A few years ago my article “The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Ethics” was published. In it, I address a particular objection to a divine command theory of ethics. That objection is as follows: If the property of being morally required is the same as the property of being commanded by God, then people who do not believe in God cannot know that they have moral obligations, since they do not know that they have been commanded by God. But it’s part of the nature of moral obligations that people understand why they have them. So let’s reject a divine command theory of ethics. An epistemological argument is one that is concerned with what a person knows (or whether or not they can know something) and how they know it. In the process of making the argument I name a few philosophers who have made variants of this argument, but I focus mostly on Wes Morriston’s argument due to its detail and care.1
I don’t think this argument is compelling and in the article I explain why. Rather than rehearse the arguments here, I invite the reader to read the article.
One of my favourite atheist writers on meta-ethics and all-round nice guy, Erik Wielenberg alleges that I miss the point of Morriston’s argument (so much for being a nice guy, jerk). He says that I miss the point of Morriston’s argument, “mistakenly construing Morriston’s argument as an epistemological objection to divine command theory.”2 Really, says Wielenberg, Morriston does not offer an epistemological objection, but a metaphysical objection according to which reasonable non-believers would not even have moral obligations if a divine command theory were correct.
- Wes Morriston, “The Moral Obligations of Reasonable Non-believers: A special problem for divine command metaethics,” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 65 (2009), 1-10.
- Wielenberg, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 79.