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Ethics: Where are you? part 5

June 25, 2010

The divine command theory states that “an act is moral because God commands it” (Boss, 2008, p. 145). This theory as an ethical framework for beliefs and decisions states that morality is not stagnant and “can change from time to time and person to person” because God may give different instructions to each person (p. 149).

As long as God gives the command, the act is moral. Quinn defends the divine command theory of religious ethics by stating that morals must be universalizable and that God can command one or all. Also, Quinn states that if God commands one person to kill a child, that does not mean that everyone else ought to kill their children.

The biggest criticism of the divine command theory is that it is arbitrary; there is no evidence to prove that a command came from God. Another criticism is that since there is no evidence to prove that a command came from God, if individuals or separate groups make claims about receiving different commands from God that are in opposition to one another, there is no evidence to prove which individual or group is correct.

Another criticism is that the claim that God decides what is moral and what is not “is dependent on a previous belief that there exists a being worthy of worship” (p. 156). So, in actuality, people have moral beliefs independent of God, but they give credit to God for their morality.

The last criticism is about God’s goodness and morality being inconsistent with the “senseless suffering and evil in the world” (p. 157). Out of these criticisms I am most interested in the one about different groups getting commands from God that conflict with the other group’s commands and there is no method to show which, if any, group actually received a command from God.

Boss used the example of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden both claiming to have received orders from God. Boss asks the reader to give critical thought to this example, stating that perhaps both Bush and bin Laden did receive commands from God in order to stir up global conflict and bring about the apocalypse. There is not a right or wrong conclusion that can be supported. Boss states that the “only way to resolve differences regarding what God commands is through apathy or violence” (p. 157).

Natural law theory states that something is right first and then God commands it; God is not creating moral truths, moral truths are universal and exist independently of God. Aquinas’ view of natural law theory in “The Summa Theologica” is that morals are built into the nature of human beings. He stated there are four types of natural laws: eternal, divine, natural/moral, and human/legal/cultural (p. 188).

Natural law is a form of ethics because it is the conscience humans are born with that makes them want to be good and virtuous – to be moral. Natural law is used for making ethical decisions because natural law is based on universal morals that can be evaluated. People may commit civil disobedience when they do not agree with a human law. They may base their disagreement on the fact that a human law goes against their moral beliefs / natural law. People who do not think abortions are moral have been known to riot, bomb, and kill at abortion clinics.

The just war theory presented as a kind of natural law theory can be summarized by stating that it is a set of “conditions that should be met before going to war” and a set of “conditions that should be met for a war to be conducted justly” (p. 165). The theory states that divine command cannot declare war. The goal of the war should be “lasting peace and justice” (p. 165).

The Iraqi and Afghanistan wars can be justified because natural law gives general guidelines and is “open to divergent interpretations” (p. 167). The premise of the natural law theory is that God creates morality and so if someone does not believe in God, that person is not bound to those morals. So how can a decision be made as to whether the just war theory conditions have been met if neither the Iraqis or Afghanis believe in the same God?

Thoreau justified the ethics of civil disobedience through four beliefs: 1) moral and nonviolent means; 2) legal means; 3) changes should be made publicly; 4) accept the consequences of actions.

MLK, Jr. justified the ethics of civil disobedience through moral and nonviolent means and accepting the consequences of his actions. He also stated that in trying to change an unjust law, he hoped to “arouse the conscience of the community” (p. 173).

Susan B. Anthony justified the ethics of civil disobedience in the same manner as MLK, Jr. Her efforts were toward “unjust laws that discriminate against women” (p. 173).

Durkheim felt that religion was a unifying factor for groups of people/cultures, while Marx thought religion was divisive and was a tool used by the ruling class to keep control over the lower classes/oppressed. Bellah felt that a new religion – American civil religion – created a sense of cultural/national identity and purpose and its “principles come from God” (p. 176). American civil religion states that America’s morals are superior to those of other countries.

Morality is grounded in religion when people believe that God creates the moral truths we live by and that tell us how to treat each other. I think it is possible act ethically without being religious. Are atheists unethical simply because they do not believe in God? Morality does not have to be grounded in religion because morality is a set of rights and wrongs that can be based on reason and not God’s commands. Philosophical ethics and religious ethics are basically the same, so when a Christian uses the words “right” and “wrong” “they mean the same thing as someone who is not religious” (p. 187).

Religion, per Boss, is a set of beliefs/values attributed to faith and worship of a divine God (p. 147). Morality is a set of beliefs/values that does not have to be attributed to faith in a divine God. Islams base morality on their religion. Morality is not grounded in religion for all people. Just because atheists do not believe in God does not make them immoral. The divine command theory states that God creates our morals – something is moral because God says it is so.

Quinn states the divine command theory of religious ethics requires morals be universalizable and that God can command one or all. Also, Quinn states that if God commands one person to kill a child, that does not mean that everyone else ought to kill their children.

Aquinas’ view of natural law theory in “The Summa Theologica” is that morals are built into the nature of human beings. Natural law theory states that something is right first and then God commands it; God is not creating moral truths, moral truths are universal and exist independently of God. Morality does not have to be grounded in religion because morality is a set of rights and wrongs that can be based on reason and not God’s commands. People may feel that a human law is unjust and in order to change the human law to match their moral truths they will participate in acts of civil disobedience.

“Death of Woman, 69, Who Gave Birth at Age 66 Revives Ethics Debate” from globalethics.org

The title of this article sums up the event that stirred up the issue of the age of in-vitro fertilization recipients. A director at a center that studies medicine, ethics and law stated that the government has no right to interfere with people who have children naturally. However, a fertility expert reports that “66 is too old for a woman to have children.” The director states that the government does have the right to set age limits when in-vitro fertilization or other artificial means of fertilization are used.

According to the director, the age restrictions on access to IVF should be similar to the age restrictions that are used in adoptions. These age restrictions are meant to protect the children born to older mothers. Is it wrong to compare criteria for IVF with criteria for adoption? The two situations are very different. In adoption cases, a child is already in existence, whereas in IVF cases, the child does not exist yet. Ethical subjectivism states that there is no right or wrong answer, there are only opinions, according to Boss (p. 77). Universal moral truths do not exist in the theory of ethical subjectivism which is prescriptive – “it is about what a person ought to do” (Boss, 2008, p. 82).

There are more people who want to adopt than there are children to adopt so the adoption criteria can be stricter than for IVF. The “best” parents can be selected for an adopted child, but that is not the case with people who become parents via IVF. How does society decide what criteria are needed to be the “best” parents? “Cultural relativists argue that moral standards and values are derived from groups of people or cultures” (Boss, 2008, p. 100). Cultural relativists note that morals can be different from culture to culture or group to group. This leads to the possibility of Canada setting an age limit of 60, while the U.S. sets an age limit of 40.

The idea behind protecting the children born to older mothers is that the mothers will die while the children are young and leave the children’s upbringing to others. The mothers’ deaths might even make the children become wards of the state. So who decides if it is ethical to let older women use – or not use – IVF to become pregnant? If older women are not allowed to use IVF to become pregnant, is that the same thing as saying that those potential children are not worth being born?

What is worse, not being born at all or being born to a mother who dies when the child is young? Social Darwinists might say that IVF should not be made available to women over 35 because social Darwinists believe in “one universal moral principle: survival of the fittest” (Boss, 2008, p. 110). The refusal to allow older women to use IVF would be based on the fact that babies born to women over 40 have more health problems that babies born to women between the ages of 20 to 30.

The woman who gave birth at the age of 66 and then died at the age of 69 lied about her age in order to receive the IVF treatments. Was this woman wrong to lie about her age so that she could have a baby? Did she have a conscience? Boss states that a conscience “provides us with knowledge about what is right and wrong” ( p. 191). This woman who gave birth at 66 felt she was right in using IVF to get pregnant. Others think she ought not to have gotten pregnant by any method at the age of 66. In analyzing the situation to find answers, we need to start from the beginning and answer the questions.

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