• The Problem with Divine Command Theory #3

    I have previously talked about Divine Command Theory (DCT) in detail a couple of times before (here and here). I have been reading a paper called “Can God’s Goodness Save The Divine Command Theory From Euthyphro?” by Jeremy Koons. It’s a cracking paper and worth reading. The abstract reads:

    Recent defenders of the divine command theory like Adams and Alston have confronted the Euthyphro dilemma by arguing that although God’s commands make right actions right, God is morally perfect and hence would never issue unjust or immoral commandments. On their view, God’s nature is the standard of moral goodness, and God’s commands are the source of all obligation. I argue that this view of divine goodness fails because it strips God’s nature of any features that would make His goodness intelligible. An adequate solution to the Euthyphro dilemma may require that God be constrained by a standard of goodness that is external to Himself – itself a problematic proposal for many theists.

    DCT and the Euthyphro Dilemma are pretty similar in their composition. The problem is what makes an act or God good. Defenders of DCT, like Adams and Alston mentioned in the paper, claim that it is God and God’s nature that IS good, not other aspects which might be ascribed to God which make him good. In other words, kindness, justice, lovingness and other ideas are not of themselves good, and thus by having them, God is rendered good. Instead, the order of causality, if you will, is that God is necessarily good and, therefore, by having these qualities, God makes them good.


    We get back to the issue of there being no third party benchmarking system to qualify God’s goodness and this means moral reasoning plays no part in establishing moral goodness. You can’t say, “lovingness is good because X or Y.” No, instead you have to say “Lovingness is good because God has it. And for no other moral reason.”

    In other words, what makes rape wrong, for us, is roughly what harm it causes. For the DCTer, it is because God commanded us not to rape. (Although, he kind of did in the Old Testament!) We will look about the world and say, “Look how horrible rape is! Look at the harm it does.” But this in no way makes it wrong! This carries no moral value. Of course, this seems patently ridiculous.

    “Why is this good?” cannot be answered in any way other than “Because it reflects God’s nature”, and thus moral reasoning becomes impotent. It also means that God cannot have reasons for doing as he does, otherwise these will ground the moral value of the action!

    And this is what I wanted to concentrate on here. God cannot even know that he himself is all-good because to do so, he would need to judge himself on an objective standard! All God can do is say “That is good because I did it and I am good which I just kind of feel” which is admitting that good has no rational component. Perhaps theists would say that goodness is a properly basic thing. Fair enough, but then it is still devoid of rationality. You simply cannot argue why something is good, including God. And God couldn’t argue why he was good. If I met God in heaven and he said, “I am good”, and I asked why, and how he knew this, he could only answer, “Er, just because?” Even to argue that goodness must be a necessary property of the greatest being starts introducing properties into “goodness” that look rather like using rationality to ground goodness, and not just God.

    Both theologians and God cannot argue as to why God must have, and is, goodness, because this appeals to things outside of God which ground that goodness.

    In other words:

    • God could not use moral reasoning to say why he was good
    • Theologians can not use moral reasoning to argue why God must have goodness
    • Goodness must be a properly basic property which looks just like an axiom
    • God is good just because
    • All goodness in the world is then rooted in “just because”

    Or we could drop Divine Command Theory as bunkum.


    Category: FeaturedGod's CharacteristicsMoralityPhilosophy of ReligionProblem of Evil

    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce