A bad objection to divine command theories of ethics

Posted on 01/14/13 43 Comments

A reader named Mark posted a comment to my article “Pot. Kettle. Black. Another response to Chris Hallquist” in which he raised the following objection to divine command theories of ethics:

“The point is that DCE has the apparent consequence that *if* God orders me to murder people for fun, *then* I’m obligated to do it.”

The great thing about this “objection” is that it can be readily generalized as an objection to any meta-ethical theory of ethical value or any system of normative ethics. Consider:

Objection to Deontology: “The point is that Deontological ethics has the apparent consequence that *if* the moral law obliges me to murder people for fun, *then* I’m obligated to do it.”

Objection to Utilitarianism: “The point is that Utilitarianism has the apparent consequence that *if* the greatest good requires me to murder people for fun, *then* I’m obligated to do it.”

Objection to Virtue Ethics: “The point is that virtue ethics has the apparent consequence that *if* a virtuous person will murder people for fun, *then* I’m obligated to do it.”

What do you think will be the rejoinder? Predictably the deontologist, utilitarian and virtue ethicist can argue that they do not accept that it is possible that the moral law, or the greatest good, or virtue would require (or even permit) the action in question.

The exact same point can be made by the divine command ethicist. He/she may simply reject that the counterfactual proposal is possible. That is indeed what I, as a defender of a divine command theory of moral obligation, would do.

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  • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

    What if we simply alter the objection just a little, and say instead:
    ” The point is that virtue ethics has the apparent consequence that *if* a virtuous person will commit genocide or murder innocent children, *then* I’m obligated to do it.”

    This objection doesn’t seem as easily rejected, because the God that most divine command theory defenders believe in (don’t know if that’s true for you) has commanded these things, whereas I don’t think any deontologists, virtue ethicists, or utilitarians have made similar moral injunctions.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

      I think mass killings have quite often been defended on utilitarian grounds – that those to be killed are willing or unwilling obstacles to the establishment of (e.g.) communism which will lead to the greatest good of the greatest number.

      • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

        That’s a good counter-example, David. I think the further questions worth asking are whether or not other ethical systems suffer from the same uncomfortable fact, and whether we should count this as a weakness for ethical systems. If we could formulate a system that would rule out things like genocide or murder for fun right from the foundation, would that be a positive consideration when evaluating different systems?

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          I think also that many types of utilitarianism try to get around the possibility of genocide being the right action by adding other considerations or amendments. Most divine command theorists don’t really have this (perhaps ad hoc) strategy available because they assume factually that genocide was in fact commanded by God, and at some point in time right thing to do.

          Actually, I don’t think the parity can be alluded that simply, in fact many if not most secular ethical theories deontological and utilitarianism except that rules such as : do not kill the innocent, can be overridden in rare circumstances when there is some greater good involved. Of course they hold such cases are rare, but in principle they are commited to it.

          So here is the problem: if a divine command theorist holds that God issues a command to not kill the innocent which applies in general but however in rare circumstances when there is some greater good involved, he is not offering a position that is more contrary to our intuitions than most secular theories on offer today. Moreover the claim that its always wrong to kill the innocent even when there is some greater good involved arguably is a fairly disputed intuition, most philosophers today probably don’t share that intuition, they share the claim that in general its wrong to kill and killing is wrong in most normal circumstances, but absolutism is often attacked because its counter intuitive in important cases.

          That’s a good counter-example, David. I think the further questions worth asking are whether or not other ethical systems suffer from the same uncomfortable fact, and whether we should count this as a weakness for ethical systems. If we could formulate a system that would rule out things like genocide or murder for fun right from the foundation, would that be a positive consideration when evaluating different systems?

          This response I think misses the point because it talks about a system that rules out “murder for fun” I agree that a plausible system would rule that out but note that a case of murder for what is clearly a trivial reason. That’s a big difference from saying that a theory is implausible unless it rejects the claim killing the innocent is always wrong even if a greater good emerges. The latter claim is a fairly controversial one that most moral systems reject.

      • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

        I think also that many types of utilitarianism try to get around the possibility of genocide being the right action by adding other considerations or amendments. Most divine command theorists don’t really have this (perhaps ad hoc) strategy available because they assume factually that genocide was in fact commanded by God, and at some point in time right thing to do.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I have written many, many articles making the case that God wouldn’t command moral atrocities like genocide. I make my case as a divine command theorist who argues that God would never command such actions.

      • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

        I thought I vaguely remembered some articles to that effect, which is why I put the slight disclaimer in my 2nd paragraph.

        Do you think that people who do believe that God did actually command genocide hold an untenable version of divine command theory?

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I don’t know. It would depend the extent to which their divine command theory of meta-ethics was linked up to the normative ethical system.

          Let me summarize briefly my objection to such folk. They typically believe that God commands genocide because a text says God commands genocide and they accept that text as authoritative. However, I think our overwhelmingly powerful moral intuitions on this issue are a categorical defeater for any such readings, and oblige us to conclude either that the text must be in error or that we’ve misread the meaning or significance of the text for our community.

          • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

            That’s an interesting objection. You’re definitely taking a different strategy than most apologists I think.

            Here’s a follow up: Here in 2013 in most modern societies, the majority of people do have strong moral intuitions against many actions depicted in the Bible as God’s commands. It seems to me that historically though, like at the time the stories of the old testament were written, people did not share our moral disgust towards things like genocide. In fact, they might find that genocide in general, as long as it was an out-group, was not a morally objectionable act at all. Why would our intuitions count, and theirs not?

            Second, across a wide variety of other issues, modern moral intuitions are quite varied. I’m thinking things like abortion, gay marriage, interracial marriage, the role of women and men in society and the household, freedom of religion and belief etc. Doesn’t this undermine using moral intuitions as a defeater?

            • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

              ” at the time the stories of the old testament were written, people did not share our moral disgust towards things like genocide. In fact, they might find that genocide in general, as long as it was an out-group, was not a morally objectionable act at all. Why would our intuitions count, and theirs not?”

              This seems to be subject to the obvious problem that even in the old testament the command was portrayed an exception to normal practise. In Deut 20 for example the author distinguishes between nations inside the land and outside the land and the so called “genocidal” command is limited to the current campaign againt those in the land, for other campaigns they were forbidden from adopting the stance they did.

              • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

                Matt, even if genocide was not “normal practise” and happened in limited circumstances, that doesn’t mean that people were morally opposed to it. The horrific genocide that appears to be commanded and followed in the Bible sounds like evidence that it was not found to be morally repulsive, even if it was not commonly practiced. Still, I accept that if your factual claim is right, then my example is not all that strong, and perhaps you have some evidence that genocide was considered morally repugnant aside from its rarity.

                However, I think it’s not that hard to come up with some other examples (which perhaps you can answer). How about slavery? It seems pretty recent that people have gained overwhelmingly powerful moral intuitions against that. How about interracial marriage? Our moral intuitions against that have dissipated but it seems like marrying out-group members seemed to be morally opposed historically. I already mentioned some other things that have changed, like freedom of religion (You shall have no other Gods before me), or women as equals to men.

                • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

                  Nolan, I am in partial agreement with some of your criticisms of Randall, though I agree with his overall understanding of biblical authority ( which comes from Nick Wolterstorff’s work ) and the hermenutical implications of it. I suspect we disagree on the weight we would give to moral intuitions.

                  However I think the particular examples you give over simplify the picture and are based on a false understanding of history

                  As to the “genocide” I don’t think Genocide was commanded and followed in the biblical text. (I think the stories contain extensive hyperbole and are not being used by the authors to affirm that Genocide happened.) nor does Craig for that matter his discussion about this was explicitly stated to be “for the sake of argument”.

                  But the point is that if you look at the command in Deuteronomy 20, its clear it’s not the norm, there are a set of rules laid down regarding warfare and the herem warfare is stated to be an explicit exception to those rules. No one to my knowledge believes those are commands on how to conduct warfare in general as opposed to rules for a particular occasion, and in fact you can find authors like Augustine, Calvin and various others making that explicit point and acknowledging that as a general norm it would be barbaric. The just war tradition of the middle ages did not accept herem war as normative.

                  Nor is this necessarily completely at odds with modern understandings to say the norm against non-combatant immunity is not absolute. In contemporary secular ethics you can see people like Michael Walzer defending Churchills decision to aerial bomb german cities in world war two as an exception the norm against non-combatant immunity. Discussions of the morality of Hiroshima, and nuclear deterrence in the 2oth century also granted this. Even today a significant body of moral opinion does not accept there is an absolute ban on killing non combatants.

                  “However, I think it’s not that hard to come up with some other examples (which perhaps you can answer). How about slavery? It seems pretty recent that people have gained overwhelmingly powerful moral intuitions against that. “

                  Not sure this is true either: because it assumes that ancient people were for slavery and we moderns are against it. That’s not accurate, Christian’s such as Anselm of Canterbury campaigned against the slave trade during the middle ages and as a result it disappeared from parts of Europe in the middle ages. Papal Bulls from the renaissance condemned its resurgence in the new world as did the Inquistion.

                  You seem to be focusing exclusively on the situation in the US after the discovery of the new world and assuming it’s a kind of international norm it is not. Slavery had been wiped out in NZ by british missionaries at the same time the US was having a civil war over the issue and it had been banned in Europe centuries before that.

                  Moreover, I think the idea of being for or against slavery per se is an inaccurate way to frame the issue. Even the biblical text itself when read carefully does not give an unqualified endorsement in favour of slavery. The biblical text is written in a culture where forms of slavery existed, but what it says in this culture is noteworthy. It prohibits kidnapping a person and selling him or her into slavery. God example commands people to release a slave that has been physically abused, condemns returning slaves who have fled an abusive master. Encourages people to have institutions in place avoiding debt slavery, puts time limits on how long a person can be in debt slavery and laws requiring release. makes provision for relatives to purchase the freedom of family members. Makes institutional provisions to ensure people released from slavery get on there feet and don’t fall back into debt slavery. Prohibits Israelites from enslaving each other. The new-testament explicitly condemns slave trading, prohibits people from beating slaves, and prohibits selling oneself into slavery. The prophets announce God’s judgement on nations that sold communities into slavery. This does not sound like a ringing endorsement to me. It sounds very much like attempts to mitigate and regulate something which is recognised as an evil but in nether the less tolerated.

                  Things are also complicated by the fact that slavery in the abstract is often different from slavery in practise, where in say the US south it was associated with kidnapping, brutal beatings, and the right to kill someone at whim. There were I understand a significant number of Theologians the US who believed that in principle slavery could be permissible but that the abuses that accompanied it in practise are clearly wrong. Many “pro slavery” theologians in fact held views like this.

                  “How about interracial marriage? Our moral intuitions against that have dissipated but it seems like marrying out-group members seemed to be morally opposed historically.

                  Again that seems to assume a US situation, bans on inter racial marriage were never part of English common law or canon law that was a post enlightenment phenomena in the US based on post facto justifications for slavery. To picture it as somehow the norm prior to say the 1960’s is americo centric.

                  “ I already mentioned some other things that have changed, like freedom of religion (You shall have no other Gods before me),”

                  Again I don’t think this is accurate either, the arguments used by the US founding fathers for religious freedom actually come from the early church fathers. It was widely accepted even then that in pluralistic socities freedom of religion was a good idea, in fact you find this in Aquinas.

                  What was different in the middle ages was not that they did not recognise a right to freedom of religion, but there beliefs about sociology, it was widely believed that if social peace required that citizens not hold radically different moral and religious views, and so to much diversity would threaten social harmony. We moderns don’t believe that. The question however is what our inutive response would be to a situation where we thought that was true, lets assume you believe tolerating a particular type of religious dissent would threaten social harmony and break down social peace creating division and strife. Would we think this is a view that should be tolerated. I suspect many contemporaries today would not.

                  The point I am making is I just don’t think the history of moral philosophy supports the picture painted, one has to take into account not just the different conclusions we draw but also the different factual situations that they were being applied to and also the nuances in the positions. When you do thinks are not as clear cut.

                  What I think you will find is that when you take into account such things as the different factual claims that dominanted in different cultures and various differences in non moral beliefs, moral intuitions come closer together than they appear.

                  .

          • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

            I don’t know. It would depend the extent to which their divine
            command theory of meta-ethics was linked up to the normative ethical system.

            Let me summarize briefly my objection to such folk. They
            typically believe that God commands genocide because a text says God commands
            genocide and they accept that text as authoritative. However, I think our
            overwhelmingly powerful moral intuitions on this issue are a categorical
            defeater for any such readings, and oblige us to conclude either that the text
            must be in error or that we’ve misread the meaning or significance of the text
            for our community.

            I replied to this line of argument at
            the conference you mentioned where you interacted with Craig.

            I think this argument is two quick as it fails to note that our moral intuitions are fallible and its quite likely that a divine being would command some things we find counter intuitive. To say otherwise I to suggest you are such a good judge of morality that even God would never disagree with you. It also fails to take into account the fact we revise our moral opinions from time to time.

            I am inclined to argue that if an authoritative text appears to
            mediate a speech act where God is said to command something that appears immoral. Then the text is in error (a) the text is in error (b) misread the meaning or significance of the text for our community. [ I assume by” text” here you mean to refer to the speech acts performed by the purported divine author of the text] (c) our moral intuitions are in error.

            Which option is correct depends on the relevant evidence, it’s
            not given that our moral intiutions are always correct and traditional readings are mistaken. Nor is it given that contemporary moral intutions are always more epistemically justified than various readings of the text are.

            For example a command that I torture people for fun seems to contradict a moral claim of which I am pretty certain and the denial of which would involve relinquishment something central to my moral understandings and concepts which makes denying it problematic. On the other hand I know of no credible evidence that God ( understood as a morally perfect being) commanded this.

            On the other hand the claim capital punishment is wrong, is a controversial moral claim over which reasonable people debate, is denying it is not central to my understanding of morality, many coherent moral systems can incorporate it and accomodate it without falling into incoherence, and the evidence that God commanded this is for a person who accepts scriptural authority much higher.

            Hence I would be less inclined to dismiss a purported divine command permitting capital punishment because I found it counter intuitive than I would one issuing a general command torturing people to death.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          Nolan, your confusing a divine command theory with other things that a divine command theorist may or may believe that may or may not be problematic. Take, for example William Lane Craig and Robert Merrihew Adams. Both are divine command theorists. Both accept pretty much the same version of a Divine command theory. Adam’s thinks that moral wrongness is identical with the commands of a loving and just God. Craig holds the same view he holds that our moral duties are constituted by the commands of an essentially loving and just God. However, its clear that by constituted Craig means “identical”. In, fact Craig admits the theory he got was appropriated from a paper of William Alston an Alston was defending Adams. So, both hold to essentially the same theory.

          Craig however believes God has commanded the killing of the Canaanites. Adam’s explicitly rejects this. This however is due to other things the two men believe.

          Craig is more conservative in his other theological commitments. So Craig accepts a fairly literalistic reading of various parts of the Old Testament. Adams however is more of a theological liberal he does not accept biblical inerrancy and its these differences between them not there divine command theories that lead to different conclusions. Now, because both mean hold to the same type same type of divine command theory. It makes no sense to claim that Craig’s is flawed and Adams is not or vice versa. If Craig’s position is mistaken its due to other things he believes, such as his understanding of biblical inerrancy or his interpretation of the passages in question. If Craig were to alter either stance he would avoid your objection and yet his divine command theory would remain untouched.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            Thanks for the clear summary Matt. The only thing I’d change is that I’d call Adams a progressive rather than a liberal ;) .

          • http://nolscuriosity.wordpress.com/ Nolan

            Matt, I didn’t intend to imply that defenders of DCT necessarily believe that God commanded genocide. It is simply in my experience that *most* who defend DCT also accept the accuracy of the more troubling Biblical stories. Sort of like how some atheists are Republicans. Sure it’s possible, just uncommon (based on my experience. The actual statistics may prove me wrong).

            • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

              Nolan, not sure a survey of the literature would justify that conclusion. The two leading proponents of DCT, who have written the most important defenses are Robert Adam’s and the late Philip Quinn, both ( in Randall’s terms) are progressives.

  • Mark

    It’s certainly conceivable that there is an omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe who orders us to kill each other for fun. Correct me if I’m wrong, but philosophers generally take such things as pretty good evidence for possibility. It’s not conceivable in the same way that, say, utilitarian ethics might demand us to kill each other for fun ceteris paribus, given that it maintains that moral facts supervene on suffering facts.

    • Mark

      Sorry, that last part should read “moral facts supervene on psychological facts.”

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      I’m going to devote a follow-up post to this comment. While this isn’t my usual modus operandi, I think your comment is a valuable pedagogical springboard.

  • josh

    Mr. Rauser, please pay attention to the point of the arguments. Utilitarianism would hold that you should kill people IF there is a greater good served. There’s nothing obviously psychopathic about that statement. It requires one to further specify WHAT could possibly be a great enough good to outweigh the harm in killing. Usually the answers are things like preventing an even greater harm. This is the kind of reasoning evinced in Harris’s comment on nuclear first strikes. Note that he calls it “an unspeakable crime”. I.e. by itself the act is bad, it could only be justified in the moral extremity that EVEN WORSE CRIMES would follow if it wasn’t performed. Whether or not you agree with Harris about the validity of the specific calculus in the case of nuclear-armed Muslim terrorists is not the point at hand. Even if you think utilitarianism is critically flawed because it could allow for cases you think should be ruled out by other considerations, it’s still fundamentally a sympathetic system and therefore not psychopathic.

    For DCE on the other hand, killing someone is justified entirely and only by the fact that God commands it. It is not a lesser evil forced on us by necessity, it is objectively good just because it is commanded. Or, if you prefer, any amount of death and torture is irrelevant in itself, only disobedience to God is to be avoided. This is why it is psychopathic. The suffering of other people (or even oneself I suppose, we could add in psychotic) is immaterial.

    You apparently want to object that God wouldn’t do such and such but that has two glaring problems. One: that it is still an unethical standard; that we should do or not do something based on considerations of suffering, fairness, a desirable society, etc. and God’s opinion can’t provide the justification for an act, even if you believe (for no rational reason) that his opinion always coincides with the justified action. And two: WLC evidently believes that God’s command HAS justified such actions in the past.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “Mr. Rauser, please pay attention to the point of the arguments.”

      That’s a great opener! You might as well have grabbed both my shoulders and given me a good shake.

      “There’s nothing obviously psychopathic about that statement.”

      I never said there’s anything “psychopathic” about utilitarianism. Indeed, I’ve repeatedly been appealing to people to stop abusing the psychological term psychopathy by reducing it to a vacuous term of abuse.

      Josh, you don’t understand utilitarianism. On a utilitarian view the act which attains the greatest good in the current circumstance is not a “necessary evil”, it is a morally obligatory good action. Thus, on a utilitarian view if nuclear first-strike were the way to reduce ensuing carnage, it wouldn’t be a lesser evil. It would be a morally obligatory good action.

      Nor do you understand what the divine command theory proposes. You seem to think that divine command theory entails an ethical voluntarism in which God can select in any possible world which actions he will determine by command to be morally obligatory. But divine command doesn’t entail that at all. And even if it did, it wouldn’t be psychopathic (unless you are using the term “psychopathic” merely as an epithet devoid of any technical meaning).

      If there are ethical voluntarists out there who think God lays down the laws of morality the same way Descartes proposed God might lay down the laws of logic, then I think they’re wrong. But don’t conflate that view with divine command theories.

      • josh

        “You might as well have grabbed both my shoulders and given me a good shake.”

        If you think it would help… maybe just reread my first sentence and try to apply it this time. The semi-original argument was whether to describe WLC’s beliefs, or maybe divine command theories generally, as psychopathic and in turn if Harris couldn’t then be condemned by the same standard. Mark tried to explain to you why there is a distinction between the two and you replied with a bit of fluff showing you could refer to different ethical systems with similar statements. I was trying to make the point above that you haven’t addressed the heart of the distinction, you resorted to superficialities. You missed the point. I was trying to clarify why I see divine command theories as “psychopathic” and not utilitarianism after you had implied they were equivalent for these purposes.

        As I believe someone, possibly you, pointed out: psychopathy isn’t a technical term, or at least not a consensus term, it’s not used by the DSM. I was using it in a vernacular sense, which is by no means meaningless.

        As for my understanding of utilitarianism, a necessary evil and an obligatory action are not mutually exclusive. If you want to find some utilitarian who insists that the obligatory action can’t be called evil, you will again be missing the point. The point is that the utilitarian justifies obligatory suffering as the best that can be made out of a bad situation. If s/he could prevent the suffering and still accomplish the justifying happiness, s/he would. That would be preferable. That’s what I, and most anyone who speaks English would mean by a ‘necessary evil’, and I suspect you know that.

        I didn’t say anything about ethical voluntarism ( or possible worlds) when criticizing divine command theory. If God is bound only to command the right thing then you still have to ground the “rightness” in some God-independent definition, whether it be utilitarianism, deontological ethics, whatever. Divine command theory, as distinct from these, generally holds that the rightness comes from God’s having commanded it. I called that psychopathic since it makes no consideration for human suffering, happiness or other standbys of normal ethical discourse.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          Pointing out that you are proceeding with errant definitions of psychopathy, utilitarianism and divine command ethics isn’t fluff.

          • josh

            You haven’t pointed out any such thing. You’ve (wrongly) asserted it without argument in lieu of responding to the substance of my posts.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      Mr. Rauser, please pay attention to the point of the arguments. Utilitarianism would hold that you should kill people IF there is a greater good served. There’s nothing obviously psychopathic about that statement.

      Perhaps * you* should pay attention. True utilitarians supporting killing only in certain specified circumstances but the same is the case for a Divine command theory (DCT) A DCT would hold that you should kill people only IF God: commands you to do it. Defenders of DCT conceive of God as an essentially loving, just, omniscient rational person. This means that a DCT would endorse killing only in situations where a fully informed rational just and loving person would knowingly endorse killing.

      This makes it difficult to accept the argument against DCT Randall critques and not accept the same argument when applied to other theories. Take the utilitarian situations you envisage where killing non combatants are justified on utilitarian grounds. Would a loving, just fully informed person rationally endorse killing in these- situation? If yes then the situations where utilitarianism endorses killing are the same situations as those where God does, but then either both are psyopathic or neither is.

      If no, then utilitarianism endorses rules which are either, irrational, based on errors of fact, or could not be endorsed by any person of virtue. In which case utilitarianism is indefensible.

      For DCE on the other hand, killing someone is justified entirely and only by the fact that God commands it. It is not a lesser evil forced on us by necessity, it is objectively good just because it is commanded. Or, if you prefer, any amount of death and torture is irrelevant in itself, only disobedience to God is to be avoided. This is why it is psychopathic. The suffering of other people (or even oneself I suppose, we could add in psychotic) is immaterial.

      Obviously that’s not true According to the standard versions of DCE being defended today, those of Adams, Alston, Craig, Evans the wrongness of an action is constituted by the commands of God: where God is understood as possessing certain character traits essentially, such as being loving, just, compassionate and so on (pretty much every defender of DCE emphasises this fact) It’s pretty obviously incoherent to claim that a being that has these character traits can command anything at all regardless of its effect on human welfare, suffering and so on. Obviously a person who is essentially loving and just does not command actions which inflict unnecessary gratuitous sufferings on other people. If he did they would not be a loving person. So this claim is just false.

      And two: WLC evidently believes that God’s command HAS justified such actions in the past.

      Yes, and Craig spells out that he believes God can only do this in situation where there is a greater good served in doing so. He does not think God can command killing for any reason at all, but only in cases where there is some good served that justifies killing. So his position is analogous to the situations you spell out in your defence of Sam Harris above. Your position apparently is that when Sam Harris claims that it would be permissible to kill millions of non-combatants for the sake of some greater good, that’s not psychopathic. But when Craig states says God could command killing hundreds of non-combatants for similar reasons this’s is psychopathic.

      This is blatant special pleading.

      • josh

        Hi Matt, welcome to the party. I do try to pay attention, I just wish others would reciprocate. For instance, you could have noticed where I anticipated this objection in my last paragraph above. I’ll expand on it:

        The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy subsumes DCT under ‘Theological Voluntarism’, with the defining characteristic that “What all members
        of this class have in common is that they hold that what God wills is
        relevant to determining the moral status of some set of entities.” What you seem to be defending is the idea that God just always wills what is right, but this is a classic Euthyphro dilemma. You implicitly appeal to some external standard (whether utilitarianism or some other theory) to make actions right or wrong and you believe that God always conforms to that standard. But then, in principle, right and wrong are independent of God’s will, so I think it is a misnomer to call this a version of DCT. It’s like this: suppose you think that the best student in class always gets the right answers on a math test. Now you might do well to cheat off that student, but his answers don’t determine the correct ones. The logic of math does.

        So if this is what you believe, congratulations!, you’re ethical theory isn’t inherently psychopathic in the sense used above, but I wouldn’t call it a DCT and your thinking appears quite muddled. But there is the remaining problem of how you know that there is or even could be a person who always wills what is right, and if they are not a pure abstraction, how you determine what they will. This latter bit is where psychopathy creeps back in. In the case of WLC, he is committed to believing that a particular genocide MUST be moral, because he is committed to the idea that God commanded it and that God only commands moral things. It seems psychopathic to be more committed to those beliefs than to reconsider the case that the genocide was in fact immoral, based on an actual ethical theory of what MAKES things morally justified or not. There’s your special pleading. This abhorrent act just must be right because otherwise it would make me wrong!

        Look, if I justified a genocide by saying that my dear leader commanded it and the dear leader can’t be wrong, no one would raise this much objection to calling that a “psychopathic” belief.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          Josh

          Sorry but its you who are muddle and not paying attention, at least not to almost every article written defending DCT in the last 30-40 years which addresses the very points you make.

          “The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy subsumes DCT under ‘Theological Voluntarism’, with the defining characteristic that “What all members of this class have in common is that they hold that what God wills is relevant to determining the moral status of some set of entities.”

          Yes you’ll note, the word “some” set of entities but you fail to note latter in the same article the author Mark Murphy explains:

          A metaethical view can be more or less comprehensive, aiming to cover more or fewer evaluative statuses. A metaethical view might claim to provide an account of all evaluative notions, or of all normative notions, or of all moral notions, or or some set of moral notions. (Roughly, and taking the notion of an evaluative property as fundamental: for a notion to be normative is for it to be a certain sort of evaluative notion, one that is essentially action-guiding; for a notion to be moral is for it to be a certain sort of normative notion, one that exhibits impartiality.) No one claims that theological voluntarism provides an account of all evaluative notions. The real contenders are the latter three.

          There are good reasons to reject the claim that all normative notions are to be understood in relation to God’s will. The main reason is that, as we will see below, it is important that there be items with normative statuses independent of God’s will in order to explain how God’s will, even if free, is not arbitrary. …Most of the current debate over the evaluative statuses to be explained by theological voluntarism, then, concerns whether the entire set or only some proper subset of moral statuses is to be understood in both theological and voluntaristic terms. Quinn (1978) offers a theological voluntarist view on which all moral statuses are to be understood in terms of God’s will. But Adams rejects this view, and Quinn, following Adams and Alston (1990), now rejects it as well. These writers hold that only moral properties in the “obligation family,” properties like those of being obligatory, being permissible, being required, and being right (where being right involves a constraint on conduct, rather than being merely fitting), are to be understood in theological voluntarist terms.

          So in the article you cite Murphy points out that no one holds the view that all moral properties are dependent on divine commands, and contemporary theorists such as Adams, Quinn and so on hold only only “moral obligations” depend on Gods commands. This of course is Murphy 2002 article on the subject. In his latest book (2011) he writes that “ recent formulations have moved around a consensus” that its only moral obligations, specifically deontic moral properties that are explained in terms of God’s commands. ( Murphy also in the article offers refutations of the arguments you give below, particular in section 3.1)

          What you seem to be defending is the idea that God just always wills what is right, but this is a classic Euthyphro dilemma.

          No I am defending the standard divine command theory proposed by Adam’s Alston, Stephen Evans. Which holds that moral obligations are identified with or constituted by God’s commands. Where God” is understood to refer to a necessarily existent, all-powerful, all-knowing, loving and just, immaterial person who created and providentially orders the universe. Of course claiming moral obligations are identified with God’s commands entails that what God commands is always right. But that’s an entailment of a divine command theory not the theory itself.

          You implicitly appeal to some external standard (whether utilitarianism or some other theory) to make actions right or wrong and you believe that God always conforms to that standard. But then, in principle, right and wrong are independent of God’s will, so I think it is a misnomer to call this a version of DCT. It’s like this: suppose you think that the best student in class always gets the right answers on a math test. Now you might do well to cheat off that student, but his answers don’t determine the correct ones. The logic of math does.

          Again that simply is false, your welcome to illustrate where I implicitly appealed to utilitarianism to make Gods actions conform to an independent standard of right and wrong.

          I’ll repeat the argument for you again seeing you missed it ( and apparently Murphy’s articulation of it in the article you cite at me) The argument is this: if moral obligations are identified with the commands of God, and God is understood as possessing certain character traits essentially, such as being loving, just, fair, impartial and so on, then its impossible for Gods commands to ever be identified with actions which are sadistic, creul, cause unnecessary suffering an so on.

          Note this is not inferred from some ontologically independent standard of right and wrong or moral obligation, its inferred from our prior conceptual understanding of character traits such as “love” “impartiality” and so on, its simply the analytical truism that a person who is loving does not inflict gratious suffering on others, or a person who is impartial does not act partially and so on. All we need to get this conclusion is an understanding of what it means to possess certain character traits.

          Interesting as I noted Murphy makes this very point at 3.1 of the article you cited at me

          Suppose, for example, that one defends a version of theological voluntarism that accounts only for obligation. If moral obligation only is dependent on acts of the divine will, one can appeal to moral notions other than deontic ones in order to provide a substantive sense in which God is good. Granting to some extent the force of the objection, we can say, on this view, that God’s moral goodness cannot consist in God’s adhering to what is morally obligatory. But there are other ways to assess God morally other than in terms of the morally obligatory. Adams, for example, holds that God should be understood as benevolent and as just, and indeed concedes that his theological voluntarist account of obligation as the divinely commanded is implausible unless God is thus understood (Adams 1999, pp. 253–255). The ascription to God of these moral virtues is entirely consistent with his theological voluntarism, for his theological voluntarism is not meant to provide any account of the moral virtues. One can hold that God’s moral goodness involves supereminent possession of the virtues, at least insofar as those virtues do not presuppose weakness and vulnerability. God is good because God is supremely just, loyal, faithful, benevolent, and so forth. It seems that ascribing to God supereminent possession of these virtues would be enough to account for God’s supreme moral goodness: it is, after all, in such terms that God is praised in the Psalms.

          You go on to state:

          So if this is what you believe, congratulations!, you’re ethical theory isn’t inherently psychopathic in the sense used above, but I wouldn’t call it a DCT and your thinking appears quite muddled.

          As I said my position is that moral obligations are constituted by the commands of a loving and just God. Your welcome to claim that’s “not a DCT” but if you do that you are simply wrong, that position is in fact the standard version of DCT in the literature proposed by Robert Adam’s, William Alston and Stephen Evans, so all that’s happening here is you are using the term DCT in a very non-standard idiosyncratic way. I could choose to define utilitarianism in a really negative way where it has various problems and then claim to refute utilitarianism by pointing out the problems. That would do nothing to refute utilitarianism.

          But there is the remaining problem of how you know that there is or even could be a person who always wills what is right, and if they are not a pure abstraction, how you determine what they will.

          This an implication only of your caricature of DCT, first if a person holds that moral obligations are identical with the commands of a loving and just God, then they know that God will not command something which is unjust and unloving, thats simply a conceptual truth about what loving beings do.

          Similarly because the theory identifies moral obligations with Gods commands they know that God commands what is obligatory. So the only reason you could not know what God commands would be if people do not have any reliable understanding of the concepts of love, justice, and so on or they don’t have a reliable grasp of right and wrong. This would of course entail moral scepticism.

          Your welcome to defend moral scepticism and say that people don’t have a reliable grasp of what love is, what right and wrong is and so on, but then you better stop making arguments which rely on the premise that Genocide is wrong and we know it is.

          This latter bit is where psychopathy creeps back in. In the case of WLC, he is committed to believing that a particular genocide MUST be moral, because he is committed to the idea that God commanded it and that God only commands moral things. It seems psychopathic to be more committed to those beliefs than to reconsider the case that the genocide was in fact immoral, based on an actual ethical theory of what MAKES things morally justified or not. There’s your special pleading. This abhorrent act just must be right because otherwise it would make me wrong!

          Perhaps you should examine what special pleading is, you also could characterize other peoples arguments ( such as Craig’s accurately instead of inventing uncharitable caricatures to rage against.

          Look, if I justified a genocide by saying that my dear leader commanded it and the dear leader can’t be wrong, no one would raise this much objection to calling that a “psychopathic” belief.

          I agree, but that’s not analogous to any divine command theory being defended today. The dear leader is a fallible human being who is the dictator of north korea. A divine command does not claim an action is right when some random dictator commands it. It claims is right when God: an omniscient, rational, loving and just, impartial person, commands it.

          For the cases to be remotely analogous it would have to be a situation where the great leader was infallible in his knowledge, he was fully informed completely rational, the great leader would also have to be essentially impartial, loving, he completely just and so on, but once you stipulate then whatever the great leader commands will be co-extensive with what a loving and just rational person would knowingly endorse, and hence not be psychopathic.

          Sorry just because Sam Harris says something does not make it correct.

          • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

            Matt, thanks for this content-ful comment. Much appreciated.

          • josh

            No YOU’RE not paying attention to MY favorite authors! :) Seriously, 30 years of backpedaling in response to the kinds of points I’m making doesn’t exactly hurt my position. What I see is an increasingly desperate attempt to avoid the barbs of criticism, conceding ground at every step, while clinging to some vestigial role for God. As I said, I think it’s a misnomer to call these DCTs, but I never disputed that that is what Adams and co. call them. Nor did I anywhere assert that DCT by definition accounts for all evaluative notions, I assumed we were talking about something like moral obligations or right-making qualities of actions since we were talking about approving of genocide.

            ‘What you seem to be defending is the idea that God just always wills what is right, but this is a classic Euthyphro dilemma.’

            No I am defending the standard divine command theory proposed by
            Adam’s Alston, Stephen Evans. Which holds that moral obligations are
            identified with or constituted by God’s commands.”

            You haven’t refuted the line you quoted. Look, you say that God is a really nice guy, so whatever he commands will be the right thing to do. That’s the “always wills what is right” part of what I wrote. From here we must have an independent standard of what is loving, just, etc., the “prior conceptual traits” you mentioned, the “evaluative notions” you now insist aren’t to be identified with God’s whims. So now you have two options. The first is to recognize that the obligatory action is to do what is loving, just, etc., whatever standard of good it is that you think God lives up to. But then we can cut God out of the picture, the goal is to do what loving, justness, etc. lead us to do, God is not essential to what is moral. This is like the perfect student example I gave you: even if the perfect student’s answers are identical with the correct answers, the answers are not correct because the student gave them. There is an independent standard.

            Option two is that you insist that we are obligated to follow God’s commands and this has nothing to do with him being good. We’re just lucky as it were that God is loving and just. Even if you define ‘God’ as morally authoritative and perfectly good, we would be equally obliged to follow the commands of a being defined as morally authoritative and perfectly cruel.

            Now let’s come back to the real world where you might actually have to decide on an action. If you say the right action is what a perfectly good person would do, I’ll say “fine but that doesn’t actually help us and the good person doesn’t MAKE the action right”. If you say the right action is what a perfectly kind, just, etc. person would do I’ll say “Now perhaps we’re getting somewhere, but the person is superfluous, let’s just be kind and just.” Ah, but you say, I know of a perfectly kind-just-etc. person, we’ll just follow him. “Wait, wait, how could such a person exist, even more, how could you know for certain that this person was in fact infallible and what he wanted?” I defined him as such. “Uh huh…” Plus, he agrees with my intuition. “Yeahhh…. so, what does he say?” Kill the Canaanites to the last male child and rape their daughters.
            “That doesn’t sound eminently kind and just.” He must have a good reason for it. “I think this is a psychopathic way of discussing ethics.” HOW DARE YOU!

            The analogy with a ‘dear leader’ (I didn’t have a particular one in mind) is perfectly apt. It doesn’t matter how perfect and justified you believe the leader is by nature. Allowing your belief in the leader to trump human-based ethics is the problem I’m talking about.

            N.b.- I don’t give a damn in general what Sam Harris says because, unlike Craig, I’m not an authoritarian psychopath.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Randall, I dont know if your interested but I make this very point in my forthcoming article on DCT for Philo, and in fact Alex Pruss has developed the point in great detail here; http://philpapers.org/rec/PRUASI

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Thanks very much Matt. I haven’t read that paper. I’m not half as well read as I like people to think I am!

  • Hubert_Frost

    I find this discussion kind of ironic because nowadays most militant
    atheists believe that ontologically, moral obligations are identical with our
    deepest desires shaped by natural selection. (see for example Richard Carrier
    or Thom Clark).

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.de/2011/03/moral-ontology.html

    That’s the only possible way to pretend believing in objective moral values
    while holding to reductive materialism.

    Now I think it is legitimate to raise the following objection:

    ““The point is that evolutionary desirism has the apparent
    consequence that *if* natural selection shapes my brain in such a way I find it
    extremely desirable to murder people for fun under certain circumstances,
    *then* I’m obligated to do it.”

    Of course, we human beings have not been wired by evolution that way. But
    there might be countless alien civilizations in the multiverse who have such
    very strong desires.

    To avoid relativism, the atheist believing in all those kinds of
    evolutionary ethics ought to show us that every alien people is going to have
    basically the same moral intuitions as us, he or she has clearly the burden of
    proof.

    Any volunteer?

    By the way, I also believe that DCT is a failure; in fact I think that all
    religious and godless attempts to ground an objective morality end up by
    begging the question.

  • Jason Thibodeau

    I want to echo and amplify Mark’s comment. Mark says: “It’s certainly conceivable that there is an omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe who orders us to kill each other for fun.”

    This is undoubtedly true. The question is whether this is relevant to DCE. Matt Flanagan, following RL Craig and R. Adams, will say that it is not because the version of the DCT that they defend says that moral obligations are constituted by the commands of a loving and just God. A loving and just God could not command killing for fun and profit.

    This is a very nice and quite influential response to Mark’s objection, and, if I am not mistaken, it is Randal’s response as well. However, I think that it misidentifies the nature of the objection. The possibility (counter-factual,though it may be, according to Adams, Craig, etc.) is not meant to suggest that the God of Christianity (or any other religion) could possible command killing for fun. Rather it is to point out that any command to kill for fun (whether it be issued by God or some other, real or imaginary, deity) cannot constitute a moral obligation to kill for fun.

    What the objection does is undermine the assumption, which is essential to DCE, that a divine command can constitute a moral obligation. The point is that a command (whoever or whatever issues it) to kill for fun cannot constitute a moral obligation to kill for fun. The generalized conclusion is that divine commands cannot constitute moral obligations.

    So, imagine an all-powerful, all-knowing creator (call him Yod) who, because he is not all-loving, commands that we kill for fun. This command cannot constitute a moral obligation to kill for fun because it is impossible that killing for fun is morally obligatory. But if Yod’s command to kill for fun cannot constitute a moral obligation, then neither can his command to care for one’s neighbor and neither can any of his commands. But Yod, since he is all-powerful, has the same powers as God. So if the commands of Yod cannot constitute moral obligations, then neither can the commands or God.

    • Mark

      Right. I was trying to suggest that if the commands of an all-powerful, all-knowing God-like entity do not suffice to ground moral obligations, it’s not clear what difference adding in a particular stipulation about that entity’s psychology could possibly make.

      • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

        Right. I was trying to suggest that if the commands of an all-powerful, all-knowing God-like entity do not suffice to ground moral obligations, it’s not clear what difference adding in a particular stipulation about that entity’s psychology could possibly make.

        That seems obviously implausible. It would suggest that we have no more reason to follow the commands of a rational person who was fully informed, impartial an commited to our welfare than a person who was ignorant, bigoted and commited to our destruction, if both happen to be powerful. I don’t think anyone really believes this .

        Also, if these psychological traits being irrelevant that would bring us back to Randall’s original point. After virtue ethicists believe they are relevant, they hold an action is right if a virtous person would do it, they don’t hold this for what a non virtous person, so there position relies on the idea that various character traits are relevant.

        Deontologists typically identify duty with what is required by reason, what a rational contractor would agree to under conditions of impartiality, or what a community of rational people would accept and so on, of the fact that someone possess traits such as rationality and impartiality is irrelevant then these theories must all be rejected for the same reason a DCT is.

        The same thing applies to utilitarianism, many utilitarians, such as Hare, Singer, Brant, identify goodness with what a fully formed rational person would desire, and understand the rules laid down by a utilitarian system as coextensive with what would be endorsed by an ideal observer, a person who was compassionate, impartial and fully informed, so if these traits are irrelevant, and no different from the rules endorsed by a partial ignorant bigot, then we should reject these forms of utilitarianism.

        • Mark

          This reason we’re more obligated to follow the commands of rational, non-malevolent individuals is that those traits are correlated with the realization of known goods. This says nothing about whether or not it makes sense for them to *ground* those goods. It’s the fact that certain things are good that makes it sometimes obligatory to trust informed, well-wishing people, not the other way around.

          I’m not a moral realist, so I don’t think your parity arguments really affect my views, but I think they’re nevertheless off-base, My objection is not that DCE mentions a particular psychological trait, but that it mentions it in a context that renders it completely arbitrary, when substituting pretty much any psychological other trait would yield an obviously ludicrous theory. Deontologists and utilitarians don’t, or at least try not to, rely on the notion of rationality in such an arbitrary way. For instance, it’s pretty much tautologous that a fully-informed, rational ideal observer concerned equally with everyone’s utility would know the best ways to maximize it overall, and that’s what’s ultimately so important.

          • Matthew Flannagan

            This reason we’re more obligated to follow the commands of rational, non-malevolent individuals is that those traits are correlated with the realization of known goods. This says nothing about whether or not it makes sense for them to *ground* those goods. It’s the fact that certain things are good that makes it sometimes obligatory to trust informed, well-wishing people, not the other way around.

            Two things, first , a DCT does not attempt to ground goodness or goods, it attempts to ground moral obligation, like utilitarianism and virtue ethics it sees goodness as different to and prior to obligation and obligation being based in a relationship to the good. Now I don’t think it’s plausible to ground moral obligations in goods by themselves, and DC theorists have given arguments as to why this is the case your welcome to respond to those arguments rather than simply assert utilitarianism is the case.
            Second, your argument shere you in fact point out that the traits mentioned are not arbitrary there are reasons why one would identify moral rules with what a rational loving impartial person would command over and above what a cruel bigot would command, these are of course the same reasons why virtue ethics identify moral obligations with what a virtuous person would do, and why Kantians identify moral obligations with what reason requires, or why utilitarians emphasis impartiality and compassion. The problem is that if these are not arbitrary or psyopathic when they are appealed to by secular ethicists they don’t suddenly become some when its a religious ethicist.

            , My objection is not that DCE mentions a particular psychological trait, but that it mentions it in a context that renders it completely arbitrary, when substituting pretty much any psychological other trait would yield an obviously ludicrous theory.

            This is a falacious argument, your arguing that if you substitute the traits DCT theorists attribute to God with traits DC theorists do not attribute to God, then DCT is implausible. That’s true but irrelevant because DC theorists don’t attribute those traits to God. Showing some theory other than DCT is implausible which DC theorists don’t hold is not to refute DCT.
            I have also pointed out this argument would count against any other ethical theory, suppose someone argues moral rules must be reasonable, I point out that if you substitute reasonable with unreasonable the claim is false. Does it follow from this rules should not be reason able. Suppose you tell me that a morally good person must display empathy, I point out that if you replace the word empathy with bigoted its false, does that mean a morally good person is not empathetic.
            Or suppose I told you that if you substituted the policy platform of the democrats with that of the nazis it would be a ludicrous platform does this show the democrats have a ludicrous platform. It’s hard to take seriously an argument as breathtakingly bad as this.

            Deontologists and utilitarians don’t, or at least try not to, rely on the notion of rationality in such an arbitrary way. For instance, it’s pretty much tautologous that a fully-informed, rational ideal observer concerned equally with everyone’s utility would know the best ways to maximize it overall, and that’s what’s ultimately so important.

            This is mere assertion, how can claiming that an moral rule is one required by what a rational person would will under conditions of impartiality, be not arbitrary. And claiming what’s wrong is what a rational God who is impartial be arbitrary, the same traits are being appealed to.? How can the virtue ethics claim that wrongness is what a virtuous person would do, be non arbitrary and the claim that wrongness is what a God who is virtuous commands not be arbitrary, again they are the same traits. In both cases I can substitute the traits rational and virtuous with other traits such as malicious and stupid. So how can the same argument be sound when the target is a theistic theory and not a secular theory. Simply asserting it does doesn’t make it so.

            • Mark

              The point of my first paragraph was that greater obligations to more rational people can be explained via correlation with correspondingly greater goods, not that all obligations can or must be justified that way. You claimed that my objection entails that we’re not more obligated in general to obey rational/well-meaning human beings, but it’s easy to see that’s not a consequence of my objection. You then go on to say that I’ve just proven that building the psychological construct of human rationality into my theories isn’t arbitrary. But in fact it only shows that there are some important moral truths that involve the psychological trait of rationality, not that it makes sense for a rational agent to ground those truths, which is what’s actually relevant here.

              Re: your complaint about arguing from attributes which divine command theorist’s don’t attribute to God. This is a pretty straightforward inference to the best explanation. Suppose I tell you that you have to own every baseball card to be a good person. Missing a single baseball card isn’t enough. Nor is it enough to own every basketball card, or any other conceivable collectable item. It has to be baseball cards, and it has to be all of them. Surely you can recognize that this is a totally ad hoc, unmotivated theory? What’s so magical about owning all baseball cards that we should believe it’s necessary to qualify you to be a good person? What’s so magical about the combination of essential omnipotence+omniscience+omnibenevolence that we should believe it qualifies your commands to ground morality? (Note that this question is separate from demanding some further grounding of God’s grounding of morality.)

              I already explained how there’s an obvious, motivated, non-arbitrary connection between rationality and utilitarianism. As for rationality and deontologists, many deontologists attempt to justify their theories in terms of highly hypothetical pseudo-contractualist arguments – Kant thought that adhering to the categorical imperative was basically part and parcel of practical rationality. If the mere adherence to practical rationality obliges you to obey certain moral norms, then you have a non-arbitrary connection between rationality and morality.

              Regarding virtue ethicists, I have no opinion about them. I’d be happy for my arguments to apply to them.

    • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

      Jason

      What the objection does is undermine the assumption, which is essential to DCE, that a divine command can constitute a moral obligation. The point is that a command (whoever or whatever issues it) to kill for fun cannot constitute a moral obligation to kill for fun. The generalized conclusion is that divine commands cannot constitute moral obligations.

      I fail to see any cogency in this, you point out that there is no possible world in which a command to kill for fun is an obligation. But that only refutes a divine command theory if a divine command theory entails there is such a possible world.

      The problem is that a divine command theory does not entail this, because God, as understood by the DC theorist is a being who is essentially loving, just and so forth, hence there is no possible world in which he commands killing for fun.

      So, imagine an all-powerful, all-knowing creator (call him Yod) who, because he is not all-loving, commands that we kill for fun. This command cannot constitute a moral obligation to kill for fun because it is impossible that killing for fun is morally obligatory. But if Yod’s command to kill for fun cannot constitute a moral obligation, then neither can his command to care for one’s neighbor and neither can any of his commands..

      We have been through this before, this is a bad objection. Here you point out that the commands of Yod don’t constitute our moral obligations. I agree, that’s because Yod differs from God in certain relevant and significant respects. Yod is not essentially loving and just for example. So a divine command theorist can accept that the commands of Yod do not constitute moral obligations, but accept that the commands of another being God would.

      You seem to think they can’t do this

      But Yod, since he is all-powerful, has the same powers as God. So if the commands of Yod cannot constitute moral obligations, then neither can the commands or God

      But this does not follow, the fact that both beings share the property of being “all powerful” does not show that God’s commands cannot constitute moral obligations. This is because, God unlike Yod, has other properties in additional to being all powerful such as being omniscient, being rational, being loving and just and so on, which do enable his commands to constitute moral obligations.

      • Jason Thibodeau

        But that is what I don’t understand: why does his being loving enable God’s commands to constitute moral obligations?

        Note that I did say that Yod was all-knowing, and just to be clear, I’ll add that he is rational. In fact, Yod is just like God except that Yod is not all-loving.

        Consider the property M: a being possesses M just in case his commands are able to constitute moral obligations. Why would God possess M but Yod not? Isn’t the fact that both are omnipotent, and thus have the same powers, prima facie reason to believe that if God possesses M, then so does Jod?

        Now consider command c: You shall love your creator with all your heart.

        Matt believes that when God issues c, it constitutes a moral obligation but when Yod issues c it does not. But the theory is the divine command theory and whether God issues c or Yod does, c is divinely commanded. At the very least, does not the divine command theorist owe us an explanation for why the commands of one divine being aren’t able to constitute moral obligations while those of another are?

        Now consider a divine being named Jod. Jod is just like God except that whereas God is essentially loving, Jod is only contingently so. So, imagine a world in which Jod is loving and issues c. Does c constitute a moral obligation in that world? What about a world in which Jod is not all-loving? Does c, issued by Jod in that world, constitute a moral obligation?

        We have three options: (1) say that Jod’s commands do not constitute moral obligations in worlds in which he is not all-loving but do constitute moral obligations in worlds in which he is. (2) say that Jod’s commands do not constitute moral obligations in any world or (3) say that Jod’s commands constitute moral obligations in every world.

        (3) clearly is subject to the Euthyphro objection. (1) and (2) seem implausible if we believe that God’s commands constitute moral obligations. In worlds in which Jod is loving, he has all of the properties that God has, so he must have M, if God does. So (2) can’t be right. But, again, if Jod possesses M in the worlds in which he is loving, it is not clear why he would not possess M in worlds in which he is not. So (1) requires motivation.

        • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

          Jason

          First, it you specify that Yod is rational then I am unsure the picture you paint is coherent. Its plausible I think to see moral obligations as providing pretty strong reasons for acting, reasons that provide reasons for all people to act and which also override reasons people may have to the contrary such as prudential or legal reasons for example. If then you want to claim that there is no possible world where torturing people for fun is not wrong, then I’d think that means there is no possible world in which a rational being could endorse them. To do so would be to require people to do what they have a compelling reason not to do and this would be irrational.

          But second, you ask why does his being loving enable God’s commands to constitute moral obligations?…Note that I did say that Yod was all-knowing, and just to be clear, I’ll add that he is rational. In fact, Yod is just like God except that Yod is not all-loving. Consider the property M: a being possesses M just in case his commands are able to constitute moral obligations. Why would God possess M but Yod not? Isn’t the fact that both are omnipotent, and thus have the same powers, prima facie reason to believe that if God possesses M, then so does Jod?

          I have already answered this, the answer is no, no one contends that merely possessing omnipotence is sufficient to make your commands constitute moral obligations. The claim that it does is obviously implausible, if that were true then an omnipotent demons commands to torture and kill each other would constitute moral obligations and that’s clearly false. I don’t know why you keep claiming that mere possession of power is enough to make someones commands constitute moral obligation. Moral injunctions have a certain type of content and so only the injunctions of a person who has certain types of desires or goals can plausibly be identified with moral obligations.

          Now consider command c: You shall love your creator with all your heart. Matt believes that when God issues c, it constitutes a moral obligation but when Yod issues c it does not. But the theory is the divine command theory and whether God issues c or Yod does, c is divinely commanded. At the very least, does not the divine command theorist owe us an explanation for why the commands of one divine being aren’t able to constitute moral obligations while those of another are?

          There is an obvious reason why God ‘s commands are a plausible candidate for being identified with moral obligations and Yod’s are not. Its possible for yod to command something cruel and barbaric, and so there are possible worlds where Yod’s commands differ from what we recognize as paradigms of obligatory behavioral in those worlds, hence, Yod’s commands cannot be identified with moral obligations. It’s not possible however for God to command actions which are cruel and barbaric so there are no possible worlds in which God commands actions which differ from paradigms of obligatory behavior in other possible worlds.

          Hence when assessing potential candidates for person’s whose commands one can identify with moral obligation, there are obvious reasons for preferring God over Yod. The latter is subject to counter examples where as the latter meets a necessary requirement needed for the identification to be plausible.

          Now consider a divine being named Jod. Jod is just like God except that whereas God is essentially loving, Jod is only contingently so. So, imagine a world in which Jod is loving and issues c. Does c constitute a moral obligation in that world? What about a world in which Jod is not all-loving? Does c, issued by Jod in that world,constitute a moral obligation?
          We have three options: (1) say that Jod’s commands do not constitute moral obligations in worlds in which he is not
          all-loving but do constitute moral obligations in worlds in which he is. (2) say that Jod’s commands do not constitute moral obligations in any world or (3) say that Jod’s commands constitute moral obligations in every world.

          I’d say (2) his commands do not constitute moral obligations in any possible worlds, this is because I am inclined to think that identity is a necessary relationship. If Gods commands are identical with Moral obligations then its not enough that they just happen to be the same, it must be impossible for them not to be the same.

          (2) seem implausible if we believe that God’s commands constitute moral obligations. In worlds in which Jod is loving, he has all of the properties that God has, so he must have M, if God does. So (2) can’t be right.

          Well Jod doesn’t have all the same properties God has in worlds he is loving, because he does not have the property of being essentially loving, and because identity is a necessary relationship a person’s commands cannot constitute moral obligations unless they rule out paradigms of cruelty in all possible worlds, so again when comparing candidates Jod and God there are reasons for preferring the claim that moral obligations are constituted by God’s commands over the claim that Jod’s does. The latter has implausible counter factual implications that the former does not.

          • Jason Thibodeau

            Matt says,

            “Its plausible I think to see moral obligations as providing pretty strong reasons for acting, reasons that provide reasons for all people to act and which also override reasons people may have to the contrary such as prudential or legal reasons for example. If then you want to claim that there is no possible world where torturing people for fun is not wrong, then I’d think that means there is no possible world in which a rational being could endorse them. To do so would be to require people to do what they have a compelling reason not to do and this would be irrational.”

            So long as we are thinking of rationality as consisting of external and eternal requirements on reasoning, then you have a point. But then, if we also assume that moral requirements are dependent on the commands of a divine being, we cannot think of moral requirements as external to all rational agents (since they are not external to the divine being).

            Actually, it is you who need an independent standard of rationality that would enable you to include God as rational but exclude Yod. You say (correct me if I am wrong) that God is rational, in part because he always abides by the requirements of morality (which are rational requirements). But, according to you the moral requirements or reason are not external to God, they are dependent on him. If Yod’s commands constitute moral obligations, then they also, for that reason (and since moral obligations are requirements or reason) constitute reasons for acting. In that case, we have no basis to declare that when Yod issues a command to kill, it is not a requirement of reason.

            If the question is “Do Yod’s commands constitute moral obligations?” then it begs the question to declare that his command to kill is not rational. If his command really does constitute a moral obligation and moral obligations are reasons for acting, then Yod’s command is not contrary to reason.

            “There is an obvious reason why God ‘s commands are a plausible candidate for being identified with moral obligations and Yod’s are not. Its possible for yod to command something cruel and barbaric, and so there are possible worlds where Yod’s commands differ from what we recognize as paradigms of obligatory behavioral in those worlds, hence, Yod’s commands cannot be identified with moral obligations. It’s not possible however for God to command actions which are cruel and barbaric so there are no possible worlds in which God commands actions which differ from paradigms of obligatory behavior in other possible worlds.”

            It is true that the fact that Yod can command something cruel is a reason to think that divine commands cannot constitute moral obligations. But whereas you draw the limited conclusion that this shows only that Yod’s commands cannot constitute moral obligations, I draw the more general conclusion that it shows that divine commands cannot constitute moral obligations.

            The fact that a divine command to kill for fun cannot constitute a moral obligation to kill for fun is a very good reason to believe that divine commands cannot constitute moral obligations.

            In the face of the obvious fact that a divine command to kill for fun cannot constitute a moral obligation, we need a very compelling reason to believe that any divine command can constitute a moral obligation. The fact that God cannot command something cruel is not a reason (at least not obviously so) to think that his commands can constitute obligations in the face of the fact that other divine commands can’t.