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Elements of Moral Philosophy 4: God


Rachels first turns to divine command theory, the idea that a action is right because it is commanded by God. He gieves three responses. First, this conception makes morality mysterious, since we have no idea of how this can occur. Second, this makes morality arbitrary, since there are no moral reasons God commands one way or another. Third, this conception gives the wrong reasons to call something moral or immoral. As an example, child abuse is wrong because God commands against it. But if this is true, child abuse would be okay if God didn’t exist. But this is false. Child abuse is wrong due simply to its maliciousness.

This seems to be more question begging. Why should I accept that maliciousness makes child abuse wrong? Isn’t this as baseless as saying that it is because God commanded it? Further, Rachels does not respond to divine nature theory, although I think the same critiques still basically apply. It is still mysterious, arbitrary, and our moral intuitions go against it.

Next up is Natural Law theory! Rachels offers three objections. First, what’s natural is not always good. We are predisposed to selfishness and disease. That doesn’t make it good. Perhaps a response is that these are not our purposes. Duh. Still, how would someone account for these? The fall?

Second, natural law confuses is and ought. Just because we are naturally predisposes or made for certain things, this doesn’t bridge the gap to oughtness.

Third, the purposes that we see, due to modern science, seem to arise from the bottom up, not top down. We know we probably have teeth because they are adaptive, not because they were made specifically for eating.

There’s a good section on abortion that points out the changing views of the church. Rachels claims that the church’s council of Vienne in 1312 decided that an embryo doesn’t acquire a soul until several weeks into conception. Interesting. True?

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