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In Finite and Infinite Goods, Robert Merrihew Adams offers an interesting variation on G. E. Moore's famous open-question argument against ethical naturalism. In giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word in ethical inquiry, he says, ethical naturalists negate a critical stance that permits us to raise evaluative questions about any ethical judgment, no matter how well-supported empirically. But Adams's version of the open-question argument is deeply confused. First, modern science shows that the relevant critical stance is quite compatible with giving causal-explanatory reasoning the last word. Second, ethical naturalists need not treat any ethical judgments as immune to criticism. Finally, if Adams's argument were sound, it would undermine his own case for a divine-command theory of ethics.
In Finite and Infinite Goods Adams gives his defense of a modified divine command theory its fullest elaboration, defending it against a number of standard objections. This material is essential reading for anyone interested in whether morality does or could depend on religion. Moreover, Adams thoughtfully argues for the need for several forms of moral faith, including faith that morality "is not a massive socially induced delusion." Along the way, he also offers a striking defense of liberty of conscience and church-state separation, with an emphasis on the value of critical thinking in both ethics and religion. Although Sullivan finds much to agree with here, he offers two particular criticisms of Adams's version of divine command theory. Nevertheless, Sullivan concludes that intelligent nonbelievers and believers can only benefit from carefully and critically working their way through this important book.
Former Catholic priest and Boston Globe columnist James Carroll's Practicing Catholic enlightens us about the evolution of Catholic teachings on salvation for non-Catholics, the growing support for progressive Catholic attitudes under Pope John XXIII, and the reactionary backsliding that has occurred under John Paul II and Benedictus XVI (Joseph Ratzinger). But Carroll barely defends his own pro-life stance on abortion and ignores altogether the moderate position that Catholic liberals have defended for decades. In theology, his view that God is unknowable conflicts with his claim that evidence-transcendent faith can count as knowledge, and he never explains (without begging the question) how faith that willfully goes beyond available evidence can be cognitively rational, let alone constitute knowledge. Nevertheless, though his faith is not cognitively rational because it is not well-grounded in evidence, it may well be practically rational to the extent that it plays an important role in his own overall well-being.
In Religion and Morality, Christian philosopher William J. Wainwright provides a thorough, thoughtful, and generally rigorous and fair-minded discussion of the relationship between religion and morality. He considers moral arguments for God's existence, divine command theories of morality, and possible tensions between "human morality and religious requirements," among other things. In this review Stephen Sullivan focuses his remarks on several of Wainwright's debatable claims concerning the divine command theory of ethics and the Euthyphro question, offering a few additional criticisms about Wainwright's methodology.
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