Monday, February 21, 2022

Divine Command Theory False - Darwall's arguments

PHILOSOPHY - Religion: God and Morality, Part 1

PHILOSOPHY - Religion: God and Morality, Part 2

Darwall's argument is summarized as this:

  • First premise: God exists
  • Second premise: it is immoral to violate God's command
  • Reasons why it is immoral to violate God's command:
    • God is the moral authority; God knows best.
      • However, it follows that if there are separate truths or laws which God simply relies on, then the Divine Command Theory logic fails.  This is related to the Euthyphro Dilemma.
    • God knows what is best for us humans
      • Similar to previous reason, God knowing what is best for us, seems to point to a separate Moral authority, which stands outside the will of God, and therefore the Divine Command Theory logic fails.
    • God has a greater power or authority over humans, similar to a police officer who holds power over people to arrest them or pull them over in a traffic stop.
      • However, in the example of the police officer, what gives the officer power is the legal authority - the law.  The law, then, is the real source of the authority and not the officer.  Applying this to God, the Divine Command Theory fails again, because God's authority would point to something independent of God.
    • Humans love God and humans would not violate God's command since humans love God.
      • This would also mean we obey and respond to others whom we love.  Again, this reason stands independent of God, and therefore the Divine Command Theory logic fails.
    • Darwall then mentions a 5th reason that could bypass the above reasons.  This 5th reason, as to why we should obey God's Divine Command is because of God's power.
      • This fails, when we could not separate God's power from God's authority.  Said differently, it's impossible for God to force us to obey.  As Darwall says, "it's logically impossible for morality to result from force."

In all cases which Darwall describes above, God is simply a go-between separating humans and morality and is not the source of morality.

I find his arguments compelling and think they go a long way to try convince adherents of religions who would fanatically obey God, to reconsider their position.  What the Divine Command Theory attempts to do is to get the follower or adherent to think past the sale.  If some human who claims to speak or write for God, can convince others that it is immoral to violate God's command, then that human wields great power.

Perhaps a more powerful way to prove the Divine Command Theory is false is to begin by talking about the existence of God, and how God communicates.  Exploring these two premises might lead to a more fruitful discussion.  For example, if people cannot agree on the existence of God nor in God's manner of communicating, then how could universal morals (morals which all ought to adhere to) be communicated to humans?  In some regard or sense, most people learn of a concept of God through other people.  How can we know and trust what other people say to us and how could people be convinced independently?  Until these premises are resolved, it is difficult to accept the conclusions.

In addition to the above, another question is raised for those people who disagree with the Divine Command Theory, yet still obey the morals which are supposedly dispensed by God!  As one author put it, "they do not know or cannot reasonably be expected to know what God has commanded. The result is that, if the DCT is true, then for this class of moral agents, moral obligations no longer exist. It is, however, wrong to suppose that reasonable nonbelievers have no moral obligations" (Danaher 383).

However, Darwall's approach opens the conversation to at least allow a dialogue to occur.  He grants the first two premises in order to open the door for trying to convince people of the logical shortfalls of the Divine Command Theory.

Perhaps the most significant ramification of Darwall's arguments is: if God is not the moral authority, then how do humans know what is moral and what is not?  He quotes The Brothers Karamazov, "If God does not exist, then anything is permitted" (Darwall).  For those people who perhaps once believed in The Divine Command Theory and now are persuaded this argument is false, they must reform their reason for why they ought to be moral or they may even have to reconstitute their moral framework to define for themselves what is moral and immoral.  This can be difficult work and may lead many to disastrous life decisions.  Is a moral life about pursuing the most pleasure?  Is it about pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of people?  This may be the first question and ramification of Darwall's argument: what is an individual's "why" for living.  Answering that may lead to what their moral framework ought to be.

For my own part, having left a religion that adhere to The Divine Command Theory (Mormonism), I have since turned to virtue ethics and in particular, Stoicism.  While Stoicism is based in the belief of a rational, pantheistic God, it also claims that self-physical, self-moral and social preservation drive the reasons for acting morally.  This desire for self-preservation was called by the Greeks "oikeiōsis."  A UC Berkley professor summarized this moral framework as, "While the self-regarding inclination of personal oikeiōsis is used to explain how human beings can progress morally and reach their goal, happiness, by caring for themselves, the other-regarding inclination of social oikeiōsis is used to explain how they can form a community and promote justice by caring for others" (Margin). Acting with moral courage, justice, discipline and wisdom lead the individual to a self-preserving and moral life without the need to reference a divine command.

Works Cited

Danaher, John. "In Defence of the Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Theory." Sophia, vol. 58, no. 3, 2019, pp. 381-400. ProQuest,, doi:

Darwall, Stephen. “PHILOSOPHY - Religion: God and Morality, Part 1.”, 3 June 2013, Accessed 15 Feb. 2022.

Magrin, Sara. “Nature and Utopia in Epictetus’ Theory of Oikeiōsis.” Phronesis (Leiden, Netherlands), vol. 63, no. 3, Brill, 2018, pp. 293–350,

No comments:

Post a Comment