A Brief Thought About Ethics

This seems to be a correct analysis of natural law and divine command theory:

NL: An act is right or wrong because it does or does not go against proper function of a person’s physical body.
DCT: An act is right or wrong because it does or does not go against God’s will or nature.

Which thesis is supposed to correctly point us to the truth or falsity of moral statements? If it’s both, what does this mean for statements that only one of these apply to, or statements that these apply differently to? If it’s one or the other, how do we tell when to apply which one?

If the above is a correct analysis of the backing of NL and DCT, I think there’s a conflict when we look at things like worship of God. DCT would likely say that worship is obligatory in some way – but NL would say merely that its permissible. The obligation to worship cannot be drawn out from any natural law or proper function. According to NL, it’s ok to not worship God.

Does this seem correct? If not, how can NL and DCT be reconciled?

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6 responses to “A Brief Thought About Ethics”

  1. Tafacory says :

    I hate to say this, but I believe it depends on one’s priorities, or perspective. Regarding a person’s life here on Earth, NL seems to be much more pragmatic. Yet if a person is more concerned about the afterlife, then DCT and Pascal’s Wager make a strong case against NL. What do you think? Which is a better system of ethics?

    • Robert says :

      Hmm, I’m not so sure; as DCT seems to (usually) include statements about one’s life on Earth. Love your neighbor as yourself, thou shalt not steal, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc. In fact I’d even venture so far as to say that DCT says more about life here than about the afterlife, at least in terms of bare numbers.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Tafacory says :

    I’m sorry. I wrote that reply late last night. I was thinking more generally along the lines of theism vs atheism. I stand corrected. DCT does provide numerous rules for this life. Regarding the question you raise, it depends on the definitions of proper function but you could say that NL emulates the Bible is urging people to treat their bodies like temples so as to avoid sickness and sin.

    • Robert says :

      Regarding the question you raise, it depends on the definitions of proper function but you could say that NL emulates the Bible is urging people to treat their bodies like temples so as to avoid sickness and sin.

      I’d agree. But if this is true, it leaves NL in a precarious position; as it’s often employed in a political climate as a secular option for arguing against things like same-sex marriage, contraception, etc.

  3. Tafacory says :

    So would you consider the examples you listed as going against the proper maintenance of one’s temple? How are contraception and same-sex marriage harmful?

    • Robert says :

      Hmm, I guess I should have been clearer in my original post. I’m not saying those things are harmful at all (in fact I’m all for them!). I’m also not advocating NL or DCT – I’m just pointing to a tension between them.

      The proponents of NL are often religious, and posit NL as a means to argue against these things in the political sphere without invoking religion. But if a consistent NL argument requires religious concerns (i.e. sin), they can’t make this move.

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