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Module 2, LU2 Lecture Morality and Religion & Social Contract Theory

Module 2, LU2 Lecture Morality and Religion & Social Contract Theory

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Published by: Thalia Sanders on Feb 21, 2013
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Morality and Religion
(Rachels,
The Elements of Moral Philosophy,
Ch. 4)I.
The Divine Command Theory: a view often times supported by each of the majortheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam); God is seem as the lawgiver whopublishes his decrees and we have the choice of living in obedience or defiance of thosedecrees.
A.Divine Command Theory defines good/right as that which is ordered ocommanded by God; bad/wrong is identified with what is forbidden by God or by failingto do what God commands.B.One advantage of this theory is that the issue of objectivity is resolved – God’scommands represent an independent, objective standard of morality. A second advantageis that because of the added notion of eternal reward/retribution (as is common to themajor theistic faiths), there is a powerful reason to seriously address the question omorality.II.
Problems for Divine Command Theory: The lingering question that is troubling tothis ethical theory was formulated by Plato (Socrates) in the
 Euthyphro
about 400 beforethe birth of Jesus. The question is this: Is conduct right because the gods command it, ordo the gods command it because it is right?
A.Rachels asserts that this question poses a dilemma for the Divine CommandTheory, and either option is troublesome.B.Take first the claim that
right conduct is
right 
 
because God commands it 
. Thismeans that apart from God’s decrees and commands truth telling would not be right andmurder would not be wrong. What follows, according to Rachels?1.This conception of morality is mysterious: what does it mean to “make”something right, as this claim asserts? Rachels says that this way of viewingmorality “defies human understanding.” In other words, we are left totally in thedark about moral values. It seems the only value here is that of authority or  power.2.This conception of morality makes God’s commands arbitrary: going onfrom #1, if God could have declared lying to be right in virtue of his authority,then it seems that what God commands is purely arbitrary – everything couldhave been valued other than it is.
 
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3.This conception of morality provides the wrong reasons for moral principles: this theory allows no room for reasons why an action is morally rightor wrong except the reason of God’s command. Some things seem so bad – childabuse, torture, genocide – for a number of reasons, not just because God says theyare bad.C.These three problems can be avoided is we take the other side of the dilemma:
God commands certain things because they are right.
But different problems arise in thiscase.1.This alternative seems to eviscerate the theory – there is no longer atheological basis for morality; there is now a standard of right and wrongindependent of God’s commands.2.A possible solution to some of this problem may come from anexplanation of the character of God (beyond his authority and power). If there isa good/holy/moral character to God, then there is no reason to think hiscommands would be in conflict with that character. The question of the source of rightness is dismissed. God’s character is good and his commands reflect thatcharacter. The question then becomes one of theology – how to do we know thecharacter of God and what it entails?III.
Another (more influential) theory of ethics associated with Christian thought is theTheory of Natural Law.
A.The Theory of Natural Law is based a certain view of the world. It views theworld as having “a rational order, with values and purposes built into its very nature.”Interestingly, this view of the world or this theory of ethics is not original to the Christianfaith. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, laid out many of the basic ideasassociated with what would become the Theory of Natural Law in his ethical writingsfrom around 350 B.C.B.Later Christian thinkers added to Aristotle’s thought the notion of a God whoseintentions and purposes are the explanation for the rational order of the world.Conceived in this way, “the ‘laws of nature’ not only describe how things
are
, but specifyhow things
ought to be.
” (p. 54) The basis of moral rules, then, is that which is “natural”and what is “unnatural” is said to be morally wrong. Christian thinkers, like St. ThomasAquinas, also argued that the human mind has the capacity for discerning andunderstanding the moral order that God weaves into the nature of the world. This meansthat one does not necessarily need to be a spiritual person or religious believer in order tohave access to the moral knowledge expressed by the world’s rational order.
 
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C.Rachels states that the Theory of Natural Law is often rejected on the basis of thethree following reasons:1.The notion that “what’s natural is good” is open to obviouscounterexamples. The list of so-called “natural” phenomena that are not good isseemingly unending. For example, disease, natural disasters, harmful humantendencies, etc. are but a few examples of natural things that are often considered bad.2.The confusion of “Is” and “Ought: the 18
th
century philosopher, DavidHume, noted that what is the case and what ought to be the case are logicallydistinct matters, and what is the case does not lead to any conclusion about whatought to be the case. He argued that one cannot derive and “ought” (a moral ruleor principle) from an “is” (some naturally occurring event).3.The Theory of Natural Law is said to conflict with the modern scientificview of the world. Whereas Natural Law sees purpose and intention in the waythe world is, science is seemingly able to describe and explain the nature of theworld without any appeal to values or “facts” about right and wrong. 
Social Contract
(Rachels,
The Elements of Moral Philosophy
, Ch. 6)I.
Thomas Hobbes, British philosopher of the 17
th
century, is an early advocate forwhat we call Social Contract moral theory.
A.Hobbes tried to show that morality does not depend on God, moral facts or naturalaltruism. He began by asking: What would it be like if there were no social rules and nocommonly accepted mechanism for enforcing them? (p. 80) In other words, Hobbeswondered where the idea of morality might arise from if there were none of these presupposed starting points.1.Hobbes called this situation where there are no rules, no authorities and nomeans of sanction for behavior 
the state of nature
.2.Life in this pre-socialized state of nature would have been dangerous, evendeadly. Hobbes describes four basic aspects of this existence that made itsuch a dangerous situation:

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