Thursday, January 22, 2009

Commandments and Moral Relativism

One thing to notice that any religion that says that there are Commandments from God virtually precludes the possibility of denying objective moral values. Even if you are President of the United States, it would be silly for you to say "Yes, yes, you have said that one should not commit adultery. But that's you're opinion, God. I think it's OK. Who's to say which of us is really right or wrong?"

5 comments:

Gordon Knight said...

Is a divine commandment objective?
Not if the command is what constitutes the rightness of the action--divine command theory is just subjectivism with only one subject that counts. (if God wills torturing babies for the fun of it, does that make it right)

On the other hand, if there are genuine moral truths, God surely knows them, and being Good, God would also want to tell us about them.

Mark Frank said...

"On the other hand, if there are genuine moral truths, God surely knows them, and being Good, God would also want to tell us about them."

Are you sure? Maybe he would want us to exercise our free will in deciding what is right or wrong. All the standard theodicy arguments could be adapted to apply here.

Hiero5ant said...

Wait, huh?

Any religion that says what is moral is what some particular person happens to approve of precludes the possibility that what is moral is what some particular person happens to approve of?

Even if you are President of the United States, it would be silly for you to say "Yes, yes, you have said that one should not commit adultery. But that's you're opinion, God. I think it's OK. Who's to say which of us is really right or wrong?"

Silly? That's one of the most sensible objections I've ever heard.

If you convinced me to become a YEC literalist tomorrow and (re-)accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior and that all of his commands were the best possible instructions for human flourishing, I would still not be an objectivist. What does it add to "Yahweh is great" to say that he is "also objectively great!" except a kind of exclamation mark? What difference does it make at the level of observation if Yahweh's commands are not only good, but also objectively good?

Suppose Yahweh (a being who created the world and who said and did all the things the Protestant Bible says he did, minus the things which contradict the other things) exists in three worlds, A B & C.

In World A, Yahweh's disgraceful attitudes towards women and his petty barbarisms and his genocides are, as Thomas Paine pointed out, morally reprehensible.

In World B, these very same commands are objectively morally good.

In World C, these very same commands are morally good, but only in deflationist, subjectivist sense that most of us can reach agreement that they are desirable.

What would we expect to see in world B that we wouldn't see in C or A? What specific evidence and experiences would differentiate them?

eislicht said...

Hiero5ant said...
What difference does it make at the level of observation if Yahweh's commands are not only good, but also objectively good?

Maybe when I say it is good it is only good to myself, but when I put it as "objectively" I may mean intersubjectively-universally-absolutly(but it is still I-subjectively who think it is...this is a socratic problem: is it good because it is from God or is it good itself so God command us as it is? And what if neither is right?)

Merlijn de Smit said...

It seems to me there is a middle ground between pure moral subjectivism ("good-to-me" as implied by the human respondent in Victor Reppert's post) and moral universalism ("good absolutely, universally, eternally"). I think it would be quite possible to regard moral truths as necessarily grounded in a society, a tradition - and in that sense transcendent with regards to the individual - while at the same time holding them to be relative to time, place, culture, etc. Relativism (also as appearing often in criticism of relativism) often seems to imply some kind of pure individualism, subjectivism which ends up into amorality (a moral principle which is just "good for me" is not a moral principle anymore). But that's perhaps a standpoint we cannot really take. We are always part of a moral community, whether we want to or not.

So I think divine commandments are quite compatible with some kind of moral relativism. Or moral universalism, for that matter. It would seem to be perfectly possible for God to issue a commandment which is only binding to a particular group of people in a particular place (a group entering into a covenant with God, for example) without being in any way binding to others. This would be compatible with both the existence of objective moral values or their non-existence.