Rowan University
Ellen Miller, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor

Department of Philosophy & Religion
Rowan University
Glassboro, NJ 08028
Office: B
unce Hall
Office Phone:  856-256-4835

Dr. Ellen Miller
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   Current Courses
Introduction to Philosophy    (Mon-Weds)
Introduction to Philosophy    (Tues.)
Introduction to Ethics
Philosophy and Gender

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Contemporary  Moral Problems
Philosophy and Society
Logic of Everyday Reasoning
Feminist Theory
Western        Humanities

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Ethics Notes (Divine Command and Virtue Ethics)
I. Divine Command Theory

Morally right means commanded by God

Morally wrong means forbidden by God

Strengths (depending on your viewpoint)

Objective theory of ethics

Ethics not just a matter of personal feelings or social custom

Takes religion into account when dealing with morality


Atheists would not accept it

Major problem even for believers though: "Is conduct right because God commands it, or does God command it because it is right?"

This question leads to problems that may be summarized in the following argument:

1) Suppose God commands us to do what is right. Then either a) the right actions are right because he commands them or b) he commands them because they are right

2) If we take option a), then God’s commands are, from a moral point of view arbitrary; moreover, the doctrine of the goodness of God is rendered meaningless.

3) If we take option b), then we have admitted there is a standard of right and wrong that is independent of God’s will.

4) Therefore, we must either regard God’s commands as arbitrary, and give up the doctrine of the goodness of God, or admit that there is a standard of right and wrong that is independent of his will, and give up the theological definitions or right and wrong

5) From a religious point of view, it is undesirable to regard God’s commands as arbitrary or to give up the doctrine of the goodness of God.

6) Therefore, even from a religious point of view, a standard of right and wrong that is independent of God’s will must be accepted.

Note:  Many religious people have rejected this theory, and developed moral views that do not depend upon God's will.

II.Virtue Ethics

  • What traits of character make one a good person?

  • We should stop focusing on obligation, duty, and rightness and return to the ethics of virtue

 Theory of virtue would have several components

         Should explain what a virtue is

         Should be a list specifying which character traits are virtues

         Explanation of what these virtues consist in

         Explanation of why these qualities are good  ones for a person to have

         Are the virtues the same for all people or do they differ from person to person or from culture to culture?

 Some advantages of Virtue Ethics

1)      Explains moral motivation

  • Emphasizes person qualities such as friendship, love, and loyalty

2)      Brings up doubts about the ideal of impartiality

  • Utilitarianism says every person’s interests are equal
  • This seems to go against our natural feelings towards family, friends, ourselves
  • Is impartiality such an important feature of moral life after all?

 Incompleteness of the Theory

1)     Does this theory always tell us what to do?

         Other theories may have missed talk about character and virtue, but now we seem to be left with situations where our moral theory will not always tell us how we should behave.

         We have reversed our problem

 2)     Is there a virtue that matches every morally good reason for doing something?

         How many virtues are there

 3)     Can this theory handle situations where there is moral conflict, conflict among competing important virtues?








Copyright 2001 Dr. Ellen Miller. All rights reserved. Document last modified