Religion and Morality
Is it true that morality
depends on religion , even that
it cannot be understood in the
context of religion?
Ivan Karamoazov-”If God does
not exist, everything is
permissible.” (Moral nihilism)
 Major ethical theories have been
developed independently.- Autonomy
Morality does not originate with God.
 Rightness and wrongness are not based
simply on God’s will.
 Essentially, there are reasons for acting
one way or the other which may be
known independently of God’s will.
 Something is required if and only if X.
 Conditional proposition: If P, then Q.
 Sufficient Condition: A condition that
logically entails another.
 Necessary condition: A condition that
holds every time some other condition
Necessary and Sufficient
 If this is a white table, it is a table.
 Being a white table is sufficient for being a table.
 Being a table is necessary for being a white table.
Divine Command Theory
 God’s commanding something is
necessary and sufficient for its being
 If God commands it, then it is right.
 If it is right, then God commands it.
 The same applies to forbidden
The Divine Command Theory
 Behavior is considered morally right if it is commanded by God
and morally wrong if it is forbidden.
o This seems to solve the
objectivity problem in ethics.
Ethics is not merely a matter of
personal feeling or social
custom. It is God’s will.
o The theory also provides a
powerful reason for people to
bother with morality. Divine
punishment is not a pleasant
prospect; reward, however, is
very appealing.
Serious Problems with DC Theory
? Socrates asked Euthyphro:
Is conduct right because the gods command it, or do the
gods command it because it is right?
o It is right because God commands it.
 This conception of morality is mysterious.
 It makes God’s commands arbitrary.
 It provides the wrong reasons for moral
o God commands it because it is right.
 This leads to a different problem. We
acknowledge a standard that is
independent of God’s will. The rightness
exists prior to God’s command and is the
reason for the command.
God’s Goodness
 Things are right and good because God says so.
 God is good.
 Substitution: God says God is right and good.
 This is a problem because God’s goodness is often
treated as a reason to treat God as a moral authority.
 So in saying that things are not good by any
rule of goodness, but sheerly by the will of
God, it seems to me that one destroys,
without realizing it, all the love of God and
all his glory. For why praise him for what
he has done if he would be equally
praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary?
Divine Command Theory is not Natural Law
 What is natural law theory?
Natural Law Theory
 God created nature and the laws of
nature are in accord with God’s plan.
 Natural law is universal and the same
for all human beings at all times.
 These moral laws of nature can be
discovered by human beings.
 Thus, these are guides to human
moral action.
The Theory of Natural Law
 On this view, the world has a rational order, with values and purposes
built into its very nature.
o Derived from the
ancient Greeks who
believed that
everything in nature
has a purpose (telos).
o There is a neat
hierarchy, with
conveniently situated
atop all other life
forms on the Earth.
 Counterexamples to nature is good-
self-interest, disease.
 Confuses “is” and “ought”- what is the
case and what ought to be the casedescriptive & prescriptive- cannibalism.
 Conflicts with the notion of nature
proposed by science- not moral,
purposive, but cause and effect.
The “Even If” Response
 Even if the Divine Command Theory of
Natural Law Theory were true, we would
need to have the same debates we
currently do.
 Which God? Should we do X? Is that the
sort of thing a good God would say to do?
 How could we decide?
Confucian Virtue Ethics
 Shu and zhong-not doing to other what
you do not want done to you and doing
what is best for others. Shu= seeing
someone else as being like yourself.=
 Xiao- familial love and respect- practice
of kindness, honor, respect, and loyalty
among all family members. Society= one
large family.