In the second half of the post I criticised Walter Sinnott-Armstrong’s claim;
Moreover, even if God in fact never would or could command us to rape, the divine command theory still implies the counter-factual that, if God did command us to rape, then we would have a moral obligation to rape. That is absurd. [Emphasis added]As I noted, Armstrong’s suggestion that the conditional is obviously false is far from obvious and in fact, runs contrary to the standard view of such conditionals in modal logic.
In this post, I want to examine a defence of Armstrong’s position, that proposed by Louise Anthony in her article “Atheism as Perfect Piety.” I will argue Anthony’s defence also fails. I will then offer some reasons for thinking that the conditional Tooley cites is not false but true.
Louise Anthony’s Defence of Armstrong’s Argument
Louise Anthony suggests a repair to Armstrong’s argument. She notes,
In standard modal logics, any counterfactual with an impossible antecedent is true. … Results like this are widely regarded as regrettable, in so far as one looks to formal modal logic to reconstruct ordinary reasoning with counterfactuals. I am going with ordinary intuitions, which do not treat all counterfactuals with impossible antecedents as true. Anthony, here, claims that the standard view of modal logic is mistaken. Not all counterfactuals with impossible antecedents are true. An obvious problem here is that even if this is the case, it does not follow that the particular counterfactual being discussed here is false. The fact that some counterfactuals with impossible antecedents are false does not entail that this particular one is false.
Suppose, however, one puts this argument to one side and grants that the counterfactual is false. What follows? I am inclined to think not much.
Consider the structure of Anthony’s argument. She notes that the claim that right and wrong is coextensive with divine commands entails that if, per impossible, God commands torturing people as much as possible then it is obligatory to do so. The problem is that an analogous line of reasoning applies to any ethical theory. Three examples will demonstrate this.
First, consider utilitarianism, the theory that an action is obligatory if it maximises the balance of good consequences over bad consequences. It follows from this that if torturing people as much as possible maximises good consequences over bad then torturing people as much as possible is obligatory. The utilitarian’s protestation that such a situation is impossible is unsuccessful because even if this situation is impossible the conditional is, according to Anthony, still absurd and hence, discredits the theory.
Similar things apply with Kantianism, the view that an action is obligatory if and only if it treats rational creatures with respect; that is, treats them always as ends and never merely as means. It follows that if torturing people as much as possible treats them with respect then it is obligatory to torture people as much as possible. Of course, the Kantian would object that torturing people as much as possible is never something that constitutes respect but again, that does not matter. Even if the antecedent is impossible, Anthony maintains that the conditional is false and for this reason the theory should be rejected.
The same is true with virtue ethics, the view that an action is obligatory if and only if, it would be performed by a virtuous person. It follows that if a virtuous person would torture people as much as possible then torturing people as much as possible is obligatory. Again, the virtue ethicist will protest that a virtuous person would never want to do that but again, if Anthony is correct, this is irrelevant. Her whole point is that even if the antecedent is impossible, an ethical theory with this implication is absurd.
I maintain the same is true of any meta-ethical theory. Let P be any property one considers to be logically equivalent to the property of being obligatory. It will be true that this meta-ethical theory entails that if P is possessed by the action of torturing one another as much as possible then torturing other people as much as possible will be obligatory.
Anthony’s argument is essentially that if we postulate logically impossible situations, absurd and false implications follow. Questions about what God would do in impossible situations is, as Craig points out, “is like wondering whether, if there were a round square, its area would equal the square of one of its sides. And what would it matter how one answered, since what is imagined is logically incoherent?”
Reasons for Thinking that the Conditional is True
I have argued that attempts to show that the conditional, if God had commanded mankind to torture one another as much as possible then it would be obligatory to torture one another as much as possible, is false all fail. I am inclined to go one step further and maintain not just that there is no reason for thinking that the conditional is false but that it is, on reflection, obviously true.
The conditional states that torturing one another as much as possible is obligatory, in a particular situation; that is, a situation where a perfectly good omniscient being commands it. Now it seems inconceivable to me that any action, torture included, could be wrong under such circumstances. If torturing one another as much as possible is gratuitously evil and could never be obligatory then an informed perfectly good being would not command it. On the other hand, if torturing one another as much as possible had certain features that would lead a perfectly good being to overlook the evils the action contains and commend it then it would seem that torturing people in these circumstances would not be wrong. The reason we are inclined to take the counterfactual as absurd is because we think it is absurd that a perfectly good being would command anything of the sort.
 Walter Sinnott-Armstrong “Why Traditional Theism Cannot Provide an Adequate Foundation for Morality” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics Eds. Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2008) 106.
 Louise Anthony “Atheism as Perfect Piety” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics, Eds. Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2008) 82.
 William Lane Craig “This Most Gruesome of Guests” in Is Goodness without God Good Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics Eds. Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King (Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2008) 172.
Tooley, The Euthyphro Objection and Divine Commands: Part I
The Euthyphro Dilemma Against Divine Commands I: Avoiding Strawmen
The Euthyphro Objection II: Arbitrariness
Euthyphro Objection III:The Redundancy of God is Good
On the Meta-Euthyphro Objection
Brink on Dialetical Equilibrium
On a Common Equivocation
Patrick Nowell Smith on Divine Commands
Theology, Morality and Reason
The Meta-Ethical Argument for Christian Theism: A Response to Richard Chappell
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, William Lane Craig and the Argument from Harm Part I