Taxonomy of Theistic Meta-Ethics

For years, I’ve been looking for a taxonomy of theistic meta-ethical theories. Since I have been unable to find one, I’ve attempted to create one myself. I consider this a work in progress, so if you spot any errors or omissions, please let me know and I will update the post accordingly.

  • Theistic Theories of Deontological Properties (e.g., obligatory, permissible, forbidden)
    • Divine Command Theory (DCT-D): Deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s relevant commands. (Ockham)
      • Modified Divine Command Theory (MDCT-D): Deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in the relevant commands of a loving God. (Adams 1973, 1979, 1999)
    • Divine Will Theory (DWT): a view of deontological properties according to which, for instance, an agent S’s obligation to perform action A in circumstances C is grounded in God’s will that S A in C. Divine will theory does not specify which kind of mental state is supposed to ground S’s obligation; it could be God’s desires, beliefs, intentions, or emotions.(Miller 2008)
      • Divine Intention Theory (DIT): Deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s relevant intentions. (Murphy 1998; Quinn 2000, 2002)
      • Divine Motivation Theory (DMT) : Deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s relevant motivations. (Zagzebski)
      • Divine Desire Theory (DDT): Deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s relevant desires. (Brody 1976?; Wierenga 1983?; Miller 2008)
      • Divine Attitude Theory (DAT): Deontological properties are metaphysically grounded in (and identical to) God’s attitudes towards agents (e.g. an action’s moral wrongness consists in its being such that God would be displeased with a person who performs it). (Jordan 2009)
  • Theistic Theories of Axiological Properties (e.g., goodness, badness)
    • Divine Nature Theory (DNT): Axiological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s nature (or character). (Lovell 2003)
    • Divine Command Theory of Moral Values (DCT-A): Axiological properties are metaphysically grounded in God’s relevant commands. (Mawson 2002; the name for this theory is mine, not Mawson’s)
    • Divine Theory of Moral Goodness:  God himself is the ultimate standard of moral goodness. (Aquinas?, Alston 1990; the name for this theory is mine, not Aquinas’s or Alston’s)

References may be found in the “Bibliography on Religion and Morality.”

ETA 9-Dec-12: Added “Divine Attitude Theory”
ETA 21-Dec-12: Added “Divine Command Theory of Moral Values (DCT-A)”. Renamed the abbreviations for the divine command theories of obligation to DCT-D and MDCT-D.

A Primer in Religion and Morality
Jonathan MS Pearce on Christianity and Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism
Kai Nielsen on Natural Law and Divine Command Theory
A Moral Argument for God which Begs the Question against Theists
About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.


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