Divine command theory

Divine command theory: an action is right if and only if it is an action commanded by God. 

This assumes most obviously that God exists, but let us be gracious and accept the assumption; for without it we cannot go any further.

Arguments for the theory:

  1. God created everything; the moral laws are part of everything; God created the moral laws, and the rightness of an action depends on the will of God.
  2. God is omnipotent; if the moral rightness of an action did not depend on God; he could not be called omnipotent.
  3. For morality to be objective, it has to depend on God’s will; since it is objective, it depends on God’s will.
  4. For someone to be morally obligated to do something, there needs to be a source of authority compelling him to do so; God is the only source of moral authority; moral obligations depend on God.

Objections to the arguments:

  1. Assumes that moral laws exist; that they are not somehow illogical by nature, such that not even God could have brought it into existence. Everything may only refer to the natural parts of the universe, and to the ideas we form in our minds.
  2. Does omnipotence allow God to surpass illogicality?
  3. Assumes that morality is objective and further that if it is, it can only be made objective through the will of God – supposing the objectivity of morality were something that stood independently of God?
  4. Assumes that God is the only source of moral authority; fallacy of begging the question.

Euthyphro’s Dilemma: (1) is an action right because God commands it so, or (2) does God command it because it is right? The former implies that whatever God does, it has to be right. This makes the phrase ‘God is good’ immediately meaningless, since it is not him that is good, but merely the actions he takes. The latter implies that morality is something above and beyond God, standing independent to him and his powers. This means that God is not the highest authority when it comes to making moral judgements.

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