Here again in thinking of our valuings we do not have to presuppose a full panoply of obligation concepts. It is enough if in some sense we love kindness and feel revolted or disgusted at cruelty. God’s requirements function as an objective standard of obligation; but our subjective valuings are important to the way in which the divine requirements fulfill this function. It is undoubtedly important that in theistic ethics the divine legislation is generally seen as upholding the binding character of a large proportion of the “obligations” defined by human institutions and practices. The divine/human relationship is not simply a superior alternative to human society as a source of obligation. Rather, God is seen as the chief member of a more comprehensive social system or “family,” which is reflected, though imperfectly, in actual human relationships. Thus the motivational significance of divine and human requirements is to a large extent integrated. (4) Finally, it matters that the requirements are actually imposed by God. Critics have argued that this does not really matter in divine command metaethics as I have expounded it. They suggest
that all the work is being done by the stipulation that it is the demands of a loving God that bind —that really nothing would be lost if we just said that our overriding, fully moral obligation is constituted by what would be commanded by a loving God, whether there is one or not. I want to say why I think that that is not an adequate substitute. My reasons on this point parallel my reasons for not being satisfied with an ideal, non-actual human authority as a source of moral obligation. First of all, I do not believe in the counterfactuals. I do not believe that there is a unique set of commands that would be issued by any loving God. There are some things that a loving God might command and might not command. In particular, among the things that I believe actually to be valid moral demands, there are some that I think might have been arranged differently by a God who would still be loving, and who would still satisfy the additional requirements of the metaethical theory. For example, a loving God could have commanded different principles regarding euthanasia from those that I believe are actually in force. In the second place, even aside from any doubts about whether these counterfactuals about loving Gods are true, it seems to me that they are motivationally weak. They do not have anything like the motivational or reason-generating power of the belief that something actually is demanded of me by my loving creator and heavenly father. The latter belief is therefore one that metaethics cannot easily afford to exchange for the belief that such and such would have been demanded of me by a loving God.
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- Fall '16
- Diane Carlson
- Thomas Hobbes