Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Evil of Divine Command Morality

2 comments
The last five posts have discussed the Euthyphro Dilemma and the problem that divine command morality has with this. This is going to be the final summing up of these issues. After this I am done and on to new topics.

The Challenge

This is to come up with plausible or possible definitions of moral good and evil. To be a definition it has to be:
  • transparent not opaque - to actually has to state (transparently) the definitions rather rely on the unstated (hidden) definitions
  • coherent not incoherent- to actually be able to distinguish between good and evil, if it cannot it is incoherent
  • Non-circular - it cannot assume what it is trying to show, otherwise it is a definition by fiat, without justification. One cannot just assert of claim this is good, this is evil without explaining why, without providing a reason.
The Dilemma

Euthyphro presented a tentative definition "good is what God loves, evil is what God hates". This is coherent Euthyphro provided two attributes of God (love and hate) to distinguish good from evil, so one can distinguish between good and evil but are these definitions transparent and non-circular? The dilemma designed to highlight these issues was:
  • "is it good because it is loved by God, or is it loved by God because it is god?"
  • "is it evil because it is hated by God, or is it hated by God because it is evil?"
Here, the first horn indicated that if it is good (evil) because it loved (hated) by God then why does God love (hate) it then what is the reason? The definitions are hidden, it is not transparent but opaque. If one can provide no reason why God loves good and hates evil then this is an arbitrary definition.

Here the second horn is the outcome if one says in response to the first horn yes there is a reason. This makes the opaqueness of the definition explicit and a definition has to be found elsewhere, outside of God.

The Repugnant Conclusion

The issue with the above first horn is that there is no reason why God loves what it loves and so this could be decided, say on a whim, so anything could be declared good if God so wishes. The implication then is that if God decides arbitrarily and it can decide capriciously - anything goes, even genocide. This is the repugnant conclusion.

The Eternal Nature Response

In order to avoid the repugnant conclusion the divine command theorist hopes to avoid the possibility of God acting capriciously by defining away the possibility of God acting arbitrarily - on a whim. If God cannot love or command on a whim but only in accordance with its nature and this nature is eternal, that is fixed and cannot change, then God cannot love or command on a whim. And so this is where they claim good lies, not in its commands but in an eternal attribute of its eternal nature. Does this work? The dilemma becomes
  • "Is it good because it is an eternal attribute of God's eternal nature or is it an eternal attribute of God's eternal nature?"
Stating what is evil now become very problematic. There is no attribute provided to distinguish between good and evil. This definition unlike the previous one is incoherent, since one can just as easily state evil is an eternal attribute of God's eternal nature and no non-circular grounds can be provided to distinguish between good and evil.

This means that the issue of arbitrary commands has just been hidden in this very opaque "attribute". The theorists cannot make this opaque attribute transparent as this requires something like going back to love, command or equivalent, which the theorist cannot do and is another level of circular reasoning the theorist has introduced - that they ahve to avoid.The fact that this God cannot change is irrelevant to resolving this issue.

The theorist has no way to support their definition without non-circular arguments such as God is the ground of being and is all good, again definition by fiat and basically saying that good is good. One cannot presupose what one is trying to prove.

The Evil Emperor has no Clothes

It really is a strange argument to claim to resolve the dilemma designed to show that original definition is not opaque and circular by providing a definition that is more opaque and more circular and is in addition incoherent! Such is the strange logic of the world of theism.

However my real concern is not religion but ethics. Not only is the repugnant conclusion not avoided but this obfuscation of good and evil only makes more apparent the dangers of such theistic based morality - as yesterday's post all horrifyingly demonstrated.

I just want to end by noting that all this debate and analysis has convinced me that divine command theory is the ultimate means to justify evil, as long you can convince others that God commands it, which as any student of history or psychology knows, is all too easy.

2 comments:

Tony Hoffman said...

I have a question that I think you might have to address.

You wrote, "Stating what is evil now become very problematic. There is no attribute provided to distinguish between good and evil. This definition unlike the previous one is incoherent, since one can just as easily state evil is an eternal attribute of God's eternal nature and no non-circular grounds can be provided to distinguish between good and evil."

I wonder if a theist might take the position that good is God's nature and evil is the absence of God's nature (or something like that). I see problems with this argument, of course, (how can God be the creator of all reality and not be responsible for evil, etc.), but it strikes me that you might want to address this position.

faithlessgod said...

Hi Tony

You are correct that I did not cover this in this summary - but it was just a summary :-)

This was discussed in a recent post where I quoted a claim over evil being the privation or absence of God but this only makes my opaqueness issue stronger.

Before there were two attributes love and hate that distinguished good and bad. Now there is only one opaque attribute if it exists and it only does within God it is good, its absence or the privation of God, is bad. The obfuscation of two attributes into a mysterious one has done nothing to help distinguish the two.

What this does do is illustrate the vicious circularity in a more... ahem... transparent fashion! All theists are saying is that God's goodness is God's goodness and there is no other, Evil is found in the absence of God's goodness. Th absence of a reason why this is so and the inability to avoid circular reasoning should be obvious (except to theists who have a strange take on logic)..

In my humour post yesterday this point is made blatantly clear. What is good - the opposite of evil, what is evil the opposite of good. And repeat. Basically such theists seem to happy to play this game forever just adding more words to the mix and think this proves something, which it does not.