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Divine Command Theory. Divine Might Makes Right?. Divine Command Theory. As a Metaethical theory, DCT states that … ‘Good’ =df ‘approved of by God. ‘Right’ =df ‘commanded by God.

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divine command theory

Divine Command Theory

Divine Might Makes Right?

divine command theory2
Divine Command Theory

As a Metaethical theory, DCT states that …

‘Good’ =df ‘approved of by God.

‘Right’ =df ‘commanded by God.

As a Normative theory, DCT states that actions are right when they conform to God’s will or respond to his commands.

divine command theory3
Divine Command Theory
  • The first critical examination of the theory is found in Plato’s Euthyphro.
  • Euthyphro is a young lawyer prosecuting his own father for murder; Socrates concludes Euthyphro must know right from wrong to be so bold, and positions himself as Euthyphro’s student. When Euthyphro says right and wrong are determined by what the gods love, Socrates asks the crucial question:
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Divine Command Theory

Socrates: “Is something good because the gods love it, or do the gods love it because it is good?”

Plato’s ultimate answer to this question, this dilemma, is to reject the first horn.

On the second horn, ‘good’ is mysterious, but the statement’s form is intelligible.

On the first horn, good is naturalized* (‘loved by God’ is a natural property), but the statement no longer makes sense because God’s love is arbitrary.

Good because the gods love it

Gods love it because it is good



*See final slide for explanation


Why is God’s love arbitrary on the 1st horn?

Because we have to take seriously the claim that nothing about the thing in question makes God approve or disapprove of it.

  • If something about pain, for instance, makes God disapprove of it, then that thing, rather than God’s disapproval, would make pain bad.
  • The theory, however, asserts that it is God’s disapproval that makes a thing good or bad, not some property it has.
  • Therefore, God has no reason for saying this or that is good or bad, and so his approval or disapproval is arbitrary.

Plato’s objection to the view is, it makes the gods capricious, and that is blasphemous or impious to suppose.

final word
Final Word?

There are defenders of the Divine Command theory, and as you might guess, they rely on very sophisticated views of God’s nature. They all, nevertheless, appreciate the difficulty Plato’s ancient argument presents.

See, for example, Steve Lovell’s piece, C.S. Lewis and the Euthyphro Dilemma, online.


What is ‘naturalization’ in Ethics?

Well, we don’t know very clearly what the word ‘good’ means in Ethics. If we become convinced it means ‘causes pleasure’, we then know clearly what it means and an issue in Metaethics is solved! ‘Causes pleasure’ is a natural property because it occurs in space and time (according to GE Moore, the philosopher who coined the term). In the divine command theory, ‘good’ means ‘loved by the gods’ or ‘commanded by God’. Again, good is naturalized because ‘commanded by God’ is a property something has due to an event (God commanding something) in time.

GE Moore believed ‘good’ referred to a non-natural, simple, indefinable property. In saying it is non-natural, Moore perhaps meant that the property was a classificatory concept such as ‘colored’ (the red or blue or yellow of a thing exists in space and time, but the thing’s status of ‘being colored’ does not). Likewise, an action might be pleasant, and the pleasure exists in space and time, but the ‘goodness’ of the pleasure does not.