Thursday, August 20, 2009

Morriston's New Critique of Divine Command Ethics

Wes Morriston's latest paper, "What if God Commanded Something Terrible? A Worry for Divine-Command Meta-Ethics (Religious Studies 45 (2009), pp. 249-67), is now available at his department webpage. Here is the link.

It's worth mentioning that, along the way, Morriston critiques Robert Adams' version of divine command theory in his Finite and Infinite Goods, which is arguably the most sophisticated version of the theory.

3 comments:

Matthew said...

I don't find Morriston's critique persuasive - in all 3 areas.

However, I find most ethical theories unpersuasive.
I'd actually like to see a quick and dirty refutation of moral scepticism and moral relativism followed by a ethical theory that's not completely arbitrary.

wissam h said...

What do you think of this argument? I'm not sure about it.

Let's say action A' is saving children from the tsunami.

1) If doing (a general) action A is not both morally good and commanded by God,
then doing A is not our moral duty. (DCT)

2)
So, if doing A is our moral
duty, then doing A is morally good. (1, MT, Simp)

3)
There is a (particular) A’, such that A’
is our moral duty, and God’s goodness is consistent with God not doing A’, and God
has morally justifying reasons for not doing A’. (Craig)

"Would it be consistent with His character, for example, not to intervene to save a baby from dying of a horrible disease or someone from perishing in a tsunami? And I think the answer is, yes, God can have good reasons for not intervening in such situations and so does not act contrary to His character."

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gratuitous-evil-and-moral-discernment#ixzz2ZidVT4SG

"Again, all things being equal, you should try to save the person threatened by the tsunami".

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gratuitous-evil-and-moral-discernment#ixzz2Zidfdr24

4)
Doing A’ is morally good.
(2,3, MP)

5)
If God
not doing A is morally justified, then not doing A is not morally bad.
(premise)

6)
If God
not doing A’ is morally justified (i.e. God has morally justifying reasons for not doing A’),
then not doing A’ is not morally bad. (5, UI)

7)
Not
doing is A’ is not morally bad. (3, 6, MP).

8)
Whatever
is morally good is not morally bad. (def. of morally good)

9)
Doing
A’ is not morally bad. (4, 8, MP)

Combining both (7) and (9) implies that saving children from tsunami and not saving children from the tsunami are actions which are not morally bad. How can a contradictory set of actions exemplify a moral property? It's not possible. Anyway, (7) says, objectionably, that not saving children from the tsunami is not morally bad- i.e., it is either morally good or morally neutral. This is blatantly false.

There is only one way Craig can escape this. He would probably say not saving children from the tsunami is not morally bad for God qua virtuous being, but it is morally bad for humans qua obligated beings. I don't think this approach is viable. First of all, can't humans be virtuous beings? I think they can. Does that mean that for us, not saving children is not morally bad- like Craig says it is for God? It seems so. Here, Craig can either deny that humans can be virtuous or he could assert that we can be virtuous but only when virtue doesn't go against obligation. I can't make sense of the latter and the former is intuitively false. Second of all, on DCT, moral badness (and goodness) are not constituted by divine commands. So, they are not constituted by moral obligations (on DCT); they are values based on God's nature. So even on DCT, it's hard to see how moral badness is relative between humans and God.

wissam h said...

Are you making the following argument?

Let's say action A' is saving children from the tsunami.

1) If doing (a general) action A is not both morally good and commanded by God,
then doing A is not our moral duty. (DCT)

2)
So, if doing A is our moral
duty, then doing A is morally good. (1, MT, Simp)

3)
There is a (particular) A’, such that A’
is our moral duty, and God’s goodness is consistent with God not doing A’, and God
has morally justifying reasons for not doing A’. (Craig)

"Would it be consistent with His character, for example, not to intervene to save a baby from dying of a horrible disease or someone from perishing in a tsunami? And I think the answer is, yes, God can have good reasons for not intervening in such situations and so does not act contrary to His character."

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gratuitous-evil-and-moral-discernment#ixzz2ZidVT4SG

"Again, all things being equal, you should try to save the person threatened by the tsunami".

Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gratuitous-evil-and-moral-discernment#ixzz2Zidfdr24

4)
Doing A’ is morally good.
(2,3, MP)

5)
If God
not doing A is morally justified, then not doing A is not morally bad.
(premise)

6)
If God
not doing A’ is morally justified (i.e. God has morally justifying reasons for not doing A’),
then not doing A’ is not morally bad. (5, UI)

7)
Not
doing is A’ is not morally bad. (3, 6, MP).

8)
Whatever
is morally good is not morally bad. (def. of morally good)

9)
Doing
A’ is not morally bad. (4, 8, MP)

Combining both (7) and (9) implies that saving children from tsunami and not saving children from the tsunami are actions which are not morally bad. How can a contradictory set of actions exemplify a moral property? It's not possible. Anyway, (7) says, objectionably, that not saving children from the tsunami is not morally bad- i.e., it is either morally good or morally neutral. This is blatantly false.

There is only one way Craig can escape this. He would probably say not saving children from the tsunami is not morally bad for God qua virtuous being, but it is morally bad for humans qua obligated beings. I don't think this approach is viable. First of all, can't humans be virtuous beings? I think they can. Does that mean that for us, not saving children is not morally bad- like Craig says it is for God? It seems so. Here, Craig can either deny that humans can be virtuous or he could assert that we can be virtuous but only when virtue doesn't go against obligation. I can't make sense of the latter and the former is intuitively false. Second of all, on DCT, moral badness (and goodness) are not constituted by divine commands. So, they are not constituted by moral obligations (on DCT); they are values based on God's nature. So even on DCT, it's hard to see how moral badness is relative between humans and God.

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