Taking God Seriously, but Not Too Seriously: The Divine Command Theory and William James’s ‘The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life’

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Abstract

While some scholars neglect the theological component to William James’s ethical views in “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life,” Michael Cantrell reads it as promoting a divine command theory (DCT) of the foundations of moral obligation. While Cantrell’s interpretation is to be commended for taking God seriously, he goes a little too far in the right direction. Although James’s view amounts to what could be called (and what Cantrell does call) a DCT because on it God’s demands are necessary and sufficient for the highest obligations, this is a view with characteristics unusual for a DCT. It only holds for some obligations; on it moral obligation does not derive from God’s authority; it is not obvious that James believes the God required by it even exists; we do not know what God’s demands are; and, finally, since we do not know them, we cannot act on them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalWilliam James Studies
Volume10
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

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