Why Divine Command Theory is Superior to Cultural Relativism and the Natural Law Tradition

Moral traditions and objections are the foundation that people place their principles on and are common throughout philosophy. This essay will consider normative cultural relativism, the natural law tradition, divine command theory, and determinism and nihilism. This essay will show why divine command theory is superior to cultural relativism and the natural law tradition.

First, let’s talk about cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is the belief that morality can be obtained by looking at cultural expectations and societal norms. Cultural relativists have a live and let live mentality which can be destructive. Cultures have done awful things throughout history from slavery to the holocaust. Cultural relativism would excuse this since morality is achieved through the culture despite how wrong something may be. This implies that immoral acts from a culture can not be criticized in this live and let live mindset. If a culture can not be critiqued, then you can not respect it. For a person to respect something they must make a value judgment. People like the great Martin Luther King Junior would never have been able to reform our society in this way of thinking. Reformation that has bettered the lives of millions around the world.

Second, up is the natural law tradition. Natural law is the belief that all human beings have moral laws that can be understood by examining the nature of humans. The position uses natural reasoning through our conscience or god-given to figure out our purpose. This position also believes that humans come with universal morals. One application can be the nature of bodily functions. Some say that each of our body parts is only designed for one thing and anything else is unnatural. So, this can also be interpreted as same-sex partners and couples who don’t want kids to be unnatural. “JS Mill famously wrote that everything that happens on earth is natural”. This tradition also commits the fallacy of denying the antecedent which means that you are denying something that has previously happened.

The third is divine command theory. “Divine command theory is a tradition that morality is a code of conduct listed by gods command” (Abbot Chapter 5). Divine command theory claims morality is dependent on the will of God. This leads to the famous dilemma known as the Euthyphro dilemma. This dilemma is comprised of to phrases. Are things good because God loves them or does God love them because they are good. The first phrase can be met with what if God switches what we know as sinful would that make these things moral. The second phrase can be met with if things are good without God's intervention than there is no place for God. This tradition also has grey areas in religions that God may command sinful things to be done on his behalf. For example, when sectors of some religions claim they are doing something that is evil on behalf of what they believe to be God's will.

In my opinion, divine command theory is the most defensible and the best of the bunch. Divine command theory allows morality to be out of the hands of sinful people and in the hands of God. Divine command theory has its flaws but compared to natural law and cultural relativism I think it’s better. Even so cultural relativism also has appealing aspects like allowing people to live there life according to their culture’s way of life. Natural law is also appealing since it states that all humans are capable of understanding moral laws through nature. Some counterarguments that could be made against divine command theory are that basing morality on something you don’t know exists is a bad idea. Another one can be that God has switched his morality on a whim like with the story of Abraham and Isaac. How I would respond to the first is with proof of God throughout history. Second I would use verses found throughout the bible of God testing his followers. There are a lot of verses throughout the new and old Testaments that could justify why God changes his morality.

The fourth is determinism and nihilism. These two are known as objections to the previously mentioned moral traditions. These two in particular are pessimistic outlooks on the way the world is. Determinism is the idea that everything that happens in our life is predetermined and we cannot change it. This means that human beings have no control or free will over what happens to them. They argue that free will doesn’t exist and is instead is predetermined from all your past experiences. “Nihilism is the belief that nothing can be morally wrong. Moral Nihilists deny that morality has any fundamental justification”. Nihilists believe that there is no real meaning to life and we simply live and die.

In conclusion, moral traditions are opinions based and we get to choose which one we align ourselves with. Everyone is entitled to what they believe to be the best and to have them justify it. Each tradition has its pros and cons, and by weighing them out we can find our position. In my opinion, I believe divine command theory to be the best of these three.

Works Cited

  1. Wolff, Jonathon, An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. WW Norton & Company, New York. 2018. Instructor C. A. Berkey-Abbot Notes for Chapter 5.
  2. “Determinism vs Free Will: Crash Course Philosophy #24” Youtube, uploaded by CrashCourse, 15, August 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCGtkDzELAI
  3. Wolff, Jonathon, An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. WW Norton & Company, New York. 2018. Instructor C. A. Berkey-Abbot Notes for Chapter 3.
07 July 2022
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