Saturday, September 08, 2012

Relativism and Divine Commands

It's going to be difficult to be a relativist if you think there is a God who gives binding commandments. If relativism is true, then different individuals or groups think of something as right or wrong, and if so, there is no place for saying that they are really wrong. It is just your opinion or your group's opinion against someone else's opinion. But what if someone in your moral community has the status of God? Could an adulterer say to God "Yes, you say adultery is wrong, but I don't see anything wrong with it myself. Who's to say which of us is right about adultery?" (It's too bad you are not here to hear me give this last statement with my Bill Clinton voice). 


IlĂ­on said...

Just under the camouflage-skin, moral relativism is merely the assertion of will and might, in the senses of ‘will to power’ and ‘might makes right’.

Using your example of the adulterer, what the moral relativist is really saying is: “It is within both my will and my might to cheat on my spouse – and no one else has both the might and the will stop me, nor to punish me afterward. Therefore, I get to cheat on my spouse.”

But (no doubt because fools also lie to themselves), the moral relativist didn’t take his reasoning far enough – for, by his own reasoning, and even-and-especially if it were true that there is no real morality, he has no rational basis, and certainly no moral basis, on which to complain if someone with the might to punish him for his adultery also has the will to do so.

Lenoxus said...

Divine command theory is not a self-evident truth, so your attempt at reductio ad absurdum with the relativist is a failure. S/he is perfectly internally consistent in saying those words. All you've done is introduce a supernatural 800-pound gorilla, and expected everyone to take its commands as, well, gospel.

Aside from that, it bothers me how so many Christians seems to assume that the only possible alternative to divine-command theory is "anything-goes relativism". Even if we grant the truth of Proposition A – "objective morality, if it exists, must come from God" – this doesn't mean that all people do in fact believe Proposition A (and therefore that if God doesn't exist, neither does morality).

This would be like me assuming that since it is a fact that bats can fly thanks to their evolution, then everyone who denies evolution also does not believe that bats can fly. Further, I could fallaciously argue that everyone who does accept the truth of evolution must also believe that bats fly, and that this ability evolved. The second of these propositions is much more reasonable, but it is not logically necessary; someone could believe that everything evolved except for bats, which were created by aliens, or don't even exist. Likewise, a theist is perfectly free to believe that morality is objective and self-justifying in a way that God has no "influence" over; in fact, that's an excellent way out of the Euthyphro problem.

Aside from all that, my ultimate problem here is the hypocrisy I see. It seems to me that divine command theory (DCT) is just another sort of "relativism" or "subjective" morality, because it necessarily implies possible worlds with different moral laws, each subject to the whims of that world's God. So DCT-theorists have no basis for mocking relativists – unless, of course, DCT is true and God recently decided that they do have such a basis. Sure. Forgive me if I'm less than impressed with the ability of a being to "will" morality – all Im capable of seeing is a being (or rather, his followers, said being being absent) just going around making up rules.

Who determines what is good or bad? This is the wrong question, like asking who determines that 1+2=3. It's not a matter of an agent's intentions or decisions.