What is philosophy? Think about it. Philosophy was the love of wisdom. Wisdom itself has a higher goal than knowledge, it is knowing what to do with what you know. We apply philosophy to real life when we take the time to think rationally, and as often as possible, critically about life’s most important issues. We must have evidence-based thinking that is not only logical but consistent as well. This thinking can help bring us to a deeper understanding of life and cause us to have our own personal transformation. Philosophy influences our lives on a moral level as well.
Morality is the principles that make the distinction between right or wrong actions and good or bad behavior, it is what people actually do and believe. When it comes to morality there are four types of moral judgments and classes of moral actions. In summary, both of these four types are a type of spectrum raging from required or right actions to supererogative actions, which are good Samaritan or heroic actions. But how do we decided which actions to label right or wrong, or which behaviors are good or bad?
We decide these morals based on our ethical perspective. We define ethics as the study of morality using the methods of philosophy. Ethics is reason based, we study ethics so we can understand the compacity of our actions for ‘benefit’ and ‘harm’. With ethics we attempt to think rationally and critically about morality. Combining these three dynamics we can come to the conclusion of our own ethical perspectives.
As with most people, our ethical perspectives are extremely influenced by the way we are raised, our parents or guardians often instilling in us their own ways of thinking and believing. Many people are content to never venture out in their ways of thinking, perfectly content in their own little worlds, unaware that there is an entire universe of unexplored potential ways of seeing the world. I believe those with a closed mind should keep a closed mouth but that never seems to be the case.
I would like to state for the record that I am not a theologist, I was raised to believe in Divine Command Theory before I even knew what it was. To me it was just being a Christian, I held tightly to my parents’ heels in the hopes that I was doing everything right, singing the right words to the songs, clapping and raising my hands at all the right times. In other words, I was conditioned to “perfection.” It was not until I was older that I realized the world was bigger than my own little church, bigger than my parents’ beliefs. I started questioning everything I’ve ever believed and concluded that I never truly believed them at all, I followed my parents blindly and I vowed to never wander in someone else’s beliefs ever again.
Let me start by explaining divine command theory. Divine command theory is scripture based, if you want to know if an action is morally acceptable or not you simply have to see if God requires the action or prohibits it, and if He does neither the it is morally permissible. There are five dynamics of this theory: you must assume your are correct in the belief that God exists as a Moral Lawgiver, you must assume that you know the true revelation behind God’s commands, you must assume to know the correct interpretations of the true revelations of God’s will, you must assume that you make the correct application of the interpreted revelation of God’s commands, and lastly that you have the correct motivation in obeying God’s commands. In my experience this puts limitations on Bible based religion.
How does divine command theory influence my perspective on ethical relativism vs. absolutism? I’ll first explain what these are. Ethical relativism denies any objective universal moral truths and affirms that all truths are relative, both subjectively(individual) and culturally(group). Whereas, ethical absolutism is the acceptance of or belief in absolute principles in political, philosophical, ethical, or theological matters. When it comes to divine command theory one would think that it is more in line with ethical absolutism, I thought this way for a long time. While I believe every word in the Bible is true, and that God and His words are infallible, I also believe that what it says can be relative to the individual and/or culture. In Hebrews 4:12 the Bible states that the “word of God is alive and active,” and when something is alive and active it can be applied to different situations and to different people. From personal experience, and hearing of the experiences of others, a verse read at one time can mean something completely different at another. While there are certain absolute truths through out the Bible, there are also many relative truths as well.
One of these absolute truths being that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since this is an absolute, by believing in divine command theory, I cannot believe is psychological egoism. Psychological egoism is the belief that all our actions are selfish all the time. However, when it comes to psychological altruism, the belief that we are capable of being selfless, divine command theory aligns itself perfectly. We see this specifically in one of the most famous accounts in the Bible, the sacrifice and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.