Divine Commands vs. Divine Commanding

In various posts, I have sketched out the structure of morality based on the commands of an authority. In sketching out the structure of authoritarian morality, I have made a strong case that people who accept retributive punishment presuppose authoritarian morality. In other posts, I have sketched out a metaphysical structure of a Transcendent on which everything, including morality, depends for existence. I have, now, the conceptual tools for constructing a conceptual scheme in which the fundamentals of morality are commands of God, with God represented by the Transcendent.

Before working out details of this conceptual structure, I need to specify what actually occurs to make the construction correct.

The structure of authoritarian morality is not authoritarian morality. The structure characterizes the moral reality. The moral reality is the commanding by the moral commander and the responding of those to whom the commands are given. This is a temporal process. So, clearly, it is immanent. Of course, this process depends upon the Transcendent for its existence and character.

But what is the commanding and hearing of commands?

If morality really is based on divine commanding, then moral experience should reveal that activity. The structure of authoritarian morality should then characterize the morality arising from God being a partner in maintenance and development of morality. I am not privy to special moral experiences. There is nothing available to me that others do not also experience in their discussions and personal thinking about right and wrong, good and evil. So, what I say about the commanding of the divine moral commander is an interpretation of what people experience in moral thought and sentiment.

I propose that a sense or thought that we are correct in moral thought or discussion be interpreted as receiving a divine command. There are various descriptions of this sense of being correct about morality. Some have called it what we receive from a moral sense others characterize it as what they get from their moral intuitions, some call it what proper reason recognizes, others characterize it as what their conscience tells them and presently many express this by claiming it is a moral issue.

I use a phrase from Kant.

Stages in our feeling infused thinking at which we can declare a categorical imperative are stages at which we have a sense of receiving a divine command. These categorical imperatives are thoughts of the form “That is right,” “That is wrong,” “That is good,” and “That is bad.” The imperatives about good and bad imply imperatives about right and wrong because a categorical imperative judgment that something is good implies that a categorical imperative that one ought never inhibit it. A categorical imperative judgment that something is bad implies a categorical imperative judgment that one ought never promote it.

To repeat: I am interpreting taking a moral judgment as final is taking it as being divinely commanded. Of course, this does not mean that people consciously interpret their conclusive moral judgments as divinely commanded.

I must emphasize that we are not incorrigible recognizers of divine commands. Divine commands are incorrigible. God cannot err on what ought to be done or propose as good something which is not good. But we can make a mistake about whether God has actually commanded an act or proposed something as good. This is what should be expected if one holds that morality is objective. The prospect of a discrepancy between the objective and the subjective arises when there are thinking feeling subjects trying to be accurate about what is given. Divine commands are the given of morality.

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Divine Commands vs. Divine Commanding

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