Category Archives: Divine Command Morality

Who Chooses that Humans Ought to be Harmed?

If a person willfully chooses to disobey a moral law, the choice results in a new ad hoc prescription in the moral order that some harm to humans ought to occur. I have written of these norms prescribing harm as sanctions for moral laws. Even if only confusedly understood, an agent who willfully violates a moral law recognizes that there are negative consequences for the choice to disobey. My moral theory is based on a thesis that the negative consequences are the ad hoc norms prescribing that there be some human harm.

These prescriptions for harm are evil items in the moral order. They lack what is crucial for being in the moral order. The primary items in the moral order are the laws of the moral authority which aim at human good and there being no harm where harm is lack of some human good. These prescriptions for harm lack aiming at human good.

What is the source of evil in the moral order? Are the prescriptions for harm issued by the moral authority or are they issued by the disobedient agent?

If issued by the moral authority, the moral authority would not be perfectly good for it would have at least the potential for production of evil always within it. To be perfectly good the moral authority needs to issue norms for the good and never for harm which is the absence of good. So, for theoretical reasons, we cannot say that the ad hoc norms prescribing harm are issued by the moral authority.

So morally disobedient agents issue the norms that there ought to be human suffering which is deprivation of some human good. In the moral authority, there are only norms with “gaps” aimed at human good and never harm. The gaps are occasions on which human choice needs to converge with the will of the moral authority to have the authority’s will executed. See Closing “Ought” to “is” gap for elaboration.

So, my authoritarian, divine command, moral theory needs to sketch out how the moral authority by granting humans free will has also granted humans authority to issue norms in conflict with its basic norms.

In my next post, I will illustrate willing harm for humanity by suicide.

I am Uncomfortable Talking About God in Philosophy

Occasionally, I become embarrassed when speaking or writing of God in philosophy. “Embarrassment” is the best term I can think of although it is far from ordinary embarrassment. It is an embarrassment of being extraordinarily disrespectful.

This experience was especially acute when I was actively teaching. Sometimes in a presentation of arguments for and against the existence of God, I had a vivid sense of God being present while we deliberately ignored Him to speculate whether He was present. How could we show greater disrespect?

I am not blessed by always sensing the presence of God. (I always sense the presence of the moral authority.) But when I sense the presence of God and I am speaking or writing philosophically about God I have a problem.

This embarrassment of speaking of God in His presence while ignoring His presence occasionally afflicts me while writing posts on divine command morality. This is why I wrote in Authoritarian Morality as Divine Command Morality that I prefer speaking rarely of God in my development of divine command morality.

I write of God being the moral authority in my theory of authoritarian morality. I write of the moral authority being God because theoretical considerations require the moral authority to have features which make it God-like. While writing I pay no attention to God who is present. But I do pay attention to God because I recognize His presence. But sense that I am ignoring Him

How can a believing philosopher speak of God philosophically without being disrespectful? In philosophy, we speak of the office of being God, we do not speak of God to whom we refer in prayer or theology. The One to whom we pray actually occupies the office whose functions and powers we always inadequately represent.

The office of God is not God. The office of God is a conceptual construct in philosophical discussion. To think of this conceptual construct as God is moving toward idolatry.

However, it is very easy to regard our concept of God as God to whom we can refer since we use the same word for both. Even atheists succumb to the temptation to regard a concept of God as God. An atheist might think that we can show that we cannot refer to God because there are good reasons for holding that a specific concept of God could not be of something to which we could refer.

I try to avoid drifting towards the idolatry of regarding the moral authority in my divine command moral theory by frequently using the term “moral authority” instead of “God.”

Moral Harm & Moral Worth

Everything I write about moral philosophy is heavily influenced by Kant. But I never claim to write with any authority when I express Kantian themes. When writing, in my previous post, of how human choice completes the moral causation in a morally correct action, I just could not resist the temptation to included a flash of insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.”

Kant did not clearly mean what I mean by the term. That is why after this post I will rarely use “moral worth.”

In this post, I first specify how I use “moral worth.” This specification expands my model of divine command morality. Second I offer my putative insight into what Kant meant by “moral worth.” This insight leads to the third and final phase of the post: a preliminary discussion of positive and negative freedom of the will.

I define “moral harm” and “moral worth” as co-relative terms. Moral harm is the moral result of an agent willfully disobeying a moral law. Moral worth is the moral result of an agent willfully obeying a moral law. They are moral results because by agents’ choices they come to be in the moral order or structure. By being in the moral order they are norms. Moral harm is a norm that there ought to be deprivation of good and moral worth is a norm that there ought to be good. Willfully disobeying a moral law is rejecting the good at which the moral laws aim while willfully obeying the moral laws is endorsing the good at which moral laws aim.

I am expanding my model of divine command or authoritarian moral thought. Although I still maintain that it articulates the moral thinking of many people. I have already made a case that that moral harm as the production of a norm that some harm ought to be is crucial in ordinary moral thought. Indeed, that thought generates authoritarian moral theory. Here the new feature is the willfully disobedient agent generates the harm requiring norm; not the divine moral authority. I can make a case that ordinary moral thought recognizes that willfully obeying a moral law ought to be followed by some good. It is the obedient agent who creates this norm

How did Kant use the “moral worth”? To answer, I review some ideas about moral action from my previous post.

A moral action results from the agent adding his or her choice that the moral law be obeyed to the partial choice of the moral authority that the law be obeyed. The authority’s choice is partial because it grants agents the freedom of will to complete the authority’s choosing. Free will is here the positive freedom, “freedom to,” to will as the moral authority wills.

Now if the agent’s choice is nothing but to obey the moral law, we have a case of pure or total moral causation. As a moral action nothing but the willing of the authority that the law be obeyed and the willing of the agent that the law be obeyed were operative moral causal factors. No physical factors were operative in the willing; only the moral factors of willing that the moral law be obeyed.

Kant seemed to hold that only pure moral actions had moral worth and he definitely never wrote that moral worth is the production of a norm that some good ought to be done.

With this concept of a pure moral action the use of “moral worth” leads to requiring the theoretically important taking a stance on free will along with theoretically uninteresting self-examination of motivation. How can I know if I chose what was right only because it was right? And: Is it really right that we strive to choose because but only because the action is right?

I do not pursue the self-examination questions.

I am forced, though, to confront a tension between positive and negative freedom of the will. Negative freedom, “freedom from,” would be choosing while being free from physical causal factors.

Perhaps Kant held that if choosing is not free from physical factors, then it loses its capacity to be free to choose as the authority chooses – it loses its positive freedom. I want to avoid interpreting Kant. So, I avoid further efforts to interpret what he meant by moral worth.

But I cannot avoid the problem of whether or not moral and physical factors can co-mingle in a moral action. I begin facing the problem in this post by announcing a dualistic stance on free will and mixed motivation.

The positive freedom to choose to obey the moral law is not lost in the moral order by the agent’s not having in the physical order the negative freedom of being free from physical causal factors for his choice. Only some moral motivation is necessary to place an action in the moral order.

I elaborate on this stance on positive and negative freedom in my next post.

Moral Worth Closes the Ought/Is Gap

This post is an account, from the perspective of divine command morality, of how human choices have moral worth by creating morally correct actions.

However, I still write of the divine commander as only a moral authority. I think the post is more effective by inviting the reader occasionally to think of the moral authority as God. Also I do not want to write as a moral theologian. I have not come to the notion of a moral authority as God from some religious system. I started in moral theory by expanding the notion of the harm in violation of a moral law. This expansion of a notion of moral thought led to the notion of a god-like moral authority.

What makes an action morally correct?

I do not claim any originality for any ideas expressed in my philosophically untechnical essay. Any ideas of value have most likely already been better expressed by Aquinas, Kant and J.H. Newman.

Differences between moral laws and physical laws help distinguish a physical action from a moral action.

Regard a situation to which a physical law applies a cause. Regard the action that the law says follows the situation an effect. In the physical order the effect occurs invariably. The physical law of nature has power within the situation to which it applies to bring about the effect. A physical cause bringing about its effect is a physical action.

For the moral order, talk of cause and effect requires qualification.

For the moral order, think of a situation to which a moral law applies as a partial moral cause. For instance, an opportunity to steal under the law “Do not steal” is a partial moral cause. Regard what the moral law demands for a situation a possible moral effect. Not stealing in the example is a possible moral effect of the law.

The will of the moral authority is that the partial moral cause actually be followed by what is called the possible moral effect. However, the moral authority does not make its will totally effective because for the good of the agent in the situation, the moral authority wills that the agent add his or her willing to the authority’s willing to actualize the possible moral effect. If the moral authority fully willed the event, it would invariably occur and we would have only a physical action.

The combining of the agent’s willing with the moral authority’s willing converts the partial moral cause into a full moral cause which then actualizes the possible moral effect. The agent completes the will of the moral authority by willing what the authority wills for the situation.

A full moral cause followed by the actualization of the possible moral effect is a morally correct action.
An instance of a morally correct action is an instance of moral causation

Our capability to bring about a morally correct action by willing as the moral authority wills is free will. The moral authority grants us this capability because its is good for us to will as it wills for it always wills what is good. Our free choice has moral worth when it complements the will of the morally authority, or God, to produce a morally correct action.

I close by sketching some terminology. The terms need elaboration in subsequent posts. A morally incorrect action occurs when an agent chooses not to complement the will of the moral authority. An action in accord with morality is an action which is what the authority wills for the situation but the agent did not think of what the authority would will. An action not in accord with morality is an action which is not what the authority wills for the situation but again the agent did not think of morality. Actions which are merely in accord with morality or not in accord are really only physical actions.

A person of good moral character is a person who strives to, and is usually successful, in fulfilling the will of the moral authority. A person of virtue habitually chooses to fulfill the will of the moral authority (God). A person of virtue is morally better than a person with good moral character.

The following reflections on moral choice reveal an assumption that although every physical action has a cause those physical actions which are also morally correct actions do not have a physical cause of their being morally correct actions. This assumption also requires examination in subsequent posts.

Gibt es Kein Gott, nur die Pflicht steht gegen das Nichts

The title of this post is taken from p. 269 of my book on sexual morality -actually only male sexuality- where I asked indulgence to speak as a Teutonic philosopher to express the major premise of my case for traditional male sexual morality. That major premise in English runs: If there is no God, then only duty provides us something indestructible to have lived for when at biological death each of us confronts totally vanishing if there has been nothing indestructible in our lives for which we lived. Nihilism is accepting your vanishing.

When asked for a short answer about what I wanted to show in my book claiming in its title that traditional sexual morality is an antidote to nihilism, I begin my answer with a warning that I try to use only assumptions which can be accepted by secular analytic philosophers. (Frequently, fellow Catholics ask me what I was trying to show.)

I address those who sense some anxiety about nihilism when they consider their biological death. I do not address the blessed innocents, even if intellectual geniuses, who sense no such anxiety.

I argue that living to make ourselves people who obey invariant moral laws is something indestructible in ourselves for which to live – that is duty die Pflicht. I go on to argue that we must find such laws governing our sexuality. I continue my argument by pointing out that if we do not find them in our sexuality, we are unlikely to admit such laws as governing any other area of our lives.

So, if there is no God in any traditional sense and no traditional sexual morality, then for each of us biological death is eternal total annihilation.

Perhaps, the implicit recognition of the nihilism conveyed by the moral thought of global elites helps explain the terror of COVID-19 infections. The prospect of infection, with even a slight chance of biological death, makes vivid “vanishing into the infinite pit of nothing” -total emptiness.

I worry that finding the meaning of life in conformity to moral laws is very close to nihilism. Most of my philosophic thought is a struggle against nihilism. So since publishing my book in 2014, I have been searching to find more in morality than laws.

I have found much more. The thought which has exploded into a rich picture of morality has been the hypothesis that the harm of violating a moral law is creation of a new moral law that some harm ought to be. This notion of a moral harm has led to personalizing morality as obedience to a moral authority which finally I interpreted as God. That is why in subsequent posts, I defend and develop a divine command morality. I have set aside the hypothesis: Gibt es kein Gott.

Email me your postal mailing address, and I will mail you a free copy of my booK: Confronting Sexual Nihilism: Traditional sexual morality as an antidote to nihilism, Tulsa 2014.

Email: kielkopf.1@osu.edu