A convincing defense of a divine command theory of the nature of obligation must address our darkest fear about God's commands--the fear that God may command something evil. Certainly some of the things that God has been thought to require have been evil. Rivers of blood have been shed in obedience to supposed divine commands. Can we accept a divine command theory without assuming a potential obligation to perform such horrible deeds?
Divine command metaethics is one of those theories according to which the nature of obligation is grounded in personal or social relationships. In this paper I first try to show how facts about human relationships can fill some of the role that facts of obligation aresupposed to play, specifically with regard to moral motivation and guilt. Then I note certain problems that arise for social theories of obligation, and argue that they can be dealt with more adequately by an expansion (...) of our vision of the social dimension of ethics to include God as the most important participant in our system of personal relationships. (shrink)
This essay presents a version of divine command metaethics inspired by recent work of Donnellan, Kripke, and Putnam on the relation between necessity and conceptual analysis. What we can discover a priori, by conceptual analysis, about the nature of ethical wrongness is that wrongness is the property of actions that best fills a certain role. What property that is cannot be discovered by conceptual analysis. But I suggest that theists should claim it is the property of being contrary to the (...) commands of a loving God. This claim, if true, is a necessary but not an a priori truth. It also is a claim, not about the way in which some believers use the word 'wrong,' but about the wrongness that virtually everyone talks about. This position is distinguished from the author's previous views, and from a holistic development of the latter proposed by Jeffrey Stout. (shrink)
Property-identical divine-command theory (PDCT) is the view that being obligatory is identical to being commanded by God in just the way that being water is identical to being H2O. If these identity statements are true, then they express necessary a posteriori truths. PDCT has been defended in Robert M. Adams (1987) and William Alston (1990). More recently Mark C. Murphy (2002) has argued that property-identical divine-command theory is inconsistent with two well-known and well-received theses: the free-command thesis and the supervenience (...) thesis. I show that Murphy's argument is vitiated by mistaken assumptions about the substitutivity of metaphysical identicals in contexts of supervenience. The free-command thesis and the supervenience thesis therefore pose no serious threat to PDCT. (Published Online August 11 2004). (shrink)
This paper formulates a kind of divine command ethical theory intended to comport with two major views: that basic moral principles are necessary truths and that necessary truths are not determined by divine will. The theory is based on the possibility that obligatoriness can be a theological property even if its grounds are such that the content of our obligations has a priori limits. As developed in the paper, the proposed divine command theory is compatible with the centrality of God (...) in practical ethics; it provides an account of a divine command morality as a set of internalized moral standards; and it is consistent with the autonomy of ethics conceived as a domain in which knowledge is possible independently of reliance on theology or religion. (shrink)
I offer a series of axiomatic formalizations of Divine Command Theory motivated by certain methodological considerations. Given these considerations, I present what I take to be the best axiomatization of Divine Command Theory, an axiomatization which requires a non-standardsemantics for quantified modal logic.
In a 2002 paper for this journal, Richard Joyce presents three new arguments against the Divine Command Theory. In this comment, I attempt to show that each of these arguments is either unpersuasive or uninteresting. Two of Joyce’s arguments are unpersuasive because they rely on an implausible principle or an implausible claim about what counts as a platitude governing use of the term “wrong.” Joyce’s other argument is uninteresting because it is persuasive only if Joyce’s formulation of the Euthyphro Problem (...) is persuasive. However, Joyce argues that the Euthyphro Problem is not persuasive. Therefore, if Joyce is correct about this, then his own objection to the Divine Command Theory is not persuasive either. (shrink)
Natural theology is still practiced as though substantive theological conclusions can be derived by a quasi-deductive process. Perhaps relevant "evidence" may lead to interesting theological conclusions -- the fact of natural evil, or the cosmic fine-tuning we hear about in contemporary cosmology, both cry out for theological explanation. I remain a skeptic, however, about the value of "a priori" methods in natural theology. The case study in this short discussion is the well known attempt to establish the logical incoherence of (...) the divine command theory of moral objectivity. If skeptics can make good on this charge, they will have gone a long way toward undercutting a central tenant of western theism. I will argue, however, that the case against theologically based moral absolutism is not as simple as showing some internal paradox or logical tension. (shrink)
Critics of theological accounts of the nature of morality have argued that such accounts must be rejected, even by theists, because such accounts (i) have the unacceptable implication that nothing is morally wrong in possible worlds in which atheism is true, (ii) render the substantive content of morality arbitrary, and (iii) make it impossible or redundant to attribute moral properties to God or God’s actions. I argue that none of these criticisms constitute good reason for theists to abandon theological accounts (...) of the nature of morality. (shrink)
We claim that divine command metaethicists have not thought through the nature of the expression of divine love with sufficient rigor. We argue, against prior divine command theories, that the radical difference between God and the natural world means that grounding divine command in divine love can only ground a formal claim of the divine on the human; recipients of revelation must construct particular commands out of this formal claim. While some metaethicists might respond to us by claiming that this (...) account leads to an inability to judge between better and worse constructions of the commanded life, we propose that an analysis of the human response to divine love--theological eros--can be the basis for an articulation of a philosophical theology (in our case, negative theology) that can guide the religious believer toward generating particular principles for ethical action that are grounded in an account of divine action. By linking divine command to imitatio Dei, the believer can have confidence that her imitative acts of God are not inaccurate constructions of the commanded life. (shrink)
In this paper I argue (i) that choosing to abide by realist moral norms would be as arbitrary as choosing to abide by the mere preferences of a God (a difficulty akin to the Euthyphro dilemma raised for divine command theorists); in both cases we would lack reason to prefer these standards to alternative codes of conduct. I further develop this general line of thought by arguing in particular (ii) that we would lack any noncircular justification to concern ourselves with (...) any such realist normative standards. (shrink)
In this study, I will examine the famous 'divine command theory' of Mozi. Through the discussion of several important chapters of Mozi, including Fayi (law), Tianzhi (the will of heaven), Minggui (knowing the spirits) and Jianai (universal love), I attempt to clarify the arguments of Mozi offered in support of his distinctive ideas of serving heaven, knowing the spirits and loving all. The analysis shows that there are serious problems with his assumptions, hence they fail to support his conclusions as (...) to the heaven-human relationship, and the man-man relationship. That is to say, at least in the texts covered, Mozi did not justify the moral or social relationship in society by appealing to the religious relationship. (shrink)
One of the most important recent developments in the discussion of Kierkegaard's ethics is an interpretation defended, in different forms, by Philip Quinn and Stephen Evans. Both argue that a divine-command theory of moral obligation (DCT) is to be found in "Works of Love". Against this view, I argue that, despite significant overlap between DCT and the view of moral obligation found in "Works of Love", there is at least one essential difference between the two: the former, but not the (...) latter, is committed to the claim that, necessarily, p is morally obligatory only if God commands that p. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that classical theists should think of God as having created morality. In form, my position largely resembles that defended by Richard Swinburne. However, it differs from his position in content in that it evacuates the category of necessary moral truth of all substance and, having effected this tactical withdrawal, Swinburne's battle lines need to be redrawn. In the first section, I introduce the Euthyphro dilemma. In the second, I argue that if necessary moral truths are (...) seen as analytically/logically so, then, pace Swinburne, they cannot be regarded as substantive principles. Thus, seeing necessary moral truths as analytically/logically necessary and independent of God does not threaten God's power or sovereignty and leaves open the possibility that all value is contingent upon His will. In the third section, I turn to consider how the claim that all value is contingent upon God's will might best be understood, arguing that classical theists will want to commit themselves to a relatively strong form of objectivism about moral value (even though this is not needed in order to solve the Euthyphro dilemma). I then give and defend an account of God's creation of contingent moral truths which coheres with what I argue is the most plausible form of this commitment. In the following section, I argue that this account avoids the charge that God is arbitrary in His choice of values and, finally, I argue that it avoids the charge that God may not be said to be good without vacuity. Thus, I conclude that the Euthyphro dilemma does not threaten classical theism. (shrink)
In this chapter, I critically explore John Cottingham's most powerful argument for the thesis that the existence of God is necessary for meaning in life. This is the argument that life would be meaningless without an invariant morality, which could come only from God. After demonstrating that Cottingham's God-based ethic can avoid not only many traditional Euthyphro meta-ethical concerns, but also objections at the normative level, I consider whether it can entail the unique respect in which morality is normative, and, (...) upon considering various ways to develop the view, I conclude that it can. However, I then raise another objection that I maintain cannot be replied to satisfactorily. The objection is that, if we had conclusive evidence for a God-based meta-ethic, then our evidence for the existence of God and of wrongness would be comparable, but they are not, either for Cottingham or for readers more generally. That is, I argue that it is incoherent to claim to know that wrongness is a function of God, given that one knows that wrongness exists, but does not know that God does. I also present an alternative, naturalist meta-ethic that avoids this incoherence, fits better with our extant metaphysical knowledge, and grounds an invariant moral system. (shrink)
If God commanded something that was obviously evil, would we have a moral obligation to do it? I critically examine three radically different approaches divine-command theorists may take to the problem posed by this question: (1) reject the possibility of such a command by appealing to God's essential goodness; (2) avoid the implication that we should obey such a command by modifying the divine-command theory; and (3) accept the implication that we should obey such a command by appealing to divine (...) transcendence and mystery. I show that each approach faces significant challenges, and that none is completely satisfying. (shrink)
In this paper I will argue that a false assumption drives the attraction of philosophers to a divine command theory of morality. Specifically, I suggest the idea thatanything not created by God is independent of God is a misconception. The idea misleads us into thinking that our only choice in offering a theistic ground for morality is between making God bow to a standard independent of his will or God creating morality in revealing his will. Yet what is God is (...) hardly independent of him, and in coupling a perfect being theology with the doctrine of divine simplicity we discover that God’s “reason” is God. Accordingly, obeying the truths of goodness that we humans speak of as contained in the divine wisdom hardly impugns the divine sovereignty. By modifying divine command ethics to give primacyto God’s love or justice, thinkers such as Robert M. Adams, Philip L. Quinn, and Edward J. Wierenga admit the repugnance of this picture in spite of their verbal allegiance to divine command ethics. Accordingly, they implicitly concede that basing morality on God’s sheer power should not be the preferred option for the Christian theist. (shrink)
What should individuals do when their firmly held moral beliefs are prima facie inconsistent with their religious beliefs? In this article we outline several ways of posing such consistency challenges and offer a detailed taxonomy of the various responses available to someone facing a consistency challenge of this sort. Throughout the paper, our concerns are primarily pedagogical: how best to pose consistency challenges in the classroom, how to stimulate discussion of the various responses to them, and how to relate such (...) consistency challenges to larger issues, such as whether Scripture is, in general, a reliable guide to truth. (shrink)
According to the divine command theory of morality, what is right or wrong, good or bad, is entirely dependent on the will and command of God: what He commands is right and what He forbids is wrong just because He commands or forbids it. It is argued here that the principal religious objection to this theory -- that if it were true, moral precepts would be arbitrary -- is rendered ineffective when due consideration is given to the consequences of God's (...) omnipotence, and in particular, to His rationality and to His responsibility for deciding, in creation, what the characteristics of human nature are to be. (shrink)
The simplest Divine Command Theory is one which identifies rightness with being commanded or willed by God. Two clear and appealing arguments for this theory turn on the idea that laws require a lawgiver, and the idea that God is sovereign or omnipotent. Critical examination of these arguments reveals some fundamental principles at odds with the Divine Command Theory, and yields some more penetrating versions of traditional objections to that theory.
This essay presents a moral argument for the rationality of theistic belief. If all I have to go on morally are my own moral intuitions and reasoning and those of others, I am rationally led to skepticism, both about the possibility of moral knowledge and about my moral effectiveness. This skepticism is extensive, amounting to moral despair. But such despair cannot be rational. It follows that the assumption of the argument must be false and I must be able to rely (...) on more than my own human powers and those of others in attempting to live a moral life. The Christian God has such a function. Hence, if it is rational to attempt a moral life, it is rational to believe in the Christian God. (shrink)