Monday 9/24

Moral Theology I: Divine Command Theory (a)

Please note that we have the second of our quizzes today. As before, we'll begin with the quiz, so it is very important that you arrive on time. Plan on 40 minutes or so for the quiz, after which we'll consider responses to the relativist challenge. The quiz will cover Standards of Evaluation, Cultural Ethical Relativism, Simple Ethical Subjectivism, and our discussion of truth, including particularly our brief discussion of Emotivism.





We began today with our second quiz. Some seemed, well, suprised by the quiz, which begs an important question: How much time should I spend studying for this class?

The obvious answer is that it depends in large part on how difficult a time you're having keeping all the arguments straight. But there is a rule-of-thumb to gauge whether or not you're spending enough time studying. For most courses, expect to spend two hours outside of class for every hour in class. For more difficult courses--math or physics or philosophy, say--expect a three to one ratio. I would say for an introductory course like this one, two-to-one is about right. The upshot is that you should expect to spend about six hours every week outside of class studying. I know that may sound like a lot. Suppose you apply the same rule to all your classes, and you're taking 15 hours. Then 30 hours is to be spent outside of class studying, with 15 hours in class discussions, lectures, labs, etc. That makes the total 45 hours a week, which of course is why it is called being a 'full time' student. Now, many of you also work, some full time. In that case, you're looking at 80-90 hours each week involved in school and work. (You can see why it is so much more difficult for those who work to get through their coursework.)

I digress. In summary, you should expect to spend approximately one hour every day outside of class reading these synopses, the class notes, and whatever texts might be assigned, compiling note cards, reviewing arguments, and organizing the material for yourself.

Now, having explored and dismissed the skeptical challenges to the possibility of studying ethics represented by Culture Ethical Relativism, Simple Ethical Subjectivism, and Emotivism, we next turned to the one firm bedrock ethics traditionally has been thought to enjoy. That is, thus far we have discussed two theories which adopt the fundamental assumption that there is no universal moral truth. The first, Cultural Ethical Relativism, did poorly against our Standards. The second, Simple Ethical Subjectivism, did better, but we still ended up rejecting it as a possibly true theory. Of course, morality could still turn out to be relative in some way or other, but the prospects aren't good. So if there is universal moral truth, how do we establish it? What could justify universal moral truths?

Ethics is traditionally thought to be the province of religion. If we want to understand what is morally right or morally wrong, we need only consult one or more sacred texts or take up the matter with a privileged religious leader whose job it is to make moral pronouncements. Let us call this view moral theology. Only by invoking God's authority can we make sense of universal moral truth. Thus moral theology is popularly viewed as the only alternative to moral relativism. But is it?

We will consider two ethical theories that emerge from moral theology. The first, Divine Command Theory, supposes that morality is dependent on God's will. An action is morally obligatory just in case it was commanded by God. An action is morally wrong just in case it was forbidden by God. And, presumably, an action is otherwise morally permissible.

DCT is especially interesting because a great many of the people in the world believe something like DCT, even if they have never explicitly formulated it as we have. So it seems important to find out whether or not DCT has a chance of being true. We turn to that problem next time.

Today we spelled out the principles of DCT and discussed how we might discern what God commands, forbids, or permits as the case may be. Next time we'll approach the theory by running it by our Standards of Evaluation to see how it fares.