Ethics and Religion: Objectives and Readings

In Week 8, we read about the connection, if any, between ethics and religion. You recall that in philosophy we do not take for granted any claims about the existence or nature of God. Philosophers do not say there is no God, or that the claims of religion are false. The game in philosophy is simply to see how much progress we can make on these matters using reason alone, without invoking any religious presuppositions. (There is a parallel tradition of "natural theology" — it used to be an important part of philosophy, in fact — that tries to get answers to theological questions using reason alone, unaided by Scripture or revelation.)

The theories of ethics explored in this chapter (Divine Command and Natural Law) are not "living options" for most contemporary philosophers. It isn't that most contemporary philosophers are atheists; rather most are convinced that there is nothing reasonable that can be said about religious matters. (Note this is not saying religious claims are false. Instead, this is the far more subtle view that religous claims are incomprehensible. You might be surprised to learn that many theologians agree.)


After studying this material, you should be able to:

  1. Write the answer to Question 4 of the Midterm Exam. (Start NOW).
  2. Explain both versions of the Divine Command theory, and why both versions pose problems for believers;

  3. Explain the traditional religious "natural law" theory;

  4. Explain how a secular "natural law" could be a basis for ethics.

Week 8 Divine command theories JR Ch 4
Natural law theory Ethics and Religion


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