Divine Command Theory - Religion Essay Example

Date:  2021-06-01 21:36:21
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Divine command theory is also referred to as theological voluntarism. The theory asserts that moral defined by the commands of God. For an individual to be regarded as moral, the individual has to follow the commands of God. The theory proposes that the acceptance of an action as being morally good is determined by whether God has commanded it. This theory takes the will of God to be the foundation of ethics. Only the will of God can assert as to whether things are morally permissible, obligatory, or prohibited.

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This theory is discredited by Euthyphro dilemma argument which is named after the Euthyphro of Plato. The dilemma first poses a question: Does God will good morals because they are good morally, or they are good morally because God wills them? In whichever way the question is answered by a theist, it is thought to be followed by problems. For instance, a theist who holds on to the notion that morally good actions are Gods will is faced with the problem of independence (Rachels, 2005, p. 20). Therefore, if the morally good actions are the will of God because they are good morally, then independent of God willing them they must be good before even they are willed by God. This, therefore, obliges the command theorist to provide another answer to the Euthyphro dilemma.

When command theorist provides the second answer to this dilemma and holds that morally good acts are good morally because its Gods will, they are then faced with three problems: the problem of abhorrent commands; the emptiness problem; and the arbitrariness problem. The three problems will be broken down for easier description. First, the problem of arbitrariness is the problem that morality in this theory is based on Gods mere whims. That is, morality can neither be sanctioned nor informed by Gods command if the divine command theory is anything to go by. The question is how therefore the arbitrary moral commands can be a moralitys foundation. The other problem is the emptiness problem in which phrases such as Gods commands are good and God is good in the analysis of divine command moral goodness are viewed as empty tautologies. Finally, the issue of commands that are abhorrent is that the divine theory seems to propose that if abhorrent acts are commanded by God, then acts such as wanton cruelty, and malicious deception would be morally good.

However, since the divine command theory is not the only theory that is ethical in the tradition of Christianity, the theists are not as concerned with the successfulness of the objections that come with the theory. However due to certain theological reasons as to why the theist area attracted to the divine command theory and they will be willing to defend them. Since God is perceived to be the creator of all living and non-living things, to them, it is appropriate to view God as the creator of moral obligations.

Theory Analysis

It is based on the belief that God exists. Those who follow the theory focus on the moral judgment of understanding the character of God and understanding his commandments. As Farnell, 2005 puts it, what is in accordance with Gods command is moral and what is contrary to that command is immoral. Difference religions have holy books that bear guidance about morally good and bad actions. Although far-reaching, there is an idea that religion and ethics are connected, and this has generated the need to examine religions role in the society.

Advantages of the Theory

Although it is not accepted as a working ethical theory, in one way or another, it bears a moral framework advantage. For instance, the commands of God set moral rules that are universal. This rules can be applied at all times, to anyone and at any place. Since God is eternal, according to the theory, his commands of the first day of recording are just as relevant today. Another advantage is that his commands are objective; they do not depend on the thought of others on whether an action is wrong or right.

Critiques of the Theory

One of the reasons as to why the divine command theory is contested is due to the number of religions in the world with each having their interpretation of God. Therefore, the question that the critics arise is how the theist know that the commands of their God are the right commands to follow as opposed to the commands of the other gods. As Austin (2006) puts it, only one religion in this theory can be correct, and Gods followers are those that live a moral life. For instance, there is no proof that Yahweh laws can overrule the laws of Allah. Also, in under Christianity, the Protestants and Catholics are at log heads over some commands. Another objection to the theory is that the commands can easily be misconstrued as there is no set way to interpret the texts in the sacred books.


Utilitarianism is a doctrine that agrees that an action is right if it brings happiness because the happiness of the greatest number of people guides the principle of conduct. It is defined as the principle of evaluation of all phenomena only regarding their usefulness, as well as opportunities to serve as an instrument for achieving any goal (William, 1963, p.101). As a positivist direction in ethics that considers utility as the basis of morality and the criterion of human actions, it was founded by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham and became widespread in the UK in the 19th century.

Classical utilitarianism is traditionally understood as ethical teaching that establishes happiness as the primary value. Only happiness is valuable in itself. According to Bentham and Mill, the pursuit of happiness is the fundamental datum of human nature. In other words, an action or event can be recognized as useful because it contributes to happiness, and harmful action or event prevents the attainment of happiness (Rachels, 2005. P.20). According to Bentham and Mill, the pursuit of happiness is the fundamental datum of human nature. In other words, an action or event can be recognized as useful because it contributes to happiness, and harmful action or event prevents the attainment of happiness.

It must be admitted that the word "happiness" for referring to the universal goal of human action is not entirely successful. It is difficult to conceptualize, and it causes objective difficulties for the understanding and recognition of the utilitarianism. Critics of utilitarianism note that what brings true and lasting benefit is the result of the totality truly an infinite number of reasons.

Application of the Theory

The utilitarian theory makes efforts to provide answers to questions of what a man is supposed to do in some situations. (Khan et al., 2005, p. 145) Asking ourselves the best thing to do helps us become responsible for our actions. It also helps put ourselves in the shoes of others. Such questions help us think in a critical manner to help us come up with solutions that produce the best consequences. This theory helps oppose egoism making every persons opinion relevant in the decision-making process. It helps prevent people from viewing themselves as more important than others. It also hinders people from pursuing their own interests even at the expense of the rest. According to Utilitarian theory, there is a possibility to do a right thing from a bad motive. This sounds like the opposite of the deontological theories. (Khan et al., 2005, p. 145)

In the process of assessing consequences of certain actions, a utilitarian may rely upon some theories arising from intrinsic values. (Khan et al., 2005, p.146) A thing can be said to be good despite consequences that may arise in future. Values of things are considered to be derived from their relations with something intrinsic. Bentham and Mill elaborated happiness as a balance between pain and pleasure. They also perceived that these feelings have a value that is intrinsic. Utilitarian tend to believe that it is possible to do a comparison between intrinsic values that are a product of two alternative actions and to make an estimate which would lead to better consequences. According to this theory, a moralist can sum up units of pain and units of pleasure and establish a balance of the two as a measure of average evil or good tendency of a specific action. (Khan et al., 2005, p. 145)

Analysis of the Theory

The utilitarian theory includes all the bad and good things produced by a certain act. It does not matter whether the consequences arise after or when an action is being performed. If there is a small difference in the types of consequences produced from different acts, most utilitarians disregard the choice of the moral issues and the consequences. According to the mill, an act should be classified as morally wrong or right if its consequences are significant to involved parties. The actions and decisions made should be voluntary. (Khan et al., 2005, p.147).

Some forms of behavior, according to Bentham, are recognized as right or wrong, worthy or unworthy, but these statements are not the essential characteristics of these very behavioral patterns and derive from the commission of a particular action. According to Bentham, with certainty, it can be said only that form of behavior encouraged or condemned for some reason which is in a given society and at a given period, that is, in this reality. However, this does not mean that the named form of behavior is encouraged or condemned as such.

The founders of this theory took a serious and thorough attempt to provide the ethical orientation of reasoning on a rational and humane solution of any problems and challenges faced by a man in his private and political practice. Nevertheless, the constant reference to the variable area of present facts and reasons for committing certain actions makes the argument about the specific invariant content of the rational (moral) decisions and actions largely useless.

Hedonism Theory

It refers to some concepts that elaborate on what is good for us, what motivates us to behave how we behave, and how we should behave. All the theories that are hedonistic identify pain and pleasure as the only critical aspect of the phenomena. On the off chance that decadent hypotheses recognized pain and pleasure as just two critical components, rather than the main core aspects of what they are showing, then they would not be as debatable as they are.

The Hedonists theists focus on hedonistic theories of value. Being a value theory, pain and pleasure are widely defined by hedonists. In their definition, they include both the mental and physical phenomena. Therefore, things such as hearing about death or piercing a toe are considered as a causative of pain while things such as massage lead to pleasure.

With pain and pleasure so characterized, hedonism as a hypothesis about what is significant for us appeals naturally. For sure, its allure is evidence by the way that almost all verifiable and contemporary medications of prosperity assign at any rate some space for the exchange of hedonism. Different types of hedonism include folk hedonism, prudential hedonism, value hedonism, motivational hedonism, hedonistic egoism, normative hedonism, and hedonistic utilitarianism.

Situational Ethics

The situational theory was developed by Joseph Fletcher, a Christian Episcopal priest in the 1960s. Fletcher contended that occasionally moral standards could be thrown away in particular circumstances if love is prime for Christianity, that is, 'Love is a definitive law.' He trusted that setting up a moral framework in light of affection was an ideal approach to express the rule of Christianity of 'love thy neighbor' as instructed in the Holy Bible. He trusted that no laws are as supreme as the agape law and the various laws were optional and incorporated in the agape with a specific end goal to accomplish the best measure o...

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