Darwall, Dignity, and Discipleship

Steven Darwall, in his book The Second Person Standpoint, writes,

A second-personal reason is one whose validity depends on presupposed authority and accountability relations between persons and, therefore, on the possibility of the reason’s being addressed person-to-person.

When we demand things of one another, we are providing a second-personal reason in the sense that Darwall talks about above. Now, according to Darwall, when we demand things of one another, we presuppose that the one whom we address our demands to can be reasonably expected to accept the demand. When folk fail to act in accordance with such demands, we can hold them accountable precisely because we have the authority to make certain demands and the folk whom we’re holding accountable should have accepted that authority.

I’m wondering if any of this has anything to do with the Divine.

God get’s mentioned a couple times throughout the book. God is specifically mentioned with regard to what is required for the imposition of genuine obligations. The point is basically this: If God just said, “Love me, or else,” then that would not create a genuine obligation for us to act. Instead, God’s addressing us would simply be coercion. In order for God’s demand to really produce an obligation, we must be able to hold ourselves accountable for seeing God’s demands as good and just.

This is already super interesting. It means that a divine command theory picture of morality just isn’t going to cut it. If, tomorrow, God decided that murdering puppies was the most moral act, this decision could not create moral obligations for us because we could not see ourselves as dousche-bags for failing to comply with the murder-puppies-order.

What’s today? Monday? Alright, today I’m down for a philosophy that puts limits on a divine command theory of the good. But there’s something that’s a bit bothersome about this particular way of constructing those limitations.

Before we get into that though, there’s another reason that this view of obligation is interesting. This view of obligation – and I just now realized this – can solve the problem that I raised here with my heretical soteriology. On this view of obligation, folk who are jamming in, say, the Amazon who are unaware are the Divine in the sense that they are unaware of the the dignity of human beings and who just, for example, beat their wives with machetes as a matter of course will not get a Divine ass kicking. (I learned that there actually is an indigenous group that does this in one of my psych classes.) And this does not imply any sort of relativism or cheap grace as I worried about in that post. Rather, these amazonian folk are excused since they cannot be expected to hold themselves accountable for the wrongs they are committing because of their way of life and system of beliefs.

What’s today? Monday? I’m less interested in the above result than I would be if today were a Tuesday, for the the idea that anyone is going to hell – and maybe even the idea that anyone is going to heaven – isn’t really making sense this Monday. And even as I write these words, that is changing. Yikes. Belief vacillation.

Looks like I’ll have to get the troubling aspect of the aforementioned limitations on Divine obligation another time.


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