An Examination of the Argument from Theology to Ethics

Philosophy 22 (81):3 - 24 (1947)


It is not infrequently said that the true justification of moral beliefs lies in theology. I wish here to examine precisely what is meant by this contention, and by what arguments, if any, it can be substantiated. The view I am examining is not that the only valid reason for doing what is right is a theological reason ; as if we could know independently of theology what was right, but required a theological motive to make it reasonable to do it. It is rather that the very fact that it is right is logically dependent on certain facts of a theological nature; or, to express the matter otherwise, that from certain theological propositions it is possible validly to draw certain conclusions in the form of propositions which state what I ought to do, and that this fact is the source of the validity of these latter propositions. This, however, is not yet a sufficiently precise account of the theory in question, since it might cover a number of different contentions, some of which I think may be reasonably maintained, while others, I think, may not. I propose to work towards a clearer formulation by considering certain arguments which have been advanced in order to deny outright the very possibility of arguing validly “from theology to ethics”; for I do believe that these arguments prove something , and rule out certain theories as untenable

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