Thanks largely to the work of Robert Adams and Philip Quinn, the second half of the twentieth century witnessed a resurgence of interest in divinecommandtheory as a viable position in normative theory and meta-ethics. More recently, however, there has been some dissatisfaction with divinecommandtheory even among those philosophers who claim that normative properties are grounded in God, and as a result alternative views have begun to emerge, most notably (...) class='Hi'>divine intention theory (Murphy, Quinn) and divine motivation theory (Zagzebski). My goal here is to outline a distinct theory, divine desire theory, and suggest that, even if it is not clearly superior to these extant views, it is at least worthy of serious consideration.1 As far as this paper is concerned, the discussion will be limited just to the deontic status of actions (obligatory, permissible, forbidden), and so no attempt will be made to also account for axiological properties such as goodness or evil. In order to get oriented to the range of deontological views in this area, consider the following three rough characterizations. (shrink)
The simplest DivineCommandTheory 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 DivineCommandTheory, and yields some more penetrating versions of traditional objections to that theory.
In a 2002 paper for this journal, Richard Joyce presents three new arguments against the DivineCommandTheory. 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 DivineCommandTheory is not persuasive either. (shrink)
Property-identical divine-commandtheory (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-commandtheory 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)
In this study, I will examine the famous 'divinecommandtheory' 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)
If the divine will is not subject to any principle, and God controls all truths including moral truths, morality will be arbitrary at the deepest level. It will not be possible to offer any explanation of why God has willed certain actions rather than their contraries. Throughout the history of philosophical debate there have been many attempts to support the dependence of moral truths on God's command (or divinecommandtheory) and at the same time (...) to avoid this charge of arbitrariness. In the West, one such an attempt has been made by Thomas V. Morris and Christopher Menzel (, hereafter M&M), who refer to their position as theistic activism. In this paper I will discuss their view and argue that: 1) their position does not satisfy the requirements of divine freedom, and that 2) to regard moral truths as necessary and unalterable is not adequate. (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 divinecommandtheory 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)
I offer a series of axiomatic formalizations of DivineCommandTheory motivated by certain methodological considerations. Given these considerations, I present what I take to be the best axiomatization of DivineCommandTheory, an axiomatization which requires a non-standardsemantics for quantified modal logic.
We claim that divinecommand metaethicists have not thought through the nature of the expression of divine love with sufficient rigor. We argue, against prior divinecommand theories, that the radical difference between God and the natural world means that grounding divinecommand 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 divinecommand to imitatio Dei, the believer can have confidence that her imitative acts of God are not inaccurate constructions of the commanded life. (shrink)
Nearly all attempts to include Aquinas among the class of divinecommand theorists have focused on two kinds of texts: those exhibiting Aquinas’s treatment of the apparent immoralities of the patriarchs (e.g., Abraham’s intention to kill Isaac), and those pertaining to Aquinas’s discussion of the divine will. In the present paper, I lay out a third approach unrelated to these two. I argue that Aquinas’s explicit endorsement of one ethical proposition as self-evident throughout his writings is sufficient (...) justification to include Aquinas among the class of divinecommand theorists. I examine Aquinas’s persistent contention that the proposition “the commands of God are to be obeyed” is a self-evident or per se nota proposition of ethical reasoning, and I then trace Aquinas’s appeals to it in the Sentences commentary, De Veritate, and Quodlibet 3. I conclude with a discussion of passages where Aquinas argues that the experience of moral necessity or obligation requires reference to divine commands. (shrink)
In Confucius' time, it was supposed that the sovereign had the mandate of heaven (tianming) to rule. Both Confucius and Mencius speak of a legitimate ruler as someone who has such a mandate and of a deposed ruler as someone who has lost it. Commentators have recently turned their attention to what the reference to the mandate of heaven means, as there are implications for the prospects of democracy in a Confucian state. The result is a wide spectrum of views. (...) In what might be called the liberal interpretation of the "mandate of heaven," Confucianism, or Mencius more specifically, allows for a popular revolt against a despotic ruler (hence for the possibility of democracy). In what might be called the conservative .. (shrink)
Some writers employ human analogies in their attempts to defend a "divinecommandtheory" of the foundation of morals. I argue that this strategy is self-defeating. Appeal to human analogies has implications which tend to undermine any interesting or full-bodied version of divinecommandtheory. Indeed, this line of discussion suggests there is a logical confusion in the very idea that some agent-even God-might bring about obligations by an act of will.
Divine law theories of metaethics claim that moral rightness is grounded in God’s commands, wishes and so forth. Expressivist theories, by contrast, claim that to call something morally right is to express our own attitudes, not to report on God’s. Ostensibly, such views are incompatible. However, we shall argue that a rapprochement is possible and beneficial to both sides. Expressivists need to explain the difference between reporting and expressing an attitude, and to address the Frege-Geach problem. Divine law (...) theorists need to get past the Euthyphro dilemma, and to avoid moral externalism. This paper shows how a combined theory helps us to achieve this. (shrink)
Although this thesis is denied by much recent scholarship, Ockham holds that the ultimate ground of a moral judgement's truth is a divinecommand, rather than natural or non-natural properties. God could assign a different moral value not only to every exterior act, but also to loving God. Ockham does allow that someone who has not had access to revelation can make correct moral judgements. Although her right reason dictates what God in fact commands, she need not know (...) that God so commands. Ockham's divine-commandtheory plays an important role in the shift away from a nature-based ethics, and it anticipates contemporary problems concerning truth in meta-ethics. (shrink)
In this article I consider the respective merits of three interpretations of divinecommandtheory. On DCT1, S’s being morally obligated to φ depends on God’s command that S φ; on DCT2, that moral obligation depends on God’s willing that S be morally obligated to φ; on DCT3, that moral obligation depends on God’s willing that S φ. I argue that the positive reasons that have been brought forward in favor of DCT1 have implications theists would (...) find disturbing and that the positive reasons brought forward in favor of DCT2 support only a weak formulation of DCT2 that is indistinguishable from other theistic moral theories. DCT3 is, however, a distinctive theory that theists have strong reasons to affirm. (shrink)
This paper formulates a kind of divinecommand 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 divinecommand (...) class='Hi'>theory is compatible with the centrality of God in practical ethics; it provides an account of a divinecommand 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)
Due largely to the work of Mark Murphy and Philip Quinn, divine will theory has emerged as a legitimate alternative to divinecommandtheory in recent years. As an initial characterization, divine will theory is a view of deontological properties according to which, for instance, an agent S‟s obligation to perform action A in circumstances C is grounded in God‟s will that S A in C. Characterized this abstractly, divine will theory (...) does not specify which kind of mental state is supposed to ground S‟s obligation; it could be God‟s desires, beliefs, intentions, or emotions. My purpose here is not to challenge this view. Rather, I want to examine the decision by Murphy and Quinn to base their version of divine will theory on God‟s intentions, and argue that this may have been an unwise move. As an alternative, I suggest that those who are initially attracted to divine will theory would be better served to develop the view with a focus on God‟s desires rather than intentions. (shrink)
What is the relationship between divine commands and ethical duties? According to the divinecommandtheory of ethics, moral actions are obligatory simply because God commands people to do them. This position raises a serious question about the nature of ethics, since it suggests that there is no reason, ethical or non-ethical, behind divine commands; hence both his commands and morality become arbitrary. This paper investigates the scriptural defense of the divinecommand (...) class='Hi'>theory and argues that this methodology is wrong as any interpretation of the text stands on a complex web of ethical and non-ethical presuppositions and as these presuppositions change so does the interpretation. (shrink)
In this paper I will argue that a false assumption drives the attraction of philosophers to a divinecommandtheory 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 divinecommand 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 divinecommand ethics. Accordingly, they implicitly concede that basing morality on God’s sheer power should not be the preferred option for the Christian theist. (shrink)
To support her divine motivation theory of the good, which seeks to ground ethics in motives and emphasize the attractiveness of morality over against the compulsion of morality, Linda Zagzebski has proposed an original account of obligations which grounds them in motives. I argue that her account renders obligations objectionably person-relative and that the most promising way to avoid my criticism is to embrace something quite close to a divinecommandtheory of obligation. This requires (...) her to combine her desired emphasis on the imitation of God with a contrasting emphasis on submission to God. I conclude that her divine motivation theory of the good, if it is to have an adequate account of obligation, is dependent on a divine will or divinecommandtheory of obligation. (shrink)
Given the religious appeal of divinecommand theories of morality (DCM), and given that these theories are found in both Christianity and Islam, we could expect DCM to be represented in Judaism, too. In this essay, however, we show that hardly any echoes of support for this thesis can be found in Jewish texts. We analyze texts that appear to support DCM and show they do not. We then present a number of sources clearly opposed to DCM. Finally, (...) we offer a theory to explain the absence of DCM in Judaism, claiming that the rational character of "Halakha", as well as the moral and rational character of God, does not provide suitable ground for the growth of DCM theses. (shrink)
Consider the following three-step dialectics. (1) Even if God (consistently) commanded torture of the innocent, it would still be wrong. Therefore DivineCommand Metaethics (DCM) is false. (2) No: for it is impossible for God to command torture of the innocent. (3) Even if it is impossible, there is a non-trivially true per impossibile counterfactual that even if God (consistently) commanded torture of the innocent, it would still be wrong, and this counterfactual is incompatible with DCM. I (...) shall argue that the last step of this dialectics is flawed because it would rule out every substantive metaethical theory. (shrink)
Al-Shafi'i (d. 820) is clearly one of the most important figures in the early history of Islamic jurisprudence. His Risala or "Treatise" on the "principles of jurisprudence" (usul al-fiqh) is also of interest as an example of an approach to ethics that focuses on divine commands. Following a brief introduction, I offer the reader a few comments about al-Shafi'i's context. I summarize the content of the Risala and then analyze it as an example of divinecommand reasoning (...) in ethics. Finally, I present some observations on the place of al-Shafi'i's theory in the history of Islamic ethics, particularly with respect to his comments on ikhtilaf, "disagreement.". (shrink)
Several interpretive disagreements about Kant's theory of divine commands (esp. in the work of Allen Wood and John E. Hare) can be resolved with further attention to Kant's works. It is argued that Kant's moral theism included (at least until 1797) the claim that practical reason, reflecting upon the absolute authority of the moral law, should lead finite rational beings like us to believe that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and holy being who commands our obedience to the (...) moral law and proportions happiness to virtue. Kant's apparently contradictory claims about the relationship between morality and religion reflect his view that our acceptance of the authority of the moral law is incomplete or rationally unstable absent such a theological postulate. (shrink)
It is a common idea that morality, or moral truths, if there are any, must have some sort of source, or grounding. It has also been claimed that constructivist theories in metaethics have an advantage over realist theories in that the former but not the latter can provide such a grounding. This paper has two goals. First, it attempts to show that constructivism does not in fact provide a complete grounding for morality, and so is on a par with realism (...) in this respect. Second, it explains why it seems that morality in fact couldn't have a source. (shrink)
This essay presents a version of divinecommand 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)
According to divine-command metaethics (DCM), whatever is morally good or right has that status because, and only because, it conforms to God’s will. I argue that DCM is false or vacuous: either DCM is false, or else there are no instantiated moral properties, and no moral truths, to which DCM can even apply. The sort of criticism I offer is familiar, but I develop it in what I believe is a novel way.
C. Stephen Evans explains and defends Kierkegaard's account of moral obligations as rooted in God's commands, the fundamental command being `You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. The work will be of interest not only to those interested in Kierkegaard, but also to those interested in the relation between ethics and religion, especially questions about whether morality can or must have a religious foundation. As well as providing a comprehensive reading of Kierkegaard as an ethical thinker, Evans puts (...) him into conversation with contemporary moral theorists. Kierkegaard's divinecommandtheory is shown to be an account that safeguards human flourishing, as well as protecting the proper relations between religion and state in a pluralistic society. (shrink)
James Rachels has argued that a morally autonomous person (in Kant’s sense) could not consistently accept the authority of divine commands. Against Rachels, this essay argues (a) that the Kantian concept of moral autonomy is to be analyzed in terms of an agent’sresponsiveness to the best available moral reasons and (b) that it is simply question-begging against divinecommandtheory to assume that such commands could not count as the best moral reasons available to an agent.
A popular proof for the existence of God assumes that there are objective moral duties, arguing that this can only be explained by there being a supreme law-giver, namely God. The upshot is either a Divinecommandtheory (DCT) -- or something similar -- or a natural-law theory. I discuss two prominent theories, Robert Adams’s DCT and Stephen Evans’s hybrid DCT/natural-law theory. I argue that they suffer from fatal difficulties. Natural-law theories are plausible, if God (...) exists, but can’t be used to prove His existence; and are less plausible, on the evidence, than a naturalistic natural-law theory, which has the best prospects for providing an objective foundation for morality. (shrink)
Recent proponents of a divinecommand ethics have chiefly defended the theory by refuting objections rather than by offering “positive reasons” to support it. We here offer a catalogue of such positive arguments drawn from historical discussions of the theory. We presentarguments which focus on various properties of the divine nature and on the unique status of God, as well as arguments which are analogical in character. Finally, we describe a particularform of the theory (...) to which these arguments point, and indicate how they counteract a standard criticism of it. Throughout we pick up on previous work of Philip Quinn. (shrink)
In this wide-ranging study, Quinn argues that human moral autonomy is compatible with unqualified obedience to divine commands. He formulates several versions of the crucial assumptions of divinecommand ethics, defending them against a battery of objections often expressed in the philosophical literature.
Because she is widely regarded in the field of contemporary philosophy of religion, Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski's latest book will be a major contribution to ethical theory and theological ethics. At the core of her work lies a new form of virtue theory based on the emotions. Distinct from deontological, consequentialist and teleological virtue theories, this theory has a particular theological Christian foundation.
In line with his theory of secularization according to which all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts, Carl Schmitt argues in Constitutional Theory that people’s (Volk) constitution-making power in modern democracy is analogical to God’s potestas constituens in medieval theology. It is also undoubtedly possible to find a resemblance between Schmitt’s constitution-making power and God’s power as it is described in medieval theology. In the same sense as the constitution-making power (...) is absolutely free from all normative ties, God’s potestas constituens, or rather, God’s potentia absoluta is free from such ties. Yet, unlike the Schmittian constitution-making power, God’s potentia absoluta was not, in medieval theology, originally intended as a description of some form of divine action: the absolute power of God referred to the total possibilities initially open to God. However, when the canonists started to employ the term potentia absoluta in their speculations concerning the papal plenitude of power (plenitude potestatis) by the end of the thirteenth century, they used it in a different sense than the theologians previously. According to certain canonists, the pope, by his potentia absoluta, could grant de facto dispensations from divine and ecclesiastical laws. Later on, this notion became a theological notion as well, but given its origin in juridical discourse, the constitution-making power, rather than being a secularized theological notion, is a theologized juristic notion. (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 divinecommand 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)
Traditionally, Christians have hold the two following beliefs: the belief that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good on the one hand and the belief that God has actualized a possible world in which some people freely reject Christ and are damned eternally, while others freely accept Him and are saved on the other. The combination of these two beliefs seems to result in a contradiction. This serious and well-known problem is called the soteriological problem of evil. In this article (...) the author, on the basis of William Lane Craig's Molinist theory, argues that there is no contradiction between these beliefs and that, therefore, there is no soteriological problem of evil, unless one adds two premises. The theory of middle knowledge shows that there is no good reason to accept the second of these. Therefore, there is no contradiction between belief in a perfectly good, omniscient, and omnipotent God and the eternal damnation of some people in this world. This Molinist account is defended against some philosophical and theological objections that have been raised against it. Finally, the author tries to show that, although Craig's concept of transworld damnation is helpful to offer a defense of the compatibility of the two traditional Christian beliefs mentioned above, it does not help us to offer a theodicy of post-mortem evil. (shrink)
Divinecommand 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)
An examination of time as featured in the General Theory of Relativity, which supercedes Einstein’s Special Theory, serves to rekindle the issue of the existenceof absolute time. In application to cosmology, Einstein’s General Theory yields models of the universe featuring a worldwide time which is the same for all observers in the universe regardless of their relative motion. Such a cosmic time is a rough physical measure of Newton’s absolute time, which is based ontologically in the duration (...) of God’s being and is more or less accurately recorded by physical clocks. (shrink)
: This paper charts the gradual development of a theory of real space, underlying the created world and constituted by the extension of God Himself, in the writings of the Cambridge Platonist, Henry More. It identifies two impediments to More's embracing such a theory in the earlier part of his career, namely his initial commitment to the principles that (a) space was not real and (b) God was not extended, and it shows how he finally came to renounce (...) these principles in order to devise the theory so closely associated with him. (shrink)
At least since Robert Adams’s “A Modified DivineCommandTheory of Ethical Wrongness” in 1973, there has been a renewed interest in divine commandtheory (DCT), with many variations currently on offer. Despite these recent developments, Mark Murphy has argued that DCT still faces the fundamental problem of explaining the nature and ground of God’s authority. In response to this problem, Murphy has recently offered an alternative explanation of divine authority based on the idea of consenting (...) to obey God’s commands. I argue that although Murphy’s innovative account fails as he presents it, it can be made to work. (shrink)
This paper argues that structural elements of Bonaventure’s illumination theory significantly parallel Kantian transcendental philosophy. The question of whetherand what elements of transcendental thought can be found in Bonaventure’s philosophy is potentially instructive both for understanding medieval influences on transcendental philosophy and for raising the philosophical question of why substantially similar premises and thought-patterns result in substantially different solutions. After defining what I mean by “transcendental philosophy” and justifying that definition I turn to Bonaventure’s illumination theory and highlight (...) thought patterns parallel to Kantian transcendental philosophy that emerge in Bonaventure’s epistemology. Finally, I discuss how their differences help us to understand the variations in medieval and modern solutions to what is sometimes termed “the transcendental problem.”. (shrink)
This paper is a demonstration of an application of Semiotic Textology to a limited case study. The main aspects of Semiotic Textology, the theory elaborated by Petöfi, are presented; secondly the linguistic aspects of the interpretation of lines 133–134 of the Theognis of Megara’s poem, analysed in the framework of said theory, are presented. All the relevant syntactic, semantic, pragmatic information involved in text processing have been considered. Through fixed steps, it is shown that text processing is not (...) exclusively a grammatical activity, because within a theoretical interpretation an Interpreter needs a number of contextual hypotheses, in order to understand the author’s ontology. (shrink)
A recent noninterventionist account of divine agency has been proposed that marries the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics to the instability of chaos theory. On this account, God is able to bring about observable effects in the macroscopic world by determining the outcome quantum events. When this determination occurs in the presence of chaos, the ability to influence large systems is multiplied. This paper argues that although the proposal is highly intuitive, current research in dynamics shows that it (...) is far less plausible than previously thought. Chaos coupled to quantum mechanics proves to be a shaky foundation for models of divine agency. (shrink)