Can we have an example case?

This is a simple--rather feeble, indeed--sample case analysis written by John Doe with Jane Doe's (no relation) critical analysis. The case analysis is written in response to the case outlined in the section, What is a Case Study? This is only an example, and a rather superficial one at that. Your own cases will no doubt look very different. All of them will be much longer and involve a great deal of research. In reading the Example Case, though, you should focus on how the arguments are organized and how the dialogue between John and Jane proceeds.

Case I, John Doe, Jane Doe

Theory Applied: Divine Command Theory (DCT)

Conclusion: Assuming DCT in the Christian Tradition, it clearly follows that it is morally wrong for Bradely to abort her pregnancy.


ARGUMENT: John Doe

Recall that according to DCT,

1. An action X is morally obligatory iff God commands X.

2. An action X is morally wrong (impermissible) iff God forbids X.

3. An action X is morally permissible otherwise.

According to the Christian Tradition, the Bible is the Word of God. God clearly says:

From the Ten Commandments: "Thou Shalt Not Kill"

From the first chapter of Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you."

So in the first case God clearly forbids killing. Now, presumably, God isn't forbidding the killing of just anything. We have to eat, after all. So, given other things God has to say, it is plausible to say that God forbids us from killing innocent human beings. The question in this case, then, is whether or not the fetus Bradley carries is an innocent human being. That's where the second quote comes in. Clearly God is indicating that the fetus is a human being--a person, if you will--since God says "before you were born I consecrated you." And just as surely the fetus is an innocent human being, since it hasn't even had the chance to do anything wrong.

Since God forbids us from killing innocent human beings and since Bradely's fetus is an innocent human being, it follows that Bradely's aborting her pregnancy is morally wrong.


CRITICAL ANALYSIS: Jane Doe

Well, first of all, DCT is a not an especially good theory. Remember the Euthyphro Argument? Either God has a reason for what He/She/It commands (forbids), or He/She/It doesn't. If He/She/It doesn't then whatever He/She/It commands (forbids) is arbitrary, He/She/It could have commanded (forbidden) otherwise. But that's an absurd conclusion: morality is not arbitrary. Hence God must have a reason for what He/She/It commands (forbids). But then what are those reasons? We might as well investigate God's reasons and sidestep the complication of God's commandments. Whatever we do, we should admit that God's will does not determine morality. Your argument is unsound on the grounds that DCT is false.

But, just for the sake of argument, let's ignore DCT's falsity and take a closer look at your argument. First, why should we assume the Christian Tradition? Why not Islamic Tradition? And even if you can answer that question satisfactorily, surely you realize that there are many sub-traditions in the Christian Tradition. Only some suppose that the Bible really is the word of God. For example, I don't think the Unitarians would agree with what you have to say here. So there's a clear problem with your assumption that the Bible is the word of God.

I agree with your assessment of the "Don't Kill" commandment. But that first chapter of Jeremiah bit is just simply mistaken. God is in no way indicating that the human fetus is a human being. You've taken what He/She/It (supposedly) said entirely out of context. Consider the entire passage:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Then I said, "Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth." But the Lord said to me,

"Do not say, 'I am only a youth,' for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak. Be not afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you," says the Lord.

If you consider the whole passage, you realize that God isn't saying a thing about the human fetus' status (whether or not it's a human being). Rather, Jeremiah is being given authority as a prophet, which has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

It follows that EVEN IF DCT were true, which it's not, and EVEN IF the Bible is the Word of God, which it's not at all clear that it is, your argument is still unsound because it incorrectly takes a passage out of context. God nowhere says outright that the human fetus is a human being. So why should we think it is???


RESPONSE: John Doe

First, in support of DCT, I have to say that God's reasons are HIS reasons. We can't know them, we're mere human beings. All we have to go on are God's commands. So DCT is not false.

Second, our tradition is the Christian tradition and except for a few, pretty rare offshoots the Christian tradition tells us to take seriously what the Bible says since it is the the Word of God.

Third, I must admit that the Jeremiah quote was taken out of context. But even so it doesn't follow that God doesn't say the human fetus is a human being. Jeremiah's authority as a prophet is one thing, but why would he talk about having consecrated Jeremiah before he was born? Surely only persons (=human beings) can be consecrated. And if they can be consecrated before they are born, they must be human beings before they are born--i.e., the human fetus must be a human being.