Divine Command Theory (DCT)


Key Terms

Deonlogical: A theory that explores obligation or duty.

Absolutist: An ethical system that believes there exists a standard of right and wrong that is totally binding on all human beings.

Moral: Used to describe ethical behaviour.

Commandment: A divine rule.

Agape: Christian love, as distinct from physical love or simple affection.

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Basis of the Theory

Divine Command Theory is the belief that things are right because God commands them to be. Things are considered unethical are wrong because they are forbidden by God.

An action is good or bad, depending on whether God commands it or not.

Any action that goes against what God has commanded would be wrong, no matter the circumstances.

Something is good because God wills it, not because God recognises it to be good.

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Story of Abraham and Isaac

God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Issac on a mountain to prove his devotion. They travelled to the mountain, taking wood and a knife. As Abraham built the alter, Isaac asked where the lamb was to sacrifice. Abraham tied his son to the alter and held the knife above his head. At the last second an Angel spoke to Abraham and told him not to sacrifice his son. He had proved his obedience and for that, God loved him and so he was awarded with a lamb.

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The story's problem with DCT

God is all powerful, he is able to command Abraham to kill his own son.

However, the story raises the question over his lovingness towards humans.

Why would God command something that would cause such emotional pain for Abraham?

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The Euthyphro Dilemma

The Euthyphro Dilemma was developed by Plato in which a dialogue takes place between Euthyphro and Socrates, in that they discuss God, his commands, and his origin.

As briefly touched on previously, Euthyphro asked is something good because it comes from God, or is something good and God just approves of it?

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Arbitrariness Problem

If DCT is true, then what is good and bad depends on God's whims for mankind.

However, even God's whims are not an adequate foundation for morality.

How does God decide what is right and wrong and therefore, what to command?

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God's characteristics

Omnibenevolent: All-loving

Omnipotent: All-powerful

Omniscient: All-knowing

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Adam's Modified Divine Command Theory

Robert Adams (1987) argued that is was possible to escape the Euthyphro Dilemma by basing DCT off of the characteristic of God's love.

An action is absolutely wrong if it is "contrary to the commands of a loving God". Moral goodness derives from God and his love.

It doesn't matter what we think is right or wrong as God's commands lie outside of our judgment and within his own objective properties.

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Strengths of the Theory

  • Gives believers a basis on how to live a perfect life
  • Shows God's omnipotence and omniscience
  • It is a universal theory
  • Emphasises the idea of obedience
  • Not based of flawed human logic
  • Releases our burden and takes the emotion out of making decisions
  • It doesn't rely on consequences
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  • What if God orders something bad?
  • God could change his mind
  • If DCT was clear then all religions would follow the same moral codes
  • Cannot relate to contemporary issues
  • Relies on God's existence
  • People can be moral if they don't follow God's teachings
  • Some teachings are contradictory, e.g. "eye for and eye"/ "turn the other cheek"
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