Philosophical Investigations

Article: Divine Command Theory

Divine command theory argues that an act is obligatory if it is commanded by God. Divine command theory is widely criticized by what is known as the Euthyphro dilemma (after its first appearance in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro): "Is an action morally good because God commands it, or does God command it because it is morally good?"

Criticisms of divine command theory

DCT implies that morality is arbitrary. If DCT is true, morality is based merely on God's whim. If God had willed cruelty and dishonesty to be virtues, and mercy and charity to be vices, then they would have been so. The natural reply to this objection is that God would not have commanded such things because he would not command evil, but this response implies a circular definition as it is only God's command that makes them evil. It implies that calling God good makes no sense - or, at best, that one is simply saying that God is consistent: "God does whatever he commands". It commits the naturalistic fallacy.

Proponents of this criticism argue that while ethics should specify the non-moral properties that make things good, it is always a mistake to use non-moral terms in giving the meaning of the word 'good'. If I ask why I shouldn't commit murder, the divine command answer is: "because God commands you not to", but I can then ask why I should do what God commands. If the answer is that God created me, I can ask why I should obey my creator, and so on. This is not a matter of motivation, but of the explanation of the way morality creates values of right and wrong.

Finally, there is the question of how you come to know the will of God. Most religions point to scripture (Bible and Qur'an) for answers, but it is still possible to question whether these state the will of God. Few religions claim to have texts detailing their deity's will on every possible situation. These gaps often concern situations that the writers couldn't have foreseen, such as those involving advanced technologies, especially biological and medical ones. Because of these problems, critics claim that we can never be sure if a person, including myself, who claims to know God's will, actually does know, or is lying, mistaken, or mad (or indeed if God has subsequently changed his mind, though this possibility is ruled out by many notions of God).

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