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Divine Command Theory
R Swinburne : The Coherence of Theism Chapter 11
Perfectly Good and a Source of Moral Obligation
A theist normally holds that God is by nature morally perfectly good and also that men have a duty to obey the commands of God that the commands of God create moral obligations.
What is it to judge that an action is morally good? I suggest that to judge that an action ought morally to be done is to judge that it is on balance, over all, a better action than alternative actions; that it is of overriding importance to do it, that it matters that it should be done, that the reasons for doing it override any reasons for not doing it.
A morally bad or wrong action is then one which an event ought to refrain fro doing. In saying that God never does actions which are morally wrong, the theist is surely saying that in choosing between alternative actions, although God may do actions which are perhaps ugly, he never does an action which is on balance worse than any alternative action which he might have done instead.
At any rate often in ordinary language 'morally' good actions are those which it is of overriding importance to do, which are over all better than other ones, etc.
In saying that God is morally perfectly good, the theist does commit himself to the view that God does whatever it is of overriding importance that he should do, including any actions, if there are any such, which are of overriding important although they bring no happiness to humans or other sentient beings.
Swinburne : I propose to argue that not merely is perfect goodness compatible with perfect freedom, but that it is logically necessary that an omniscience and perfectly free being be perfectly good.
What is it to judge that there is an overriding reason for doing an action? Is it merely to take up an attitude towards that action, an attitude which does not stand in need of rational justification? Or is it rather to believe a statement about how things are which could be true or false, to judge that an action has the property of being supported by an overriding reason.
If 'judgement' really means judgment, then an omniscient being will of logical necessity make those judgments about overriding reasons for doing action which are true judgements. Hence if he is perfectly free he will do those actions which there is overriding reason to do and refrain from those action from which there is overriding reason to refrain.
Prove point : Need to show that judgements about overriding reasons for doing actions are statements which are true or false. The Objectivity of Moral Judgments (1) The Issue The issue then is whether the moral goodness of actions in the sense defined is an objective matter. Is it either true or false that abortion or euthanasia are always wrong actions, that truthtelling is always right, that this or that or the other particular actions are morally good or bad ?
Are they true or false : The view that they are objective and that they are not subjective.
The Objectivist : Maintain that it is as much a fact about an action that it is right or wrong as that it causes pain or take a long time to perform.
The Subjectivist : Saying that an action is right or wrong is not stating a fact about it but merely expressing approval of it or commending it, or something similar.
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Swinburne : I shall attempt to show that all arguments for subjectivism manifestly fail, and secondly to produce a strong argument for objectivism.
Objectivism : Ascribes a property to all actions of a certain type. Rightness / wrongness / goodness / badness moral properties.
AntiNaturalism : The objectivist may claim for his moral properties either that they are logically distinct from the 'natural' properties of things
Naturalism : Or he may claim that the possession of the former is entailed by possession of certain of the latter. The naturalist claims that if something has a moral property such as goodness, its possession of this property is entailed by its possession of a natural property.
The Naturalist position maybe further subdivided :
1. A naturalist may claim that possession of a moral property just is possession of a certain natural property.
2. Alternatively he may claim that moral properties are properties distinct from natural properties, although possession of the former is entailed by possession of certain of the latter.
On the antinaturalist view possession of natural properties never entails position of moral properties. Moral properties are logically distinct from natural properties, and so it is logically possible that any moral property by possessed by an object with any combination of natural properties. Various versions of antinaturalism are possible.
Any antinaturalist view seems implausible because of the problem of supervenience. The antinaturalist allows the logical possibility of two objects being exactly alike in their natural properties but differing in their moral properties : e.g. two actions of killing a man in exactly the same circumstances differing only in that the one action is right and the other wrong. But this does seem incoherent. An action cannot be just wrong it must be wrong because of some natural feature which it possess, e.g. it causes pain or is forbidden by the government. Two objects which agree in their natural properties must agree in their moral properties, antinaturalism is false.
The first form of naturalism also seems implausible : If 'good' or 'right' were definable in natural terms, then if you and I agree about the natural properties of an action but disagree about whether it is right', either we are using words in different senses, or one or other of us does not know English. Yet that seems implausible. Surely moral disagreement is a genuine phenomenon. I conclude that the objectivist must retreat to the second form of naturalism.
The naturalist must claim that there are two kinds of moral truth :
A. Logically necessary moral truths
B. Contingent moral truths.
The naturalist claims that when an object a has a certain moral property, say M, its possession of it is entailed by it possessing certain natural properties, say A, B, and C. Then it is a necessary turret that anything which is A, B, and C is M; but a contingent truth at a is M or that there is an object which is A and M. Contingent moral truths hold because of the contingent feature of the world that certain objects have certain natural properties
Contingent moral truths hold because the world is as it is in respect of natural properties. But that those moral truths hold under those circumstances is itself a necessary moral truth. For if we state full the natural features of the world which make a contingent moral truth to hold, it cannot be contingent matter that it does hold under those circumstances. Yet it is a moral truth that it does, and hence a necessary moral truth. It is a necessary moral truth that when I have bought £10 of books from the bookshop I ought to pay the bill. No doubt this holds because of a more general moral truth.
The Objectivity of Moral Judgment (2) The Failure of Arguments Against Objectivism
1. Pure moral disagreement : Disagreement about whether things are right / wrong etc.
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Pure moral judgements are judgments about what kinds of things are right / wrong which do not depend for their truth on any claims about natural facts. The objection has the form of an argument from a premiss to the conclusion ( C ) : premisses stating natural facts do not entail moral conclusions' What is the premiss? It may be one of the three :
P1 : Seldom does any one change his pure moral views as a result of argument
P2 : Never does any one change his pure moral views as a result of argument
P3 : Nobody knows how to go about producing arguments to settle pure moral disagreements.
P1 does not yield C
P2 + P3 are false so whether or not C follows from them does not matter.
P1 is undoubtedly true.
It is not that moral disagreements are always readily settled this does not happen often. But this may be because argument does not go on long enough or because men are irrational. All that is being claimed is that there are recognised ways of going about settling a moral disagreement, and most of us know how to use them.
2. However fully we describe an action in natural terms, it always makes sense for one man to say 'ø is always a right action' and for another man to say 'ø is not always a right action'. Both of these remarks are intelligible. Yet if an action being ø entailed it being right or entailed it being not always right, one or other of these remarks would be incoherent.
Incoherence can be buried very deep
3. Agreement on natural facts does not entail agreement in attitude whereas agreement about moral matters does entail agreement in attitude. This suggests a strong disanalogy between agreement about natural facts and agreement about morals, suggesting that agreement of the latter kind is not agreement about any kind of fact at all. Ethical agreement requires more than agreement in belief; it requires agreement in attitude.
In one sense attitude agreement about natural facts seems to require agreement in attitude. To believe that a is ø
involves thinking of a as ø and thus, if taking an attitude is a mere cognitive stance, taking an attitude towards a as towards a øthing.
Yet if taking an attitude is a matter of emotive stance, moral agreement does not necessarily involve community of attitude. I may judge that some action is my duty, without linking to do it or wanting to do it. The only hope for this object seems to be to spell out 'agreement in attitude' as 'agreement in commitment to action'.
4. The objection concerned with the close connection between moral judgments and actions This bring to our notice the fact that which moral judgments I accept makes a difference too what I o, and the fact that the connection between moral judgment and action does not appear to be a merely contingent one.
For Hare moral judgments entail selfaddressed imperatives; and to accept an imperative is to obey it. Thus 'X is wrong' entails 'let me not do X'. There are well known difficulties in asserting such a tight connection : Cannot a man believe that X is wrong and yet do X through weakness of will?
Claims about natural facts do not entail the existence of reasons for doing things, whereas moral judgments do. Such claim about natural facts as that there is food in the larder, but it only does so under certain contingent circumstances : e.g. if I am hungry.
The Objectivity of Moral Judgment (3) An Argument for Objectivism
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There is quite substantial agreement between most people with respect to many sentences as to whether they express logically possible suppositions. Most people share quite an area of moral agreement. They start from their common basis to try to settle disagreement by the recognised routes. This may not produce agreement within a finite time. There are always ways of going on.
Argument summary :
If morality is objective, the naturalistic account of it is correct and morality is based on a set of logically necessary truths. In one discipline concerned with logically necessary truths, viz. philosophy, it is as easy or difficult to reach agreed results as it is in morals. Yet there is a sufficient amount and kind of agreement over methods and results in philosophy for it to be termed an objective discipline, and its results termed true or false. The extent to which agreement on moral judgments is possible when men are determined to reach conclusion to which they can honest assent is emphasised by Hare in Freedom and Reason.
I conclude that moral judgments such as that an action x is a right action or that it is morally better than y, or that actions of type A are never morally good, are statements which are true or false.
A Source of Moral Obligation
The second claim of theism to be analysed is the claim that if God issues commands they create moral obligations; that actions become our duty or become wrong, when commanded or forbidden, as they case may be, by God; that man's duty is to conform to the announced will of God. Is it coherent to suppose that man's duty is to conform to the announced will of a certain perfectly free and omnipresent spirit who is the creator of the universe, omnipotent and omniscient?
A theist who makes this claim about duty is faced with a traditional dilemma first stated in Plato's Euthyphro are actions which are obligatory, obligatory because God makes them so ( e.g. by commanding men to do them), or does God urge us to do them because they are obligatory anyway?
First Horn : To claim that God can o this free choice make actions obligatory, or nonobligatory.
Yet the critic may rightly object that torturing children or genocide are immoral, whether or not God commands them. God's command could not make such actions right.
Second Horn : To claim that actions are good or bad in themselves and remain so whatever choices God makes.
This is uncomfortable for the theist for three reasons :
It seems to place a restriction on God's power if he cannot make any action which he chooses good.
A. Answer : It is no restriction on God's power that he cannot do the logically impossible. If it is logically necessary, as we have claimed, that certain actions, e.g. genocide, are wrong, then God can no more make them right than he can make a man both married and a bachelor at the same time.
II. It seems to limit what God can command us to do. God, if he is to be God, cannot command us to do what, independently of his will, is wrong since, it is plausible to suppose, it is morally wrong to command a man to do what is morally wrong.
A. The answer is similar to previously : An omniscient / perfect being can for logical reasons do no wrong. Hence he cannot command wrongdoing. This in a way limits his power but make him, for reasons considered earlier, no less worthy of worship. III. Taking the second horn is that traditionally God has been believed to have the right to will to command men to do at any rate many things, and men to have an obligation to do those things merely because he commanded them.
To meet this third objection to taking the second horn and also the earlier objection to taking the first horn, it seems that the most plausible course for the thirst to take is to take different horns for different actions, and to say that some
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