Divine Command Theory



The meta-ethical theory, Divine Command states that moral truths do not exist independently of God's will.[1] That is, moral standards are the commands of God instructing individuals how to behave appropriately. [2]

Example:
John: Our son has been asking me why it is wrong to tell lies.

Erica: That is simple; Because God has commanded us to tell the truth.

There are two versions of this theory, moral ground and moral index.

Versions of Divine Command


Moral Ground version: an individual's moral claim lies in God's will or commands. [3] So, x is a moral standard because God has commanded x.

Moral Index version: God’s command acts as a guide to what is morally right. X is morally right not because God commands it, rather God commands x because it is the morally right thing to do. [4]

Euthyphro's Dilemma


The most persistent problem divine command theory faces is from a dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, written by Plato. Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Does God command an action because it is good, or is the action good because God commands it?"[5] A positive answer to the first part of the question means that moral goodness must exist independent of God's commands; morality itself is not based in divine commands.[6] The second part of the dilemma means that nothing is good until God commands it, then what God commands is arbitrary; morally speaking, God could command anything, from murder to rape if so inclined. [7]

Criticisms of the Theory


Early modern philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz criticized the theory in his book, the Discourse on Metaphysics. His criticism affects the first half of Euthyphro's dilemma, which if true is in conflict with the theory because then moral goodness exists independently of God's will. [8]

Other objections stem from atheismwhich claims one can have ethics without God.[9] But if God determines what is ethically good then God must exist in order for morality to prevail, this is a problem for individuals who do not believe in God.

The moral index version has been criticized because individuals are left to find for themselves the appropriate standards, the commands of God and to determine the meanings of those commands which are further complicated by the many religions available.[10]

With such difficulties surrounding this theory other scholars have developed alternative theology based theories of morality including St. Thomas Aquinas' theory of natural law. [11]

Modern Developments


Robert Adams proposed a new theory, the modified divine command theory(1973) that states, "to be right is to be commanded by a loving God".[12] This modification provides a response to the second half of Euthyphro's dilemma, because God would not command an action that would do harm if he was a loving God, it would be against his character.[13]

Additional Reading


  • Leibniz, Gottfried W. (1992). Discourse on metaphysics and the monadology (George R. Montgomery, Trans.). Buffelo: Prometheus Books
  • Taliaferro, C., & Griffiths, P. J. (2003). Philosophy of religion: An anthology. Blackwell philosophy anthologies, 20. Malden, MA: Blackwell
  • Koukl, G. (2002). Stand to Reason: Euthyphro's dilemma.
References



  1. ^

    Martin, M. (1991). The Case Against Christianity. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  2. ^ Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
  3. ^
    Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
  4. ^
    Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
  5. ^
    Koukl, G. (N.D.) Stand to reason: Euthyphro’s dilemma. Retrieved September 26, 2008 from http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5236
  6. ^ Holt, T. (2005). Euthyphro dilemma. Retrieved on September 24, 2008 from http://www.moralphilosophy.info/euthyphrodilemma.html
  7. ^ Holt, T. (2005). Euthyphro dilemma. Retrieved on September 24, 2008 from http://www.moralphilosophy.info/euthyphrodilemma.html
  8. ^
    Leibniz, G. W., Discourse on Metaphysics. Retrieved on September 26, 2008 from http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/Leibniz-Discourse.htm
  9. ^
    Koukl, G. (N.D.) Stand to reason: Euthyphro’s dilemma. Retrieved September 26, 2008 from http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5236
  10. ^
    Internet encyclopedia of philosophy (N.D.) Divine command theory: Pluralism. Retrieved September 26, 2008 from http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/divine-c.htm#SH7d
  11. ^
    Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: An introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.
  12. ^
    Jones, H. (1980). Concerning a new version of the divine command theory of morality. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. 11(3), 195-205.
  13. ^ Internet encyclopedia of philosophy (N.D.) Modified divine command theory. Retrieved September 26, 2008 from http://www.iep.utm.edu/d/divine-c.htm#SH4d