise their varied powers.

This is of course a mere sketch of an argument that would require much more space for its full development.


Is this actually a live argument, or just someone showing off in the SEP? Because I don't see the harmony of natural (scientific) and impersonal (karmic) orders is better explained with 'person'. It reads like a rehash of the watchmaker argument, but applied to non-physical processes.

  • "or just someone showing off in the SEP"? Do you realize how ridiculous this sounds?
    – E...
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 18:06
  • no, care to explain? @Eliran i'm just suggesting someone -- a respected academic no less -- is shoe horning something -- an opinion -- into there. there are no references, and it's hardly beyond the pale (there's hundreds and hundreds of articles), especially with religion -- and cross culturally too. it's nice to think our betters are infallible in many senses, i guess?
    – user38026
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 18:26
  • eh whatever, more garbage flames
    – user38026
    Commented Feb 2, 2020 at 18:30
  • 2
    Perhaps, for the same reason that the watchmaker analogy is appealing? It is no different than the usual move at the end of the cosmological argument. Is that one "live"?
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 3, 2020 at 7:05
  • I would tend to agree: The passage quoted strikes me as abject nonsense. Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 19:07

2 Answers 2


This argument has to be considered in context. It addresses the question "is it possible to believe the universe is aligned with moral principles if you don't believe in a personified deity?"

The sketch indicates that while the physical ordering of the universe might be mechanical, morality is tied at a fundamental level to personhood, so it becomes harder to understand the moral order of the universe as the endpoint of mechanical processes, or as an emanation of an abstract, non-personified entity.

It's not presented as a developed argument, but as a typical objection to the idea of a non-theistic moral universe.

  • 1
    +!, the argument is that only God can get karma to function.
    – user67675
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 19:54

It involves the nature of how we as people relate to things. In our experience, we are very familiar with relating to persons, and so me of our intuitive expectations involve persons.

There are many ways that a person may come to hold beliefs. One way, the way we often use when we debate, is through reason. However, in practice, this is rarely why most people hold beliefs. More often, the reason people hold their beliefs is that they acquired them through habit or through some other emotional appeal. A baby does not consider all of the philosophical and rational implications of thinking of its rattle as a real physical thing. He just relates to it instinctively.

Whatever you believe about how we as people formed, you most likely realize that there our beliefs and intuitions are strongly shaped by our relationships with people, primarily our parents or caregivers. We learn directly from them that some actions seem to satisfy our needs and some do not. We learn that all complex things we see (cars, TVs, computers, etc.) were built by persons and through an intelligence. Naturally, many of the abstract concepts we learn and our intuition rely upon persons and intelligence. I know that a good pencil writes because that is what somebody made it to do.

When we start talking about philosophy and reason, we are attempting to understand the world in a reliable, concrete way, but we do not tend to drop all of the beliefs and intuitions we carried into the search. The fact that we are looking for things like right and wrong and justice is because at the core, subconsciously, we intuitively and habitually expect there to be something like what a person or persons would provide.

While in theory it could be true that either these things do not exist at all or that they exist in some form not involving any person, this would often stretch or break our intuitions, and may in fact bring the search itself into question. In those cases, explanations without involving a person would be less appealing than those which involve a person.

Some people may argue, whether successful or not, that the appeal to a person is so strongly related to the question we ask, that if we reject the existence of some person in the matter then we would necessarily invalidate the question itself. I suppose that is what is being argued, at least to some extent, in the quote. It is often particularly applied to concepts of things like morality and meaning.

Other arguments, like the Watchmaker argument, do not attempt to show that without personhood the question itself is invalid but that the most intuitive explanation does involve a person. It says that as we've come to learn that all sufficiently complexly ordered things which we know how they were formed were formed by a person, the few more complex things which we do not know how they were formed could, all things being equal, reasonably be expected to have a person creator as well.

In both arguments there is a strong link between how we have developed our view of the world as well as the questions we ask with strong influence from persons. Accuracy aside, this naturally makes them more appealing.

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