The Contingency of Commands

by Max Andrews

The ethical realist objector [to DCT] claims that it is possible for God to command rape in some possible world, or in an impossible world close to the actual world, making it obligatory for all moral agents, whereas rape is still morally bad in that same world, thus, making DCT arbitrary and is defeated.

The nonstandard semantics objection to the arbitrariness of DCT suggests that there is an impossible world, however close to the actual world, in which God commands rape or the torture of innocent children.  Approaching the objection from an explanandum-driven consideration, would a contingent command be an adequate objection?

Consider the following contingencies of a command:

(CONTCOM)   ∀ϕ[(◊~Cgϕ) ∙ (◊Cgϕ)]

(CONTCOMʹ)   ∀ϕ[(◊~Cg~ϕ) ∙ (◊Cg~ϕ)]

The objector to divine command theory assumes that ϕ can be any command and could thus look like:

(CONTCOM″)   ∀ϕ[(◊~Cgϕ ∙ ◊~Cg~ϕ) ∙ (◊Cgϕ ∙ ◊Cg~ϕ)]

(CONTCOM‴)   ∀ρ[(◊~Cgρ ∙ ◊~Cg~ρ) ∙ (◊Cgρ ∙ ◊Cg~ρ)]

Conceding the use of impossible world semantics, the command ρ is counteressential to God.  God cannot arbitrarily concoct the commands if it is counteressentially false.  Thus, CONTCOM is contingently true depending on whether or not ϕ can be predicated to God as being essentially true.[1]  The first conjunct merely suggests the silence of God whereas the second conjunct is contingent on its essential relationship to God.  ϕ could mean any action of love, which would be a true contingent command of CONTCOM whereas it would be false CONTCOMʹ because to not-love is counteressential to God.  The same is conversely true with rape (ρ). CONTCOMʹ is a true command if ~ρ is essentially true to God; thus, a prohibition.

Recall the obligatory and abstention commands:

(RIGHT)                     ∀ϕ☐(Rϕ ≣ Cgϕ)

(WRONG)                  ∀ϕ☐(Wϕ ≣ Cg~ϕ)

As long as ϕ is essential to God’s goodness then RIGHT is a command that makes ϕ necessarily obligatory.  If ϕ is counteressential to God’s goodness (i.e. rape, ρ), then ϕ is necessarily prohibited and equivalent to WRONG. The contingency of DCT is only applicable to whether or not God chooses to reveal such commands or remains silent.  The objection also tries to divide the ontological and epistemic relationship to moral goodness.  These essential truths are necessary truths, which retain ontological foundation within God.

[1] At this point, given the formulation for the contingency of a command, CONTCOM and CONTCOMʹ could appear to be indistinguishable.  Let’s use ϕ to represent love and ρ to represent rape.  To translate CONTOM using love, it would read:  For all actions of love, it is possible for God not to command love and it is possible for God to command love.  The first conjunct is certainly possible render the existence of God and God remains silent and issues no such commands.  CONTCOMʹ, still using love, would read:  For all actions of love, it is possible for God not to command not-love and it is possible for God to command not-love.  The model of contingency that the objector would purport would be CONTCOM″ since it renders a conjunct of the negations between CONTCOM and CONTCOMʹ.  CONTCOM″ thus purports that whatever ϕ may represent, it is inessential to God, hence the arbitrariness.  CONTCOM‴ is an example of what this would look like if rape were command.  There would both be possible and impossible worlds in which the contingency of the command, arbitrarily contrived, is commanded.

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