June 15, 2010
Over the past six months, the arguments I've read and wrote have led me to what I believe to be a logically-valid, undeniable argument for DCT's superiority over any other moral theory. As such, I state confidently today that all contemplation of "the best moral theory" is actually a quest for second best.
I've been testing this argument over at Common Sense Atheism, in this thread. The atheist reaction has varied. Sure, there have been some objections, but to date, all of them are either incoherent or supported by personal disdain for DCT as opposed to any cogent argument. Surprisingly, some atheists have actually conceded one or more of my premises, but nobody has successfully refuted a single one of them. At any rate, I think concession from even one atheist is a big step in the right direction for somebody arguing DCT!
Here's my argument, in syllogism form:
A) Facts are objective;
B) If they exist, moral facts are objective in the same way other facts are objective;
C) Moral facts exist;
D) An omniscient, omnibenevolent God would have perfect access to the set of moral facts;
E) A system of morality dictated by an omniscient, omnibenevolent God is therefore the best system of morality possible.
I don't think anybody will object to A. As an example of an objective fact, let's take the claim, "The continental US is composed of 48 states." Until we encounter a state of affairs in which the continental US is not composed of 48 states, the claim remains true for everybody, regardless of any counterargument.
As for B, I've simply prefixed an adjective to the noun, which shouldn't change anything. A historic fact is just as objective as a scientific fact, which is just as objective as a legal fact, which is just as objective as a moral fact.
Regarding C, before proffering their existence, perhaps I should clarify what I mean by moral fact. My crudest response would be, "a fact that pertains to morality," but since that doesn't help much, let's cut to the chase and offer an example. Let's borrow from desirism and take the claim, "stealing always results in one or more thwarted desire(s)." I will argue that, just as the claim about the continental US having 48 states is objectively true for everybody, the claim that stealing always results in a one or more thwarted desire(s) is also objectively true for everybody. So, I believe that moral facts exist.
Everything else should fall neatly into place after that. An omniscient, omnibenevolent God would know the effect of any act A given agents B-Z. So, if God were to say something like, "Thou shalt not steal," we have a divine command – that is, a moral prescription – founded on objective fact.
Aside from being airtight given its premises, another upside is that my argument effectively resolves Euthyphro's dilemma, which, in my experience, is the most common objection to variants of Divine Command Theory, often expressed thusly:
Does God command the good because it is good, or is it good because it is commanded by God?
I'm taking the first horn of the challenge, and answering that an omniscient, omnibenevolent God commands the good because it is good. An omniscient, omnipotent God knows what is good because such a God has perfect access to the set of moral facts.
There are some who will say I can't do that. For example, the writer(s) at moralphilosophy.info:
Suppose that the divine command theorist takes the first horn of the dilemma, asserting that God commands the good because it is good. If God commands the good because it is good, then he bases his decision what to command on what is already morally good. Moral goodness, then, must exist before God issues any commands, otherwise he wouldn’t command anything. If moral goodness exists before God issues any commands, though, then moral goodness is independent of God’s commands; God’s commands aren’t the source of morality, but merely a source of information about morality. Morality itself is not based in divine commands.
That's all true, but the objection is primarily semantic, and certainly not problematic. In order to successfully rebut this objection, all I need to do is either justify calling DCT "divine command theory," or replace it with some other name like "Moral Fact" theory. Personally, I think DCT remains an accurate name, because the "theory" still amounts to "divine commands" at the end of the day. That God merely relays moral goodness as opposed to moral goodness being an emergent property of God seems a moot point. The salient point is, what we call the theory is of marginal importance compared to the establishment of the theory's veracity – which I have already established.
Now, I might agree that DCT is a subjective moral theory, if we were discussing a non-omniscient, non-omnibenevolent God or gods, but we're not. I also understand that once you accept my arguments, other questions might remain. For example, one might ask something like, "I agree that an omniscient, omnibenevolent God is the best possible source of morality, but why is the God of the Bible such a moral monster?" Or, one might be thinking something like, "Well yeah, an omniscient, omnibenevolent God would certainly be the best source of morality, but where's the evidence that such a God exists?" Another line of objection might be, "Logic establishes the incoherence of omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent God." Or, one might argue from the fact of divine hiddenness and say something like, "Well, we don't have access to such a God, and have to rely on what other people say."
Of course, those are responses I'm always willing to discuss, so long as the inquirer is honest and grants that their answers are of no import to the veracity of the argument in this post.
So, in conclusion, all contemplation of "the best moral theory" is actually a quest for second best.