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M12014434 Topic A Divine Command Theory

What makes torture wrong and giving to charity right? Some may say that these

actions are right or wrong because God, or some over divine being, commands them to be

right or wrong. This is known as divine command theory, the theory that rightness and

goodness of an action comes from Gods commands. One can question the theory, however,

when they ask if torture is wrong because God says it is, or does God command that it is

wrong because it is wrong? This is a dilemma introduced by Plato called the Euthyphro

dilemma that creates a roadblock in the divine command theory. Mark Timmons presents a

way around the Euthyphro problem by restricting the theory and providing four ideas that

alter the theory in a way which strengthens it. Timmons restricted divine command theory

does successfully escape the Euthyphro dilemma and makes the theory stronger as a whole.

We must first set up a guideline or criteria for what classifies God to create a

universally valid argument. Timmons refers to them as perfections (Timmons 46) that no

being or organism alive could poses other than God. Timmons says that Gods perfections

include being creator of everything (G1), having full rationality(G2), and having perfect

moral goodness (G3)(Timmons, 46). These three requirements establish that God is all-

powerful or omnipotent and all-knowing or omniscient, doing everything with intent and a

vision (Timmons, 46). None of his actions are questionable, therefore he can be used as a

standard for morality.

Divine command theory stems from the basis that what is right (or obligatory) and

what is good depends on Gods commands (Timmons, 42). Therefore, the divine command

theory can be broken down into two parts: the theory of right conduct, stating that if God

commands an action, that action is obligatory, and the theory of value, stating that if God

commands an action, then that action is good. (Timmons, 42-43)


Although divine command theory is accepted by many people, some reject the theory

because of a dilemma brought about in Platos Euthyphro. This is a dialogue between

Socrates and a religious man named Euthyphro who wants to bring murder charges up against

his own father. Socrates asks Euthyphro if he is worried that people will think of this as

impious and irreligious. The two men debate what is considered pious and what is not.

Socrates then brings up the question Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious

because they love it? (Timmons, 46). In simpler terms, are right acts right because God

commands them, or does God command them because they are right? This is known as the

Euthyphro Dilemma and whichever option or side of the question that you choose, you are

bringing up serious objections that weaken the divine command theory.

The first option of the dilemma says actions are right because God commands them to

be right; this is true divine command theory. The problem with this option, however, is God

could simply command anything and it would be obligatory and good. God could

theoretically command something one day and then forbid it the next day and whatever he

says is moral law. If you decide to take this first option of the Euthyphro question, then you

are forced to give up G2 - the claim that everything God does, he does for a reason.

(Timmons, 47). This is known as the arbitrariness problem because without a reason behind

his commands, Gods actions seem arbitrary. But then again, if there was a reason for his

actions, then this disproves true divine command theory because it wouldnt be God himself

commanding things on his own judgement. To accept the divine command theory is to be

committed to the idea that gods commands are arbitrary - he has no reason for commanding

that we not torture, he might as well command us to torture, murder, and tell lies (Timmons,

47).

True divine command theory also brings up a problem with perfection G3. God could

simply command us to love him and we would, not because he is perfectly good and moral,
but because he commands it arbitrarily. Accepting the divine command theory will force us

to give up the perfections of G2 and G3. But clearly it would be too much for the theist to

give up the claims expressed in G2 and G3. In particular, the theist cannot give up the claim

about Gods goodness, since it is the basis for devotion and worship. (Timmons, 48) This

argument poses a threat because if you accept the theory, you must abandon two key

components that set up the theory in the first place.

The second option of the Euthyphro Dilemma is that God commands an action

because it is right. This is saying God will only command things that are intrinsically right

and there must be some moral code independent of God that tells him what actions are good.

This poses a problem with perfection G1 because God is therefore not creator of the moral

code that he himself is following. He is not omnipotent, therefore, because he was not

powerful enough to create the moral code for humans. Picking this side of the argument

requires one to reject the divine command theory as a whole because morality is not

dependent on Gods commands, it is dependent on the moral code outside of God. So,

whether the theist accepts the divine command theory (option 1) or not (option 2), it looks as

if she must give up an important tenet of theistic belief about God. Hence the theist faces a

dilemma. (Timmons, 48)

Timmons then proposes a restricted version of the divine command theory that I

believe solves the Euthyphro dilemma. Restricted divine command theory states An action

is obligatory if and only if that act is morally good and is commanded by God (Timmons,

50). Timmons describes four ideas that lead to the establishment of the restricted theory.

First, because God is all-loving, all-merciful, and all-just, he is a perfectly good being

(Timmons, 49). God is perfect in all of his ways and therefore, he can be used as a standard

and guideline for goodness. Also, because God is all-loving, all-merciful, and all-just, there

are actions God would never do. Some acts therefore deserve the title of bad actions
(Timmons, 49) because God would never do them. Timmons states Gods own goodness

allows us to label other actions as good or bad based on the thought of whether or not God

would do those actions. This satisfies the divine command theory of value, but what about the

theory of right conduct that makes actions obligatory?

For an object to be an obligation, it must also be a demand from some source. This

source cannot be society as a whole, however, because society is flawed and different

societies may demand actions that are considered moral in one community but immoral in

another. As Robert Adams remarks These are all reasons for thinking that, as most

moralists have, that actual human social requirements are simply not good enough to

constitute the basis of moral obligation (Adams 1999, 248) (Timmons, 50).There must be

some universal being that demands acts and makes them obligatory. Therefore, God and

only God can play the role of the person to whom all moral demands are owed, as one who

has the authority to demand of humans that they perform certain actions and avoid others.

(Timmons, 50). The key word here is authority because this shows that God is omnipotent

and he is the only one above mankind that can make requirements for humans. This then

satisfies the theory of right conduct by making Gods commands obligatory.

The restricted divine command theory solves the Euthyphro Dilemma because it fixes

the problems with G1, G2, and G3 that are brought about in the dilemma. It avoids the divine

goodness problem which states that God is good only because he commands himself to be

good. This restricted theory states that God is good in his own nature because he is all-

loving, all-just, and all-merciful (Timmons, 50-51). It also avoids the arbitrariness problem

with true divine command theory because this restricted theory says that God commands

things based on things that he would do as a perfectly good person. Therefore, his commands

cannot be arbitrary, the guideline for his commands are his own set actions. This also fixes

the problem with the second option of the Euthyphro Dilemma because there no longer exists
a moral code outside of God that determines what makes actions right or wrong. Since that

was the only objection to G1, and now we establish that there is no outside moral code, then

G1 holds true and God remains the creator of everything.

Restricted divine command theory fixes all the problems with the Euthyphro

Dilemma and strengthens the theory as a whole. Remember that the first option of the

Euthyphro Dilemma was true divine command theory and that the only objections to this

were the arbitrariness problem against G2 and the divine goodness problem against G3. The

restricted version of the theory provides a way around these problems. Timmons succeeded in

providing a restricted version of the age old divine command theory that escapes the

Euthyphro dilemma and makes the theory more convincing and appealing as a whole.

References

Mortimer, Robert. Morality is Based on Gods Commands In Mark Timmons, ed.,

Conduct and Character, 6th Edition, Wadsworth, 2012, pp. 37-40.

Timmons, Mark. (2012). Conduct and Character: Readings in Moral Theory, 6th

Edition, Boston, MA: Wadsworth.


Green, Hank. Divine Command Theory: Crash Course Philosophy #33

Youtube.com, 9/25/2017 URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRHBwxC8b8I&t

=185s

Carbonell, Vanessa. Philosophy 1003 Day 5 Slides Accessed through Blackboard

on 9/25/2017