Philosophical Investigations

ARTICLE Divine Command Theories

Divine Command Theory of Ethics

Philip Quinn gives a masterful summary of Divine Command Ethics.

Any ethical doctrine that makes theistic assumptions is theological. The ethical theories characteristic of the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and ISLAM are thus theological. However, ethics can be religious without being theological. Because Therava¯da Buddhism does not make theistic assumptions, its ethical thought is religious but not theological. There are theological versions of most of the standard ethicalviews. So, for example, the NATURAL LAW theory of THOMAS AQUINAS (1225?-1274) is theological because Aquinas thinks that natural law depends upon God's eternal law. And the UTILITARIANISM of WilliamPALEY (1743-1805) is theological because Paley is a divine command theorist.

There are also theological virtue theories. They often differ with their secular counterparts over which traits of CHARACTER count as VIRTUES. Unlike ARISTOTLE (384-322 B.C.E.), for example, Aquinas holds that obedience to God is the greatest of the moral virtues. In the Summa Theologica (1266- 1273), he argues that "properly speaking, the virtue of obedience, whereby we suppress our own will for God's sake, is more praiseworthy than the other moral virtues, which suppress other goods for the sake of God." The Aristotelian virtue of magnificence seems to be akin to the Christian vice of PRIDE and directly opposed to the Christian virtue of HUMILITY. And even when theological and secular virtue theories agree that a certain trait is a virtue, they often offer different accounts of it. Thus, while for Aristotle death on the battlefield is the highest expression of COURAGE, for Aquinas suffering martyrdom is its highest expression. Important recent work in VIRTUE ETHICS that stems from traditions of Christian theology has been done by AlasdairMACINTYRE and by Stanley Hauerwas and Charles Pinches.


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