Does Morality Require God?

The night of December 9, 2008, I had dinner at the P.R. Grill in Pentagon City with Drs. K.H.K. and W.J.K., as well as with I.K.. An animated dinner conversation accompanied the good food. This post is a follow-up to one of the topics covered.

For I.K.

I had said before dinner (before Drs. K.H.K. and W.J.K. joined us) that I didn’t know whether this question had been scientifically studied before. Today, as I was going through my electronic notes, I discovered that a related article had been recently published in the online journal Slate. Here’s the article; it refers to this paper in the very prominent journal Science.

I also mentioned that back in college, I took a religion course (I remember it was Religion 215, but I don’t remember the name of the course) taught by Professor Jeffrey Stout. Looks like he’s still at Princeton. I also mentioned that I thought I saw his name on an office door at the religion department in Yale University, about four years ago, when I took an SPM course held there (Dr. K.H.K. took this course with me!).

No. I must have seen the name of Professor Harry Stout. I wonder whether they are related.

Now, where was I? (I seem to be losing my Markov chain of thought here…) Oh yeah. In this course, Dr. J. Stout challenged the students with an interesting device he called MacIntyre’s Fork; I believe this fork is due to the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. The idea is as follows:

If something is moral just because a deity says it is, then morality becomes rather arbitrary (the “Divine Command Theory of Ethics”); the deity is a sort of legislator of morality. If the deity says that you must kill, then killing, by definition, is moral.

On the other hand, if something can be moral without the deity’s say-so, then the deity isn’t required for morality. The deity might instead act as an enforcer of morality.

So which is it? Deity as legislator, or deity as enforcer?

Apparently, Plato addressed the question 2,000 years ago, in his first Dialogue, Euthyphro, so it’s known as the Euthyphro Dilemma. In Euthyphro, Socrates (at least, the character Socrates as depicted by Plato), awaiting his trial, poses the dilemma to a fellow Athenian.

I just love those ancient Greek philosopher guys. They were really smart.

(Note to self: I will also need to explore this.)

Finally, what is the difference between morality and ethics? Can something be ethical without being moral? Can something be moral without being ethical? To my modern ears, the word moral seems burdened with ponderous political baggage, whereas the word ethical seems lighter and free of these secondary connotations, and therefore seems less politically charged.

Published in: on 14 December 2008 at 2:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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