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Divine Command Theory Analysis (Essay Sample)


It is about writing an analysis of the divine command theory.


Divine Command Theory
Justifying the foundations of moral judgment and individual conduct is a difficult task that occupied a huge place in the history of moral philosophy. Assuming that individuals have moral obligations that they are expected to fulfill, the question that needs to be answered is, what is the source of moral duty and obligation. One of the ways of justifying the foundation of moral obligation is to appeal to the existence of a higher transcendent being that is responsible for the whole of creation. This led to the development of the divine command theory. Such an approach tries to account for the nature of moral conduct by appealing to the will of God and even though it is believed that today we are living in the world of globalization and secularism, religion still forms the foundation of morality for most individuals. In this paper, I will argue in favor of the divine command theory as an adequate answer to the foundation of moral conduct. Against the critics of such an approach, it will be argued that the divine command theory represents an approach that accounts for the meaning of life and also the capacity to introduce a categorical moral principle that is not grounded on a cost-benefit analysis. It is a progressive approach that still provides the source of moral motivation for most individuals and to this extent; it can guide the moral dimension of human life.
The divine command theory is one of the most dominant foundations of ethical conduct that assumes that it is the will and command of God that needs to be situated as the foundation of moral conduct. It assumes that it is by believing in the existence of a transcendent being and having an unconditional allegiance to such a being that human beings can discover the meaning of what is right and wrong. The divine command theory states that finite human beings must completely submit their will to the will of God. Based on this, it is not up to individuals to decide what is right and wrong and on the contrary, the task of human beings is to follow moral principles that have a universal and absolute nature. This shows that divine command theory differs from naturalism which “begins by identifying goodness with satisfying our interests” (Rachels, p. 75). The kind of moral principles that are introduced by divine command theory is absolute and to this extent do not result out of utilitarian considerations. They are moral binding in the most absolute terms and as a result of this, their truth is not affected by subjective outlooks and the cultural differences that are found in the world. Divine command theory has faced huge criticism in the modern world as it was believed that the foundation of morality needs to be rationally oriented and also secular. Religion remained as a major source of meaning in the life of individuals and as a result of this, it continues to provide a moral guide that is to be followed by individuals.
Throughout the philosophical tradition, various severe criticisms of divine command theory have been forwarded and some of these criticisms concentrated on the essence of such an approach while others focused on its practical applicability. The first of such criticism of divine command theory operates within the assumption that the approach is too arbitrary and that it does not manage to introduce a consistent substantive standard that can be followed to separate what is right from wrong. This criticism assumes that divine command theory completely takes away the power to decide what is right and wrong from individuals and their moral agency and as a result of this cannot provide a rational foundation for the moral conduct of individuals. Looking at the debates that are forwarded on the source of morality, it can be argued that, “it can be a lot easier to identify where it doesn’t come from” (Joyce, 2007, p. 58). Since it is the will of God that is the foundation of morality, then we have no rational way of deicing and justifying what is it within the nature of individual actions that make them right and wrong. The basic weakness of such a criticism of divine command theory is that it sees religion as an irrational form of life. It does not see that religion served as a foundation for the democratic and human rights that we hold in high regard today. It fails to understand the fact that individuals are given the capacity to weigh in different alternatives as members of a given religion and that it is by the free will that they have chosen to accept the moral principles that are prescribed by a given religion.
A second major criticism of the divine command theory states that the approach does not take into consideration the moral diversity that is found in the world. It is said that living in a world where many secular and religious approaches can be used to dictate the moral conduct of the individual, the divine command theory fails to see that there is a need to develop a pluralistic approach in the world of morality. Standing against the existence of such diversity, the divine command theory assumes that religion which is of an abstract and absolute nature needs to be seen as the foundation of morality. Divine command theory according to such a criticism does not show which religion must be selected over others to influence the moral life of individuals. It also does not show how we can decide to accommodate the diversity of ethical opinions that are found in the world. The critics assume that there is no moral principle that is superior when compared to others and that divine command theory also stands against religious pluralism as it will potentially create the ground for a confrontation among the members of different religions. The basic weakness of such a criticism of divine command theory is the fact that it fails to see the similarities that are found in the major ethical orientations that are found in the world. By its very nature, it is seen that the issue of “moral normativity…has both inescapability and authority” (Joyce, 2007, p. 62). Diverse ethical perspectives are indeed found in the world. Still, this does not mean that they do not have basic similarities to one another. In one way or the other, the domain moral approaches that are found in the world show the value of pursuing reciprocal relations. They are dictated by a basic principle that states that we should always strive to protect the internal worth and the moral value of the other person. This shows that there is a shared moral principle among the religious and secular perspectives on the nature of moral conduct.
A third major criticism of divine command theory states that the approach is too essentialist and metaphysical and that it does not have the power to explain the day-to-day moral problems and dilemmas that individuals are faced with. This criticism also assumes that there is necessarily a contradictory relationship between the world of morality, on one hand, that of religion on the other hand. The moral life is taking in space where there are contradictory claims that are being raised and that there is a need to pay attention to history and day-to-day human relations. The world of religion on the other contrary for such criticism is abstract in its nurture and because of this; there is an antithesis between religion and morality. The individuals that are found in the world of day-to-day reality are faced with different options and because of this, their dilemmas cannot be resolved by simply following abstract moral principles that are provided by religion. It is suggested that “when a person has a moral belief…this necessarily involves the person’s being motivated to act accordingly” (Rachels, 266). The basic problem with such a criticism of the divine command theory is that it does not see how religion appeals to the needs and feelings of the people. It has a unique ability to offer a meaning that recognizes the anxiety and the despair that is faced by individuals. It also can develop a sense of meaning and morality that is holistic and relates the day-to-day actions of individuals to a divine purpose.
Once we have considered the major criticism of the divine command theory and its basic limitations, now let’s look at the strengths of such a position. To start with, there is a need to see that the divine command theory has the ability to related questions of morality to the issues of the meaning of life. What the divine command theory offers is not just the resolving of day-to-day moral problems and ethical dilemmas. It is more important since it confers on the life of individuals a sense of meaning and gives them a purpose that is related to a divine mission. Some questions are all people want to understand like what is the meaning and purpose of human existence and what kind of actions are demanded from individuals and the divine command theory can answer such questions. It shows that all of the actions of individuals have meaning and that the finite action of individuals is taking place within a larger world of divinity. It is a reality that is not trapped within the temporal world and because of this the meaning of human life is being given a divine purpose. Most importantly, the divine command theory shows us that the earthly life is not the only form of existence that is being led and that there is a way of attaining a divine meaning in one’s earthly existence. It differs from the position of individual subjectivism where “our subjective obligations are to fulfill what we believe to be our objective obligations” (Swinburne, 2008, p. 7-8). The divine command theory does not neglect the rights of individuals for the sake of a divine mission. On the contrary, it shows that human beings do not just have material nature and that there is a larger divine purpose that t...

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