The Problem with Divine Command Theories

Just a snippet this time.

Moral archetypes of humanity are inevitably arbitrary. They tend to be based on some combination of observation and abstraction, and therefore to be partly empirical and partly ideological. And they tend to disagree in both trivial and non-trivial ways. Moreover, the differences between them cannot be judged on the basis of any standard that is not subject to the same problem. Culture and religion—a non-essential distinction that is made on the basis of the history of the West—produce purely local claims to normativity. Such a locality may become territorially vast by way of hegemonic influence, but it does not therefore become less local. It is simply local in more places. The sciences, strictly to the extent to which they can escape local normativity and report objectively, can speak to both local and universal phenomena, but cannot do better than to describe local meanings. None of the three can resolve conflicts between differing arbitrary archetypes of humanity and human moral agency in any ultimate sense.

And yet Christian moral systems frequently make claims to divine sanction for an arbitrary standard, which along with the claim to having the only universal deity, makes for a claim to universal morality. Moreover, it is technically an adjudicable claim, as the assertion is based on the decision of a non-local real authority with the arguable right to make universal claims. God could be consulted. Of course, Christianity isn't alone in this game, any more than the Abrahamic religions are as a set of nominal claimants concerning this same authority. It's a very old game. The problem is that so many implementations of theological voluntarisms come down to the “baptism” of purely local claims to normativity. Even if we restrict ourselves to just the Abrahamic claimants, and even if we restrict ourselves to just the Christian claimants, we are left with multiple conflicting claims about the will of this deity. Either some or all of us are wrong, or this god likes the idea of preserving an irreducible plurality of local normativities. Possibly both. In any case, direct adjudication does not seem to be forthcoming.


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