As my avowed purpose here is to share philosophical research and writing with as broad as possible an audience, I need to give some background on why I chose to write on what I did. That is, I need to answer the question “Who gives a damn?” before I get in too deep. So let’s get into the background.
I wrote this dissertation because I believe there is an actual “right” and “wrong”, that some behaviors and some people are “good” and some are “bad”, and that “right”, “wrong”, “good” and “bad” regarding morality are not “relative“, merely subjective opinion.
Many people these days profess that they think right and wrong are relative, and many more profess to believe that right and wrong are absolute. For example, if you are a follower of one of the major Western religions, you probably count yourself among those who think there is an objective right and wrong. Not only that, but you probably have a list of many “wrong” actions and even quite a few “right” ones.
But moral philosophy is not religion. To put it bluntly, few moral philosophers have much interest in religion as a source of insight into right and wrong. While there are many reasons for this, for me it boils down to what philosophers call Euthyphro’s dilemma.
Plato, in my opinion the greatest and most influential of all philosophers, wrote a short book called the Euthyphro in which Plato’s mouthpiece Socrates lays out a fatal dilemma for Divine Command Theory.
Divine Command Theory is a short way of saying that the reason one might think that the Bible, or parts of it, is true is because God said so. The following argument makes that belief untenable:
1. Is something good because God says it is?
2. Does God say something is good because it is good?
Perhaps you already see the problem, but if not I’ll clarify it below.
If Divine Command Theory is true (e.g., if its true that you must obey the 10 commandments because God said so), then it has to be that either
A. Morally good acts/things like the 10 commandments are good because God said so OR
B. Morally good acts/things are good inherently, independent of God’s will, and that’s why God tells us to do them.
If you choose A, then what is right and wrong is arbitrary. God could say, as he apparently did, that “Thou shalt not kill”, and so it is immoral to kill. But if he had said instead, or were to say tomorrow, “Thou shalt kill”, it would be moral to kill. That’s bad enough but even if intellectually you want to bite the bullet, common sense tells us that no one believes that; it just isn’t moral. The world would be chaos if it were.
So what happens if you choose B? In that case, it doesn’t really matter that God told you. God doesn’t determine what is right and wrong, there is an independent standard. God may have access to it, but what of it? Is he keeping it away from us? Perhaps if we did some thinking we’d understand for ourselves what is right and wrong and why. Isn’t that a major difference between adults and children?
OK, so that argument and other related ones are the reason why philosophers do moral philosophy rather than, say, theology. (“That and a lack of faith!”, I imagine you’re thinking). In the meantime you can chat with God here.
Now then, the big problem is that once you give up on using the authority of God to ground right and wrong, how do you PROVE what IS right and wrong?
And my dissertation is an attempt to help answer that problem