bookmark_borderThe Forced Birth Movement Hates Real Religious Liberty – How to Use That Against Them by Making Abortion a Religious (And Medical) Right

It has not worked.

The prochoice movement opposed by the religious right has been making an enormous mistake. We know that because it is experiencing disaster. That when a solid majority of Americans favor abortion rights Roe v Wade included. It is all too clear that what it has been done in support of women being full class citizens has been gravely defective. It follows that it is time to move on to a more effective strategy.

Defunct RvW rested largely upon the 14thAmendment principle of privacy as a legal and societal expression of individual freedom from invasive state control in favor of personal responsibility. The thesis is valid, but it is a defensive posture that has proven insufficient to fend off assaults from a dedicated forced birth campaign. The situation is so bad for the sovereign rights of American women that even as Catholic heritage nations like Mexico, Argentina, Columbia and Ireland place their trust in the gender to make the best choice, the USA is reverting to the paternalistic misogyny of the early 1900s.

The women’s right movement must go on the offensive to regain the legal and moral high ground over the force birthers. Doing that requires utilizing two interrelated lines of argument.

The Big Medical Lies

One issue that has for reasons obscure long been oddly underplayed is women’s health as per maximizing it by avoiding pregnancy. The ant-abortion conspiracy promotes the anti-scientific disinformation that first trimester feticides are artificial and therefore bad for mothers, while child birth is natural to the point that the government must force all pregnant women to do what is good for their health physical and mental. Law enforcement must protect an apparently gullible gender from a diabolical abortion industry that is so clever that it somehow seduces many hundreds of thousands of each year — a quarter of the national female population over time – to commit a dangerous unnatural act that is against the wise ways of God’s benign creation. That when not getting an abortion is as easy as simply not going to a provider. Yet many go to great lengths to get to such, sometimes traveling long distances if necessary, knowing exactly what will happen when they do so, yet only a small percentage report having significant post procedure regrets (https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2020/01/416421/five-years-after-abortion-nearly-all-women-say-it-was-right-decision-study).

The cold truth is that nature is not always the best. Modern medicine is the artificial practice that has saved billions of lives from the deadly side of the biological world, including the many risks of pregnancy. Early term abortions surgical and medicinal are over a dozen times less lethal than going through the months long complexities and risks of pregnancy (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22270271) which kills 700 women each year in the US (and the death rate is rising — https://www.npr.org/2021/04/26/990980242/as-pregnancy-related-deaths-rise-in-the-u-s-experts-say-expanding-medicaid-is-ke). And because the latter pumps lots of mood altering hormones into mothers, they are highly likely to experience serious mental distress before and especially after birth, post-partum depression being very common and often serious. Early pregnancy does not involve such hormone loads, and mental trauma is much less frequent after termination. That is why the regrets are rare, of the many women I know who have had abortions none was gravely upset about it. Which makes sense since a woman is making the safest decision when ending a pregnancy as early as feasible. Legally sentencing a woman to bear her pregnancy violates her core medical rights. It’s like preventing someone from taking say statins, or forcing them to smoke or use mind altering drugs.

But there is another major right that the anti-abortion project violates big time. the one that the pro-choice forces have been resisting despite its potential potency.

Religious liberty.

Forced Birth, it’s a Religious Thing

Here’s the fact that is as screamingly obvious as it has irrationally been paid much too little attention by the body politic. Almost the entire movement to render women second class citizens by making them reproductive slaves of the state once pregnant, stems from one source. The religious right. That is a historically rather novel entity formed by a once unimaginable collaboration of conservative evangelical Protestants with the Church of Rome. The anti-abortion project is the core engine of a brazen attempt by one religious clique that constitutes about a third of the population to impose their hardline faith-based beliefs on everyone else. Outside of the Christoright who opposes abortion rights? Nontheists against women’s full reproductive rights are as scarce as hen’s teeth, I personally know of only one. Polling suggests that one in ten atheists are forced birthers, but the sample is small and the figure appears inflated. Many if not most Christians — Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, etc. of the center-left — favor reproductive choice, along with most Jews and other theists. That alliance of nonrelig0ious and believers form the solid majority who want broad abortion rights to remain in force in all 50 states.

The overwhelming and narrow religious basis of mandatory birth differs strikingly from other conservative causes such as limited government size and power regarding guns and economics, and heavy law enforcement against crimes and drugs. Those secular theses enjoy substantial support outside theoconservatism, including many nontheists — advocates of laissez faire capitalism for instance have included such prominent nonbelievers as Herbert Spencer, Ayn Rand, Milton Freidman, Penn Jillette and Michael Shermer.

The Grand Lie – Why No God Opposes Abortion, It Being the Natural Norm

That feticide has become such a fixation of the religious right is remarkably ironic for a reason too few are aware of. The startling fact is that forcing women to bear pregnancies to term lacks theological justification. The central motivating claim by theoconservatives that they are sincerely merely obeying the dictates of a prolife creator is patently false both on real world and scriptural grounds.

While forced birthers like to go on about how pregnancy ending in birth is natural, what they do not say – in part because most do not know – is that pregnancy ending in abortion is even more natural, by a factor of 3 to 1 or more. Not that many prochoicers know that either, the population at large is perturbingly ignorant about the hard statistics. 

Most conservative Christians are creationists of one sort or another who believe God literally intelligently designed our marvelous species, and that he considers the lives of every one of we special creations to be sacrosanct. There is a big problem with this thesis of the pro-like God. Our often lovely but chronically child toxic planet provides the proof that a life defending creator cannot exist. In the academic journal Philosophy and Theology I was the first to calculate and publish the telling and unsettling statistics that remain scandalously neglected (http://www.gspauldino.com/Philosophy&Theology.pdf). I further detail the problem in Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism (https://americanhumanist.org/what-we-do/publications/eph/journals/volume28/paul-1 & http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/03_Paul-SkeptoTheoPt2.pdf). The human reproductive complex is in truth remarkably inefficient and indifferent when it comes to generating new lives. The stats start with how it is well documented that about 100 billion people have been born to date. To that add how medical analysis indicates that about three quarters of conceptions normally fail to come to term — about half or more failing to implant in the first place usually due to rampant genetic defects, the rest are later term miscarriages, many of which go unnoticed (which is a reason why fertile couples may take months to achieve noticeable pregnancies; https://www.sciencefriday.com/segments/ivf-roe-v-wade; https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-lifespandevelopment/chapter/prenatal-development; additional refs. in my above papers). The human reproductive complex is a Rube Golbergian mess that usually fails – far from the womb being a safe refuge for fetuses, most inhabitants do not make it out alive because they come to a natural early end. As geneticist William Rice states, accidental abortion is “the predominant outcome of fertilization [and] a natural and inevitable part of human reproduction at all ages.” (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326485445_The_high_abortion_cost_of_human_reproduction) — ergo, the violence that is abortion is even more natural than is that of birth. That means something like 300 billion pregnancies have been spontaneously aborted to date. Currently, somewhere in the area of 30,000 spontaneous abortions occur every day in the US, over ten times more than those that are induced. There have been around 60 million abortions in the half century since RvW, the number of spontaneous prebirth deaths has been two thirds of a billion to a billion over the same period in the US.  The noninduced abortion rate can be tamped down some by pregnant mothers living in benign modern circumstances, but not dramatically because little if anything can be done about the core dysfunctions of human reproduction – which ironically appears to stem from our genetic complexity tied to our intelligence and the like, mice do not have a high bioabortion rates. After birth half those born have died as children from a vast array of torturous diseases that infest our biosphere, so some 50 billion kids have not grown up. It is the artifice of disease fighting medicine are other aspects of modernity that has driven juvenile mortality down to a few percent, less can be done about our deeply dysfunctional reproductive system. As I detail in the P&T and EPH studies, it is demonstrably impossible for a supernatural creator that allows hundreds of billions of preadults to die to be prolife.

With just a fifth to a quarter of observed pregnancies deliberately stopped, while three out of four pregnancies failing naturally, spontaneous terminations are around ten times or more numerous than women having abortions. That means that the wide belief that it is mothers that are most responsible for preventing little souls residing in genetically unique bodies from enjoying earthly, potentially Godly lives is far from true, it is Mother Nature that is doing almost all of that job. Yet theocons — some of whom burst into tears when thinking about all those babies murdered by abortionists and/or mothers, or yell murderer/s at the latter – rarely or never express the slightest moral concern much less outrage about the vast wastage of the preborn their creator they hope to get boons from is good with, much less oppose the mass death allowed by the deity, while they condemn humans doing the same thing as murderous and evil and demand it stop under the severe threat of law. That is called out and out duplicity. That theocons will cite their inability to oppose the actions of God serves to reinforce the religious nature of their FB project.

Of course the government mandated birth crowd does not want folks to know about the scale of the natural loss of the preborn. They don’t want to know about it themselves. There is no mention of the statistics in the SCOTUS majority opinion. That would not help the case. It would risk aborting it. Not that it is in the minority opinion either.

The mass loss of immature humans that no creator puts a stop to helps explain a stark scriptural truth that birth enforcement adherents evade as much as they can. Neither the Jewish nor Christian texts come anywhere close to proscribing abortions. The ancient texts instruct that if someone causes a miscarriage involving a woman who is not their wife, then the negligent party can be sued by the father who owns the fetus –  feticide is a civil financial property matter, not criminal murder of a human being in the Holy Bible. There is nothing about if a father causes the wife he owns to experience an abortion, or even if the mother terminates her pregnancy. Nothing. On the abortion actually has its positive uses side as long as it constitutes the misogyny theocons favor, there are instructions that when a pregnant wife is suspected of adultery a priest can administer an abortifacient potion – if the pregnancy continues she was not an adulterer. The written entirely by traditional values males Bible does not condemn abortion, it endorses its use to examine the guilt of women. That after all these decades that that direct disproof of the myth that God hates abortion is not common knowledge is a stunning exposure of how slack the does not wish to offend the religious women’s right movement has been. A day after abortion provider George Tiller was gunned down I found on my car a forced birth pamphlet that cited all the Biblical lines that opposed his work. Of which there were actually none, all the quotes were regarding the protection of undefined innocents. That’s high hypocrisy because in the same book God liquidates all the pregnant women and blameless children in a global flood, does the same to those in cities, and orders the ethnic cleansing Israelite warriors to slaughter enmass guiltless captive kids as well as women even when pregnant. The Gospels of Jesus and subsequent texts have nothing to say on what is now alleged to be a matter of immense divine import. Pro-life is faux theology invented out of whole cloth by right wing theists for entirely earthly ideological cultural and political purposes.

The abject absence of scriptural condemnation against abortion illuminates why most Bible believing Protestants, including the most popular evangelical of the day, Billy Graham, had no comment in the immediate wake of Roe v Wade. Then famed Southern Baptist leader W. A. Criswell did opine that he had “always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” That was in line with SB resolutions in the early 70s, two after RvW, in favor of abortion rights in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity and the health mental included of the mother. Governor Reagan had liberalized abortion access in California in the late 60s. During a major 1980 campaign speech to evangelicals he did not bring the subject up, and his forced birth speeches to the anti RvW protests when president were not done in person. The strict sanctity of preborn life back in those days was largely a Vatican thing — it cannot be overemphasized the degree to which the Roman and Lutheran churches despised one another and to an extent still do: a few years ago a couple of evangelicals standing right in front of me bemoaned how a relation who had gone Catholic was now worshipping the clergy, not Jesus.

So why the ensuing and incoherent great evangelical Protestant switch — Graham and especially Criswell evolved into staunch forced birthers — to sociopoliically weaponizing abortion as murder that requires harsh punishment via a new found alliance with the heretical Catholic clergy? That when the evidence that there is a creator power that gives a hoot about conceptions making it to birth is zilch, and mass abortion is more natural than birth, meaning that the all the claims otherwise constitute one of the very biggest falsehoods of our times – the Grand Lie. First a little history.

A Little History

Elitist theocons like those on the Supreme Court live very privileged, cloistered lives in an isolated right wing academic, pseudointellectual bubble that leaves them astonishingly and dangerously ignorant of and/or unsympathetic to things outside their narrow worldview that is indifferent to objectivity. And uninterested in the real world consequences of their archaic ideologies. Thus the incompetent, callous and lying Alito and company in their opinion overturning Roe v Wade that reads as though much of it was written by White male misogynists from the 1200s and 1600s. Which it to a great extent is because the astonishingly archaic thing cites ad nauseam the retro opinions of ye olden times Henry de Bracton and Matthew Hale who back in the day thought along the lines of how witches should not be tortured lest they die before being incinerated, described how to investigate women to determine whether they were still virgins or not, were skeptical of rape charges, and contended husbands owned and could rape their wives.

Many – you know, people who are decent and modern and mainstream – are perplexed by why the opinion that rerendered American women 2nd class citizens went to the lengths of being such a primitive document that expressly insults and denies the sensibilities and liberties of so many, that even after the draft was leaked and widely derided. But that folks was the point. The snarky Alito wanted to take the grand opportunity to put women in their proper place as they were in those olden times and they must be today under the aegis of hardcore Christianity. That such would anger many is not a problem for him and the other four on the court, they are delighting in having the power to impose their will and that of the Christoright on a nation that needs to understand it must be under the thumb of their Godly dominion. The only people they care about are those who agree with them, to hell with everyone else that being their destination if they do not get right with the Christ of the Bible anyhow.

Funny thing. Alito in his brilliant cynical bias makes is out that Bracton and Hale were staunchly anti-abortion. But even they were clearly OK with it early term. Which makes sense in that so is the Bible they and the populace adhered to. Abortion was the societal and reproductive norm in largely Protestant colonial and early independent America — for that matter, early term feticide has always been very common in societies whether legal or not. The Puritans of yore were not as super repressive and chaste as usually thought, oops pregnancies outside of marriage were fairly frequent. And there were women who after having birthed a bevy of babies did not want to go through that yet again. All the more so because childbirth was very dangerous, about one out of fifty pregnancies killed the mother, which when you work out the fertility rate math means that about one out of ten women who had kids died from the natural event. “Mother” nature is not much kinder to mothers than their young ones. Early term termination with herbal toxins had its dangers, but to a lesser degree. Such abortions were not a concern to the authorities if it was done before quickening. When the all-male founders, nearly all Protestants and Deists, were assembling the Constitution that instituted separation of church and state they never imagined considering feticide, that being a women’s affair outside their manly concerns. The only faction that might have been interested in the issue were the few Catholics. That they made no attempt to mention much less ban abortion was logical because the rest of the patriots would have slapped that down as an attempt to subvert the intent of the 1stAmendment to keep specific religious cliques from seizing control of governmental policies and vice-versa. Duh. I am not aware of any cases of women being arrested and charged with having an early term abortion in colonial America or the early USA.

There was a set of American women who absolutely did not have any legal access to abortion in the early 1800s. Enslaved Blacks. Their preborn being the property of their owners. Who were fond of raping the women in their possession for sexual enjoyment on their way to financial gain.

In the 1800s going into the early 1900s repression of sexuality and women reached a peak in tune with Victorian culture, often as part of the reaction against the suffrage movement. Also of growing concern was that abortions were killing women, albeit less often than pregnancy. At the same time the all-male and White profession of medical doctors wanted to suppress competition from midwives who often aborted the much bigger money to be made from full term pregnancies. The years after the Civil War saw a general criminalization of ordinary activities such as loitering and vagrancy in order to jail lower class men with a tilt towards blacks to discipline the population (and return to generating create cost free labor). And the nativist eugenics — based on agricultural selective breeding — favored by Protestants (but not Catholics) called for WASP women to bear as many children as possible to prevent the others from dominating the population. As part of this White male power movement laws banning abortions appeared for the first time, and quickly became the national norm (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/05/abortion-in-american-history/376851).

The result. A little over a century ago the Christoright owned these United States. Well over nine out of ten were Christians, nearly all conservative. It was a popular culture of imposed Judeo-Christian “virtue.” A pious, dour repressive hyper misogynist, racist Christian Dominion patriarchy in which women were second class citizens required to wear heavy clothing even at the beach, and mandated to remain nonsexual until marriage in which husbands could legally rape their wives and she had no legal choice but to bear the child – that by the way helps elucidate why modern forced birthers are often not concerned about if a pregnancy resulted from nonconsensual sex. The draconian Comstock laws banned mailing information on contraceptives in flagrant contradiction of the Bill of Rights. This Christofascist equivalent of Muslim Sharia culture of severely repressed sexual liberty had to have a heavy government hand to it. Lacking the force of law to keep people in reproductive line, most folks feel free to have way too much fun for the likes of the power craving forces who enjoy imagining they know what it best for all of us, feckless women especially. Note that the Dour Culture was to a fair extent a White matter, Black culture was less uptight, as reflected in the advent of the “sex music”, jazz that quickly gained a following among a frustrated White youth.

The rather Taliban like mainstream Christian scheme began to unravel what with women (mainly White) getting the vote, and the first sexual revolution of the Roaring Twenties. That unprecedented loosening of sexual habits was never entirely beaten back by the right, but as late as the 1950s women were still expected to be virgins on their wedding nights who then became stay at home housewives, access to contraceptives remained limited, and abortions forbidden. With blue laws keeping most retail closed on Sundays three quarters of American were church members according the Gallup, as virtually all professed a belief in God.

Since then it’s all gone to theocon hell. Even in the 50s the hot black culture continued to infiltrate the White majority via the first wave of rock-and-roll – previously black slang for intercourse. What was Elvis doing up there on the stage with his pelvis? Seeing the way things were going Billy Graham started his mass crusades to try to restore America to its righteous ways.

That did not work.

Nowadays, with women being emancipated, first class citizens free to have sexy fun, sinfully tempting females strut down streets in minimal clothing. Sex outside marriage is actually the accepted societal norm. Marriage rates are down while divorce rates are sky high – that started with the WW 2 generation in the late 60s BTW — including among conservative Christians. Birth rates are below replacement level – that when many on the right oppose the immigration of nonWhites that’s needed if an expanding population is to help grow the economy. On the networks people can say screw when not talking about hardware. Then there is cable and the web. Most women have careers. The great corporate project to convert pious frugal church goers into hedonistic materialists and digital social media addicts has succeeded spectacularly as Gallup tracks church membership plummeting from 70% at the beginning of the 2000s to 50% today (https://news.gallup.com/poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx; Gallup also observes that belief in God is going into a nosedive https://news.gallup.com/poll/393737/belief-god-dips-new-low.aspx) as White Protestants are a fast shrinking minority, the religious right that once ran the country has been reduced to a widely disparaged subgroup, and the nonreligious balloon by an amazing tenth of the population each decade (for a look at that see http://americanhumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/art-1-Paul-The-Great-and-Amazingly-Rapid-Secularization-of-the-Increasingly-Proevolution-United-States.pdf). Even Republicans are becoming less religious for Christ’s sake — listen to how the Trumpites swore like sailors as they stormed the capital, and denounce Biden with vulgarities Richard Pryor style.

Their Real Goal

That is what the forced birth movement is really about. A return to Christosharia. Having lost the mainstream culture big time over the last century theocons have no viable means to recover it by persuasion, and deep down they know that bitter fact. All those Graham et al. crusades, religious TV channels, megachurches, and Christian rock are getting nowhere with the mainstream. What are they to do in their desperate power trip to return the country to the good old days of largely White righteous Christian domination?

It’s obvious. Try to do what worked up to the 1920s, and see if reapplying governmental coercion will get America back to its straighter laced Godly ways. There is nothing else for them to do. This invidious strategy to employ laws to achieve religious aims requires the high grade hypocrisy of theoconservatives who love to proclaim individual liberty while decrying government power when the latter promotes what they see as ungodly secular-liberal values, but to without batting a cynical eye deploy said government power to lever America back to something like it was in the 1950’s. When father knew best and the good and subservient women properly behaved themselves sex wise and raised their many kids whatever number their husband desired and heaven forbid could not terminate their sacred pregnancies and the churches were packed on Sunday mornings rather than folks hitting Walmart and Home Depo.

It has not been a meticulously hidden secret, occasionally the truth has been let out. The president of the U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops Jose Gomez has railed against secular liberal movements such as social justice, wokeness, intersectionality, and critical theories that have arisen in recent years as part of an effort to “suppress any remaining Christian influences” and replace “traditional Christian beliefs.” How about the Louisiana lawmaker whose new government enforced birth bill describes human life as “created in the image of God” and to hell with that 1st Amendment separation of state and church thing. That’s a clear enough clarion call of the dire need to try to recapture the culture by as desperate means as necessary.

That’s the FB leadership. What about those on the street? The ultimate aims of the movement are further exposed by what mandatory birth advocates say when they are not reading a script. During what proved to be the final Washington DC annual protest against RvW, an antiabortion demonstrator told NPR’s Morning Edition that, after denouncing some for getting abortions to afford a trip to say the Bahamas, that he thought “at the end of the day, we should trust in God and trust that taking someone else’s life isn’t worth [it] – we should rather live in poverty,” and people should not have sex outside of marriage. Among Whites of those who wish to see abortion fully outlawed about two in three want to see American declared a Christian nation based on their invented Biblical principles (https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/05/20/white-christian-nationalism-buffalo-abortion — interestingly, a substantial chunk of those who favor a Christian America are not practicing Christians in this fast secularizing nation, but they think Christian identity and heritage is a good thing).

That those cynical Christofascists go on about the dire danger of Muslims imposing Sharia law in the US– absurd when there are so few Muslims in this nation – is a classic example of projection in that it is they who want to impose Christosharia on the population, and they are in much better position to do so, at least in red parts of the country.

So. How to get the government back under the blessed control of the theocons? You used to have to be fairly sneaky about doing that. Think Charles Boyer. Openly admitting that the ultimate goal is to use the state to bring back the good old theoconservative days by banning abortion et al. would intensify majority opposition, while undermining the legal case for making a private procedure that the Puritans were OK with into murder.

To try to rewin the culture wars via the law they have smartly gone on the sociopolitical offensive by putting a peculiarly lethargic prochoice side on the public relations defensive, to the degree that even many liberals agree that the feticide that has always been common should somehow become uncommon. That abortion should be a hard and sad and infrequent choice consistently avoided by preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, rather than by barring terminations. It’s the abortion should be legal but rare line, rather than rare because it’s illegal. Both are naive fantasies – and lies — that have never been achieved and never will be. Early term abortions are the norm in all societies because they involve a modest collection of cells whose humanity is problematic and mainly propounded by extremist theocons, they are fairly easy to do, in secret if necessary, and are not as dangerous as is pregnancy to the mother. At least a fifth of observed pregnancies are terminated, whether that being in advanced democracies with the excellent safe sex education and child care programs that the center-left wants to see operative here in the US, or where the procedure is illegal and riskier (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343147586_Unintended_pregnancy_and_abortion_by_income_region_and_the_legal_status_of_abortion_estimates_from_a_comprehensive_model_for_1990-2019). This is in stark contrast to murder, which is rare in many nations including most democracies — that these gun laden United States are the exception is pertinent because most who claim to be prolife support the widespread distribution of firearms that is the primary people killing device (https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2022/06/the-real-murder-inc-americas-killing-fields-courtesy-the-gun-industry-that-cannot-get-by-without-the-rampant-murder-they-create-and-the-enthusiastic-help-of-the-religious-right). Because murder involves a patent human being, can be difficult to do, produces an awkward corpse that is hard to secretly dispose of, and those who have been born are usually noticed to have gone missing, outlawing intentional homicide is correspondingly practical because only it renders only a tiny fraction of the population criminals while keeping the event highly atypical – there are under 4000 homicides in western Europe per annum for instance (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate), many dozens of times less than feticides. Whatever success is or is not achieved by criminalizing the latter, it does not make much actual difference because the great majority of conceptions will continue to naturally abort, so what is the point? That when making abortion illegal means turning a fifth or more of knowingly pregnant women into lawbreakers each year, and a quarter to a third of all women over their lives, while saving only one in ten of the preborn who will die anyhow, but injuring or killing a number of pregnant women in the punitive process. It is probably not possible to drive yearly American abortions below a few hundred thousand whatever the methods used. Prohibiting abortion works about as well as banning alcohol, and we know how that turned out. A basic legal tenant is that all legitimate laws must be reasonably practicable to implement — the stop the abortions folks like to compare themselves to the abolitionists, but mass enslavement can be ended simply by eliminating all laws that enforce bondage, leaving all slaves free to up and walk away from their masters — birth enforcement does not meet that feasibility criterion. Prochoicers, use that fact.

The theocon Grand Godly plan to try to overturn modernity is simple enough. Having concocted the notion that abortion is against the will of a prolife Lord Creator contrary to all worldly and scriptural evidence, make the private procedure illegal. Killing off RvW was by no means the end of the journey, that step being about half way up the FB ladder. The top goal is ban the procedure nationwide when the Repubs next control the Federal government, and/or as a form of outright murder by extending personhood to conception or fetal heartbeat perhaps via SCOTUS – that such is the ultimate Forced Birth aim is now obvious despite the gas lighting claims otherwise by some but not all prominent anti-abortionists – with RvW out of the way they are becoming quite open about their ultimate aims (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/06/02/roe-abortion-congress-fourteenth-amendment). The day of the glorious ruling former VEEP and hopeful POTUS Pence among many said that continuing on to a nation of forced birth is the new splendid target. Don’t imagine that the FB movement will keep up the pretense that they don’t want to see women who have abortions, or are suspected of such after having a natural abortion, while not be subjects of arrest – that makes no sense if induced abortion is murder.

That doing so is not likely to actually protect enormous numbers of preborn is not the critical necessity. That would be very nice if it happened in the opinion of many theocons, but with miscarriages already the norm in God’s nature saving the little preborn is not really such a major deal. Some of them admit it – GOP state representative Andrew Sorrell said even if abortion is illegal that it would not stop them, that not being “realistic, anything you make illegal there’s going to be a black market for. There’s a black market for drugs, there was a black market for alcohol during Prohibition.” Exactly. The true activism driving societal hope of most forced birthers is that by making those who terminate pregnancies into criminals and/or at least subject to financial suits, that fear of having abortions will help tame wanton American women to be less willing to be get it on with men outside of holy matrimony. The idea is to deter, discipline, punish and subjugate women into being both more chaste and fecund as the arrogant power hungry theocons want them to be. It’s the fear and shame factors of the rights massive national social engineering project. To that add putting strictures on contraceptives to further boost the righteous mission to reChristianize America – Catholics especially like that. That doing so may well increase induced abortions due to more unintended pregnancies is not the theoconservatives driving concern (with supreme irony, yet another side effect of protection reduction is a great increase in the rate of natural abortions because the latter are so much more common than successful births – but they don’t care). But trivia of that sort cannot be allowed to get in the way of the majestic design to renormalize the Christofascist sexual tyranny of yore. There is always some diversity in a movement, and some socially less extreme force birthers are realizing they have been duped by the crusaders (https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/05/11/karen-swallow-prior-abortion) — it is similar to how some of the “moderate” Taliban who were promising that they would not mistreat women again when they took over Afghanistan have been swept aside by the core of the extremist group now that they have returned to their misogynist power. There are those who are very against abortion on grounds theistic, but because they are also against big government think that the state should stay out of the matter (my Goldwater fan father was like that). But those folks (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/06/25/abortion-opponents-celebrate) don’t count to the hardline FB crowd.

The schemes of Christofascists to push women into being proper theists are not just aspirationally hopeful via making compulsive birth a deterrent to women not being divinely virtuous. There are growing efforts to set up mandatory birth enclaves in which single pregnant women who cannot get legal abortions and desperately need maternity help will be pressured by their circumstances to retreat to (http://thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx). There they are and will be the target of heavy duty theocon propaganda designed to make them into women of God. State power will be used to boost church power.  love

In 1900, 1950 and 1970 if a wife was impregnated against her will by her husband she had no legal option other than to give birth; why would the religious right want that to be true again in this century? As well as cut back access to contraceptives?

The prochoice side often wonders – often with breathtaking naivety — why those opposed to abortion want to also cut back on the use of sex education and protection that can suppress said abortions. That is because abortion reduction is not the real point, lifestyle alternation is. Get that? That women will be injured and killed by unsafe outlaw abortions and by mandated pregnancies is not a great concern of the birth forcers — those wayward women should have known better than to get pregnant out of wedlock in the first place, and if raped oh well, the growing soul inside them takes priority to its reproductive vessel who needs to understand their Godly prolife duty yet again never mind that the conception is at far greater risk of a natural death. The fear of getting pregnant without abortion as a readily accessible and safe solution is meant to deter doing the sex thing for the fun of it thing. If raped by her husband well what is the problem in the first place, why was she not doing her wifely duty – like in Pakistan, or in England in 1700 or 1300. If a woman who would have gotten a legal termination if she could because it is safer than not having one happens to die from what seemed like a normal pregnancy oh well that’s too bad, it’s God’s Will anyhow, and if she was right with Christ she is in a better place so what is the big problem. That the forced birth laws are going to make it intrinsically harder to deliver proper prenatal care even to those women who are fine with being with child and thereby increase mortality rates of both the person who has the womb and its contents is acceptable because such side losses are well worth the larger project to bring women to pious compliance. The wastage of pregnant women is well worth the glorious aims of the prolifers.

Prochoicers also often ask why those promoting forced birth do not seem all that interested in dramatically improving the level of government assistance to mothers to make them less interested in pregnancy termination in the first place. Dear reader, not providing such aid is an integral part of the great project. Which is to push all American sexually active women to be virtuous dependent wards of their pious husbands. Handing new moms aid from the feds and states would only serve to encourage them to stay single or if married not be sufficiently in control of the hubby in direct opposition to the ultimate goals of government mandated birth, while expanding the power and reach of the secular government. And it lures women away from the religion based charities designed to instruct the gender to be obedient wives – that is why there are efforts underway in red states to increase government support for privately run pregnancy crisis centers that are operated by conservative Christians. For the same reasons, abortion banners are delighted that forcing women to bear children whether they like it or not has been shown to seriously degrade the income earning potential of the gender – all the more reason for females to get hitched. The keeping of women dependent on bread winning male providers is one of the reasons a big chunk of the religious right favors small government over big, and free markets over socialist policies, lest the latter degrade the religiosity of the population as it has done in the developed democracies.  

When the forced birth crowd waxes about how they want to shower those with unwanted pregnancies with their support and love, it is the manipulative cloying “love” and aid of a hyperpaternalistic and arrogant right wing Christians who think they know what is the Godly best for everyone and are itching to use the law to impose their societal authority and will on all who disagree with them. It is the pseudo love of forced obedience and compliance. It is about controlling self-righteous power that dismisses the feelings of those who do not comply as sinful, not truly caring.  

That the Christoright is not doing all that much prep for an explosion of births when abortion is banned does have a perverse logic in that most who want to terminate their pregnancies will find a way to do it, so why bother.

The Race and Minorities Factors

The Christoright project to return America to Godly traditionalism of the type when Ike was president is accompanied by a host of other schemes designed to try to reassert the toxic White Christian Dominion over the nation. It is about sex and race. Thus bashing those, mostly Black, who have taken a knee during the National Anthem (which was written by an advocate of slavery and trashes Black rights which is a reason it was not made the NA until Lost Causers succeeded in the 1930s but that is another subject), evicting views on alternative sexuality and Common Core and liberal social-emotional learning out of public schools and libraries, is sending state investigators to inspect families with trans kids, is going after corporations for standing up for nonconservative social values, and denounces Woke Culture, the 1619 Project, BLM and intersectionality in an effort to protect the delicate sensibilities of White theocons from the history of Ameroracism. Of course LGTBQ lifestyles and rights gay marriage included is in their sights as they are making clear with their heavy duty red states campaign to harass and suppress nonhetero lifestyles. It is a vast campaign of picking on and bullying vulnerable others to help intimidate a dismayed center-left into irrelevance and compliance under the thumb of the ChristoWhiteRight. The combined assault on sexual and racial minorities is why reproductive rights are widely supported by White supremacists and advocates of replacement theory, including some who are not all that Christian in their beliefs and lifestyles. That returns us to the eugenics factor that has long been a motivator of government mandated birth for White women at a time when American Whites are reproducing at a rate well below replacement level as nonWhites rapidly expand their portion of the population by reproduction and especially immigration.

The Rape Nonexception Factor

This is a good place to further explore how the callous indifference of the hard right to rape that has a yet again ingenuous center-left wondering what the hell is going on with these ethically retrograde Christofascists fits in with their traditionalist plans. In their twisted logic a woman who is truly Godly and virtuous cannot be raped to pregnancy because she will not dress or be provocative or intoxicated in a manner that entices a man to sexually assault her, and if one does he will not be able to achieve penetration because of her not being sexually aroused. In that theory only a woman who is sufficiently loose and in some way desiring the assault can be impregnated – remember if you will how during the 2012 election cycle some GOP pols made statements to this effect (https://www.politico.com/story/2012/08/akin-legitimate-rape-victims-dont-get-pregnant-079864 — and these people are now in charge of the show). The slander of women as the foolish temptresses is not at all novel, it goes back over millennia as per the story of sinful and seductive Eve and the apple. As vile as this deep patriarchal attitude appears to today’s ethical westerners, the traditional misogynist opinion was the norm in many societies until the modern feminist movement, and used to be used by defendants in rape cases. In some current societies a woman who was and claims to have been raped risks harsh penalties for her wantonness. At the theocon Liberty University female students who file a sexual assault complaint with school authorities are likely to find themselves charged with violating strict school rules banning sexual and related activity. It is the intent of many forced birthers to revive the legal concept that rape that can and does lead to impregnation is always a false claim. It follows that it is never justified to allow an abortion that resulted from a “rape” – incest included – that never truly occurred because she really wanted it.

The (White Baby) Adoption Incentive

FB advocates note that 2 million couples say they would like to adopt children, but not enough are available, and preventing abortions in favor of forced birth would solve both problems at the same time. The trick is that there already are over 100,000 children who cannot kind find new parents, so in real world terms there already is a surplus. Many of the couples who say they want to adopt but are not willing to take who is available are Whites looking for White babies. So banning abortion is yet another example of White privilege via a form of eugenics enabled by government enforcement, in this case enslavement of White mothers as reproductive vessels of the state. And the even supposedly vast pool of couples waiting to adopt would be tapped out in a few years if the frequency of the procedure is dramatically cut back.

Liberty for Godly Theocons, Ascendency over Secular Liberals

So do not be fooled, coming even close to actually stopping abortions is not the end goal of the forced birth agenda, making it legally and physically hard to do being part of a more important greater scheme. In concert with weaponizing the induced abortions that are dwarfed by those accommodated by any creator as an act worthy of criminalization, they use the sacred theme of All-American Religious Liberty to facilitate discrimination against those the religious right does not approve of, especially all those who are not life time monogamous heterosexuals, and allow theocon medical providers to deny reproductive services they do not sanction – do note that conservative calls for liberties religious and otherwise are carefully crafted to most favor their liberties, for others not so much. Specific to the issue herein, SCOTUS has ruled in favor of red states that force abortion providers in violation of their free speech and religious rights and medical autonomy to inform clients of often false antiabortion information, while overturning blue state regulations that compel under handed mandatory birth clinics to openly inform their clients that they are expressly anti-abortion in nature because that breaches their free speech and religious rights. Got that one? And make divorce more difficult and less frequent. And don’t you pay any mind to how evangelicals denouncing masking and vaccines to protect schoolkids from covid yet further reveals how “prolife” Protestants do not truly care about young lives. And how the right demanding the liberty to not protect themselves, their children and others from covid as a prochoice position is directly contrary to their no choice about pregnancies.

Do observe that bringing deadly viruses to heel does nothing to bring back that old time culture. Banning abortions just might in theocon minds.

Not wanting to overly spill the theoproject beans when it comes to their true aims, birth enforcer theists I chat with are prone to start out saying they just want to save all the innocent preborn. When I ask why, they often claim it is murder. When I ask why they think that, they proclaim it a sin against God. After I point out the reasons that cannot be so – including how a million or so unborn naturally die off every day on the planet, and how the Bible is abortion friendly when it is misogynist — they then resort to vaguely complaining about the decay of society and the need to bring the majority back to the good solid and sound traditional morals that are good for them. Exactly.

Up at the level of the theocon power elites the protestations by Thomas, Alito and Barrett that the conservative wing of the court does not have a larger sociopolitical agenda in mind were proven to be prove to be PR window dressing designed to mislead with comforting false assurances while they proceeded to do what they needed to do to get rid of that pesky RvW and move on to bigger fish. We know that because with the winds behind their SCOTUS sails there is increasingly open talk from the justices and the hard right about overturning judicially and by legislature just about anything center-left when it comes to privacy and sexuality and speech about such – maybe some of those Comstock Laws were not such a bad idea. About time red states can be in charge of contraceptives use. And whatever happened to that wonderful Hayes Code? Do we really need movies coming out celebrating the gay lifestyle for instance? Do we?

This giant sociopolitical power play centered on making abortion illegal got underway as the feminist movement inspired successful EPA opponent Phyllis Schlafly to proclaim that “feminists were promoting abortions instead of families” in 1972, and the Dem presidential candidate McGovern was labeled the “Triple-A candidate: acid, abortion and amnesty. While evangelical views of and actions against RvW were initially disorganized, by 1976 the practical political weaponization into a wedge issue was underway with the GOP convention inserting government mandated birth into the party platform, and passing the Hyde amendment. Matters really ramped up as the Feds starting cracking down on funding racist private religious schools. The first born-again Baptist POTUS Jimmy Carter proved much too liberal – he backing stopping federal funding for theocon colleges practicing racially discriminatory policies to the fury of the Christoright, but they could not complain too much for that — for increasingly fearful and enraged evangelicals. To their growing horror and bitter anger they realized that the second rock and drug driven sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s they so loath/ed, plus the similarly odious new wave feminism, were settling into being the national norm and their permanent sociosexual nightmare. Roe v Wade being a big part of the problem which is certainly has been.

Also firing up the evangelical forced birth movement was the spectacular rise in the percentage of pregnancies being terminated, in the early 1980s it would peak at a third which is atypical by international societal norms. Likewise, STD infections soared in America even as they remained much lower in other sexually progressive nations. That was happening because American youth was not being taught the in-depth sex education that is the standard in other western nations, so teens and twentysomethings were overly using early term legal abortion as a form of contraception.

That actually worked out very well for the right. By pushing against sex-ed and protection use on the pulpit of traditional values they got the very high abortion rate that while they denounced them, they could exploit as ungodly murderous immorality and proof of societal decay – along with all the STD infections — boosting their political fortunes. It has been a strategy as clever as it has been effective.

But for the crafty scheme to operate the evangelicals and hardline Catholics had to suppress their age old acidic theological enmities to ally under the united banner of Muscular Christianity in order to better face the growing cultural and political secular threat, and with the aid of strategists such as Paul Weyrich and his born again buddy Jerry Falwell, turned to their great grandfatherly hero and divorcee Reagan who rarely attended church. But was the first POTUS candidate who took a hardline for forced birth. Then the mediocre preppy Bushes. And now their manly man Trump who as their misogynist, racist, hard talking and chronic lying King Cyrus does their God’s will never mind his boorishly indecent, adulterous, dump the old aging wife in favor of the new babes persona. “Manly” Christianity is not pretty.

After all, God works in mysterious ways.   

To sum up what theocons are up to, being a minority the largely White religious right is trying to force convert the nation into a theocratic autocratic Christian Dominionist republic in which the once traditional and dismally normal, and now retro radical and drearily oppressive, hard right mores are imposed on the majority for their own good. It is a classic and anti-democratic Tyranny of the Minority that cares not one wit about the opinions and desires and well-being of those they desire to bring to societal heel. That they are a minority striving to dominate the majority means nothing to them. Nor do they truly care about the legitimacy of SCOTUS among the American majority that theocons believe should all become theocons, and those who do not need to be under their wise thumb – what they do fear to some extent is a backlash of the majority that may for instance expand SCOTUS to negate a hardcore bench. But they had to sink RvW so they must run that risk. They cannot care because if they give any ground their project of national domination is moot. All the sincere stories by women who have had to obtain abortions often at great effort, or not been able to obtain one sometimes with terrible consequences, mean little to ardent abortion opponents no matter how trying the circumstances up to rape and incest because what happens to nonconservative women has no import to them and threatens their success (such stories are important for swaying fence sitters and rallying the troops as they work to normalize the procedure). The women’s marches? They mean nothing to them. The heartbreak, dismay, anguish, anger, outrage, fury, fear, anxiety, that the majority of American women feel in the wake of being stripped of their right (as per https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w5tH902MFw). Means nothing – other than sadness of those too willful to follow their dictates — to the dedicated FBs who know what is true and best based on their supernaturalistic speculations. Persuasion is not their modus operandi because that does not work the FB argument being barren, raw power is their means of control. There is therefore no compromising. And to be fair the prochoice side cannot give any ground from their side when it comes to early term abortion — either women are full class citizens, or they are reproductive wards of the state once sperm merges with egg inside their suddenly no longer sovereign bodies.

(Some note that abortion regs are not as open in some other democracies as they are in principle under RvW. In those nations a major religious right is not using forced birth laws to convert the nation, and many Christofascists are against FB laws. And those tight regulations are problematic in any case.)

The incredible, reckless extremes to which the theocons will cheerfully go have been laid bare by the Texas et al. stratagem that employs citizens as cash collecting birth enforcers, forming a snitch society out of Constitutional grounds characteristic of the authoritarian regimes theocons pretend to despise as they work to set such up.

Are You Kidding? The Rank Immorality of the Religious Right

It is as incredible as it is galling the degree to which those who pretend to be deeply moral belong to institutions that are all too often the opposite. It has long been proven that the Catholic priesthood was extensively involved in sexual assaults on children, that the higher echelons of the church protected them from criminal prosecution for decades, and the Vatican has yet to fully address the issue. It is now known that the Southern Baptists clergy has long been engaged in the same blend of extensive sexual criminal activity followed by cover up (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/february/southern-baptist-abuse-investigation-houston-chronicle-sbc.html).

This when the hard right is inventing tales of liberal Democrats being involved in a mysteriously hidden pedophile/cannibalism cabal – and clear case of evasion via projection.

That the super arrogant people involved in these profoundly corrupt institutions dare to even consider lecturing others on issues of morality, much less use law to impose their Godly views on the rest of the population, is appalling, outrageous, and never should be allowed. To that add that two of the Christocon justices have had serious charges of sexual impropriety thrown against them, with both denying with angry charges of unfairness against them. Yet here they all are having stripped women of their intimate reproductive rights and 1st class citizen status.

How Theocons Did It

A very big reason a disciplined minority movement has gotten so far pushing the Grand Lie they invented out of whole scriptural and biological cloth to the national forefront with shocking success is because they are doing one thing very right — voting at high per capita rates — while a major portion of a perpetually electorally slack center-left has treated voting as a maybe will do it or maybe not option, rather than the urgent civic duty of all citizens it is. Young adults who are prone to be progressive are particularly likely to not vote. As a result theocons outvote the rest of us by about 10% per head, enough to reinforce the right leaning bias of the Senate and electoral college, which in turn allows the GOP to better control the election system – this is why the demographic predictions of permanent and solid Emerging Democratic Majority predicted a couple of decades ago has yet to come to pass. Thus a White House the theocons hold about half the time while winning the popular vote only once after 1988, a closely divided Congress that flips back and forth, a 6/3 SCOTUS, and most states run by increasingly fanatical Republicans. The one thing theoconservatives do dread is the center-left finally getting their electoral act together and making the Democratic Party the dominant party of the nation and most states, and if necessary reformulate the Supreme Court to bring it more in line with majority opinion.

How We Blew It

In contrast to the theocon’s methodical and effective, offense-based operation to deny sexual and reproductive rights as part of a relentless, mammoth cultural war, the center-left has treated abortion as an important but not really extremely urgent issue that had been largely left to a weakening SCOTUS minority to take care of as best it could thank you, using the same justification utilized in RvW half a century ago without producing additional logical legal arguments. That being such a bother what when ancient and correspondingly reckless Ginsberg who refused to preserve the legacy of her seat by resigning in 2013 and her liberal court comrades would take care of matters. Right? Compare that to how a younger Sandra Day O’Conner strategically retired when she knew she would be replaced by a theocon. When Ginsberg was balking at getting out when the getting was good did the reproductive rights community lean on her to put the ability of women to not be forced by the government to continue their pregnancies to birth over her desire to not be a retiree? No. Why was it that while abortion opponents regularly harassed clinics and patients, the prochoice folks rarely showed up in similar much less bigger numbers to counter demonstrate? (Kudos to the volunteers who escorted patients into the clinics.)

The amazing failure of a less organized and too defensive women’s right movement to push religious rights as a key need for protecting the gender from forced birth has been as illogical as it is remiss to the point of being disastrous. A basic strategy of a movement is to go on the offensive by turning a core argument and the language of the opposition into a weakness that now hurts them more than it helps. But, like most factions, liberals like to live in a comforting cultural bubble within which such internally reinforcing progressive clique code terms as personal autonomy and sexual freedom are deployed to defend reproductive rights. Such speaking to the choir dialectics, while they have a lot of truth to them, have obviously not done enough to undercut the theocon argument, a new direction is badly needed. Yet in the only major opinion journal article looking at using religious freedom to defend abortion rights I know of, a brief news commentary in The Atlantic in 2016. the reluctance of the pro-choice side to utilize the Establishment Clause of the 1stAmendment due to cultural discomfort was covered, and the ensuing improbability of such ever being done observed. Liberals just don’t like all that chat about religion and liberty, that’s right wing stuff. Which is a reason that the astonishing and potentially crippling to the FB’s fact that the Bible actually endorses abortion is barely known. That would be fine if abortion rights were secure. But they are not. Just repeating the same old same old to the masses and to the courts is hardly likely to recover the situation. Time to adjust tactics and talk 1stAmendment. Take the right’s terminology such as their favorite word liberty, particularly religious liberty, and throw it right back at them. As per how gays used the conservative themes of family values and marriage to seize the legal and public relations high ground. And things are changing on an informal basis – I have been noticing of late that prochoice advocates are starting to ad-hoc state that having the intimacy of their reproduction coming under the control of the religious right as a gross denial of their religious rights – liberal Christian Joy Reid on MSNBC has been prone to doing so — something I had not heard often before if ever. It was that combined with the deteriorating national situation, the rapidly approaching SCOTUS cases, and my work on the natural mass losses of the unborn, that caused me to produce this piece.

That abortion as a 1stAmendment religious right was not inserted into Roe v Wade from the get go is as understandable as it was a long term mistake. A half century ago the illegality of abortion was seen as a relic of old fashioned Victorianism mixed with male MDs having wanted to knock midwives out of business. Most mid 20thcentury doctors were in contrast horrified by the constant stream of women into the health care system suffering from botched abortions, with some 200 dying each year. And among religious sects only the Roman Church was consistently government mandated birth, Protestants being all over the map even among the evangelicals. So there was little or no thought given to addressing the religious issues back in the day. Since then mandatory birth has moved to front and center to the CathoProtestant theoconservative struggle to reorder the national society, and it is nearly entirely their thing. And the reliance on one section of the Constitution, the 14thAmendment, has proven dangerously narrow. So hitting back by going on the attack when it comes to the religious and health aspects of the confrontation has become obvious and imperative.

A factor in not citing religious freedom has been a legal oddity. The theory is that while having an abortion may not be forbidden by a woman’s non/religion, ending a pregnancy is not required by her worldview, so she is not protected by the 1st Amendment from being forced to continue on to birth. Odd. Should that not mean that while praying in public may not be forbidden by a person’s theism, doing so is not required by their faith, so s/he is not protected by the 1st Amendment from being prevented from praying in public? Anyhow, countering that legal sleight of hand, makes it all the important to formally demonstrate that the stop abortions movement is a part of greater religious scheme to massively remake the nation into a Christoright dominated country in which the power of the government to pressure women as individuals and culture at large to conform to the mores of the religious right.

How to Win

I am not a lawyer, but one does not have to be one to know that a basic legal strategy when presenting a major case is to make it as broad-based and multi-faceted as possible. For one thing, that maximizes the possibility that at least some or one the arguments seals the legal deal and wins the day. Even better, multiple lines of argument can reinforce one another, making the entire package more difficult to dismiss. Consider the following. A possible fear of citing religious freedom as a defense of abortion rights is that theocons could then use that precedent to promote religious freedom as justifying discrimination against the LGTBQ, and those seeking reproductive services. But that premise is weak because of the lack of harm to the bigot. When someone does not want to provide service to a person who is not a monogamous heterosexual, they are not actually physically harmed if they are compelled by law to do so. For example, if — as once was very common — a person holds a sincere belief that blacks or Jews are in some manner defective in the eyes of God, and that justifies their refusal to treat the latter equal to Whites, then having to do so because of the Civil Rights Act does not result in real damage being done to the bigot. So the CRA is constitutional. If a pregnant woman is forced to go through her entire pregnancy, then she may die or be badly injured as per the stats previously detailed. Medical exemptions that allow those threatened with injury or death to terminate pregnancies is far from sufficient because such often do not manifest until late in the pregnancy, when an abortion is itself risky to the mother. And her risk of serious mental distress from a long term pregnancy is many times higher. The medical risks of pregnancy alone are sufficient to ban forced birth. But the combined religious, privacy, and medical rights of persons to not be pregnant (however they became so) are most powerful when they are used to support one another.

If theists proclaim it is their religious right to not aid reproductive practices they think a God rejects, then by that criteria a pregnant woman can proudly declare that as far as she can see any overseer of a planet that has with no apparent concern of that entity terminated countless billions of preborn is fine with her doing the same. Or there is no creator in the first place. Religious liberty is not just about the freedom to be religious as one wishes the way one wishes, it is the freedom from theism theoconservatism included. It follows that the state and/or snitches preventing her from controlling what is happening inside her is moral and legal madness and barbarity that violate her Constitutional rights in enormous spades. One advantage of advancing abortion as a religious right will be to force theocon judges to reveal the extremity of their quasi legal inconsistency if they so tilt the scales of justice in favor one set of theorights over the other, exposing their rulings as bad law. That sets up the legal brief for constitutionally overturning forced birth laws.

Late is better than never, and time is a wasting. So what needs to be done to recover the situation in court and voting booths? Along with the standards of full citizenship via autonomous reproductive privacy rights for women, begin to focus on the religious and medical liberties of handling one’s own pregnancy without interference from hardline theoconservative based government edicts or Christoright empowered vigilantes as a key Constitutional right under the First Amendment. Do that by building the following case. And use it now that RvW is overturned.

The Founders who wrote the Constitution did not consider the issue, and had an abortion ban been raised by Catholics it would have been rejected at some point as an obvious contravention of the 1stAmendment. Nowadays government mandated birth laws are an unacknowledged insidious conspiracy from one religious world view designed by right wing Protestants and Catholics to above all else to try to massively reformulate the national culture to fit their traditional faith-based image. Although they won’t openly admit that, there is abundant public theocon discourse to present as evidential exhibits. The religious nature of antiabortionism is directly exposed when they say that their – i. e. theocon – values concerning preborn life are behind the laws they advocate. As for the narrow religious view of birth enforcement a few scholars such Barbara Pfeffer Billauer (https://scholarship.law.wm.edu/wmjowl/vol23/iss2/6) are documenting how forced birthism is limited to a narrow set of religious doctrines, while many others have disagreed, going all the way back in history, rendering forced birth laws a violation of Constitutional religious right (in contrast to murder which is condemned by all mainstream cultures). It is time for the women’s right cause to get off its liberal sensibilities duff and pay close attention to such meticulous academic work.

So, when and where the Muscular Christianity birth forcers win their case, then only one religious opinion on the matter becomes legally operative on all fertile women to the exclusion of all others regardless of their a/theist opinion on their pregnancies. That when imposing that extreme hardline view on women of differing a/theologies denies them control and maximal safety of their bodies for extended periods. Such theologically idiosyncratic laws lack practical secular justification on the following grounds. The status of a zygote or an early term fetus as a human being is very dubious and held nearly entirely by theoconservatives, and aborting them does not have significant adverse impact outside the body of the woman. Emphasize the sheer impracticality of enforcing a feticide ban, and actually suppress abortion rates to low levels even via draconian decrees. That means that birth enforcement is a waste of law enforcement resources that will make millions of women miserable and/or criminals while maximizing their medical danger from either pregnancies gone bad or the numerous illicit abortions that will inevitably ensue, all the while massively interfering with the deepest privacy of persons. Far more so than the mask and vaccine mandates most theocons are out of the blue rejecting as outrageous violations of personal liberty. This when there is a major effort to relieve an already overburdened law enforcement and court complex.

The deeply disingenuous and misogynist nature of government paternalism on such a colossal scale is all the more true because the persistent claims by anti-abortionists that their reproductive regulations are intended to serve the interests and safety of pregnant women regardless of her opinion on the matter, are the opposite of actual medical truth, and violate their religious and medical sovereignty when their religious views are compatible with ending pregnancies. Making this yet all the truer is that mandatory birth for “alleged” victims of rape/incest is part of a depraved project to decriminalize rape by legally rendering it something that cannot happen to a proper and chaste woman who does not want to have her virtue sullied, much less be impregnated. Racism is also involved in the forced birth movement because minorities are more opposed to and afflicted by abortion restrictions than Whites. So is eugenics in that preventing White women from failing to reproduce remains a goal of some forced birthers. Then there is the sexism of targeting the commonly discriminated against female gender with such draconian restrictions that no man has to put up with and many men which to impose. Because abortion banning laws are evidentially imbedded in a large scale religious sociopolitical agenda they blatantly violate the Bill of Rights on multiple fronts. Core rights that cannot be trumped by the religious right via government authority to force those who are prochoice nontheists or theists to give birth, just as the state cannot force women to abort their pregnancies.

As explained by Aaron Tang (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/26/middle-ground-abortion-that-originalists-should-embrace) the original Constitution, and the 14thAmendment in association with how most state laws at the time did not ban abortion before quickening, support the right to early term abortion. That abortion is an nonenumerated right contradicts the majority SCOTUS thesis that the courts should stay away from the issue.

The profoundly theistic nature of the criminalize abortion movement is not being entirely ignored. Some atheosecular organizations filed amicus briefs explicitly to that effect in relation to the Mississippi case this December (https://www.au.org/sites/default/files/2021-09/AU%20Amicus%20Brief%2C%20SCOTUS%2C%20Dobbs%20v.%20Jackson%209.20.21.pdf; https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19-1392/192717/20210917120823669_Dobbs%20Final%20Brief.pdf). These petitions do a good job of detailing some of the clear cut religious statements and court briefs by forced birth theists. They not expressly detail how antiabortionism is part of a greater open conspiracy to remake the nation. In any case the religion factor must not be a legal issue raised just by nontheists, it must be mainstreamed. (A large number of center-left entities have submitted briefs to the top court, whether any cite religious freedom and how I do not know.) Pertinent to that need, one of the briefs very notably cites a 1989 opinion by Justice Stevens that has gone little noticed noting that government bans of abortion violate the Establishment Clause, that is an important mainline legal precedent by a SCOTUS jurist without an a/theistic bias to build upon.

Another legal angle that should be considered is that a woman who is required to carry a fetus for months against her will is a reproductive slave of the state as was the norm for enslaved Blacks, which violates the 13th Amendment. And there are the equal rights for women issues.

In tandem, cite the mass death of youngsters to disprove the theocon pretense that they are merely doing the urgent bidding of a life loving creator. Same for the absence of compulsive birthism in scripture. Their real aims are much more theosocietal. And further seize control of the rhetoric war by saddling the prolife cause with the stark term forced birth, as well as mandatory, compulsive, etc., on a regular basis. That is exactly what they are trying to enforce. For a rare and especially eloquent example of a woman who deliberately says forced birth see Kate Manning’s detailing of the odium many women have for government mandated pregnancy and why see https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/31/antiabortion-laws-are-forced-birth-laws. Manning equates being sentenced to give birth to the cruel and unusual punishment it is for many.

Very importantly, Jews in Florida are the first to officially and explicitly take on abortion bans as denying their theological religious rights as being persons who are not Christocons. They must just be the start to present such court cases – atheosecular groups should join in the effort by one means or another. What is missing from the Florida suit is an explicit description and opposition to abortion limitations being part of an explicitly theistic movement with intentions of religiously altering the nation. Such should be the norm in such legal petitions.  

That the minority dissent to the overturn of RvW (https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf) makes no mention of the religious bias of forced birth laws was seriously disappointing, all the more so because Justice Sotomayor brought up the issue during the oral arguments. I may be missing something but that seems a big mistake not to introduce the issue in a major way when the opportunity arose. It looks like the Florida and other suits that directly confront the courts with the subject will be needed to get this legal ball rolling towards the highest judicial levels – perhaps the liberal justices were presuming that will provide the opportunity, but one fears that the theocon majority will avoid the awkward problem by simply refusing to hear the cases.

Also remiss has been the mainstream news media that has been negligent in investigating and exposing the deep, extremist motives driving the opposition to legal abortion, and from that informing the nation of what they are up to. Do not, for example, merely ask an anti-abortion activist or politician if they do not want an exception for rape and why, and when they issue the standard line that they think the fetus is precious take that as a complete answer and move on to the next query. That is exactly what they want. Example. The day RvW was overturned NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly interviewed the long term forced birther former governor of Mississippi (https://www.npr.org/2022/06/24/1107531593/former-governor-whose-bill-was-at-the-center-of-roe-ruling-reacts-to-scotus-deci). In the process he made it blazingly clear how he saw banning abortion as a religious matter, opining that any woman considering a pregnancy termination not banned in the Bible must “kneel and pray to God, who is the God of everyone.” He had handed the reporter the perfect exceptional opportunity for her to press the Christoright politician by asking if he and allies were not then violating the 1st Amendment by denying the religious rights of nontheocons. Instead, Kelly in standard interview mode moved on to the regular line of how many pregnant women are in circumstances that are difficult, allowing the former governor to gladly come back with the usual FB theme that adoption is an option. Big opportunity missed. So. At long last pin the FBs down by asking if they think rape and abortion laws need to be revamped as part of a greater scheme to remake society along traditional lines. That will put the forced birth advocate in a bind — if they say yes then they will reveal their real plans and provoke harder opposition, if they say they no they may turn off their base, and if they dodge the question they risk doing both. Do not simply ask an FB is they think women who have an abortion either by their own hand or by the actions of another if they think women should be jailed for homicide. They will do a gaslight dodge. Follow up by asking the person if they will entirely oppose the criminalization of women, or if they will be OK with such if and when that happens. Same for the nationalization of abortion bans. The media needs to get on the coverage ball and do their jobs.

Is going on the offensive by bringing true religious liberty to the forefront of the pro-choice argument, going to abort the forced birth campaign in the next few years? That by compelling abortion stoppers to realize that they – seeing as how they claim to put such high priority on religious liberty and therefore should respect those who claim to be expressing such when they have an abortion — are manifestly and erroneously violating the theoliberty of theoliberals and nontheists? Considering their boldly self-sided view of liberties to date best not to hold one’s breath. But do not wave away the medium and longer term potential to seriously damage and perhaps someday sink antiabortionism in legal venues and public opinion. Consider how pushing marriage rights for all couples worked for gays over years, not long decades. There are theoconservatives who deeply oppose abortion, but see banning it as big government imposition of a religious belief on citizens that strip women of their liberty. Reinforce that opinion. Most critical is for the solid majority who favor women being full citizens to vote at least at the per capita rate as do those who want to use reproduction to remake American women into unsullied subservient theocons. That can render forcing birth into a fundamental violation of a pregnant woman’s religious liberty and medical needs.

Appendix: Will the Force Birth Scheme Work?

For all the fondness the religious right has for the 1950s, it was actually a massive failure for their movement. The 1950s were not even traditionalist. The White flight of Caucasians living in nuclear families in detached housing out the burbs was radical. Prior to then most lived as extended families in rural or urban settings. The decade was actually highly sexualized what with the likes of Marilynn Monroe, Jane Russell, the Miss America contest, Playboy, the sex thrusting of Elvis the pelvis and salacious lyrics of Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. The Comstock laws were on their last legs and the Hayes Code was on the way out. It was the 50s parents that raised a large chunk of the baby boomers that would go wild in the 60s, as their parents initiated the divorce boom that is still running. The secularization and social liberalization forces of corporate consumer modernity were well underway and the right wing churches under the Aegis of Billy Graham and Cardinal Sheen could not prevent.

That abortion was illegal in the 1950s did not preserve traditional cultural, social and religious values over the long term — the 2nd sexual revolution was already well underway when RvW came along. For that matter the Comstock Laws et al. did not stop the 1st sexual revolution of the 1920s, and Prohibition actually helped promote it. It is very possible if not probable that reimposing forced birth laws and other legal rollbacks of nontraditional mores will fail to reconstitute the deity fearing, old fashioned, prudish society the theocons so want to impose on the country as the American Majority thumbs their noses at the prigs.

That is the optimistic view. The pessimistic alternative has the Christoconservatives proving able to impose autocratic minority rule on the nation. In that case they may be able to use harsh government power, even beyond that seen in the 1800s going into the early 1900s, to subdue the opposition.

Time will tell.

bookmark_borderThe Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 6: Arbitrariness and Normative Impotence

Here, again, are the two options of the Euthyphro dilemma:
(I) The reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory.
(II) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.
I have written five parts in this series about the Euthyphro Dilemma, the overarching aim of which has been to show that the dilemma provides the basis of a decisive objection to the metaethical divine command theory (MDCT). In previous posts, I have explained what must be done to establish this:
(A)  Show that the two options of the dilemma are mutually exclusive. (This was accomplished in Part 1)
(B) Show the two options are exhaustive (i.e., that these are the only options available) (This was accomplished in Part 4.
(C) Show that both options imply devastating problems for metaethical divine command theory.

i. Show that option (I) implies that MDCT is false. (This was accomplished in Parts 1 and 4[1]).

ii. Show that there are serious and devastating problems associated with option (II) which (individually or collectively) indicate that MDCT is false.

In defense of claim (Cii), I have said that option (II) just is the MDCT and that there are four problems associated with it:
(1) The contingency problem
(2) The counterintuitive possibilities problem
(3) The arbitrariness problem
(4) The problem of the normative impotence of commands
In Part 5, I looked in detail at problems (1) and (2) and argued that, while these are serious problems, an objection to MDCT based on them is not decisive. In this current post, I will examine problems (3) and (4) and argue that an objection to MDCT based on them is decisive.
Problem (3): The Arbitrariness Problem
In Part 4, I described the arbitrariness problem as follows:

If actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them, then it is difficult to see how God can have reasons for his commands. He has no reason to command one thing rather than another. On option (II) all deontic moral value exists in virtue of divine commands. Deontic moral value is precisely the value that actions have whereby we have reasons to perform or refrain from performing them. Commands are actions. So, if there is no deontic moral value prior to God’s commands, then God can have no reasons for his commands. But if there are no reasons for his commands, then his commands are arbitrary. And if his commands are arbitrary, then morality itself is arbitrary.”

Defenders of divine command theory have attempted to address this problem in two distinct ways. Some divine command theorists argue that God’s commands are grounded in (or are expressions of) God’s essential nature. In his contribution to the volume, Is Goodness Without God Good Enough, William Lane Craig, for example, says,

On the theistic view, God’s moral nature is expressed toward us in the form of divine commands that constitute our moral duties. Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from his moral nature. (Garcia and King, 30)

Let’s call this response to the arbitrariness problem, the Essential Divine Nature response (EDN). Other divine command theorists offer a response that is importantly different from EDN. This second response involves using the distinction between axiological value and deontic value. Those who rely on this response emphasize that MDCT is a theory specifically of deontic moral value rather than a theory of all moral value. Given this, they claim, the axiological value of actions can provide God with reasons for his commands. Let’s call this response the Axiological Value response (AV). I will evaluate these responses separately.
EDN does not resolve the problem because is not actually a response to the arbitrariness problem, but to the contingency problem. Thinking that it is a response to the arbitrariness problem is a result of failing to properly distinguish these two problems. I made this point in Part 2 of this series using the following example:

Consider a deity who, like God, is omnipotent and omniscient, but, unlike God, is essentially hateful. This deity, who I will call ‘Asura’, has an essential nature and his commands flow from his essential nature, and, like God, it is not possible for Asura to issue commands that are contrary to his nature. Asura commands, for example, that we gratuitously torture children and similarly horrible things
Here is the point: that Asura’s commands flow from his essential nature shows, at best, only that he issues the same commands in every possible world in which he exists. It does not show that he has reasons for his commands. And, plausibly, there are no reasons for Asura to command that we torture infants gratuitously. Given this, despite the fact that Asura’s commands flow from his essential nature, they are still arbitrary. If Asura’s commands are not non-arbitrary just in virtue of the fact that they flow from his essential nature, then neither are God’s commands non-arbitrary just in virtue of the fact that they flow from God’s essential nature. What matters with respect to whether God’s commands are arbitrary is not whether they could be otherwise (not whether he could issue different commands) but whether there are reasons for his commands. Given all of this, we must sharply distinguish between arbitrariness and contingency and recognize that appeals to God’s necessary nature do not obviously resolve the worry that, on DCT, God’s commands are arbitrary.

That Craig, for one, confuses the problem of arbitrariness and the problem of contingency is made clear in his response to the criticisms (printed in the volume mentioned above) of his position that were offered by Louise Antony and William Sinnot-Armstrong:

The arbitrariness horn of the dilemma . . . is avoided by rejecting voluntarism in favor of God’s commands being necessary expressions of his nature.
. . .
God’s commands are not arbitrary in the sense that he could have commanded the opposite of what he did command.” (Garcia and King, 173)

The worry that God could have commanded the opposite of what he did command is not the same as the worry that his commands are not grounded in reasons. The former is the contingency problem, and while this problem is addressed via the claim that God has his nature essentially, as my comments above (from Part 2) demonstrate, that commands are expressions of an essential nature does not imply that those commands are grounded in reasons
Given the confusion between the arbitrariness problem and the contingency problem that this response involves, EDN is hopeless as a response to the arbitrariness problem. Let’s turn, then, to the second sort of response, AV. As I have indicated, AV claims that the axiological value of actions provides God with reasons for his commands. Baggett and Walls offer a version of this response in their Good God:

If “God is good” is true both as a predication and identity, a typical reason that God issues the commands he does is that the actions he commands are good. (Baggett and Walls, 126)

In his God and Moral Obligation, C. Stephen Evans offers a very similar response to the arbitrariness problem:

Restricting the account to moral obligations allows the defender of DCT to escape the dilemma implicit in the Euthyphro question. If asked, “Are moral obligations duties because God commands them?” the proponent of DCT answers yes. However, this does not imply that God’s commands are arbitrary. God’s commands are aimed at the good and therefore are certainly not arbitrary. (Evans 90)

A common way of responding to AV is to point out that if God has reasons for his commands, then these reasons will also be reasons for us to do what he commands and so his commands are superfluous. I discussed this issue in some detail in Parts 2 and 3, so I will not do so here. Instead, I want to consider a different but related issue.
Let’s begin by noting that there seems to be no reason to command things that are merely good. It is good to buy flowers for your mother on her birthday, but this does not seem to be a reason to command that you do so. For a command to be reasonable, it seems more is required than that the commanded action is good.
Of course, the DCT theorist can point out that she is not relying on mere goodness but on axiological value, which, it is plausible to suppose, comes in degrees other than simple goodness and badness. Some acts have higher/more or lower/less axiological value than others and it is only those acts that have very high positive axiological value that God has reason to command that we perform and only those that have very negative axiological value (or value lower than some threshold) that God has reason to command that we not perform.
But once this point is made, it becomes plausible that God’s commands would be superfluous. If some action is so (axiologically) bad that God has reason to command that we not engage in it, then, it seems, its badness is enough to give us reasons to not engage in it, which reasons are prior to and independent of God’s command. And if some action is so (axiologically) good that God has reason to command that we perform it, then its goodness is enough to give us reasons to perform it, which reasons are prior to and independent of God’s command.
The DC theorist must push back against this argument; she must insist that axiological value alone is not sufficient to ground moral obligations. On MDCT a divine command is necessary for making an action morally obligatory. This can be true only it divine commands add something normatively significant. Thus, MDCT is only viable if commands are not normatively impotent. In other words, the response to the arbitrariness problem we’ve been evaluating succeeds only if there is an adequate response to problem (4).
To get a better sense of this, let’s consider a specific action, say a gratuitous pummeling of Carl. Call this act, Pc. Let’s consider the act in two different contexts. Context 1 (C1), in which Pc is committed when there is no divine command to not commit it; context 2 (C2), in which Pc is committed when there is a divine command to not commit it.
On the view we are currently considering, Pc has axiological properties that provide God with reasons to command that we not commit Pc, but these axiological properties are not sufficient to make it the case that it is morally obligatory to refrain from committing Pc. Importantly, Pc has the same axiological properties in C1 as in C2. This must be the case if these axiological properties are to provide God with reason(s) to command that we not commit Pc. For the axiological properties to provide God with reasons, it must be that these axiological properties are prior to and independent of any divine command with respect to Pc. Thus, Pc has these axiological properties even in contexts when there is no divine command with respect to Pc.
The axiological properties of Pc, we can assume, include not just the intrinsic value (positive or, more likely, negative) of the act itself, but also the axiological properties of the consequences of Pc. Thus, it is reasonable to assume, the axiological properties that provide God with reasons to command that we not commit Pc include the negative value of Pc intrinsic to the act itself, and the negative value of the consequences of Pc. Let’s use the designation ‘VPc’ to refer to the total axiological value of Pc (it’s intrinsic value and the value of its consequences) The view under consideration has it that VPc (or some subset of VPc) provides God with reason(s) to command that we not commit, Pc but that the entirety of VPc is not sufficient to make it the case that we are morally obligated to refrain from committing Pc.
The defender of MDCT can acknowledge that VPc  provides reason(s) for us to refrain from committing Pc; she must maintain only that any such reasons do not make it the case that we are morally obligated to refrain from Pc (since only a divine command can make an action morally obligatory).
For this to be the case, God’s command with respect to Pc must add something of normative significance that is not otherwise present. Another way of saying this is that MDCT implies that C2 contains something of normative significance that C1 lacks, namely the command of God to refrain from committing Pc. But for this to be so, divine commands must be normatively significant. I will now attempt to show that they cannot be.
Problem (4): The normative impotence of commands
Here is what I wrote about this problem in Part 4:

A command (divine or otherwise) does not seem to be the kind of thing that can make a moral difference. Commands are normatively impotent in the sense that they cannot add to our reasons. We see this when imagine that God commands that we torture an innocent child. This command gives us no reason to torture a child, so it would make no difference to the moral status of child-torture. Or, again, imagine that God commands that we eat breakfast at 7:30 every morning. This command does not give us any reason to eat breakfast at 7:30 am and thus can make no difference to the moral status of refraining from eating breakfast at 7:30 am (by, for example, refraining from eating breakfast entirely). Commands are normatively inert in that they cannot add to the reasons that we already have to engage in (or refrain from) the commanded activity. Option (II) thus claims that morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of something that is normatively impotent.

The DCT gets its plausibility from two consideration: first, since God is perfect, he will only command us to do what he has good reason to command that we do; second, that, as the creator of all that is, we owe obedience to him. But to understand the problem with option (II) we must think very carefully about the contribution (if any) that God’s commands make to the deontic status of an action. This means that we need to isolate the commandedness (so to speak) of an action from other features, such as that there are good reasons for God to command it or that we are obligated to do it in virtue of being obligated to obey God. The effort to isolate the commandedness is what lies behind the call to consider obviously arbitrary commands.
Consider the possibility that God commands that we floss our teeth in the morning rather than the evening, so that the act of flossing in the morning has the property of being commanded by God. How could this factor make a contribution to the deontic status of flossing in the morning? Could this fact make any contribution? Arguments against DCT that are based in the Euthyphro dilemma capitalize on the intuition that no command could make such an act morally obligatory. But it is worth exploring the basis of this intuition. Why is it that the bare commandedness of such an act cannot make a contribution to its deontic status?
The answer to this question has to do with the fact that commands are the acts of rational beings and that rational beings act (at least frequently) on the basis of reasons. We can only understand a speech act as a command if we presuppose that the commander takes him or herself to have reasons to issue the command. A command is a directive to some person or persons that they engage in some action or course of action. A command has a subject—the person(s) to whom the directive is issued—and an object—the performance of the specified action (or course of action) by the subject. To take oneself to have reasons to issue a command is to take it that there are features of the object that count in favor of issuing the command. (This point is directly related to what I have previously called the action feature constraint. See Part 2.) In other words, when a person issues a command, she takes it that there are features of the subject’s performance of the specified action that count in favor of directing this person to perform this action. But to say that there are features of the subject’s performance of the action that count in favor of that performance is just to say that there are reasons for the subject to perform the action. Thus, when a person issues a command, she takes it that there are reasons that count in favor of the subject’s performance of the specified action.
A defender of option (II) can accept this much. What she must say, however, is that the features of the object of the command (the subject’s performance of the specified action) that count in favor of the subject’s performing (or refraining from performing) the specified action do not make it morally obligatory (or morally wrong) for the subject to perform the action. Saying otherwise would contradict claim (II). If so, then a divine command must add something of normative force to the reasons that exist prior to the command. That is, a defender of (II) must assert:

(DC-Add) A divine command that some subject, S, perform act A adds something of normative significance to the reasons for S to A.

Before explaining why DC-Add is false, I want to distinguish between two types of reasons. As I used the term above, the object of a command is the subject’s performance of the specified action. Thus, an object-given reason is a feature of an action that counts in favor of some subject’s performance of the action. A command-given reason is any feature of a command (or the issuance of a command by a commander) that counts in favor of some subject’s performance of the action.
So, if there are object-given reasons for the commander to issue the command, then there are reasons for the subject of the command to perform the specified act. Importantly, a command itself cannot be one of the features of the object that counts in favor of issuing the command. This is because the features that count in favor of the command must be prior to the command. This just means that the fact that an action is commanded by God is not an object-given reason to perform the action.
One more bit of terminology: I will use the expression “reasons already present” to refer to the reasons that there are to perform a specific action (in a given context) and that exist prior to and independent of God’s commands.
Option (II) (and, hence, MDCT) implies that God’s commands add something normatively significant to the reasons already present. But examples that involve arbitrary commands or horrible commands show that a command, by itself, cannot add to the reasons that are already present. A command that we torture an infant cannot add or subtract to the reasons already present to refrain from torturing an infant. A command to do something that we have no reason to do cannot add to the reasons (or, rather, lack of reasons) already present. A command to do something that we have no reason to do cannot change the fact that we have no reason to do it. Thus, examples involving arbitrary commands and horrible commands show that DC-Add is false. In the case of an arbitrary command, there are no object-given reasons to perform the action. If we agree that the arbitrary command does not make it obligatory to perform the action, we are agreeing that the command does not add anything of normative significance to the object-given reasons. But this just means that, in the case of an arbitrary command, there are no command-given reasons. In the case of a horrible command, there are object-given reasons to refrain from performing the action. The command does nothing to change this. And so, the command adds nothing of normative significance. But, again, this just means that, in the case of horrible commands, there are no command-given reasons.
The reasoning from the above consideration about arbitrary and horrible commands to the rejection of DC-Add is as follows: If a divine command added something of normative significance, then even arbitrary commands and horrible commands would add something normatively significant. But neither arbitrary nor horrible commands add anything normatively significant. So, it is false that divine commands add something normatively significant.
A defender of (II) might want to insist that while arbitrary commands and horrible commands add nothing of normative significance, when there are object-given reasons to perform some action, a divine command does add something of significance. But such a view is untenable. To evaluate the claim that divine commands add something of normative significance, we have to isolate whatever normative force might be contributed by a divine command. And this requires considering commands in isolation from the normative force of other considerations (such as object-given reasons). When we isolate the contribution of divine commands (as we can when we consider arbitrary and horrible commands), we find that they make no normative contribution whatsoever.
Consider: If a divine command made a normative contribution, then in a situation in which there are no object-given reasons to perform an action (or one in which the object-given reasons that count in favor of performance are exactly balanced by object-given reasons that count against performance) a divine command to perform the action, in virtue of making any normative contribution whatsoever, would be enough to tip the balance of reasons and thus make it the case that the action is morally obligatory. But a divine command cannot do this.
There are no object-given reason to utter the sentence “The cute kitty cat came walking and sleeping and uttering utter nonsense last Tuesday evening at sunrise and bit the orange dog’s corpus callosum in the banana tree” once a month, every second Monday at 5:00 am. Nor does there seem to be any reason not to do so.[2] A divine command to utter this sentence cannot make it the case that it is morally obligatory to do so. This implies that a divine command to utter this sentence makes no normative contribution whatsoever. If divine commands made a normative contribution, then since there are neither object-given reasons that count in favor of nor object-given reasons that count against performing the action (and thus the balance of reasons is precisely neutral), a divine command could make it obligatory to utter the sentence. Since a divine command cannot do so; and this just means that the command itself cannot add to the reasons already present. So, a divine command would not add anything of normative significance.
At this point you might be thinking that there are social contexts in which a (non-divine) command can give a person reason to perform some action, which reason is not present prior to the command. When a commanding officer in the military, for example, gives an order, his subordinates are obligated to obey. And, arguably, children are obligated to obey when their parents tell them to do something. So, when a military officer commands that his subordinate perform some action, the subordinate has, just in virtue of that order, reason to perform the act (which reason was not present prior to and independent of the command). Thus, we might be tempted to say, given that we are obligated to obey God, when God issues a command, that command adds to our reasons, i.e., it provides additional reason(s) that were not present prior to the command.
This response will not help MDCT. The response just outlined assumes that, just as a subordinate is obligated to obey his or her commanding officer, we are obligated to obey God. But such general obligations (to obey superior officers or to obey God) exist prior to and independent of any command. The source of such general obligations is not a command, but something else. In the case of the military, it is plausible to suppose that a subordinate’s obligation to obey the commands of their superior officers is grounded in an oath that all military officers take. In the case of the children of children to obey parents, it is not as obvious in what the obligation is grounded. But the source of such obligations is not relevant to the point I am making. What is relevant is that the source must be something independent of and prior to the commands themselves.
By analogy, then, the response currently under consideration implies that we are under a general moral obligation to obey God, which obligation exists prior to and independent of any divine command. But that is incompatible with MDCT. The view according to which we have a general obligation to obey God is known as the Normative Divine Command Theory (NDCT). (I have covered the distinction between MDCT and NDCT previously, in Part 2, and here.) According to metaethical divine command theory, all moral obligations are grounded in divine commands. Thus, such a view is inconsistent with the existence of a general obligation to obey God, which obligation exists prior to and independent of any divine command.
We are now in a position to state what I take to be a decisive objection to MDCT:  MDCT takes option (II) and, given this, it follows that the reasons that God has for his commands cannot be what makes an action morally obligatory or wrong (i.e., on MDCT, in the absence of God’s commands, the RAP do not make any action morally obligatory or morally wrong). On MDCT, what makes the action morally obligatory is the fact that God commands that we do it. But this cannot be correct because commands are morally impotent; by themselves, they add nothing of moral significance. A divine command might be a response to the reasons already present (which count in favor of the performance of the action), but the command does not generate any new reasons.


Works Cited
Baggett, D. and Walls, J., Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
Evans, C. Stephen, God and Moral Obligation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013)
Garcia, Robert K. and Nathan L. King (Eds.), Is Goodness without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism, and Ethics (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).


[1] As I say in Part 4: “If (I) is true, then moral properties (at least deontic moral properties) are independent of God’s commands. Since, on option (I) the reason that God commands that we perform a morally obligatory action is that it is morally obligatory (or has properties in virtue of which it is obligatory), the action must be obligatory prior to and independent of God’s command.” And, if actions are morally obligatory prior to and independent of God’s commands, then MDCT is false.
[2] If you think that the length or silliness of the sentence or the energy needed to utter the sentence is a reason not to utter it, then consider any act such that you are sufficiently satisfied that there are neither reasons to perform it nor reasons to not perform it (perhaps, for example, the act of uttering to oneself the word ‘myrtle’ once a month on either the first, second or third Tuesday, sometime between 5 am and 10 pm).

bookmark_borderThe Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 5: Is there a way out?

Recall the two options of the Euthyphro dilemma:
(I) The reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory.
(II) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.
In previous posts in this series I explained what the Euthyphro problem is and why it is a problem. Here is a brief summary of my conclusions: The Euthyphro problem is a problem for option (II), and thereby, a problem for divine command theory. The problem is that if morally obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them, then, since God is omnipotent, his commands are wholly unconstrained. He could command any action whatsoever, and since deontic moral value does not exist prior to his commands, it seems that he has no reason to command one thing rather than another. Indeed, he could command something horrible, such as the gratuitous torture of an infant, and, on option (II), this horrible action would be morally obligatory. But no command can make the torture of an infant morally obligatory. So, option (II) cannot be correct.
As I indicated in the most recent post in this series, there are four distinct aspects of this problem. They are:
(1) The contingency problem
It is possible for God to command anything whatsoever. Given this, no matter what commands God actually issues, it is possible that he issues different commands, even a completely different set of commands (in the sense that, in some possible world, he issues these other commands). So, since on option (II), morally obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them, there are possible worlds in which different actions are morally obligatory than are obligatory in the actual world; and there are possible worlds in which actions that are morally obligatory in the actual world are not morally obligatory. This is problematic because it seems that at least some moral claims are necessarily true. In particular, it seems that there are some actions such that they have their deontic moral status necessarily. However, if option (II) is correct, then it seems that no action has its moral features necessarily. For any action at all, whatever its actual deontic status, it is possible for it to have a different deontic status.
(2) The counterintuitive possibilities problem
The contingency problem is that, on option (II), all actions have their moral properties contingently. This means that there are non-actual but possible moral truths. A related problem (and a consequence) is that among the possibilities are some that are wildly counterintuitive. The above description of what I’ve called the Euthyphro problem contains an example: it is possible that the gratuitous torture of infants is morally obligatory rather than wrong (in the sense that there is some possible world in which torturing infants is obligatory). But there are other possibilities. It is possible that something morally laudatory, such as giving money to the needy is morally wrong. It is possible that something morally permissible, such as brushing your teeth three times a day, is morally wrong. And it is possible that something morally permissible, such as eating breakfast at 7:30, is morally obligatory.
(3) The arbitrariness problem
If actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them, then it is difficult to see how God can have reasons for his commands. He has no reason to command one thing rather than another. On option (II), all deontic moral value exists in virtue of divine commands. Deontic moral value is precisely the value that actions have whereby we have reasons to perform or refrain from performing them. Commands are actions. So, if there is no deontic moral value prior to God’s commands, then God can have no reasons for his commands. But if there are no reasons for his commands, then his commands are arbitrary. And if his commands are arbitrary, then morality itself is arbitrary.
(4) The problem of the normative impotence of commands
A command (divine or otherwise) does not seem to be the kind of thing that can make a moral difference. Commands are normatively impotent in the sense that they cannot add to our reasons. We see this when imagine that God commands that we torture an innocent child. This command gives us no reason to torture a child, so it would make no difference to the moral status of child-torture. Or, again, imagine that God commands that we eat breakfast at 7:30 every morning. This command does not give us any reason to eat breakfast at 7:30 am and thus can make no difference to the moral status of refraining from eating breakfast at 7:30 am. Commands are normatively inert in that they cannot add to the reasons that we already have to engage in (or refrain from) the commanded activity. Option (II) thus claims that morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of something that is normatively impotent.
Defenders of various versions of DCT have argued that the Euthyphro problem is not a problem for DCT since a properly articulated version of DCT does not have the consequences [(1)-(4)] listed above.[1] In this and the next installment I will offer an assessment of the seriousness of these four aspects of the Euthyphro problem for modern versions of divine command metaethics.
I will consider each of these four aspects of the Euthyphro problem individually. The essay will be broken into two parts. In this current installment, I will look at problems (1) and (2) and the next installment will examine problems (3) and (4).
Problem (1)
The contingency problem involves the assumption that it is possible for God to issue commands other than his actual commands (or, stated another way, that it is possible that God issues commands in some possible world(s) that he does not issue in some other possible world(s)). This assumption appears reasonable, at first glance, because God is omnipotent. Given his omnipotence, it seems that God is completely unconstrained; and so it is possible for him to issue any command whatsoever. But, as Edward Wierenga[2] has famously pointed out (along with many others after him), theists do not typically believe that God is completely unconstrained. It is reasonable to believe that God has certain essential characteristics and that, among these characteristics are features that constrain the kinds of motivations that God could experience.
A command is an intentional act of a rational agent. Given this, all commands have motives. If God has certain essential characteristics (or, in other words, an essential nature), this nature will constrain the sorts of motives that God can experience. If that is right (and it certainly seems to be), then it is false that God can issue any command whatsoever.
Wierenga draws our attention to the fact that, on theism, God is perfectly loving. A perfectly loving being, it is reasonable to assume, cannot experience a motive to harm a person who does not deserve to be harmed. If God has this characteristic essentially (as, again, theism implies), then there is no possible world in which God experiences motives to cause harm to a person who does not deserve it. For the very same reason, there is no possible world in which God experiences motives to command that we engage in such horrendous actions as torturing an infant gratuitously.
Thus, as Wierenga argues, theists have a reason to believe that God will not issue cruel commands, namely, the fact that God is perfectly loving. In what follows, I am going to call this argumentative maneuver (that is, the claim that God is constrained by his essentially loving nature), “the appeal to love” (abbrev. ATL)[3].  The appeal to love involves the claim that God’s commands are not wholly unconstrained, coupled with the equally important insight that the constraints that apply to God come from within his own nature. Importantly, ATL does not involve claiming that the constraints on God are reason-involving. In other words, the claim here is not that God is constrained to respond to reasons; rather it is that God has a motivational profile and that this motivational profile places limits on the kinds of things that God will do.
While ATL is relevant to both problem (1) and (2), it is very important to distinguish both the problems and the responses. ATL blunts the force of the contingency problem in virtue of the fact that God possesses his loving nature essentially, but I think it is less successful against the problem of counterintuitive consequences.
I say that ATL blunts the force of the contingency problem but, as it happens, the appeal to God’s loving nature is neither necessary nor sufficient to obviate the problem. To show this, I will describe a response that would completely remove the problem:
The contingency problem is completely eliminated if we claim that God has his nature essentially. Given that God’s motives are a manifestation of his essential characteristics, it follows that if he has the same characteristics in all possible worlds, he has the same kinds of motives in all possible worlds. And given the same motives, he will issue the same commands. In other words, the content of God’s character does not matter for the purposes of obviating the contingency problem; all that matters is that God has his nature essentially. Given the way that character grounds motives, if God’s character traits are essential characteristics, then he issues the same commands in all possible worlds.
It is important to see that ATL does not assert this; that is, it does not assert that God has his nature essentially. Rather, it claims that God is essentially loving. But this claim is consistent with the claim that there are other aspects of God’s nature that he possesses only contingently. Perhaps, for example, God is all-loving in all possible worlds, but in some possible worlds he prefers the color red to the color green whereas in others he prefers green to red. Perhaps in some worlds, God enjoys all types of human-produced noise, but in others he has a strong dislike for progressive rock; in some worlds, maybe, he is indifferent to temporal considerations concerning meals, in others he has strong feelings that breakfast must be consumed in the early morning. In asserting only that God is essentially loving, ATL leaves open the possibility that other aspects of God’s character are contingent and thus leaves open the possibility aspects of God’s character may give rise to different motives, and thus different commands, in different possible worlds.
ATL does imply that God’s commands are not wholly unconstrained. Given that God is loving in all possible worlds, it is false that there are possible worlds in which God issues a completely different set of commands in some possible world. But we now see that this does not entirely remove the contingency problem. So long as some aspect(s) of God’s nature is/are unconstrained, then his commands, at least to some extent, will be different in different possible worlds. Given this, DCT, even modified by ATL, will retain the implication that at least some more truths are contingent if it allows that some aspects of God’s nature are contingent.
A brief aside: One might think, at this juncture, that whatever contingency is implied by DCT, it will not be a serious problem. Recall that the most serious problem in this connection is that it appeared that DCT implied that all moral truths are contingent. We have seen that a properly articulated DCT need not have this implication. Perhaps we should not be bothered by the implication that, on DCT, some moral truths are still contingent. It is obvious that not all moral truths are contingent; it is less obvious that no moral truths are contingent. Thus, if DCT implies that some moral truths are contingent, this is not obviously a serious problem for the theory.
I mention this mostly to make sure that I my evaluation of the Euthyphro problem is as thorough as I can make it. I doubt that the contingency issue is the most pressing of the four aspects of the Euthyphro problem and so I will decline to examine the above suggestion any further. My interest, at this point, is to consider what must be added to DCT in order to completely eliminate the contingency problem, and so it is to that issue that I now return.
As I noted above, if God has a nature and has his nature essentially, then, since his motives will be a function of this nature, he will have the same kinds of motives in all possible worlds. Given that commands are motivated actions, this strongly suggests that God issues the same commands in all possible worlds. The assumption that God can issue commands other than his actual commands turns out to be based on a failure to appreciate the ways in which God’s nature informs and constrains his actions. While ATL does not assert this, there is nothing that prevents the defender of DCT from relying on this insight. So long as God has his nature essentially, it seems that DCT does not imply that morality is contingent.
Before moving on to problem (2), I want to make a couple of observations that will be very important to the evaluation of problems (2) – (4): First, the fact that God has an essential nature implies only that he experiences certain kinds of motives rather than others; it does not imply anything about what those motives are. If God’s nature is cruel, then he will experience cruel motives and issue cruel commands; if he is loving, then he will experience compassionate motives and issue compassionate commands.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, while the response that I have sketched to the contingency problem involves the claim that there are constraints on God’s commands, these claims about God’s nature (including ATL) do not assert that the constraints on God are reason-involving. In other words, the claim here is not that God is constrained to respond to reasons; rather it is that God has a motivational profile and that this motivational profile places limits on the kinds of things that God will do.
Problem (2)
The contingency problem is entirely eliminated if we assert
(EDN) Essential Divine Nature: God has his nature essentially.
But this will not resolve the counterintuitive possibilities problem since it is consistent with EDN that God’s nature is cruel or indifferent. A god with a cruel nature will command that we torture innocent children. We might think that ATL entirely resolves the problem, but that would be an error. To see why, note that the problem of counterintuitive possibilities is not merely the problem that God might command something cruel. In the above description of the problem, I mentioned four different kinds of counterintuitive possibilities:
(A) God might command that we perform some cruel act(s), such as the torture of an infant.
(B) God might command that we refrain from performing some compassionate act(s), such as helping  to feed people who are starving.
(C) God might command that we perform some seemingly neutral act(s), such as eating breakfast at 7:30 am.
(D) God might command that we refrain from performing some seemingly neutral act(s), such as eating dinner at 6:30 pm.
The appeal to love can only address possibilities of type (A) and (B). A perfectly loving God would neither command a cruel act nor command that we refrain from compassionate acts. However, ATL cannot address possibilities of type (C) and (D). That God is loving does not imply that he will not command that we eat breakfast at 7:30 am. At least, it is very unclear how such a command would be inconsistent with his love. It is wildly counterintuitive that it could be morally obligatory to eat breakfast at 7:30 am. But DCT seems to imply that it is possible that doing so is morally obligatory and ATL provides no reason to think that this is not a genuine implication.
How serious is this problem? Since I am not claiming here that, on DCT, it is possible that it is morally obligatory to doing horrible things, it may seem that the problem is not all that serious. But I think it would be a mistake to dismiss the problem posed by possibilities of type (C) and (D). Every day, hundreds of times a day, you and I engage in actions that are seemingly innocuous but are such that it would not be inconsistent for a loving God to command that we not do these things. We drink coffee without cream and sugar, we brush out teeth after breakfast but before leaving the house for the day, we read news articles online while we are eating breakfast, we watch sporting events on television, we tell jokes, we converse with friends and co-workers at work, etc., etc. It would not be inconsistent for a loving God to command that we refrain from performing any of these things. If God commanded that we not read news articles while we eat breakfast, then according to DCT, it would be morally wrong to read a news article during breakfast. But it is wildly implausible that it could be morally wrong to read a new article while one eats breakfast. The same can be said for all of the other items on my list and countless other seemingly innocuous actions that people engage in every day.
In a subsequent post, I will return to the issue of seemingly innocuous actions in connection to problem (4) (the problem of the normative impotence of divine commands) where I think it has a great deal more force. For now let me close this aspect of the inquiry by pointing out that the appeal to love does not eliminate all of the counterintuitive possibilities that appear to be consequences of DCT.


[1] This is only partially accurate. Usually such defenders focus on (1) – (3) to the neglect of (4). In addition, many such defenders confuse the distinct aspects of the problem (e.g., it is common to confuse the contingency problem with the arbitrariness problem). I will attempt to substantiate these claims in a future post.
[2] Wierenga, E. “A defensible divine command theory.” Nous 17.3 (1983): 387-407.
[3] Other philosophers and defenders of DCT have offered responses to the Euthyphro problem that are similar to Wierenga’s. I will be discussing some of these related responses in future installments of this series. It is perhaps worth pointing out that while this current essay does not involve a thorough discussion of each and every argument that defends DCT from Euthyphro-type concerns, my assessment of the seriousness of the Euthyphro problem for DCT is an overall assessment. That is, parts 5 and 6 of this series contain my all-things-considered assessment of the Euthyphro problem.

bookmark_borderThe Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 4: Why is it a dilemma?

In part I of this series, I showed that the Euthyphro dilemma consists of the following two options:

(I) The reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory.

(II) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.

I also argued that these two options are mutually exclusive and that, from this, we can infer the following two claims:
Claim 1: If the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory, then actions cannot be morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.
Claim 2: If morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them, then the reason that God commands that we perform them cannot be that they are morally obligatory.
A dilemma is a situation in which there are only two options available, we must choose one option or the other (i.e., we cannot take both), and where there is something problematic, difficult, or uncomfortable about making the choice. To show that the choice between options (I) and (II) is a dilemma, we need to show (a) that (I) and (II) are mutually exclusive (i.e., that we cannot take both options); (b) that there is no other option to choose from (i.e., that (I) and (II) exhaust the possible options); and (c) that there is something problematic about making the choice. As I indicated, I have already shown, in part I, that that (I) and (II) are mutually exclusive. In this post, I will accomplish tasks (b) and (c); that is, I will show that the options are exhaustive, and explain why the choice between (I) and (II) is problematic.
Before I get to those issues, I want to make a point of clarification about Claims 1 and 2.[1] It is not just that, if morally obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them, then it cannot be that the reason that he commands that we perform them is that they are obligatory. It is also the case that the reason that he commands that we perform them cannot be that they possess some feature(s) in virtue of which they are obligatory. Similarly, it is not just that if the reason that God commands obligatory actions is that they are obligatory, then it cannot be that they are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them. It is also true that if the reason that God commands obligatory actions is that they possess some feature(s) in virtue of which they are obligatory, it cannot be that they are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them. These two points are fairly easy to grasp once we’ve grasped the logic of Claims 1 and 2. If the feature in virtue of which an action is morally obligatory is that God commands that we do it, then God’s reason for commanding that we do it cannot be that it has some other feature in virtue of which it is obligatory. And if the reason that God commands that we perform some action is that it has some feature(s) in virtue of which it is obligatory, then it cannot be that what makes it obligatory is that God commands that we do it (since, in this case, the what makes it obligatory is that it has the feature(s) that also provides God with a reason to command it). So, we can re-word Claims 1 and 2 to account for these points as follows:
Claim 1′: If the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory action is either that they are morally obligatory or that they possess some feature(s) in virtue of which they are morally obligatory, then actions cannot be morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.
Claim 2′: If morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them, then the reason that God commands that we perform them cannot be either that they are morally obligatory or that they possess some feature(s) in virtue of which they are morally obligatory.
More Options?
I will offer two arguments in support of the claim that there are no options in addition to (I) and (II). The first concerns the kind of factors that can be normative reasons and is, since it relies on disputed claims about normative reasons, more controversial. The second consideration is based on a very natural assumption about the connection between God and morality and is, given the naturalness of this assumption, less controversial. Since the first argument is more controversial, the case I will make that (I) and (II) exhaust the options will not stand or fall on this argument. I mention and describe the argument because I think it is a good one, but I am not here basing my case on it.
Before I get to either argument, let’s consider what an option other than (I) and (II) would need to say. Given the mutual exclusivity of options (I) and (II), any option other than (I) or (II) must involve two aspects: first, it must assert that the reason that God commands a morally obligatory action is not that it is obligatory (or has features in virtue of which it is obligatory); second, it must assert that morally obligatory actions are not morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them. Given this, the basic outline of a possible third option immediately presents itself, namely,

(III) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of something other than God’s commands and the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is something other than that the actions are morally obligatory (or have features in virtue of which they are obligatory).

As stated, option (III) is a formula for generating more specific additional options. The phrase ‘something other than’ appears twice in (III) and there are an indefinite number of descriptive phrases that can be plugged in to each space to generate unique options. For example:

(III-U) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that they maximize utility and the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that it makes him happy that we perform them.

(III-K) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that the action involves treating humanity as an end-in-itself and not merely as a means, and the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that it makes him happy that we perform them.

I strongly suspect that (III-U) and (III-K) are not genuine options because I strongly suspect that the fact that some action makes God happy is not a reason for God to command that we perform it. Remember that I am using ‘reason’ in the normative sense. That some action makes God happy might be a motive for someone to command that we perform the action. But that it is a motive does not entail that it is a normative reason. For reasons, some of which I have mentioned in parts II and III of this series, I think that a consideration such as that an action makes God happy is not a normative reason that favors commanding the action. Here, then, is a consideration in favor of thinking that there is no genuine third option: On the assumption that actions are obligatory in virtue of something other than God’s commands, the only normative reason that God could have for commanding that we perform some action is that the action is morally obligatory (or has features in virtue of which it is obligatory).
If I am right about this, then there is no third option at all. Any alleged third option will, as I’ve indicated, assert that God’s reason for commanding that we perform morally obligatory actions is something other than that they are morally obligatory (or have features in virtue of which they are obligatory). But there are no such other reasons. Thus, there can be no third option. Again, my conclusion that there is no third option will not be affected even if this argument does not succeed since there is another consideration that shows that (I) and (II) exhaust the options.
A very natural assumption about God makes a third option unavailable. This natural assumption is that God commands all and only morally obligatory actions. Whatever is morally obligatory, God commands that we do, and whatever God commands that we do is morally obligatory. God does not command us to do anything that is not obligatory and there is nothing that is obligatory that God does not command that we do. This assumption does not include any claim about ontological priority, only that the actions that are commanded by God are the very same actions that are morally obligatory.
If this assumption is correct, then the predicates X is morally obligatory and X is commanded by God are co-extensive. But the connection is stronger than this. It is not just that these predicates happen to be (or are contingently) co-extensive, as ‘The highest mountain on Earth’ is (contingently) co-extensive with ‘Mt. Everest.’ There is a necessary connection between the properties X is morally obligatory and X is commanded by God. We can capture this necessity as follows: In every possible world in which God issues commands, the properties X is morally obligatory and X is commanded by God are co-extensive. This is not the same as saying that the predicates are necessarily co-extensive. And, indeed, I don’t think that they are necessarily co-extensive since I think that there are possible worlds in which God does not exist but in which moral properties do exist. But even an atheist can agree that in any possible world in which God does exist, he commands us to do all and only morally obligatory actions. Let’s call this claim,

(GC-M): In all possible worlds in which God exists, God commands all and only morally obligatory actions (i.e., in all such worlds, the predicates X is morally obligatory and X is commanded by God are co-extensive).

It is very difficult to see how (GC-M) can be true unless either the reasons for God’s commands are that the commanded actions are morally obligatory (or have features in virtue of which they are obligatory) (i.e., option (I)) or that morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of God’s commands (i.e., option (II)). The only other possible way for (GC-M) to be true is for there to be some feature that, necessarily, all and only morally obligatory actions have, the presence of which feature is the reason that God commands that we perform them. But this seems highly unlikely.
Therefore, if necessarily the actions that God commands are the same as the morally obligatory actions, then (I) and (II) are exhaustive.
Why the choice is problematic
I will now turn to the problematic nature of deciding between options (I) and (II). There are two reasons why a choice between two options might be a dilemma. It could be that both options are good or have good implications and we don’t want to give up something good by only taking one of two good options. Or it could be that both options are bad and we don’t want to have to accept the bad implications or consequences of either option. The Euthyphro dilemma is the latter type of dilemma. Both (I) and (II) have problematic implications.
If (I) is true, then moral properties (at least deontic moral properties) are independent of God’s commands. Since, on option (I) the reason that God commands that we perform a morally obligatory action is that it is morally obligatory (or has properties in virtue of which it is obligatory), the action must be obligatory prior to and independent of God’s command. This is problematic since it has seemed to many theists (and some non-theists) that all moral properties are dependent on God.
The problem for option (II) is that, if morally obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them, then, since God is omnipotent, his commands are wholly unconstrained. He could command any action whatsoever, and since deontic moral value[2]  does not exist prior to his commands, it seems that he has no reason to command one thing rather than another. Indeed, he could command something horrible, such as the gratuitous torture of an infant, and, on option (II), this horrible action would be morally obligatory. But no command can make the torture of an infant morally obligatory.
I am going to call the problem described in the previous paragraph the “Euthyphro problem.” As stated, the Euthyphro problem is multifaceted; there are actually at least four inter-related issues that are mentioned in that paragraph. They are

(1) The contingency problem

It is possible for God to command anything whatsoever. Given this, no matter what commands God actually issues, it is possible that he issues a completely different set of commands (in the sense that, in some possible world, he issues this other set of commands). So, since on option (II), morally obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we do them, no matter which actions are actually obligatory, it is possible that a completely different of commands is obligatory. Thus, in some possible world, a wholly different set of actions are morally obligatory than are obligatory in the actual world. This is problematic because it seems that at least some moral claims are necessarily true. In particular, it seems that there are some actions such that their deontic moral status is a necessary feature. However, if option (II) is correct, then it seems that no action has its moral features necessarily. For any action, whatever its actual deontic status, it is possible for it to have a different deontic status.

(2) The counterintuitive possibilities problem

The contingency problem that, on option (II), all actions have their moral properties contingently. A related problem (and a consequence) is that among the possibilities are some that are wildly counterintuitive. The above description of what I’ve called the Euthyphro problem contains an example: it is possible that the gratuitous torture of infants is morally obligatory rather than wrong. But there are other possibilities. It is possible that something morally laudatory, such as giving money to the needy is morally wrong. It is possible that something morally permissible, such as brushing your teeth three times a day, is morally wrong. And it is possible that something morally permissible, such as eating breakfast at 7:30, is morally obligatory.

(3) The arbitrariness problem

If actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands them, then it is difficult to see how God can have reasons for his commands. He has no reason to command one thing rather than another. On option (II) all deontic moral value exists in virtue of divine commands. Deontic moral value is precisely the value that actions have whereby we have reasons to perform or refrain from performing them. Commands are actions. So, if there is no deontic moral value prior to God’s commands, then God can have no reasons for his commands. But if there are no reasons for his commands, then his commands are arbitrary. And if his commands are arbitrary, then morality itself is arbitrary.

(4) The problem of the normative impotence of commands

A command (divine or otherwise) does not seem to be the kind of thing that can make a moral difference. Commands are normatively impotent in the sense that they cannot add to our reasons. We see this when imagine that God commands that we torture an innocent child. This command gives us no reason to torture a child, so it would make no difference to the moral status of child-torture. Or, again, imagine that God commands that we eat breakfast at 7:30 every morning. This command does not give us any reason to eat breakfast at 7:30 am and thus can make no difference to the moral status of refraining from eating breakfast at 7:30 am (by, for example, refraining from eating breakfast entirely). Commands are normatively inert in that they cannot add to the reasons that we already have to engage in (or refrain from) the commanded activity. Option (II) thus claims that morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of something that is normatively impotent.

To summarize: the problem for option (II) is that it implies that morality is contingent, it has counterintuitive consequences, it implies that morality is arbitrary, and it claims that obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of something that is normatively impotent.
The choice between options (I) and (II) is a dilemma because, if we choose option (I), we have to accept that moral properties exist prior to God’s commands, and, if we choose option (II), we have to accept the implications described above.
Can we escape the dilemma?
If we believe that God does not exist, then we do not face the dilemma since we can deny that God issues commands (and thus deny both that God’s reasons for his commands are that actions are morally obligatory and that obligatory actions are obligatory in virtue of God’s commands). If we believe that God does exist but that he does not issue any commands, then, precisely because we believe that God does not issue commands, we do not face the dilemma. But if we believe that God exists and that he issues commands, we must choose between options (I) and (II). There are many theists who will be happy to choose option (I). Such theists will assert that moral properties exist prior to and independent of God’s commands. There are different ways of fleshing out such a view, and I will not discuss the various versions of theism that are consistent with option (I). But many theists are reluctant to concede that moral properties are independent of divine commands. After all, one traditional theistic belief is that God is the source of everything that exists. On this view, moral properties must have their source in God. The Euthyphro dilemma is most problematic for those who hold such views. Such theists face the choice of giving up the claim that God is the source of everything or accepting implications (1) – (4).
On the other hand, there are defenders of option (II) who claim that it does not have any problematic consequences. In particular, such people claim, option (II) does not have the kinds of consequences that are typically mentioned in discussions of the Euthyphro dilemma. In my next post in this series, I will give my assessment of whether option (II) has the consequences I listed above (i.e., (1) – (4)). To give a brief preview, I will argue that problems (3) and (4) are much more serious and difficult to resolve than problems (1) and (2). I will also argue that problems (3) and (4) definitively show that metaethical divine command theory is false.
 


[1] If you are interested, my reason for clarifying claims 1 and 2 has to do with the fact that statements about an agent’s reasons are, plausibly, referentially opaque. (If you have questions about referential opacity or how it is relevant in the context of reasons statements, please let me know in the comments.)
[2] Deontic moral value is the value that an action has in virtue of which we ought to perform it or refrain from performing it. So, an action’s deontic status is just its status as obligatory or wrong or permissible (I do not mean to imply that these are the only three deontic statuses, there are others; supererogatory, for example.)
 
 

bookmark_borderThe Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 3: Reasons and Moral Obligations

This is the third in a series of posts about the Euthyphro dilemma. In this series, I am making a case that the Euthyphro dilemma provides the basis of a definitive objection to DCT. This case will take several posts to present fully. In part 1, I explained what the two options of the dilemma are and showed that these options are mutually exclusive. In part 2, I began to consider the problems that arise for any view that, like the divine command theory, takes the second of the two options.
In part 2 of this series, I considered the Arbitrariness Argument (AA), which serves as an objection to DCT:

Premise 1: Either God has reasons for his commands or else his commands are arbitrary.

Premise 2: If God’s commands are arbitrary, then they do not ground moral obligations (since arbitrary commands cannot ground moral obligations).

Premise 3: If God has reasons for his commands, then those reasons would be reasons for us independently of God’s commands.

Premise 4: If there are reasons for us that are independent of God’s commands, then those reasons, rather than God’s commands, ground our moral obligations.

Therefore, 5: Whether God has reasons for his commands or not, his commands do not ground moral obligations.

As I pointed out, Premises 3 and 4 are the controversial ones. In the previous post, I made a case for Premise 3. In this post, I will make a case for Premise 4. There are two aspects of Premise 4, which are important to treat separately as much as possible. They are: (A) the reasons for our actions (which, importantly, are independent of and prior to God’s commands) ground our moral obligations; and (B) God’s commands (which are grounded in these reasons) do not ground our moral obligations. I will make a separate case for each of these aspects.
Recall that part of my case for Premise 3 involved what I called the Normative Independence Thesis (NIT):

(NIT): There are normative reasons (for action) that exist independently of and prior to God’s commands.

As I argued in part 2, in order to avoid the arbitrariness problem, DCT must accept NIT. Since, in order for God’s commands to be non-arbitrary, there must be normative reasons that favor his commands, a defender of DCT who insists that God’s commands are non-arbitrary is committed to the existence of normative reasons that are independent of and prior to God’s commands.
This is a highly significant result and in addition to supporting Premise 3, it serves as an entry point into a compelling case for Premise 4. What it tells us is that normative relations are independent of divine commands. If God’s commands are to be non-arbitrary, there must be such divine-command-independent normative relations. Since moral reasons are a species of normative relation, if normative relations can exist independently of and prior to divine commands, then it is reasonable to suppose that moral reasons can as well.
We can thus make the following concise case for (A): When we are morally obligated to do something, there are strong reasons of a particular kind to do that thing. So, plausibly, being obligated is just a matter of having reasons of the right kind and strength. Sure, it is not the case that anytime that I have reasons to engage in some action, I have a moral obligation to engage in that action. But reasons come in differing degrees of strength and, plausibly, when I have a moral obligation, I have it in virtue of having reasons that are particularly strong, so strong as to be binding.
A defender of DCT might push back against this argument by observing that a moral obligation is not merely a matter of having reasons. There is a vast difference between having a reason to Φ and being morally obligated to Φ. A moral obligation is binding; it is not a mere suggestion. Further, moral obligations are always obligations to someone. Having reasons is not the same as nor sufficient for being bound to do something for the sake of another person.
These observations are correct and important; there are important differences between merely having reasons and having a moral obligation. But the differences do not amount to an insurmountable gulf. As I noted above, in my concise case for (A), reasons come in differing degrees of strength. Some reasons amount to little more than suggestions, others are so powerful as to be overriding and demanding. Some reasons concern the welfare of sentient beings; other reasons are fairly disconnected from any being’s welfare. Some reasons involve the effects that an action would have on some person(s), some reasons do not. It is plausible that we have moral obligations precisely when there are very powerful reasons to perform some action, which reasons have to do with the well-being of a person (or, possibly, any sentient being)[1].
I will therefore make a case that, once we grant that there are reasons that exist prior to and independent of God’s commands, there is no obstacle to granting that some such reasons are strong enough and of the right sort to constitute moral obligations. Before I make this case, I need to make some preliminary points and define some terminology.
First, as I understand them, moral obligations are a special kind of norm. Moral obligations have the following features:

(i) They are binding: when we are obligated, something is required of us, it is not merely suggested or encouraged of us.

(ii) They involve reasons: when someone is morally obligated to do something, she has reasons to do that thing.

(iii) They have a social character: moral obligations involve things we owe to others (and perhaps ourselves). Obligations are always obligations to someone(s).

A reader who is looking for places to criticize my argument might want to start here. I am offering an account of the features must be present for someone to have a moral obligation. We might object that I have left some important feature of moral obligations out or included some feature that not all moral obligations possess. I encourage anyone inclined toward any such objections to let me know in the comments section.
With the above features in mind, let me stipulate some terminology, with the caveat that I am not intending, with the following definitions, to capture standard or common usage. I am stipulating how I will use these terms and am doing so solely for ease of exposition. Nothing in my argument depends on using this terminology, but I have found that this is the best way that I can make the points I want to make. Here is the terminology that I will use:

A welfare reason is one that involves the welfare of a sentient being.

A person-involving reason is one that counts in favor of or against actions that affect the well-being of some person(s).

A recommending reason is one that counts in favor of (or against) some action, but does not do so strongly.

A demanding reason is one that strongly counts in favor of (or strongly against) some action.

A moral reason is one that is either a welfare reason or a person-involving reason and that is stronger than a recommending reason.

While I will talk of demanding reasons and recommending reasons,[2] we should not assume that this is a simple dichotomy. Rather, the strength of reasons exists of a spectrum; on one end are reasons that merely suggest (without requiring an action or being binding) and on the other end are reasons that are so strong as to make demands of us.
I will also understand a moral obligation as involving an all-things-considered ‘ought.’ In other words, when we say of someone that she is morally obligated to do something, we are making a judgement that takes all relevant factors into consideration; i.e., it is a judgement that, given present circumstances and all relevant considerations, this is what she ought to do. Claims that a person has (some) moral reason(s) to perform some act, I take to be (at least in most circumstances) pro tanto judgements. They are claims that, to some extent, a person ought to do something; but they are not all-things-considered judgements. As such, a claim that there are some moral reasons to do something is not the same as a claim that it is morally obligatory to do it.
An all-things-considered judgement, as the name suggests, takes into consideration all the relevant considerations. Reasons can conflict with one another. That is, in one and the same circumstance we can often have reasons that are opposed; one reason or set of reasons counting in favor of some course of action, some other set of reasons counting against the same course of action, and yet other reasons favoring an altogether different course of action. Reasons can also support and/or enable other reasons. The way in which reasons combine and interact is quite interesting and complicated, much too complicated to fully account for here. I recommend Jonathan Dancy’s Ethics Without Principles to those readers who want to understand this issue better. What matters for this discussion is just the idea that, an all-things-considered judgement results from the (often complex interactions) of pro tanto factors.
My case for Premise 4 rests on the idea that when we have moral reasons that are sufficiently strong, which are not canceled or counterbalanced by opposing reasons, that is sufficient to make it the case that we are morally obligated. In other words, if, all things considered, a person has sufficiently strong moral reasons to do something, then, just in virtue of this, she has a moral obligation. If this is correct, then having a moral obligation is just a matter of having, all things considered, reasons of the right kind and strength. Once we grant the existence of reasons that are independent of and prior to God’s commands (as even defenders of DCT must if the arbitrariness problem is to be avoided) there is no obstacle to granting the existence of reasons of the types I described above. In particular, there is every reason to expect that there are demanding moral and person-involving reasons. But, then, in some instances in which such reasons are present, there will be people who have reasons, the force of which is not canceled by opposing reasons (that is, all things considered), that are so strong as to be binding and that concern the well-being of persons. Therefore, in such situations, these people will have moral obligations.
I think that these claims can be best supported by thinking about some imagined but realistic examples. These examples will all involve people who have reasons and we will be able to make what I take to be fairly obvious comparative claims about the strength and content of these reasons.
NEW JOB

Sally has been given a new job offer. It involves similar work and responsibilities to her current job, but has a slightly different compensation package. In addition, the new job is five miles closer to her house than her current job.

The fact that the new job is closer to her home counts in favor of Sally’s accepting the new job. But it doesn’t count very strongly in favor; the amount of time she will save on her commute is of relatively minor importance compared to other considerations, such as how pleasant the work environment will be compared to her current job, whether she will be more fulfilled at the new job, and what her compensation will be compared to her current job. That it is not a significant factor by comparison does not mean that it is no factor at all. The relative proximity of the new job, therefore, is a reason for Sally to accept the new job even if not a very powerful one. This reason is merely a recommending reason. Note also that this reason is not obviously a welfare reason since it is not directly related to the welfare of anyone. Conceivably, Sally’s own welfare might be enhanced by saving a couple of minutes every day on her commute, but any such effect on her well-being is minor.
INCORRECT CHANGE 1

Tom is purchasing a small amount of groceries. The total cost is $29.60. He pays the cashier with two $20 bills and receives a $10 bill, a quarter and two dimes. Tom does not immediately see the error that the cashier has made, but as he is walking out of the store, he counts his change and realizes that there has been a mistake.

The fact that Tom has been given five cents more in change than he should have been given counts in favor of his going back to the cashier so that the mistake can be corrected. Thus, it is a reason for Tom to do so. But it is not a very powerful reason. Five cents is not that big of mistake and the supermarket will almost certainly overlook such an insignificant error. In addition, this reason is quite far removed from any person’s welfare. The cashier will not suffer when she realizes that her cash drawer is five cents short. She may briefly wish that it was not, but she will not suffer because of the error. Nor will Tom greatly benefit from the extra five cents he now possesses.
INCORRECT CHANGE 2

Susan is at REI purchasing supplies for her upcoming backpacking trip. She buys a new tent, backpack, sleeping bag, clothes, food, and miscellaneous supplies. Her total comes to $1138.50. She hands the cashier twelve $100 bills and receives four $20 bills, a $1 bill, and two quarters in change. Susan is in a hurry and does not notice the error until she gets back to her car, where she looks at her receipt and counts her change.

The fact that Susan has been given twenty dollars more than she should have been given counts in favor of her going back to the cashier so that the mistake can be corrected. Thus, it is a reason for Susan to do so. It is a more powerful reason that that which Tom has in INCORRECT CHANGE 1. In addition, Susan’s reason is more directly connected to some person’s welfare, namely that of the cashier who made the error. A $20 error is not tremendously significant, but it is significant enough that we can reasonably expect the cashier to suffer some (probably minor) consequences. Thus, Susan’s reason to return the $20 is a fairly strong person-involving reason. However, the reason is probably not so strong as to be demanding and it is probable that it can be outweighed by other considerations.
WALLET

Barbara is taking a short hike in the local hills. A few miles into her hike she finds a wallet lying on the trail. She opens the wallet and finds $125 in cash, credit cards, and a driver’s license. There is nobody else nearby on the trail .

The fact that Barbara has discovered the wallet counts in favor of her taking it to the nearest police department so that the police can contact the owner and return it to him (or in some other way ensuring that the wallet is returned to the owner). Given the amount of money contained in the wallet, and the importance of a driver’s license and credit cards, this reason is stronger than the reasons present in the previous examples. Further, this reason is more directly related to some person’s welfare than any of the reasons present in the previous examples. If the owner does not get the wallet back, he will lose $125, be forced to cancel his credit cards, and will need to visit the DMV to get a new license. These are merely inconveniences, but they are not negligible and they will have a negative effect on his welfare. Barbara has strong person-involving reasons to turn in the wallet (and thus, she also has moral reasons to do so).
DESERT HIKE

John has planned a multi-day backpacking trip through a remote part of the Arizona desert. Three miles into his hike he encounters a small child alone on the trail. The girl is clearly tired and suffering from exposure to the elements. She is sunburned, dehydrated, and malnourished. John tries to communicate with her, but the child is barely conscious and cannot answer John’s questions.

The fact that the child is suffering and will most likely die if she does not receive medical attention is a reason for John to cut his trip short and transport the child to the closest hospital. Given the amount of suffering she is experiencing and the value of her life, this reason is very powerful. Further, it is obviously directly connected to the child’s welfare. This reason is so powerful that it is difficult to imagine any factor that could outweigh or override it. John thus has a demanding, person-involving reason (thus, a moral reason) to render aid to the child. And, all things considered, this is what he ought to do.
The reasons present in DESERT HIKE are much stronger than any of the reasons present in the previous examples. Consider NEW JOB: Plausibly, if Sally ignores the fact that the new job is five miles closer than her current job, she has not done anything morally wrong. Sally is under no obligation to take this factor into consideration when she is deciding whether to accept the job offer. Consider INCORRECT CHANGE 1: Plausibly, if Tom decides to refrain from returning the extra five cents to the grocery store, he has not done anything morally wrong. Tom is not under a strong obligation to correct such an insignificant error. Even those of us who think Tom is under some obligation to return the five cents, we will think that it is not a very strong obligation. Consider INCORRECT CHANGE 2: Plausibly, if Susan decides to refrain from returning the $20, she has done something wrong. Plausibly, Susan has at least some obligation to correct the error. However, whatever obligation Susan is under, it is not a powerful obligation. If, for example, Susan decides not to return the money because she needs to get to an important appointment and correctly foresees that she will be late to the appointment if she returns the money, it is plausible that her decision is both understandable and forgivable. She will have committed no serious moral violation. On the other hand, John’s reason to help the child is very powerful, it is certainly stronger than a mere recommendation. Further, it is stronger than any other reason that I identified in any of the other scenarios. It seems reasonable to say that John has reasons to help the child that are so strong as to be demanding. If John fails to render aid for some reason, say, for example, because he does not want to cut his trip short, he will have done something very morally wrong.
My case for Premise 4 is something like an existence proof: by describing the above realistic scenarios, I am demonstrating how the existence of reasons in certain circumstances can make it the case that a person has a moral obligation. In DESERT HIKE John (a) has reasons to render aid to the child, (b) has reasons that are so strong that they constitute requirements; i.e., they are not merely suggestions, and (c) owes something to someone, namely, John owes it to the child to try to save her life. Thus, in DESERT HIKE, we have a situation in which the elements of a moral obligation are present and are present solely in virtue of the existence of reasons of the right sort. So, it is plausible that John’s moral obligation in DESERT HIKE is fully constituted by the reasons that he has to render aid to the child. Much the same can be said about many other cases of moral obligation.
The points that I have made thus far strongly support the claim that reasons of a certain strength and type are alone sufficient to ground moral obligations. But we will not be able to accept this conclusion if we think that God’s commands add something essential to the equation, something that can only be supplied via those commands. With that in mind, let’s turn to the second aspect of Premise (4), namely, (B): God’s commands, which are grounded in these reasons, do not ground moral obligations.
The suggestion that God’s commands make us obligated is implausible precisely because we know that an arbitrary command cannot make an action obligatory. And why is it that an arbitrary command cannot do so? I suggest that it is because a command is not the right kind of thing that could be what makes an action obligatory. After all, that Φ is commanded (by God or by anyone) is an extrinsic feature of an action. That Φ is commanded by God has nothing to do with (a) the kind of action Φ is, (b) the actual consequences of Φ, (c) the intended consequences of Φ, or (d) the reason Φ was performed.
Consider: Let Φ = John’s act of bringing the lost child to a hospital so that she can receive medical care. Let’s compare two scenarios: In scenario 1, God commands Φ. In scenario 2, God does not exist and so it is not the case that God commands Φ. The only difference between Φ-as-performed in scenario-1 (Φ-ap1) and Φ-as-performed-in-scenario-2 (Φ-ap2) is that Φ-ap1 has the feature commanded-by-God and Φ-ap2 lacks this feature. But Φ-ap1 and Φ-ap2 share every other features in common; they have the same actual consequences, the same intended consequences, they are acts of the same type, they are performed at the same time, by the same people, in the same location, with the same motives, etc. The one feature whereby Φ-ap2 differs from Φ-ap1 is an extrinsic feature. It concerns attitudes that a rational agent has taken toward the action, which attitudes, it is important to note, must, given that they are the attitudes of a perfectly rational agent, be grounded in reasons (which reasons must themselves must involve features of Φ). Given that the only difference between Φ-ap1 and Φ-ap2 is an extrinsic feature and that this extrinsic feature is one that is itself reason-responsive, it is implausible that this feature (rather than the reasons it is responsive to) is what makes Φ morally obligatory. Isn’t it more plausible that it is one of the other features that I mentioned above (its actual and/or intended consequences, the kind of act it is, the reasons for it, etc.) that make the action obligatory? How strange it would be if, rather than these other features, Φ is obligatory in virtue of a reason-responsive attitude that a rational agent has taken toward the action. In other words, that Φ is commanded by God is not the kind of feature that could make Φ obligatory.
In the following clip, Dennis the constitutional peasant makes a point similar to the one I am trying to make:

That a strange woman lying in a pond distributed a sword to you cannot be what makes you the supreme executive in the government. But this is precisely what Arthur Pendragon claims as the ground of his executive power. Note what he says: “The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water; signifying, by divine providence, that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I’m your King.”  The ‘why’ here is not the ‘why’ of reasons but the ‘in-virtue-of’ ‘why.’ When he says, “That is why I’m your King,” he is saying that this is what makes him King. Arthur is claiming that he is King in virtue of the fact that the Lady of the Lake held Excalibur out to him. Dennis claims that this claim is absurd. That a lady in a lake lobbed a scimitar at you is not the kind of thing that can make you the supreme executive.
In making this point, Dennis says the following: “If I went ‘round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away.”  If, instead of getting angry and using violence to silence his critics, Arthur had calmly explained to Dennis that the Lady of the Lake is perfectly wise and would never hold out a sword to a peasant, or any other person unqualified to be a leader, he would have missed the point. Dennis is not saying that, according to Arthur’s theory of executive power, it is possible for an unqualified person to become King (since it is possible for the Lady of the Lake to give a sword to any person, even an unqualified one). No. Dennis’ point, rather, is that getting a sword from a woman in a lake is not the kind of thing that could make one King.
Similarly, we may say to the divine command theorist that an action’s being commanded by God is not the kind of property that could make the action morally obligatory. And we know this because of the following observations (which, by the way, are agreed to by most defenders of DCT):

  1. The mere fact that Φ is commanded cannot make Φ obligatory. After all, any person could issue an absurd command (e.g., don’t brush your teeth before 7:00 am) and this would obviously not make for an obligatory action.
  2. The mere fact that Φ is commanded by someone powerful cannot make Φ obligatory. After all, powerful people often command horrendous things. That Hitler commanded the extermination of Europe’s Jewish population did not make it obligatory to do so.
  3. An arbitrary command, no matter who it is issued by, cannot make any action morally obligatory.

All of this strongly suggests that being commanded by anyone, even God, is not the kind of feature that could make an action morally obligatory.
It is useful to focus our attention on point (3). We know that if a command to Φ is arbitrary, then no matter who issues it, the command cannot make it the case that Φ is obligatory.  This strongly suggests that commands, on their own, are never sufficient to make it the case that a person is obligated to do something. In other words, since a command that is not grounded in reasons cannot make it the case that anyone is under a moral obligation, bare commands are morally impotent. If that is right, then in cases in which a person is obligated to do something that he has been commanded to do, that person must be so-obligated in virtue of something other than the fact that he has been so-commanded.
Undoubtedly, there are cases in which a person that has been commanded do something is obligated to do that thing. One reason that this might be so is that the person is obligated in virtue of something independent of and prior to the command and the command serves as something like a reminder of this independent and prior obligation. But this sort of account will not cover all cases in which a person is obligated to do what she has been commanded to do.
There are other kinds of cases that we need to consider: cases in which some person is obligated to do something that she has been commanded to do but would not have been so-obligated if she had not been so-commanded. That is, there are circumstances in which the fact that a commander, C, commands someone, S, to Φ implies (in some sense of “implies”) that S is obligated to Φ. Military contexts provide examples of such cases. When a military subordinate is commanded to do something, he is obligated to do what he is commanded to do and, at least in some instances, would not have been obligated in the absence of the command. How do we square this with my above claim that bare commands are morally impotent?
I suggest that when the fact that C commands that S Φ makes it the case that S is obligated to Φ this is because of the existence of a prior obligation to obey C, which S is under. When a military subordinate is obligated to obey the commands of her superior officer, this is because, as a member of the military, she has an obligation (which is independent of the authority of any particular commanding officer) to obey the (lawful) commands of superior officers. In the absence of any such prior and independent obligation, the fact that S is commanded to Φ cannot establish any obligation that S Φ. This is consistent with my claim that bare commands are morally impotent. When commanding officer issues a (lawful) command to a subordinate, the subordinate is obligated to obey the command; but the command does not, all by itself, make the subordinate obligated. It does so only given the prior obligation that the subordinate has, namely the obligation to obey his superior officers. The command, considered in and of itself (and thus outside of a military context), is impotent. And we can see this if we imagine that the command is given, not to a subordinate member of the military, but to me or any other person who is not in the military. If a US Army general orders me to do something, this does not and cannot make it the case that I am obligated to do what he orders me to do. Without the prior obligation to obey the lawful commands of a superior officer, all military commands are impotent in the sense that they cannot make any person obligated to do anything.
If the above is correct, then all commands, no matter who issues them, are morally impotent considered in and of themselves. The only time a command can make a person obligated is when the commanded is under a prior obligation to obey the commander. And this fact will not help a defender of DCT respond to the objection that I am raising against it. If a defender of DCT insists that God’s commands ground moral obligations in virtue of the fact that we are obligated to obey God, then she is defending a version of Normative Divine Command Theory (NDCT) rather than Metaethical Divine Command Theory (MDCT). As I indicated in part 2 of this series, my target is MDCT and I am not here interested in raising objections to NDCT. The claim that our moral obligations are ultimately grounded in a basic moral principle, according to which we are obligated to obey God, is an interesting one. But as I have pointed out in other contexts, MDCT cannot rely on such a principle. On MDCT all moral obligations are grounded in divine commands, thus there can be no command-independent obligation to obey God. Therefore, appeals to our obligation to obey God cannot help MDCT here.
The upshot is that, with respect to the factors that make an action morally obligatory, the fact that God commands the action is irrelevant. A command, no matter who issues it, is not the kind of thing that could, in and of itself, make an action obligatory. Thus, God’s commands do not ground our moral obligations.


[1] Whether moral obligations extend to actions that effect all sentient beings or only persons is an interesting question. But it is one that it is beyond the scope of this essay. My point here is only that it is plausible that moral obligations are grounded in the presence of powerful reasons of the right sort (what sort that is will be determined through careful philosophical reasoning).
[2] This distinction is inspired by Joseph Raz’s distinction between mandatory and non-mandatory norms. See his Practical Reason and Norms.


References
Dancy, Jonathan (2004) Ethics Without Principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Raz, Joseph (1999) Practical Reason and Norms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

bookmark_borderThe Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 2: Arbitrariness

In the first post in this series, I pointed out that when we apply the Euthyphro question to DCT, we get the following options

(I) The reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory.

(II) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.

Reflection on these options yields the following two claims:

Claim 1: If the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory, then actions cannot be morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.

Claim 2: If morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them, then the reason that God commands that we perform them cannot be that they are morally obligatory.

I also pointed out that since the DCT accepts option (II), it implies that the reason that God commands that we perform obligatory actions cannot be that they are obligatory. Further reflection reveals that it is not clear what reasons God could have for commanding that we do something other than that it is morally obligatory. But if God does not have any reasons for his commands, then those commands are arbitrary.
In this post, I will explain what arbitrariness is and why it is problem for DCT. In doing so, I will distinguish arbitrariness from some similar but distinct properties. Lastly, I will offer some considerations in support of the claim that if God has reasons for his commands, then these same reasons are reasons for us independent of God’s commands and would therefore be reasons for us even if God issued no commands.
I will begin with a preliminary point about the target of my arguments. When discussing the Euthyphro problem, it is important to mark the distinction between two kinds of divine command theory: normative divine command theory and metaethical divine command theory.[1] The normative divine command theory (NDCT) asserts that there is one supreme ethical principle, namely that God’s commands are to be obeyed. Importantly, NDCT does not involve any account of how this supreme principle is grounded. Just as important is the implication that this supreme principle is not grounded in God’s commands. That is, the principle that God’s commands are to be obeyed is not made true in virtue of any divine command; it is true independent of God’s commands. Indeed, for NDCT to be consistent, it must be that the principle is external to and independent of God’s commands. Metaethical divine command theory (MDCT), on the other hand, claims that all moral obligations are grounded in divine commands. On MDCT, there is no supreme ethical principle that grounds our obligation to obey God. Rather, the property of being morally obligatory is grounded in God’s commands; God’s commands make it the case that we are morally obligated.[2] Importantly, NDCT is not consistent with MDCT. On MDCT, all moral obligations are grounded in divine commands. But on NDCT, the obligation to obey God is grounded in the supreme ethical principle, not in God’s commands. So, if NDCT is true, MDCT is false and if MDCT is true, NDCT is false.
It is helpful to connect this distinction to reasons. On NDCT, we always have reason to obey God’s commands. But the reason to obey God is not grounded in God’s commands; it is grounded in the supreme ethical principle (or whatever grounds that principle). On MDCT, the reason-giving force of a divine command is internal to the command; it is not grounded in anything or in any principle that is external to God’s commands. In this series, I am not criticizing NDCT or considering the application of the Euthyphro dilemma to it;[3] my target is MDCT. Thus, when I talk about divine command theories of moral obligation, I am talking about versions of MDCT (and ‘DCT’ has been and will be here used, unless otherwise specified, to refer to any and all of the several versions of MDCT). When we ask questions about whether and when we have reason to do what God commands us to do, it is important to bear in mind that defenders of DCT (MDCT) cannot, when answering such questions, rely on some general principle to the effect that we always have reason to obey God. Relying on such a principle entails abandoning MDCT in favor of NDCT.
What is arbitrariness?
Something is arbitrary when it is not grounded in reasons. To understand arbitrariness, it is helpful to distinguish it from other related properties. The claim that God’s commands are (or might be) arbitrary, is not the same as claiming that they are contingent, unconstrained, or unmotivated. I will discuss each of these other properties, and show that they are distinct from arbitrariness, separately:
(1) Contingent
A necessary proposition is one such that it is impossible that it is false. A contingent proposition is one such that, whatever its actual truth-value, it is possible for it to be true and also possible for it to be false. Another way of marking this distinction is to say that anything that is necessary could not be otherwise and anything that is contingent could be otherwise.
One problem for DCT is that it appears that, on DCT, all moral truths are contingent. This is not same as the problem that his commands might be arbitrary and it is very important to distinguish the arbitrariness problem from the contingency problem.  The contingency problem for DCT is as follows: Given that God is omnipotent, it seems natural to suppose that he can issue any command whatsoever. Suppose that God exists and has issued an actual set of commands.  Given that he is omnipotent, it seems that he could have issued a completely different set of commands. Indeed, for any command that God has actually given (e.g., “Thou shalt not kill”) it is possible that he issued a command with contradictory content (e.g., “Thou shalt kill’).  Given this, it would appear to follow that, on DCT, there are no necessary moral truths. Since it is possible that God issues any command with any content whatsoever, it follows that there is no command that he issues necessarily and hence there are no necessary moral truths.
This is strongly counterintuitive. It strongly seems that at least some moral truths are necessarily true. Consider, for example, the moral truth that it is wrong to torture an infant gratuitously. This seems to be not only true, but necessarily so. That is, it is impossible that the claim, ‘It is wrong to torture an infant gratuitously’ could be anything other than true. But, on DCT, it appears, at least initially, that it is possible for it to be false. After all, an omnipotent being can, it seems, issue a command such as, “Thou shalt torture infants gratuitously,” in which case, on DCT, it would be morally obligatory to torture infants (and hence ‘It is wrong to torture an infant gratuitously’ would be false).
If DCT really does imply that there are no necessary moral truths, this is a strong reason to reject DCT. However, modern defenders have a compelling response to the contingency problem. The most common and plausible response is as follows[4]: God has certain characteristics that are part of his nature and he has these characteristics necessarily. The commands that God issues flow from his nature and it is not possible that God issues commands that are contrary to his nature. Since, for example, it is part of God’s necessary nature that he is perfectly loving, it is not possible that he would command us to perform cruel acts such as gratuitous torture.
In this current post, I will not be concerned to evaluate this response (I have argued that the response is not adequate to save DCT from the Euthyphro problem here). My aim here is only to show that, whatever the merits of the response, it is irrelevant to the arbitrariness problem. And this is so because contingency and arbitrariness are distinct properties. That God’s commands are not contingent does not entail that they are not arbitrary. The following example will, I hope, make this clear:
Consider a deity who, like God, is omnipotent and omniscient, but, unlike God, is essentially hateful. This deity, who I will call ‘Asura’, has an essential nature and his commands flow from his essential nature, and, like God, it is not possible for Asura to issue commands that are contrary to his nature. Asura commands, for example, that we gratuitously torture children and similarly horrible things
Here is the point: that Asura’s commands flow from his essential nature shows, at best, only that he issues the same commands in every possible world in which he exists. It does not show that he has reasons for his commands. And, plausibly, there are no reasons for Asura to command that we torture infants gratuitously. Given this, despite the fact that Asura’s commands flow from his essential nature, they are still arbitrary. If Asura’s commands are not non-arbitrary just in virtue of the fact that they flow from his essential nature, then neither are God’s commands non-arbitrary just in virtue of the fact that they flow from God’s essential nature. What matters with respect to whether God’s commands are arbitrary is not whether they could be otherwise (not whether he could issue different commands) but whether there are reasons for his commands. Given all of this, we must sharply distinguish between arbitrariness and contingency and recognize that appeals to God’s necessary nature do not obviously resolve the worry that, on DCT, God’s commands are arbitrary.
(2) Unconstrained
Just as it is a mistake to assimilate the arbitrariness problem with the contingency problem, it is also a mistake to think that the problem of arbitrariness is just the problem of whether God’s commands are constrained. Asura’s commands are constrained by his own character, but that does not imply that his commands are non-arbitrary. Again, it is plausible that there are no reasons for Asura to command that we torture infants; indeed, there are powerful reasons for him to not issue such a command. (That Asura has motives for his commands is a separate issue, see below.) In just the same way, the fact that God’s commands are constrained by his essential nature would not imply that his commands are non-arbitrary.
(3) Unmotivated
The claim that God has no reasons for his commands must be sharply distinguished from the claim that God has no motives for his commands. The following example makes this clear:
A hiring manager who makes hiring decisions solely on the basis of the race of the candidates is engaged in arbitrary discrimination. His hiring decisions are arbitrary because they are not based on the candidates’ relevant qualifications. But that does not mean that his decisions are unmotivated. Quite the contrary. A racist hiring manager’s motives are all too obvious; he wants to prevent members of certain racial categories from obtaining employment at his company.
The upshot of this example is that the fact that some decision is motivated does not make that decision non-arbitrary. Thus, the fact that God has motives for his commands does not make his commands non-arbitrary. The arbitrariness problem is not that God might not have motives for his commands. As the current example shows, even an act that has some motive can still be arbitrary. The arbitrariness problem is the problem of whether God can have normative reasons for his commands.
Reasons and morality
The example of the racist hiring manager is important because it reveals two aspects of arbitrariness: First, it shows that what is relevant when it comes to arbitrariness is the lack of normative reasons, not the lack of motivating reasons. A normative reason for some action is a factor that counts in favor of our acting in this way whereas a motivating reason is a factor on the basis of which a person acts or decides to act. (I’ve discussed the distinction between normative reasons and motives in a different blog post, here.) In keeping with common philosophical practice, in this and other posts in this series, I will use ‘reasons’ to refer to normative reasons and ‘motives’ to refer to motivating reasons. Second, the hiring manager example shows that for some factor to be a reason the factor must be relevant to what is being decided. The racial characteristics of a job candidate are not relevant to the hiring decision because they are not relevant to whether the applicant can perform the job well.
If we put these two things together, we can understand the arbitrariness problem for DCT as follows: For God’s command that we Φ to be non-arbitrary, there must be some normative reason for, i.e., some relevant factor that counts in favor of, his decision to issue the command. But since, on DCT, the reason that God commands that we perform some action, Φ, cannot be that Φ is morally obligatory, it is not clear what reasons he could have for his commands.
It is important to say why it would be a problem for DCT if it implies that God’s commands are  arbitrary. The problem stems from the intimate way in which moral properties are connected with reasons. When we say that someone should or ought to do something, or that they are obligated to do it, we are implicitly claiming that there are reasons for her to do that thing. More specifically, we can assert the following:

If Φ is morally obligatory, then there is at least some reason to Φ.

If Φ is morally wrong, then there is at least some reason to refrain from Φ-ing.

The link between moral obligations and reasons is probably stronger than this. That is, it is plausible that if Φ is morally obligatory, there is not just some reason, but overall, overriding reason(s) to Φ. Nonetheless, to see why arbitrariness would be a serious problem for DCT, we only need acknowledge the weaker claims above.
Thus far in this series, I have been focusing the discussion on divine command theories of deontic moral value (i.e., moral rightness and wrongness), but it is worth pointing out that all moral value, including axiological value, share this intimate connection with reasons.[5]

If Φ is good, then we have at least some reason to desire, pursue, preserve, and/or have some other pro-attitude toward Φ.

If Φ is bad, then we have at least some reason to avoid Φ, want that Φ not occur or exist, and/or have some other con-attitude toward Φ.

If God’s commands are arbitrary, the DCT threatens to eliminate this intimate connection between moral properties and reasons (at least that between deontic moral value and reasons). If God has no reason to command that we Φ, then there is no reason that Φ is morally obligatory rather than morally wrong. And if there is no reason why Φ is obligatory rather than wrong, it is difficult to see how we would have any reason to engage in Φ rather than refrain from Φ.
Philosophers on both sides of the dispute over DCT agree that arbitrary commands cannot ground moral obligations. Very few defenders of DCT are willing to defend the claim that an arbitrary command can ground a moral obligation. Indeed, much of the defense of modern versions of DCT has been aimed at showing that God’s commands are not arbitrary. And I think that the above observations about the connection between moral obligations and reason accounts for this widespread consensus. If a command is arbitrary, then we can have no reason to abide by the command because the claim that some action is obligatory entails that there is some reason for performing it, which in turn entails that there is some reason that it is obligatory.
Nothing I have said so far shows that, on DCT, God’s commands are arbitrary. But even if his commands are not arbitrary, there is still a problem for DCT: if God’s commands are not arbitrary, then he has reasons for his commands. But there are very good reasons to think that if God has some reason to command that we perform some action, that same reason counts in favor of our performing this action, completely independently of God’s commanding us to do so. And if these reasons are independent of God, then, given the connection between reasons and morality, is probably these reasons that ground our moral obligations rather than God’s commands. Such considerations lie behind a famous argument that is often called the Arbitrariness Argument (AA). Here is one version of that argument

Premise 1: Either God has reasons for his commands or else his commands are arbitrary.

Premise 2: If God’s commands are arbitrary, then they do not ground moral obligations (since arbitrary commands cannot ground moral obligations).

Premise 3: If God has reasons for his commands, then those reasons would be reasons for us independently of God’s commands.

Premise 4: If there are reasons for us that are independent of God’s commands, then those reasons, rather than God’s commands, ground our moral obligations.

Therefore, 5: Whether God has reasons for his commands or not, his commands do not ground moral obligations.

The controversial premises are 3 and 4. In the remainder of this post I will offer some considerations that I think strongly support Premise 3. (I will return to Premise 4 in a subsequent post.) That is, I am going to give three considerations that count strongly in favor of the following claim:

(TR) If God has a reason (or reasons) to command that we Φ, this same reason(s) counts in favor of our Φ-ing and would count in favor of our Φ-ing even if God did not command that we F.

The considerations that favor (TR) are:
(i) If there are reasons that favor God’s commands, then there are normative relations that are prior to and independent of God’s commands. This might be the most important consideration that counts in favor of the claim that morality must be independent from God (more on that below). For something to be a reason for something else is for it to count in favor of that thing. The reason relation, i.e., the favoring relation, is a normative relation. It might be the fundamental normative relation. Moral reasons and moral obligations are a species of normative relation. When defenders of DCT concede that God must have and does have reasons for his commands, they are conceding that there are normative properties that are prior to and independent of God’s commands. Well, if there are normative properties that exist prior to and independent of God’s commands, it follows that it is at least possible for us to have reasons to engage in some action(s) (and refrain from engaging in others) that are prior to and independent of God’s commands. That is, if God can have reasons for commanding that are prior to his commands, then there is no obstacle to believing that we can have reasons for acting that are prior to and independent of God’s commands. I will call this the ‘normative independence thesis.’
(ii) If there is some factor that counts in favor of God’s issuing some command, then the factor counts in favor of issuing a command with some specific content. That is, a factor does not count in favor of commanding, full stop; it counts in favor of commanding that we perform some action or other. The content of a command that we Φ is that we Φ. It is obscure (to say the least) how some factor could count in favor of issuing a command that we Φ and yet not count also count in favor of our Φ-ing. At the very least, it must be that whatever provides the reason for God to command that we Φ, it must be some feature of Φ that provides it.
The upshot is that if God has a reason to command that we perform specific actions (and that we not perform others), there must be something about the actions that he commands that we perform that gives him a reason to command that we perform them.
Consider an example: Suppose God commands that we aid the afflicted. If there is a reason for God to command this, then there is some factor (or factors) that counts in favor of his issuing this command (and these factors outweigh any opposing considerations that might favor, for example, commanding that we not aid the afflicted or issuing no command with respect to such acts). Whatever factor this is, it must be some feature of the act of aiding the afflicted. Plausibly, one such feature is that aiding the afflicted relieves suffering. It does not matter whether I am right about that, i.e, that this is a feature that counts in favor of God’s command. The point is that, whatever provides God with a reason to command that we aid the afflicted, it must be some feature of acts of aiding the afflicted.
I am going to call this the “action feature constraint.” This constraint means that whatever reason God has for commanding that we perform some action must involve some feature(s) of that action.
(iii) Reasons have a universal character. This is also a widely acknowledged aspect of reasons. It is somewhat difficult to state precisely what this universal character entails, but it is easy enough to articulate the intuition. If some factor is a reason for me to Φ, then it must be a reason for any other person who is in relevantly similar circumstances. Here is how Kant makes the point: “Practical good, however, is that which determines the will by means of representations of reason, hence not by subjective causes but objectively, that is, from grounds that are valid for every rational being as such. It is distinguished from the agreeable, as that which influences the will only by means of feeling from mere subjective causes, which hold only for the senses of this or that one, and not as a principle of reason, which holds for everyone.” (Kant 25) Kant’s point here is precisely that reasons (what he thinks of as “principles of reason”) have a universal character. This universal character implies that if I have a reason to do something, then this same reason is going to be a reason for any other person to act in a similar way.[6]
The Case for (TR)
We can now state the case for (TR). If God has some reason(s) to command that we Φ, then, given the normative independence thesis, it follows that there is some factor that counts in favor of God’s so-commanding and that this favoring relation (which is a normative relation) is prior to and independent of God. Given the action feature constraint, it also follows that this factor must be some feature(s) of Φ. Call this feature(s), F. Given the universality constraint, it follows that F is, to use Kant’s words, grounds for every rational being. That is, if F is a reason, it cannot merely favor God’s commanding that we Φ; it must favor the similar actions of any rational agent. Now, the act of commanding that someone Φ is not the same act or even the same kind of act as Φ-ing. But, given the action feature constraint, we know that F is a feature of Φ. It is obscure how some feature of Φ could count in favor of commanding that some person Φ but not count in favor of that person Φ-ing.
I do not take this argument to be a knock-down argument that establishes, with certainty, that (TR) is true. As I said, the three features of reasons that I listed (normative independence, the action-feature constraint, and universality) strongly suggest that if God has some reason(s) to command that we Φ, then those same reasons are reasons for us to Φ. Strongly suggesting is not the same as proving. What is true is that there is a strong prima facie case for (TR) and thus anyone who wishes to deny it must show what is wrong with the above argument in its favor. I suggest that the case hinges on whether (and if so, to what extent) it is possible that there can be factors that favor God’s commanding that we Φ that do not also count in favor of our Φ-ing. I invite readers to try to discover any examples of this.
There is one other point worth mentioning. I said that the normative independence thesis might be the most significant consideration that favors the conclusion that morality is independent of God. The reason is, once again, related to the connection between morality and reasons. As I pointed out above, when we say that someone should or ought to do something, we are implicitly claiming that there are reasons to do that thing. If there are reasons, that exist prior to and independent of God’s commands that count in favor of God’s commands, then there is every reason to believe that there are reasons for us that exist prior to and independent of God’s commands. Among these reasons, there may be reasons that are powerful enough and of the right sort that they constitute moral reasons. In other words, once we grant the normative independence thesis, there is no obstacle to believing that there are moral reasons for us that are prior to and independent of God’s commands. Importantly, this point holds regardless of whether my argument for (TR) is successful. Even if the reasons that favor God’s commands are not reasons for us, the normative independence thesis strongly favors the conclusion that some factors or others favor our actions prior to and independent of God’s commands.
In my next post, I will more carefully consider the case in favor of Premise 4 of the arbitrariness argument.
 


[1] Mark Murphy makes and explains this distinction in his An Essay on Divine Authority.
[2] Different versions of MDCT offer different accounts of this making relation. On Philip Quinn’s view, God’s commands cause an action to be morally obligatory. On Robert Adams’ view, the relation is an identity relation. That is, the property of being morally obligatory just is the property of being commanded by God. Such distinctions are irrelevant to the points about arbitrariness that I will be making in this post.
[3] There are a couple of reasons for this. First, NDCT is implausible on its face in a way that is completely independent of Euthyphro-type concerns. Why would it be that there is only one supreme ethical principle and why would it have this particular content? Why not some other principle, such as that sentient creatures should not be harmed gratuitously? Once we acknowledge that there is at least one ethical principle that is independent of God’s will, it seems that there is no principled reason to think that there is only one such principle. Second, my aim in this series is to show that there are moral truths that are independent of the will of God. In as much as NDCT entails that there is at least on such truth, NDCT is consistent with this conclusion and does not threaten it.
[4] See Wierenga for an example of this response.
[5] I will discuss axiological value and its connection to modern divine command metaethics more thoroughly in a future post.
[6] It is important to keep in mind here the distinction between a pro tanto reason and reasons all-things-considered. My point is that if I have a reason to do some act, then this will be a pro tanto reason for any other person to perform a similar act in similar circumstances. This pro tanto reason, of course, might be outweighed by other factors present in circumstances that vary from my own. I discuss what it means for a reason to be pro tanto in my post, “On reasons and what they do.”


Works Cited
Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Mary Gregor (trans.) Cambridge University Press, 1998
Murphy, Mark C.  An Essay on Divine Authority. Cornell University Press, 2002.
Thibodeau, Jason “God’s Love is Irrelevant to the Euthyphro Problem” forthcoming in Sophia.
Wierenga, E. “A defensible divine command theory.” Nous 17.3 (1983): 387-407.
 

bookmark_borderThe Euthyphro Dilemma, Part 1: The Question and the Options

The Euthyphro dilemma has been used for centuries as a basis for undermining theories that account for moral value in virtue of God’s will, activities, and/or nature, including various versions of Divine Command Theory (DCT)[1]. Beginning in the latter half of the 20th century the arguments directed against DCT that are grounded in this dilemma came in for sustained and penetrating criticism, especially from those philosophers who were attempting to articulate and defend modern versions of DCT. As a result of such criticism, anyone looking into recent scholarship about the dilemma will frequently find philosophers claiming that the objections to DCT stemming from the Euthyphro dilemma have been undermined or refuted. By no means is this the consensus view of professional philosophers, but I think that, within the specialized sub-discipline of theistic ethics, there is a widespread view that the Euthyphro problem has been effectively enfeebled. Here are some examples of philosophers making claims to this effect:

the Euthyphro Dilemma has been, in our estimation and in that of many others, definitively answered in the recent literature . . . (Baggett and Walls, 6)

In light of these reasons, there seems to be no reason to take the Euthyphro dilemma seriously. (Copan 167)

It is my contention that what is generally construed as the Euthyphro Dilemma as a reason to deny that moral facts are based on theological facts is one of the worst arguments proposed in philosophy of religion or ethical theory, and that Socrates, the character of the dialogue who poses the dilemma, was both morally bankrupt in his challenge to Euthyphro, but more importantly here, ought to have lost the argument hands down. (Peoples, 65)

In short, a nuanced divine command theory can finally put Socrates’ troubling question to rest. Arguments for the autonomy of ethics can no longer rely on the Euthyphro problem to undermine the conceptual coherency of theistic approaches. (Milliken, 159)

I will argue that the Euthyphro dilemma represents no threat to the DCT. (Joyce, 50)

Adams’ version of a DCT evades this dilemma by holding that God is essentially good and that his commands are necessarily aimed at the good. This allows Adams to claim that God’s commands make actions obligatory (or forbidden), while denying that the commands are arbitrary. (Evans)

And here is a video of William Lane Craig articulating the view that the Euthyphro dilemma is not a problem for DCT:
 

The claims that Craig makes to the effect that the Euthyphro dilemma has been refuted, as well as the similar claims I quoted above are all deeply problematic. The Euthyphro dilemma, and the arguments it gives rise to are not some of the worst arguments proposed in ethics or philosophy of religion. The Euthyphro dilemma has not been definitively answered. There is no relevant third option available for defenders of DCT. And no modern version of DCT has been shown to effectively evade the dilemma. Indeed, my considered view is that no version of DCT can evade the problems associated with the Euthyphro Dilemma; that the dilemma poses a mortal threat to all versions of DCT, including modern versions defended by philosophers like Robert Adams, John Hare, C. Stephen Evans, and others. In a series of posts, I will carefully explain the dilemma, the different aspects of what is often called the “Euthyphro problem,” and the objections to divine command theories that the dilemma gives rise to. In addition, I will look at the most influential and significant responses that have been offered to the dilemma and show how and why these responses fail.
My goal in this introductory post is to carefully explain the nature of the dilemma. The dilemma comes from a question that provides two options that are mutually exclusive. I will explain the question, state and explain the two options for answering the question, and explain why the options are mutually exclusive.
As Craig says in the above video, the Euthyphro dilemma takes its name from one of Plato’s dialogues, Euthyphro. The central philosophical issue of the dialogue is the nature of piety. Euthyphro insists that he knows what piety is, which leads Socrates to ask Euthyphro to explain his account of what it is in order that they might put that account to the test. Thus, the initial question that guides the dialogue is, “What is the pious?” and Socrates makes it clear to Euthyphro that, in asking this question, he is looking for that characteristic (or characteristics) in virtue of which all pious things are pious.
The answer the Euthyphro gives, once he understands the question, is that the pious is what all the gods love. But Euthyphro’s answer, as it stands, is ambiguous. It is not clear whether Euthyphro intends to indicate merely that the gods love all pious things or, on the other hand, to indicate that the feature in virtue of which something is pious is that the gods love it. Only if Euthyphro intends the later has he provided the kind of account Socrates is looking for. To resolve the ambiguity, Socrates asks the following question:

Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (Plato, Grube (trans.), p. 12).

I will call this the Euthyphro Question (EQ). Though I will be offering an interpretation of EQ and an account of the meaning and significance of the question, I am not here interested in the role that Socrates’ question plays in the Euthyphro dialogue nor with offering an account of any argument that Socrates makes in the dialogue. Everything that I say with respect to interpreting what Socrates says is aimed at understanding EQ and not at getting Plato’s or Socrates’ argument right.
EQ presents two options, which options are mutually exclusive. That they are mutually exclusive is a point that I will return to, but for now let us get clear on what the options are. They are

(A) The pious is loved by the gods because it is pious.

and

(B) The pious is pious because it is loved by the gods.

There is one potentially interesting but, for our purposes, probably irrelevant issue that I will briefly mention and then set aside. As it appears in the dialogue, a natural interpretation would have it that Socrates’s question involves an attribution of the property of being pious to the form of the pious. Option (B), for example, seems to be saying that the form of the pious is itself pious because the gods love it. It is an interesting problem for Plato that the forms seem to exemplify the properties of which they are the forms; that, for example, the form of the good is itself good. The prospect that they do exemplify themselves yields a famous objection to Plato’s theory of the forms, namely the third man argument, which Plato raises and considers in his dialogue Parmenides. While this is an interesting argument (and has applications that extend beyond Plato’s theory of the Forms), it is not relevant to the Euthyphro dilemma. This is because, despite the wording of the question given above, we need not interpret Socrates as making any claim or asking any question that implies or assumes that the form of the pious is pious.
What Socrates is saying, in offering option (B), is not that the form of the pious is pious because the gods love it, but rather that a pious thing is pious because the gods love it. To eliminate this potential confusion, I suggest the following revised versions of (A) and (B):

(A1) Pious things are loved by the gods because they are pious.

(B1) Pious things are pious because they are loved by the gods.

With that potentially complicating issue out of the way, we can now turn our attention to clarifying what the two options are saying. As currently stated, the options can be misunderstood. EQ uses the word ‘because’ twice, once for each option, but importantly, ‘because’ does not have the same meaning in (A1) as it does in (B1). This is probably the most important point when it comes to understanding the Euthyphro dilemma: ‘Because’ is not univocal in (A1) and (B1).[2] The ‘because’ in option (A1) indicates motives or reasons while the ‘because’ in option (B1) indicates a making (or in-virtue-of) relation. To get clear on this distinction, notice that the two options are accounts of distinct phenomena, or, to put it slightly differently, the options are answers to different questions. Option (B1) is an attempted account of what it is that makes something pious. It is an attempt to answer the question, “In virtue of what is something pious?” or “What is the feature (or features) that makes something pious?”  Option (A1) does not attempt to answer this sort of question, rather, option (A1) is a proposed account of why the gods love pious things. It purports to answer the question, “Why do the gods love pious things?” or “For what reason do the gods love pious things?”
So now we have two questions that correspond to the two options in the dilemma. They are:

(Qa) For what reason do the gods love pious things?

(Qb) In virtue of what feature(s) is something pious?

Option (A1) is a proposed answer to (Qa). Option (B1) is a proposed answer to (Qb). Given this, we can see that the ‘because’ in option (A1) is not the same ‘because’ as that in (B1).
Let me say a bit more about the ‘because’ of (B1). When we say that some object, o, possesses some feature, f, because the object satisfies some other predicate, P, we are saying that o is f in virtue of the fact that o satisfies P. Another way of saying this is that what makes it the case that o is f is the fact that o is P. Thus, to say that something is pious because the gods love it is to say that an object is pious in virtue of the fact that the gods love it, or, equivalently, that what makes something pious is that it is loved by the gods. This in-virtue-of/making relation is not necessarily a causal relation. We should not think that Socrates is looking for a feature that causes pious things to be pious. Some making relations are causal relations, but not all. That is, while a causal relation is often a making relation, not all making relations are causal. When an umpire calls a pitch a strike, that makes it the case that it is a strike (it is a strike in virtue of the fact that the umpire called it a strike), but it would not be correct to say that the umpire’s calling it a strike causes it to be a strike. The upshot is that when Socrates ask what it is that pious things have in common in virtue of which they are pious, he is not asking for what causes them to be pious.
Thus, options (B1) can thus be reworded as follows:

(B2) Pious things are pious in virtue of the fact that the gods love them.

And option (A1) can be made more clear by rewording it as,

(A2) The reason that the gods love pious things is that they are pious.

These options are mutually exclusive. That is, if we accept option (A2) then we cannot accept option (B2) and if we accept (B2), then we cannot accept (A2).
And this leads us to the crux of the dilemma: if Euthyphro is offering an account of what makes something pious, then, on his view, something is pious in virtue of the fact that the gods love it. But if something is pious in virtue of the facts that the gods love it, then it cannot be that the gods love it because it is pious. On the other hand, if the gods love pious things because they are pious, then their being pious is logically prior to the god’s loving them; and therefore, things cannot be pious in virtue of the fact that the gods love them. To put it succinctly, option (A2) logically rules out options (B2) and option (B2) logically rules out option (A2).
In the context of the dialogue this is significant because, if Euthyphro maintains that (A2) is the correct answer to Socrates’ question (as in the dialogue, he does), then he has not offered an account of the pious. That is, if Euthyphro thinks that the reason that the gods love pious things is that they are pious, then, since on this option it cannot be that what makes something pious is that the gods love them, Euthyphro, in saying that the pious is what all the gods love has not thereby told us what all pious things have in common in virtue of which they are pious. This is a purely logical point: If the reason that the gods love a pious act is that it is pious, then the act’s being pious is logically prior to the gods’ loving it. And, if what makes an act pious is the fact that the gods love it, then the gods’ loving it is logically prior to its being pious.
I will offer two analogies that I hope will make this point clearer:
Example 1: Film Quality
Suppose you are talking about films and film quality with a friend and you want to know what the characteristics are that make a film good. Suppose your friend says something like, “Ultimately, a good film is one that I like.” You might ask, in the manner of Socrates,

(Qf) Do you like good films because they are good or are they good because you like them?

 For this question, the two options are

(C) You like good films because they are good.

Or, in other words,

(C1) The reason that you like good films is that they are good.

And

(D) Good films are good because you like them.

Or, in other words,

(D1) What makes a film good is the fact that you like it.

In asking (Qf), you are attempting to determine whether your friend is offering an account of what makes a film good or is merely indicating that she likes films when and because they are good. Option (D) offers an account of what makes a good film good. Option (C) offers an account of the reasons why your friend like good films. If your friend answers (Qf) with (C), then she has not answered your original question, which just was the question of what features make a film good. We know this because if the reason that she likes good films is that they are good, then their being good is logically prior to her liking them. On (C), a film must already be good before she likes it. If, on the other hand, what makes a film good is the fact that she likes it, then it cannot be that the reason that she likes it is that it is good. That is, if (D) is correct, then her liking a film is logically prior to its being good and thus its being good cannot be her reason for liking it. If there is a reason for her liking it, it must be something other than that it is good.
Example 2: To-do List
Henry has been presented with a list of things that need to be done around the house. The list includes tasks such as replacing a faulty electrical outlet, cleaning the kitchen floors, repairing the leaky bathroom faucet, etc. Suppose we ask,

(Qt) Are the tasks on the to-do list on the list because they need to be done or do they need to be done because they are on the to-do list?

For this question, the two possible answers are,

(E) The reason that the tasks are on the to-do list is that they need to be done.

(F) The tasks need to be done in virtue of the fact that they are on the list.

If the reason that a task is on the to-do list is that it needs to be done, then it cannot be that a task needs to be done in virtue of the fact that it is on the to-do list. And this for the purely logical point that if the reason that the task in on the list is that it needs to be done, then its being a task that needs to be done is logically prior to its being on the list.
If (E) is correct, then, as Henry tries to think of what additional tasks to add to the list, he will try to think of tasks that need to be done. And, as he discovers additional tasks that need to be done, he will add them to the list; and the reason that he will add them to the list is that they need to be done. But, precisely because of this, it cannot be that a task needs to be done in virtue of being on the list. It is only added to the list if it needs to be done; thus, its needing to be done must be logically prior to its being on the list.
In this example, (E) is obviously the correct answer, and (F) is implausible. But to understand the nature of the Euthyphro dilemma, we should consider (F) and its logical implications. Thus, if a task is something that needs to be done in virtue of the fact that it is on the list, then it cannot be that the reason it is added to the list is that it needs to be done. In this case, if Henry is considering what new tasks to add to the list, he cannot add a task to the list because this task needs to be done. That is, Henry’s reason for adding it to his list cannot be that the task needs to be done since nothing can appear on the list (and thus need to be done) until it is on the list. This is a purely logical point: a task is not one that needs to be done, on (F), unless and until it is on the list. On (F), Henry can add things to the list, but he cannot add them to the list because they need to be done. If he does add items to the list, he must add them to the list for some other reason than that they need to be done since, on (F) they are not tasks that need to be done prior to their being on the list.
Notice that if (F) were the correct option, then even if Henry do not know that (F) is correct, it cannot be that his reason for putting something on the list is that it needs to be done. And, again, this is for the purely logical point that, if some task’s needing to be done is for it to be on the list, nothing could be a task that needs to be done unless it was already on the list. Henry might think that the reason that he has added a task to the list is that it needs to be done, but since, on (F), what makes a task one that needs to be done is that it is on the list, it cannot be that a task’s needing to be done is a reason for (counts in favor of) its being on the list. And this is so, on (F), regardless of whether Henry knows this or not.
So, if (E) is true (F) cannot be true; and if (F) is true, (E) cannot be true.
EQ and DCT
I will close with some observations about how the (EQ) applies to DCT. Suppose we believe that our moral obligations are those actions that are commanded by God. We can ask, in the manner of Socrates,

Does God command that we perform morally obligatory actions because they are morally obligatory or are they morally obligatory because they are commanded by God?

The options for answering this question are:

(I) The reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory actions is that they are morally obligatory.

(II) Morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.

One important point is that these options are mutually exclusive. Just as with the two examples just discussed (and for the same reasons), if the first option is true, the second cannot be true and if the second option is true, the first cannot be true. And so, we have the following two claims:
Claim 1: If the reason that God commands that we perform morally obligatory action is that they are morally obligatory, then actions cannot be morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them.
Claim 2: If morally obligatory actions are morally obligatory in virtue of the fact that God commands that we perform them, then the reason that God commands that we perform them cannot be that they are morally obligatory.
No modern version of the divine command theory or defender of such theory has refuted Claim 1 or Claim 2. If the Euthyphro Dilemma has been defeated and/or effectively answered, it is not because Claims 1 and 2 have been shown to be false.
Since DCT accepts option (II), it follows from DCT and Claim 2 that the reason that God commands that we perform obligatory actions cannot be that they are morally obligatory. This is the source of the Euthyphro problem for DCT. It is unclear what reasons God could have for commanding that we do something other than that it is morally required. Since DCT rules this out, it appears that DCT might imply that God can have no reasons for his commands. I will discuss this issue in my next post.
 


[1] ‘Theological voluntarism’ is the name for the class of moral theories that ground moral properties in the will of God. ‘Divine command theory’ names of a class of voluntaristic theories that ground moral properties in God’s commands. The Euthyphro problem is a problem for all versions of theological voluntarism, but in this series, I will be focusing on versions of DCT.
[2] S. Marc Cohen provides a good explanation of the equivocal nature of the word ‘because’ in the Euthyphro dilemma in his “Socrates and the Definitions of Piety: Euthyphro 10A-11B.”


Works Cited
Baggett, D. and Walls, J. (2011). Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality. Oxford University Press.
Cohen, S. M. “Socrates and the Definitions of Piety: Euthyphro 10A-11B.” Reprinted in The Philosophy of Socrates. Gregory Vlastos (ed.) University of Notre Dame Press, 1971
Copan, Paul. “The Moral Argument,” in The Rationality of Theism. Paul Copan and Paul K. Moser (eds.) New York: Routledge, 2003.
Copan, P. and Moser, P. K. (2003) The Rationality of Theism, New York: Routledge.
Evans, C. Stephen, “Moral Arguments for the Existence of God”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/moral-arguments-god
Joyce, Richard (2002). “Theistic Ethics and the Euthyphro Dilemma.” Journal of Religious Ethics 30 (1):49-75.
Milliken, J. (2009). “Euthyphro, the Good, and the Right.” Philosophia Christi 11 (1):149-159.
Peoples, G. (2010). A NEW EUTHYPHRO. Think, 9(25), 65-83. doi:10.1017/S1477175610000084
Plato, (2002 ) Five Dialogues: Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, Meno, Phaedo, G.M.A. Grube (trans.) Hackett Publishing company.

bookmark_borderMorality does not depend on the existence of God

Some people believe (or claim to believe) that if God does not exist, then there are no objective moral truths (e.g., truths about what we are morally obligated to do or refrain from doing). This claim is false as the following argument shows:
(1) Torturing a child causes the child to experience severe suffering.
(2) Torturing a child violates the child’s consent (that is, it is not possible for the child to rationally consent to being tortured).
(3) That torturing a child causes severe suffering is a reason to not torture children.
(4) That torturing a child violates the child’s consent is a reason to not torture children.
Thus,
(5) There are reasons to not torture children
(6) Torturing a child would cause severe suffering even if God does not exist.
(7) Torturing a child would violate the child’s consent even if God does not exist.
Thus,
(8) There would be reasons to not torture children even if God does not exist.
(9) These reasons are so powerful as to be overriding (that is, they are stronger than and cancel the force of any other reasons that might exist that count in favor of torture).
(10) These reasons also concern the welfare and autonomy of persons.
Thus,
(11) There are overriding reasons, concerning the welfare and autonomy of persons, to not torture children, and that exist even if God does not exist.
(12) If there are overriding reasons, concerning the welfare and autonomy of persons, to not engage in some action, then this action is morally wrong.
Therefore,
(13) There are some actions that are morally wrong even if God does not exist.

bookmark_borderMatthew Flannagan and Jason Thibodeau Discuss the Euthyphro Dilemma

On Saturday (9/22) I was privileged to join Matthew Flannagan for a dialogue about the Euthyphro dilemma. Cameron Bertuzzi of Capturing Christianity hosted the dialogue and livestreamed it from the Capturing Christianity YouTube channel. I did my best to explain why I think that there are some compelling Euthyphro-inspired objections to divine command theory, and Matthew offered powerful and thoughtful responses to these objections. In my humble opinion the conversation was thorough, thoughtful, and friendly. It is one of the most rewarding conversations I have had about the Euthyphro problem.
Many of the regular readers out The Secular Outpost will know that Matthew is an expert in the field of theistic ethics (you can watch one of his lectures about divine command theory and the Euthyphro problem here.)  He is the co-author, with Paul Copan, of Did God Really Command Genocide? He and I have had some exchanges about Euthyphro and divine command theory here at the Secular Outpost and also at his blog (see, e.g., here and here). I have always had a great deal of respect for the intellectual rigor he brings to any discussion. I learned a great deal from Matthew during this conversation (as well as in our previous exchanges) and I want to thank him for sharing his considerable knowledge and intellectual talents.
I also want to thank Cameron for hosting this discussion and for the work he does at Capturing Christianity, which brings together theists and non-thesists in friendly dialogue. He regularly hosts very good conversations about topics in the philosophy of religion, apologetics, and counter-apologetics.
You can watch the entire discussion below.