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Commitments of Divine Command Theory

Commitments of Divine Command Theory

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, identify the commitments of divine command theory

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Source: Image of Socrates, Creative Commons, TABLE BY GLENN KUEHN

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Hello. I'm Glenn. And this is the ethics tutorial on the commitments of divine command theory. Let's first look at a couple of key things to keep in mind and then the topics we'll be covering in the tutorial.

In this tutorial, we're going to be exploring the commitments that we'll have or that we'll have to abide by if we choose to follow divine command theory. We'll examine what's permissible and impermissible for divine command theory. And then under what's permissible, further what is obligatory, neutral, and possibly supererogatory. There's going to be an issue with that one that we'll have to address.

And then we're going to look at a specific situation. We'll look at various actions that surround the situation and then see how each of those actions can be classified as permissible, obligatory, neutral, impermissible, and how the whole situation pans out in terms of the directives from divine command theory. So let's begin.

OK. So let's say you're going to follow divine command theory in terms of making ethical decisions for your life. Then this is how you're going to stand in terms of beliefs about what you ought to do and why.

OK. First in terms of permissibility, remember, we must evaluate our actions as being good or bad, right or wrong, based only on what has been commanded by God or from a divine source. I'm just going to keep using the word God because it's convenient.

It is only based upon the command that we can evaluate our actions. So in terms of permissibility, if God lacks a command, if there's no command from God on something, then it's permissible. So there are no commands about having a birthday party.

It's permissible. You could do it or not do it. Don't worry about it.

What we have to worry about is if something is primarily impermissible. And this is where God commands us not to do something. God says, I am the Lord, thy God, and you shall have no other gods before me.

This is very clear. It's direct. And it is a command. It is impermissible therefore to worship any other gods according to the god from the Old Testament. So we need to avoid that.

Now under permissibility, we also have those other categories of obligatory, neutral, and supererogatory. And this is how that's going to pan out. If God commands you to do something, then it is obligatory.

Honor thy mother and father. OK. I am required, I am obliged, to honor my parents.

If God has no command at all, then it's ethically neutral. God has no commands about me skipping school. God has no commands about you skipping school. So whether it's right or wrong, we cannot determine from divine command theory.

Now, obviously, there's going to be other ethical theories that will weigh in on this. But when it comes to divine command theory, it's not there. Now for the special case of supererogatory actions, let's think carefully on this one.

For something to be supererogatory as an obliged action, it has to go above and beyond what is commanded. And in the case of a command from God, it would have to hold a very unique position. In other words, it would have to be something that God wills, that God chooses, but yet not something that God commands.

See, if it's something that God commands, then it's obligatory, and that's it. So it has to be something that God chooses but doesn't command. And it's really hard to find something that fits those two qualifications. So generally speaking, divine command theory has no supererogatory classifications of actions.

So with those classifications in mind-- you might be wondering, how does this fit into sort of a day-to-day activity? How does this apply to normal actions in life? Let's look at a specific situation that is common.

Let's say you're selling your car. Or it's a boulder or a television set or anything. You're selling something, but I'm going to use a car as an example.

Now, there's a set of actions that surround this scenario. You are presenting the car as yours to sell. You have the title. You are talking to someone about the car's condition, the age, the repairs, what upkeep you've done to it, any possible accidents it's been in.

You're doing actions that surround the way the car looks, the way you want to present it, whether you've cleaned it or not and vacuumed it, used an air freshener, whether it's sitting in a driveway or lawn or on the street or wherever. And of course, you're also negotiating the selling price. And there's a dialogue that surrounds that one.

So let's look first at the categories of permissible and impermissible. God does not command that you clean the car before you show it to a prospective buyer. This is a permissible action. You can do it or not do it, but it's not commanded. So whether or not you choose to clean the car is up to you.

Also fitting under permissible and impermissible is choosing a selling price that's fair. There's no command from God with that one either. So you could choose one that's unfair. This is a permissible action.

Now, God does command to be honest. So we are obliged, if it falls under the category of obligatory actions, that we are honest about the car's condition. We're honest about disclosing the repair history, the accurate mileage, and any other questions that pertain to the car's condition. We're required to do this.

Now, God commands us also, therefore, to not be dishonest. We cannot lie about our ownership of the car. In other words, I'm presenting this car as mine to sell. If it's not mine to sell, then I'm being dishonest about owning it. You can't sell a car that's not yours. So this is how these basic series of actions fit into an understanding of a divine command theory in our daily lives.

In summary, in this tutorial, we've looked at how the commitments of divine command theory play out in terms of permissible and impermissible actions and also obligatory and neutral actions and the difficulties that are found in trying to categorize God's commands in supererogatory actions. And then we looked at a situation where these different sets of actions and classifications pan out and see how they fit into what is right and wrong according to God's commands.