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Social Contract Theory vs Divine Command Theory: Examining Ethical Approaches to Morality

Faith Brock | 13 September, 2021

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Some of the issues with the view on morality is what worldview the general public takes. If morality lies in humanism, then morality is subjective, wholly reliant upon constructive norms of a given culture. However, if morality is reliant upon an objective, holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient God, then moral absolutes exist. This post will examine three ethical approaches to morality: social contract theory, divine command theory, and moral realism. 

Social Contract Theory

Social contract theory states that morality is the product of a mutual agreement amongst members of any given society that constitute the society’s functionality.

The name implies that there is an unwritten agreement (contract) with neighbors. This ethical theory is founded on the roots of cultural relativism where morality is at the mercy of social constructs. These “agreements” amongst society can change depending on location, trends, and heritage. Goodness is a verdict stemming from societal common sense, a pool of knowledge.

 

Divine Command Theory

Divine Command theory states that morality exists because God commands it to be so (Jones, 2017, p.97). This theory illustrates that since God is omnipotent, He commands (wills) morality, and thus morality originates with God. 

What Social Contract Theory and Divine Command Theory Have in Common

Social contract theory and divine command theory both illuminate the need for morality but have drastic origins for this innate sense of right and wrong and the recognition of others, external of self.  Principles regarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are both indirectly mentioned in both theories. Social Contract Theory argues that society determines the extent of life, liberty, and happiness by external laws upheld by government where divine command theory illustrates this by internal laws that are determined from an intelligent Creator. In a socially contracted society, for example, life, liberty and happiness are kept in balance by exercising self-control (not trespassing, not playing music too loud, etc.). Under the divine command theory, inward principles of morality are shown to trickle into the external, showing revere for others by not trespassing and being mindful of other’s preferences. However, there is a pitfall to both theories.

 

The Pitfall of Social Contract Theory

Social Contract Theory does not specify moral law aside of societal preferences. For example, author Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) had pedophile tendencies due to insecurities that arose from body deformities where he found acceptance from minor girls. In his European society, the idea of taking nude photographs of children and making them public (with the consent of their parents) did not pose any questions since he gained the approval from authority.

The Pitfall of Divine Command Theory

In contrast, Divine Command Theory would state that this is inevitably wrong due to putting others at risk and causing mental and bodily harm while promoting mental illness. The question of morality is what determines objective morality for societies, if preferences change from person to person. The pitfall of Divine Command Theory lies in the “Euthyphro Dilemma” (Jones, 2017, p. 100) where God’s morality is tied to ideas He deems holy or if these ideas are holy because God is holy. “’God’s will is determined by what is moral’ does not explain how ‘what is moral’ got to be moral in the first place’” (Jones, 2017, p. 100).

 

Which Ethical Theory Is the Stronger Argument?

The stronger of the two ethical theories is Divine Command Theory since there is an objective moral judge not bound within preference. Preference is not considered evidence due to bias and cannot be used to make judgments. Although both theories have their downfalls, Divine Command Theory shows that morality has eternally existed, and not created upon the construction of a society. Moral realism would be a solution to these two theories to form a modified Divine Command Theory known as Divine Nature Theory as this theory states that “moral principles are an immaterial part of reality that exist even though they cannot be seen or felt” (Jones, 2017, p. 102), like God cannot be physically seen. Sensation and perception are closely linked with moral theism and provide physical proof to Divine Command Theory in terms of the intricate nature of perception: “the detailed process of interpreting and making sense of a combination of sensations” (George et al, 2020, p. 97)

 

References

George, Shawn, Kelly, Brian, & Piferi, Rachel (2020) Introduction to Psychology from a

Christian Worldview.Kendall Hunt Publishing Company; Dubuque, IA

Jones, Michael S. Moral Reasoning: An Intentional Approach to Distinguishing Right from Wrong (2017)Kendall Hunt Publishing Company; Dubuque, IA

 

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