Religious Studies



A psychological constraint on obedience to God's commands: the reasonableness of obeying the abhorrently evil


JAMES D.  RISSLER  a1
a1 Department of Philosophy, 100 Malloy Hall, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556

Abstract

Robert Adams, in Finite and Infinite Goods: A Framework for Ethics, suggests a moral constraint on our obedience to God's commands: if a purportedly divine command seems abhorrently evil, then we should infer that it is not really God so commanding. I suggest that in light of his commitments to God as the standard of goodness, to the transcendence of God, and to a critical stance towards ethics, Adams should be willing to consider the possibility of a good God commanding us to do something that seems abhorrently evil to us, but really is good according to His transcendent goodness. I suggest that the ought-to-is moral constraint that Adams advocates is only appropriate when we are not certain that it is God giving the command, and that an is-to-ought constraint based on psychological certainty should be the ultimate constraint on our obedience to purportedly divine commands. This constraint advocates that if one is certain upon reflection that a command is from God, then one should obey that command, regardless of how evil it seems. After responding to several objections to this psychological constraint, I offer my own qualification, according to which it is appropriate to disobey a command that one is certain is from God if one cannot conceive that the command is good. Finally, I offer some reason to think that, contrary to Adams's assertions, the project of considering how to react to a purportedly divine command that also seems abhorrently evil is worth both philosophic and spiritual energy.