PHIL 342 Handout 4.3: Omnibenevolence and the Divine Command Theory

        I. What is the relationship between divine and human goodness?

                     A. Once answer comes in terms of the Divine Command Theory (DCT).

                          1.  DCT states that right actions are right solely in virtue of being commanded by God, while wrong actions are wrong solely in
                               virtue of being forbidden by God.

                          2.   Note that this theory was considered and rejected by Socrates in the Euthyphro (See P 563-564).

                   B.   DCT has two elements:

                         1.  Metaethical: the theory tells us what the true nature of right/wrong; good/evil, etc. is.

                         2.  Normative: the theory provides a clear standard of conduct for human behavior Ė obey the commands of God.

                   C.  Motivations for acceptance of DCT.

                        1.  The alternative (God commands certain actions because they are right, rather than vice versa) seems to imply that there are
                             moral standards that exist independently of God. After all, the actions were right or wrong antecendently to Godís commands.
                            Thus, Godís commands would be irrelevant to their rightness or wrongness. This seems theologically unacceptable.

                        2.  Scriptural evidence seems to suggest that this is the right theory (e.g., Abraham and Issac).

         II.  Criticisms of the Divine Command Theory

              A.  Most criticism center on the metaethical aspect of the theory:

                    1.  DCT makes right/wrong arbitrary: God might have commanded cruelty for its own sake.

                    2.  DCT renders meaningless the doctrine of divine goodness.

              B.  Criticism of the normative aspect of the theory:

                   1.  Moral epistemology: Given that God exists, how can one be sure which commands are the commands of God?

                   2.  Normative DCT dispenses with any significant role for human reason in ethical deliberation.

        III.  Theistic Responses to criticisms.

               A.  Aquinasí Natural Law Theory:

                      1.  Teleological conception of nature Ė with values built in.

                      2.   Wrongness of many actions due their being "unnatural."

                      3.  Moral truths are truths of reason.

                      4.  Natural Law solves both metaethical and normative difficulties of DCT. Note, by accepting Natural Law, one is in effect rejecting
                           DCT (though some argue Natural Law is reducible to DCT). Still Natural Law, based as it is an Aristotelean conception of
                           nature, is subject to other criticisms.

              B.  Epistemological version of the theory:

                   1.  Right and wrong may be independent of Godís will, but not Godís knowledge.

                   2.  Since God is omniscient, God is most reliable guide to moral truths. Human moral understanding is fallible and limited.

                   3.  This version solves criticism against the metaethical aspect of DCT while retaining the normative aspect. Many theists find this
                        attractive, but the criticisms of normative DCT remain.

               C.  Bite the bullet: the charges against DCT are serious, but the theory is nevertheless not proved to be false. One can maintain it,
                    albeit at a rather serious cost.