Divine Command Theory

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Divine Command Theory

One might think that Natural Law Theory is more consistent than Divine Command Theory, since the latter makes morality arbitrary and attributes it to God’s commands, while the former grounds morality in human nature and is independent of God, the thing which constitutes a common ground between theists and atheists. However, if we look closely we find that Divine Command Theory (DCT) appeals more as a moral theory.

In the 1st part of this paper, I’m going to define DCT and NLT (the version of Thomas Aquinas) briefly, then I’m going to state the major characteristics of these two theories. In the 2nd part of this paper, I’m going to state some of NLT weaknesses, then I’m going to show how DCT, being a normative moral theory, if true, avoids the major weakness of NLT. In doing so, I’m going to analyze the basics of DCT, to finally conclude that DCT has better moral grounds than NLT.

DCT is the view that morality depends upon God and moral obligations are essentially God’s commands. In other words, an action is moral and as a result, it is morally required because God commands it to be done, while an action is immoral and morally inacceptable because God forbids it to be done. Although the specific contents of this theory may vary according to each religion and to the particular views of Divine Command Theorists within each religion, all versions of DCT equally claim that moral obligations rely upon God.

While NLT links morality to human nature, it says that who we are determines the way we ought to act. Therefore, our way of living should be in harmony with our human nature and should never violates it.

Now let us move to the major characteristics of DCT, first there is a supreme intellectual being who is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and who is the creator of the world, that supreme being is God. Second, God is our moral guide, that means what God commands us to do is good and hence it is morally required and not doing it will be a sin, what God forbids us to do is bad and hence it is morally forbidden and doing it will be a sin. While, what God doesn’t require or prohibit is morally acceptable therefore we can have the choice of doing it or refraining from doing it.

In contrast, Thomas Aquinas’ version of NLT says that we can know what is morally right by using reason and our intellectual abilities. Aquinas (1366) bases his argument in the core of the theory, which states that humans are supposed to fulfill their purpose, that is maintaining the four basic human goods: Life, procreation, sociability and knowledge. In fact, according to Aquinas (1366), humans have natural tendencies to preserve these four, and because human nature is good, we call these four preservations the four basic goods. Therefore, any act that encourages the four basic goods is morally required, any act that limits the four basic goods is morally forbidden, and any act that neither hinders the preservation of the four basic goods nor helps in maintaining them is morally acceptable.