As I’ve mentioned, the Divine Command Theory (DCT) is the oldest and most widely-held ethical theory in our world today. That means that you are actually quite likely to believe in it already. This is the ethical theory that we are going to dive into today.
Metaethical species – Moral Absolutism
- God(s) exists
- God(s) is/are the creator(s) of everything, he is all-powerful and all-knowing; therefore he should be revered. IOW, he is perfect.
What DCT basically is
So to put it very simply, DCT is the ethical theory that calls for us to get our morality from God. Why? If you are already a believer of the basic assumptions, you can logically deduce that:
Since God(s) is/are the creator(s) of everything, and he (I’m just going to generalize at this point) is someone who we should revere; then it would be natural for us to follow what he says. In several religion, the common trait is that God is likened to an authority figure that lays out rules and guidelines; telling people what to do.
So, if you are a theist; and you need to follow the instructions from God, how do you do that? Various ways are available, but the most common one is divine scripture (what it’s called depends on religion. Bible for Christianity, Qur’an for Islam). Thus, DCT basically suggests that you study the divine scriptures; and use it as a guide book to how you live your life.
Benefits of DCT
- Resolves the Grounding Problem
Simplicity of DCT
This one is really simple. Your task is not demanding or complex; you just need to follow instruction. If you are stuck in an ethical dilemma, read the rulebook; it probably holds your answer. This simplicity itself is a kind of benefit.
Resolves the Grounding Problem
Remember the previous post when I mentioned the Grounding Problem with Moral Absolutism? The one where there is an issue of where these moralities that’s absolute come from? The need to address it such that it’s credible? DCT does not have this problem since it based its moral code of conducts from God, assuming that he exists. If you believe in God, this should come to you as credible enough; and the Grounding Problem is solved in your perception.
A Deep Flaw
As with all ethical theories, there are pros and cons, virtues and flaws. One deep flaw with the DCT is selective adherence.
Let’s just take the most popular religion as an example, Christianity, simple because it is the most convenient and relatable one. The following quotes are from the Bible:
Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together – Deuteronomy 22:11
I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes – 1Timothy 2:9
Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks in yourselves -Levitivus 19:28
Do not go about spreading slander among your people – Leviticus 19:16
In summary, the quotes are restrictions on: wearing fabrics made of wool and linen mixed together, modern women’s fashion in general, tattooing, and gossiping respectively.
Now, the curious thing is; are these restrictions adhered to strictly in our modern world today? I use the adjective “strictly” because Moral Absolutism is a feature of DCT. I mean, if you don’t follow the words of the world’s creator strictly, you will accumulate sins and go to hell; at least in the context of Christianity.
As you can already tell, these are considered outdated rules. If we adhere to the bible, as DCT suggests; our whole modern culture is a violation against God despite the fact that we are still overwhelmingly theist in demographic. You just need to take a good look at the American culture to identify this contradiction. The Americans are mostly Christians, and they practically violated a quarter of rules in the bible with their consumerism culture. But does this mean that they are not truly using DCT as their moral framework? That is a tough denial though, because their moral worldview is fundamentally the same as DCT; since they look to the bible for moral principles.
A more realistic explanation of theists’ general contradictory behavior (although this is overwhelmingly in the modern culture, pre-modern ones are also guilty of it; with genocides and corruption violating basic moral values of compassion and honesty espouse by most religions) is selective adherence. They are selectively choosing rules from the rulebook to follow, probably to fit the modern context of our society.
The Problem with Selective Adherence
Selective adherence might seem ok at first, since the rebuttal given is that there is a modern society; so there is a need to interpret the text differently/selectively. However, this brings up another contradiction:
If God is the creator of all things, he must be omnipotent, omnipresent and all virtuous; or at least that’s how theists see their Gods anyway. If that is the assumption, then the Bible should be immune to cultural changes. Why? Because God is all-powerful and all-knowing; so he made a plan. He made a plan that is timeless and perfect; thus the Bible that he gave humans is also perfect. Would it not be unwise to disregard the bible as being seemingly outdated and indulge in selective interpretation?
The Trilemma that Divine Command Theorists Have To Deal With
The contradiction poses a very serious challenge to the whole theory itself; especially on its fundamental assumptions. If modern selective adherence proves anything; it is that the Bible is not exactly very credible. That either challenges the assumption that God is perfect; or there exists a God.
The assumption that God is perfect can possibly be done away with, especially with evidences like how God ordered Abraham to kill his own son. This can be seen in the famous Euthyphro Problem in philosophy (look it up if you are interested). However, this can be hard for most theists to swallow since they would like to believe that the Gods they worship are virtuous. Who wouldn’t?
The second way is to do away with the assumption that God exists. Needless to say, theists will not find this an option to begin with.
However, there is a third way out of this whole problem: The acceptance that our whole modern culture is indeed a violation of God’s plan. If you accept that, the next order of business for you; if you are theist, is to become a monk or a nun so as to abstain yourself from the sinful culture that we have altogether. Not willing? That’s why this is a trilemma, there’s almost no pleasant way out of this problem.
DCT is the most widely held and oldest ethical theory in the world. The main reason is probably because of its simplicity and theistic-inclination. Its merits lie mainly in the former along with the fact that it solves the Grounding Problem. Simple because there are rule books that guide us. However, the deep flaw in DCT is undeniable. It is unable to answer several of its philosophical criticisms: mainly on selective adherence, which strikes at the theory at its very foundation – the basic assumptions. This flaw has led many theists to reject this ethical theory altogether; and adopt another new framework known as the Natual Law Theory, espoused by Thomas Aquinas. In fact, instead of the Divine Command Theory; most theists are taught to use Natural Law Theory instead of the DCT. That is what I am going to explore in the next post, so don’t worry theists: if DCT does injustice to your beliefs, or you disagree with it; you will probably be pleased with the Natural Law Theory.
Crashcourse YouTube Video (Philosophy)
Disclaimer: Some criticisms of DCT are from myself. In the Crashcourse video, more focus was put on the Euthyphro Problem as a rebuttal against DCT. I decided to explore my own criticisms and thoughts because they are my own, and I thought it might add value to it. Of course, I might change my opinion over time; should someone correct me philosophically. For now, I’ll just put it out there for discussion.