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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Epistemology, Communication and Divine Command Theory

By John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally posted July 21, 2015

I have written about the epistemological objection to divine command theory (DCT) on a previous occasion. It goes a little something like this: According to proponents of the DCT, at least some moral statuses (like the fact that X is forbidden, or that X is bad) depend for their existence on God’s commands. In other words, without God’s commands those moral statuses would not exist. It would seem to follow that in order for anyone to know whether X is forbidden/bad (or whatever), they would need to have epistemic access to God’s commands. That is to say, they would need to know that God has commanded X to be forbidden/bad. The problem is that there is a certain class of non-believers — so-called ‘reasonable non-believers’ — who don’t violate any epistemic duties in their non-belief. Consequently, they lack epistemic access to God’s commands without being blameworthy for lacking this access. For them, X cannot be forbidden or bad.

This has been termed the ‘epistemological objection’ to DCT, and I will stick with that name throughout, but it may be a bit of a misnomer. This objection is not just about moral epistemology; it is also about moral ontology. It highlights the fact that at least some DCTs include a (seemingly) epistemic condition in their account of moral ontology. Consequently, if that condition is violated it implies that certain moral facts cease to exist (for at least some people). This is a subtle but important point: the epistemological objection does have ontological implications.

The blog post is here.