How might we link religion to ethics?
may turn on the age-old question of:
What is religion -
is it simply the institutionalisation of a belief that there is a/are greater metaphysical being(s) than ourselves
which/who gain our worship because they are believed (we have faith in) to have powers of aid or destruction in respect of the character of our lives?
But first...do we have a moral obligation to have a faith - a particular one? Ought one to believe in (a) God?
Why might I need a God to be moral? What is the point of God(s)?..especially if we can derive moral judgment from precisely our humanness i.e. our fallibility and our history and experience, and that we possess reason - does not morality mediate between these factors?
and not a human adoption of absolute commands from the heavens?
If God is omniscient, is s/he a- moral? i.e. all of God's notions are simply true facts? ...whereas morality to be moral relies on uncertainty - on incomplete knowledge?
If by ethics we assert that it consists of a set (scheme) of obligations (moral rules) to act in a certain way when certain conditions obtain
then there are perhaps several faces of the connection between Religion and Ethics:
Much may turn on warrantability - that there is some reason/authority/argument as to why this rule/obligation is justified such that it is valid with respect to actions that it covers.
Where religion and ethics are mixed it is usual to determine that ethics is a result of some God-inspired warrant.
But with the major ethical theories that we spoke about the other week, God is not the warrant even if s/he would have wished either the schema or the moral obligations/situations/choices to be as they are...
because of ignorance/per accidens, I (happen to) act in consonance with God's moral purposes/judgements.
that is: deontological arg (Kantianism) - because logically you would wish everybody to behave like it and it will tend to produce a good society for all
OR utilitarianism: because it will make me/us worse off to not do X
OR virtue ethics: to appropriately abide by the rule leads to a balanced reciprocal society that all wish to live in
and this because traditional ethical theories have their own form of reason/criterion for application rather than appealing to an outside warrant (force)
The latter points out that 'bull in a china shop' morality is not a good way to go about things i.e. absolute application of the moral rule in every relevant instance - all cases that can be counted as X's are subject to moral rule Y
Even if we have warrantability to X, I should be judicious - virtue (arete) in rel to phronesis (wisdom) in its application - reason and morality go together
Indeed virtue ethics is precisely human because it is not just about application of 'THE' rule but rather a matter of good judgment which is also about the character of the moral agent. (God does not have good judgment; s/he merely makes judgments. - 'Thou shalt...')
One reason for linking ethics to God or something like that can be to do with meta-ethics that I mentioned the other week: the Q: What is the nature of the predicate '..is good'?
BUT...non-natural definitions seem so nebulous viz
Could there not be third candidate source to make sense of the meaning of 'good'? Could it not be that 'good' has a supernatural account?
Morality, when made by humans, is not necessarily a matter of absolute commands
And this may be a sticking point for the faithful especially where the faith is surrounded by a somewhat intolerant culture that perhaps uses an absolutist interpretation of the moral rules and thereby thinks it ok to extract terrible penalties for infraction...stoning always being the popular option
So, virtue ethics does rather point in a secularists direction - it assumes reason-ableness using judgement, finitude, fallibility
Religious ethics - do they allow for this or are they always absolute commands with the obvious warrant because God says so/wanted it
Morality not human but omnipotent God-founded judgment? - our morality should mirror God's moral knowledge if we are to act properly
There are various forms of various forms of divine command theory. (
The theory generally teaches that moral truth does not exist independently of God and that morality is determined by divine commands.
Stronger versions of the theory assert that God's command is the only reason that a good action is moral, whilst...
weaker variations cast divine command as a vital component within a greater reason.
The theory asserts that good actions are morally good as a result of their being commanded by God,
and many religious believers subscribe to some form of divine command theory.
Because of these premises, adherents believe that moral obligation is obedience to God's commands; what is morally right is what God desires.
Modern philosopher of DCT - Robert Adams - proposes that an action is morally wrong if and only if it defies the commands of a loving God.
If cruelty was commanded, he would not be loving; thus God's commands would not have to be obeyed and also that his theory of ethical wrongness would break down.
Adams' theory attempts to counter the challenge that morality might be arbitrary, as moral commands are not based solely on the commands of God,
but are founded on His omni-benevolence. i.e. God is a Good God with built-in moral conscience he wishes humans to reflect and not just a smiter!
It attempts to challenge the claim that an external standard of morality prevents God from being sovereign by making him the source of morality and his character the moral law
I am not sure how this fits with omniscience ascribed to God - if s/he is all-knowing then, how might we know that God in being cruel was not being cruel to be...loving' - as we are not infinitely far-sighted.
The Euthyphro dilemma was proposed in Plato's dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro.
Socrates and Euthyphro are discussing the nature of piety when Socrates presents the dilemma, which can be presented as the question 'Is X good because God commands it, or does God command X because it is good?
'Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?
The Euthyphro dilemma can elicit the response that an action is good because God commands the action, or that God commands an action because it is good. If the first is chosen, it would imply that whatever God commands must be good: even if he commanded someone to inflict suffering, then inflicting suffering must be moral.
If the latter is chosen, then morality is no longer dependent on God, defeating the divine command theory.
Could there be an ethics without warrant for its moral character? I just made this moral system up! This is one I made earlier but it is an ethics cos it has the form of ethics, it is a set of generalisable commands to act in this way in these cases that produces the good.
This could apply to the command to drink water: you must drink at least 2 pints of water daily as this does you good and sustains life efficiently..but somehow not really a moral obligation
Are all God's commands moral down to dietary commands because they are God's commands and thus necessarily must be right even if they do not have the character of 'ethical judgments' as we (humans) usually grasp them?
but if this so, is anything God commands ethical as seemingly all God says is 'right' and thus there is nothing in what s/he says that distinguished between the ethical and other form of rule/command.
So where we have the problems of warrantability/moral authority therewith we are asking Q's about:
1) what we owe to our God
And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tablets of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them. 13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.
Exodus 24:12-13 (also in Deuteronomy)
the opening of the Decalogue (the Ten Commnadments)
· I am the Lord thy God (fact)
+ 3 moral obligations:
· Thou shalt have no other gods
· No graven images or likenesses
· Not take the Lord's name in vain
DCT in line with the God-Moses moral axis
But what about in poly-theistic religions with lots of squabbling Gods?
What do I owe to whom?
Do I take pot-luck and pick a winner to whom I am faithful and thus hope for their protection in the face of the wrath and bad temper of rival Gods?
That my actions consonant with the good will of my chosen God will be replayed as struggles between the Gods in heaven.
No matter how well I behave, my fortunes are arbitrary
as my protecting God is only doing their job a) cos I
am faithful to her/him - their motivation to approve of me
My morality is worth little in the face of such heavenly quarrels but what is moral is that I remain faithful to MY chosen God - s/he who I worship
This weakens the relationship between good actions and desert - just because I have remained faithful to Athena - done my duty to her commands/desires/person - does not mean that I will have a happy life...if Hera has it in for me or for Athena, by Hera having a go at Athena's favoured supplicants.
2) What we owe to our faith: if we are truly faithful I should act in manner 'x'
You do wonder in the face of religious fanatics whether
their absolutist sense of moral obligation is not to God's commands but the very idea of their faith as a set of biblical or other textual demands; prescription which to exemplify and affirm the true believer is taken literally
3) what we owe to each other because of our God/faith and our belief in her/him/it
My faith commands/obliges/'says' that I should x in regard of my fellow human beings
· Honour thy father and thy mother
· Thou shalt not kill
· Thou shalt not commit adultery
· Thou shalt not steal
· Thou shalt not bear false witness
4) what we owe to ourselves - modes of self-conduct
Remember the sabbath day
Thou shalt not covet
paradoxes of the duties that pertain to Religion
Private v Public face