Divine Command Theory and the Euthyphro Argument
In general, the Divine Command Theory states that if God exists then His command makes things right or wrong. In my course of study I have seen it being put like this:
“It will be helpful to begin with the statement of a simple, unmodified divine command theory of ethical wrongness. This is the theory that ethical wrongness consists in being prior to God’s commands, or the word wrong in “ethical” context means “contrary to God’s commands.” It implies that following two statement forms are logically equivalent.
(1) It is wrong (for A) to do X.
(2) It is contrary to God’s command (for A) to do X.
Of course, that is not all the theory implies. It also implies that (2) is conceptually prior to (1), so that the meaning of (1) is to be explained in the terms of (2).”
Now the theory in its original form has clear flaws that will be later mentioned. The divine command theory in simpler words means that something is morally wrong if God says it is morally wrong and it is morally right if God says it is morally right. Now the theory only moves forward on the basis of the presumption that God is a benevolent being and only wills good things for the sake of humanity. Many religious people therefore are believers of the theory because it requires blind trust in God. Now they do add other facts like God is unchanging and so moral goodness is unchanging. He is a benevolent being and his command is the only right way to live life. The most important problem with the divine command theory is that how would you know what God’s commands are? Firstly, it is hard to make non-believers believe in God and then convincing them that God’s commands have been made known in some way could be absurd for people who think logically. Logically, one cannot know what God wants or even if he really is benevolent. The debate of God’s attributes and him being benevolent was never settled and here comes a list of commands from God that is our only way for being morally good. Now a religious defender of the theory would counter argue by saying that the word of God is all in his Holy book. Again, people have always interpreted Holy Scriptures differently. Some believe in hidden meanings and do not worry much about the literal meanings and some think otherwise. And the best problem is that if we do not follow God’s commands and do what is morally wrong then the only way we have been threatened is by heaven and hell. Interestingly, why would a morally good God punish us in Hell? The question is again if God really is benevolent? Moreover, the fact that we have been made rational beings and we are not really animals should count too. Since we were given a brain to ponder we need to see if we were to find out moral goodness ourselves and not dumbly follow people’s claims of what God commanded. Obviously God wasn’t on a loudspeaker really making an announcement. Human beings interpreted what God commanded and different individuals would have interpreted differently. The staying of the theory or its eradication are more or less the same because either way moral goodness is actually being judged by humans themselves in God’s name alone.
The very interesting thing about this theory is that very long ago Plato states in his book, Euthyphro, an argument that takes the theory down completely. The Euthyphro question does shake the foundation of the original theory and yet the theory carries on. The Euthyphro argument is: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
Another way to put it is that is something morally right because God commanded or is it morally right therefore God commands it? Which one precedes the other? Is morality defined by God’s command alone like the Divine theory says or is something in nature morally good or bad even if God does not command it? For instance, should murder be morally right because God commanded or are we to use our sense and figure that murder cannot be moral no matter what? Hence, if there is no check on God’s commands they are arbitrary.
The Euthyphro Dilemma is also a problem for those who do not believe in God, yet want to speak about things being ‘good’. For instance, we might say that in order to know that what our community deems to be ‘good’, we must appeal to some sense of communal Goodness. Yet if we do, how do we know that this communal sense of Goodness is ‘good’, without appealing to some notion of ‘Goodness’ other than this?