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Thread: On divine commands and moral judgments

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    tWebber
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    On divine commands and moral judgments

    An interesting paper I read awhile back on children of theist parents figuring out what's morally right and morally wrong in the context of divine commands:

    Nucci, Larry, and Elliott Turiel. "God's Word, Religious Rules, and Their Relation to Christian and Jewish Children's Concepts of Morality." Child Development 64.5 (1993): 1475-91.

    One point this paper illustrates that even theistic children can, and do, think of moral obligations as distinct from God's commands, instead view moral obligations as being based on secular grounds that don't require God's existence.

    Nucci's sample included children from the following religious communities: 64 from Amish-Mennonite groups, 64 from Dutch Reformed Calvinism (1477), 64 from conservative Judaism, and 32 from orthodox Judaism (1484). Here are some relevant quotations from the paper:

    "It was expected that subjects from each denomination would judge nonmoral religious rules, but not moral rules, as contingent on the authority of God. Two types of questions were posed to assess this dimension. The first posed a variant of the rule contingency criterion employed in studies regarding secular moral and conventional issues. Subjects were asked whether the right or wrong of a given action was contingent on the presence or absence of a specific command from God regulating the behavior. The second type of question was derived from the dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, which turned on what is known as the "open question." Put simply, the open question asks the following: "God commands X, but is X right?" [emphasis added] According to the philosopher Nielsen (1973), answering the question may require criteria for the good that are independent of God's word. We asked children whether God's commands could make right something (stealing) that most children treated as morally wrong. It was hypothesized that children would reject the notion that God's commands would make stealing morally right and would reject the notion that God would command people to steal as a normative behavior. We anticipated that children's answers would reflect their efforts to coordinate conceptions of moral issues in terms of the effects on persons of such actions with their conceptions of God as omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect (1476-7) []

    The results from Study 1 provide evidence that Amish-Mennonite children's conceptions of morality are not reducible to their knowledge of or adherence to religious rules. Consonant with prior research with Catholic subjects (Nucci, 1982), the Amish-Mennonite and Dutch Reform Calvinist children evaluated moral issues in terms of justice and welfare considerations, rather than precepts of the Bible or positions taken by religious authorities [emphasis added]. As did the Catholics, the Amish-Mennonite children generalized moral issues, and viewed moral rules as unalterable by religious authorities. They also viewed the status of moral transgressions as noncontingent on God's word. Furthermore, most of the Dutch Reform Calvinist children responded that God's command would not make stealing right. These findings indicate that children from these groups maintain a distinct moral position based on justice and welfare criteria from which they apprehend the moral aspects of the Christian God [emphasis added].

    In contrast with their view of moral issues, the Amish-Mennonite subjects viewed the nonmoral precepts of their religion to be relative to their religion and contingent on God's word as evidenced in the Bible (1483) []

    Findings from Study 2 demonstrated that the conceptual differentiation between morality and religious prescription is made by Jewish children, as well as the Amish-Mennonites and the Dutch Reform Calvinists. Issues of morality were conceptualized by Conservative and Orthodox children and adolescents in terms of the impact actions had on the welfare of others, and not as a function of religious prescriptions or commands from God [emphasis added]. As with the subjects in Study 1, this differentiation between morality and religious prescription was maintained in responses to the "open question." The great majority of both groups of Jewish subjects held that a commandment from God could not make an unjust or harmful act morally right [emphasis added]. As anticipated, there were denominational differences in responses to the nonmoral issues (1489)."

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    tWebber Chrawnus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jichard View Post
    An interesting paper I read awhile back on children of theist parents figuring out what's morally right and morally wrong in the context of divine commands:

    Nucci, Larry, and Elliott Turiel. "God's Word, Religious Rules, and Their Relation to Christian and Jewish Children's Concepts of Morality." Child Development 64.5 (1993): 1475-91.

    One point this paper illustrates that even theistic children can, and do, think of moral obligations as distinct from God's commands, instead view moral obligations as being based on secular grounds that don't require God's existence.
    It illustrates that theistic children can, and do, think of moral obligations as distinct from God's commands, but that does not mean that the grounds they base moral obligations on to be secular. A theist could easily argue that we think questions of welfare and justice are important when making moral considerations because God has designed us to think that questions of welfare and justice are important, in which case these grounds are not ultimately secular, but religious. If God had designed us to think that other factors were important then we would use those factors when considering the moral course of action to take.


    Quote Originally Posted by Jichard View Post
    Nucci's sample included children from the following religious communities: 64 from Amish-Mennonite groups, 64 from Dutch Reformed Calvinism (1477), 64 from conservative Judaism, and 32 from orthodox Judaism (1484). Here are some relevant quotations from the paper:

    "It was expected that subjects from each denomination would judge nonmoral religious rules, but not moral rules, as contingent on the authority of God. Two types of questions were posed to assess this dimension. The first posed a variant of the rule contingency criterion employed in studies regarding secular moral and conventional issues. Subjects were asked whether the right or wrong of a given action was contingent on the presence or absence of a specific command from God regulating the behavior. The second type of question was derived from the dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro, which turned on what is known as the "open question." Put simply, the open question asks the following: "God commands X, but is X right?" [emphasis added] According to the philosopher Nielsen (1973), answering the question may require criteria for the good that are independent of God's word. We asked children whether God's commands could make right something (stealing) that most children treated as morally wrong. It was hypothesized that children would reject the notion that God's commands would make stealing morally right and would reject the notion that God would command people to steal as a normative behavior. We anticipated that children's answers would reflect their efforts to coordinate conceptions of moral issues in terms of the effects on persons of such actions with their conceptions of God as omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect (1476-7) […]

    The results from Study 1 provide evidence that Amish-Mennonite children's conceptions of morality are not reducible to their knowledge of or adherence to religious rules. Consonant with prior research with Catholic subjects (Nucci, 1982), the Amish-Mennonite and Dutch Reform Calvinist children evaluated moral issues in terms of justice and welfare considerations, rather than precepts of the Bible or positions taken by religious authorities [emphasis added]. As did the Catholics, the Amish-Mennonite children generalized moral issues, and viewed moral rules as unalterable by religious authorities. They also viewed the status of moral transgressions as noncontingent on God's word. Furthermore, most of the Dutch Reform Calvinist children responded that God's command would not make stealing right. These findings indicate that children from these groups maintain a distinct moral position based on justice and welfare criteria from which they apprehend the moral aspects of the Christian God [emphasis added].

    In contrast with their view of moral issues, the Amish-Mennonite subjects viewed the nonmoral precepts of their religion to be relative to their religion and contingent on God's word as evidenced in the Bible (1483) […]

    Findings from Study 2 demonstrated that the conceptual differentiation between morality and religious prescription is made by Jewish children, as well as the Amish-Mennonites and the Dutch Reform Calvinists. Issues of morality were conceptualized by Conservative and Orthodox children and adolescents in terms of the impact actions had on the welfare of others, and not as a function of religious prescriptions or commands from God [emphasis added]. As with the subjects in Study 1, this differentiation between morality and religious prescription was maintained in responses to the "open question." The great majority of both groups of Jewish subjects held that a commandment from God could not make an unjust or harmful act morally right [emphasis added]. As anticipated, there were denominational differences in responses to the nonmoral issues (1489)."
    So, we have a bunch of kids that seemingly haven't thought through the relation between God and their reasons for being moral in an especially deep manner. What are we supposed to conclude from that?

  4. Amen Bill the Cat, Rushing Jaws amen'd this post.
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    tWebber whag's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chrawnus View Post
    So, we have a bunch of kids that seemingly haven't thought through the relation between God and their reasons for being moral in an especially deep manner. What are we supposed to conclude from that?
    That people are essentially empathetic at their core. Pretty profound, actually.

  6. Amen Rushing Jaws amen'd this post.
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    tWebber Darth Executor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whag View Post
    That people are essentially empathetic at their core. Pretty profound, actually.
    Actually babies enjoy watching other babies who aren't like them get hurt so no, not really. People are empathetic to those who are like them.

    By the time you are old enough to talk you've already absorbed some of the surrounding cultural norms anyway so it doesn't mean much to begin with.

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    tWebber hamster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by whag View Post
    That people are essentially empathetic at their core. Pretty profound, actually.
    It's just mirror neurons. People are equipped to sense things that exist, we don't need bible passages to see know that the sky is blue either, because we were provided with eyes. Although interpreting moral information seems to be a lot more complicated than interpreting visual information

    we have a bunch of kids that seemingly haven't thought through the relation between God and their reasons for being moral in an especially deep manner. What are we supposed to conclude from that?
    That human beings generally sense moral reality and children aren't theologically sophisticated. They know that morality can't arbitrarily change but they don't know why and how it relates to God's nature
    Last edited by hamster; 07-22-2015 at 02:54 PM.
    "Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ." - That Guy Everyone Quotes

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