Thesis Statement

The tenets of the book would have been slightly different if the author had adhered to more fundamental aspect of the assumptions and theories.

1. In the beginning of the text, Rachels tries to explain two minimal conditions necessary to hold an ethical theory to be right.  The attempt itself is very heroic, with many definitions existing, and none of them covering all the aspects needed. With the help of the example of Baby Theresa who was born without the auxiliary functions of the brain, she states the case of the inadequacy of ethical laws. She also uses two other examples. Then she puts forward the dictums that ethical judgments must be backed by sound reasoning and morality requires the impartial consideration of all the parties considered.  This according to her is the minimum conception needed for moral decision making.

These two factors are really very important and are the very minimum needed. Consequently, I would completely agree to it.  But, for a text book that is to be followed by children in the philosophy classes, it needs to be more objective.   It is subjective and depends on the judgment of individuals as to what is impartial and sound reasoning.  What impartiality is, cannot be expressed easily for every situation as, every dogma or theory of morality has its roots in certain cultures and certain backgrounds which would certainly have an influence on the norms laid down. Likewise, he who negates these laws also would have certain arguments based on the culture in which he is brought up. What I mean to say is that Cultural Relativism may be applicable to the person who is trying to judge an instance. So also another factor is to be considered. Ignorance as far it goes may play on the persons who interpret the moral law.  For, each situation must be interpreted in itself, and misinformation may lead conclusions of the interpreter in the wrong direction.

2. The Divine Command Theory states that What God commands is what is morally right what God forbids is morally wrong.  Here God is the Creator, the all-good One. It means to say that a life where there is no good and bad consequences in the afterlife people have less reason to be good.  The values in peoples lives are always based on some sort of meaningfulness. Consequently, if there is no meaningfulness in this life, there would be a lack of values, and a world without God would be a meaningless world.  This means the concept of ethics should not be based on any personal set of feelings but on Gods law.  It is this view point of DCT that comes under fire from Rachels. Rachels is trying to bring out the fact that the American concept of ethics is based on what the clergy and religious officials think. They even influence whether a movie is to be given a U or PG-13 or PG-15.

Rachels objects with What about atheists  Often we find atheists also to be good people like any other.  They are good fathers, relatives and contributors to the society.  On the other hand, often theists and the deeply religious people are bad.   They are intolerant, self-righteous, insensitive and overly judgmental.  It is not necessary that a Godless world should be meaningless.  Rachels quotes Socrates Euthyphro question. Does God command it because it is good or is it good because God commands it. If the answer to the former question is yes then there is no longer the DCT, then they must have been good before God commanded them.  So goodness is not what is commanded by God.  If the latter is right, then goodness becomes very arbitrary, and it cannot be depended upon.  God could have commanded mayhem and murder rather than love and mercy.  Thus Rachels goes on to prove that DCT is untenable because it is self-refuting and unacceptably arbitrary.  

3.  I personally would like to differ from Rachels in this viewpoint.  Though what he says is correct on the surface, it seems that he did not understand the basic assumptions of the theory.  The first assumption is that God is good. It does not mean God is like good like you and me.  He is the measuring scale on which goodness of DCT can be measured. Morality is not mentioned in the bible, not because there is no morality in those commands, but the very word morality is defined by those commands.  This means that Gods commands cannot be arbitrary because there is no independent moral point of view from which those commands can be assessed.   Thus DCT can be understood in a better light.  It is that the law is given so that there would be awareness of sin. (Romans 77).  It is thus understood that the DCT when approached only via its basic tenets will hold good.   It is understood that a person with faith in God would unquestioningly obey what God commands.  He would not hesitate over what is moral and what is immoral.  If a person considers whether what God commanded is moral or immoral it would imply that when he undertook what he did, he did not completely grasp the gravity of what his faith demanded of him.  If the professed person faithful to God would only obey what he feels to be moral and would disobey what he feels to be immoral, then such faith would be meaningless.

4.  Cultural Relativism is another important and relevant topic discussed by Rachels in his book.  The mannerisms and codes of different cultures in the world are unique. Arguably, they cannot be compared with each other, advantageously or disadvantageously. If we judge that one cultures way of living is better than another, it would be way off the truth.  As they are all just different and every standard is bound to the culture in question. To illustrate this, Rachels compares the Greek idea of burying the father after death, with the ideal of Callatians.  They eat their father after death.  Eskimos practice crime or infanticide, which may be considered wrong by many.
One problem with cultural relativism is that it would not come out very successful at an argument, as I indicated in the above paragraph.  Also some of the practices, in different cultures are to be negated.  To think that it is explainable under cultural diversity would be catastrophic, when it comes to matters like, say, genocide.  All cultures do share some values that help its survival.  We are all akin to caring our young, averse to murder and place some value on telling the truth.  Such universal rules are necessary for the society to exist. But the twist is that we should not allow this assumption to impose our cultural views on anothers views.  It implies there are both positive and negative aspects, when we try to see things in a culturally more open way.

Thus we have come across some fundamental flaws, which may easily be overlooked when compared with the simplicity and easy to understand language of the book. But the interesting thing about the book is that it turns to real life examples about what the theories mean.  Another advantage of the book is that even though prescribed as a textbook in Philosophy, it does not read like a text book at all.  It would have been a much better read if the tenets and the DCT were dealt with in a more careful manner.


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