Different Views of a Divine Command Theorist and a Utilitarian on Abortion

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Different Views of a Divine Command Theorist and a Utilitarian on Abortion


The morality of an individual can be determined by their religion or their thoughts. As a result, the nature of moral ethics has been controversial due to the fundamental difference between the religious culture of a person, their beliefs, and individual point of view on different issues. One of the most contradictory issues that have challenged philosophers on its essence and legality is abortion. In the religious aspect of the divine command theory, abortion is immoral in every way. This aspect presupposes a deontological approach, which is often chosen by the religious population. However, there is a utilitarian theory that has given a different perspective on the issue, arguing that abortion should be judged based on the victim’s reasons for committing the act. Therefore, the utilitarian approach defends a general view of judging the people who have an abortion. In this paper, the analysis of abortion based on these two theories is conducted in order to determine the difference between the perspectives offered by each of them.

Keywords: morality, ethics, divine command theory, utilitarian theory, deontological approach


The difference between the morality of the religious and non-religious individuals is weighed on the attitude and the nature of their thinking. Therefore, the religious people’s customs are influenced by the doctrines or Scriptures of their religion, and the customs of non-religious groups are based on their clear reasoning. As a result, the religious people view abortion as immoral because it involves taking away the rights of a living human. On the other hand, the non-religious people defend abortion in cases where it minimizes the harmful effect of what would be the result of the unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, different individuals have discrepant opinions on how they view abortion depending on their theories and beliefs. However, there are some exceptional issues that arise in both theories challenging the nature of the concept. These problems are known as ethical dilemmas and are used to check the reliability of the approaches. This paper is aimed to determine and explain the basis that the morality is founded on focusing on the utilitarian moral theory and the non-divine authority.

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The Divine Command Theory

According to the concept of divine command theory, the moral foundation is created by God. The religious teaching is the determinant of people’s attitude and ethics. For example, how people judge the decisions they make and their actions is determined by God’s commandments that are dictated by their religion. In this case, human decisions are limited to the general customs of the groups that they are connected to religiously (Baron, 2011). Consequently, a person’s decision will not have to breach the loyalty, sanctity, and authority of their customs under any circumstances. Abortion has been perceived as immoral in terms of this concept because it involves breaking the rule against killing (Baron, 2013). Therefore, a supporter of this concept will view abortion as unethical and evil.

Previous philosophical studies have defined this approach as a psychometric platform for judging human decisions and actions. Individuals use the information provided by their denominations to determine the validity of person’s decisions and to define the identity of humanity. Therefore, the theory suggests that morality is founded naturally by God and should be strictly abided as it is suggested. However, a naturalistic moral dilemma has been established due to some exceptional issues in this approach (Alexander & Moore, 2007). The cases should have a substantial reason for abortion to be conducted, and the result should repair the damage incurred. For example, when a pregnancy is a threat to a mother, an abortion can be performed to save her life. Despite the exemptions provided, religion has failed to defend their loyalty because God does not submit to these neutral rules. As a result, the theory has been questioned and criticized based on that perspective that has been borrowed directly from the utilitarian approach.

Utilitarian Theory

Regarding the approach of utilitarian theory, the ethics of the action is based on the wrongness or rightness issued from its consequences. Thus, an act is presumed ethical when its results have a positive effect on the individual rather than the negative one. Therefore, abortion in this case is only unethical if the consequences are for both the child and the mother. For example, a teenager who becomes pregnant after being violated can keep or abort the child depending on the decision she makes. During the decision-making process, all the issues and possibilities should be considered eventually resulting in the best alternative being picked. The teenager can give birth to the child and give it for adoption. She can also keep the baby or she can abort it if she is not ready for motherhood (Alexander & Moore, 2007). Therefore, the decision will be made based solely on the thoughts and condition of the mother regardless of any other rules.

The utilitarian approach has provided freedom to human decisions and helped curb the challenges that are experienced because of unwanted pregnancies. Moreover, the people who committed abortion have been supported psychologically and justified by this concept. However, this approach does not encourage unreasonable abortion but obligates the mother to make a decision that would maximize the welfare of the child as well as her own (Paul, 2010). For example, when a mother can barely provide for a child, abortion can be undertaken to ensure that both the child and the mother do not struggle to survive. However, a mother should not take advantage of the process to safeguard her selfish needs, such as indulging in the immoral ethics of prostitution (Alexander & Moore, 2007). Therefore, a utilitarian judges abortion on the reasons that caused it to be performed and does not generalize it as unethical. The same concept has been adopted by some of religious communities creating exemptions in their ethical and moral judgment.

Literature Review

The past studies on the subject of abortion have regarded several variables that might aid the explanation of the association between deontological and religious morality concerning abortion. However, no satisfactory conclusion has been reached. Baron, Scott, Fincher, and Metz (2013) surmised that divine command theory is based on the closed-mindedness that is enhanced by the rules of religion and that facilitates pretense and unnatural living. Therefore, people that support this approach are mainly guided by the existing regulations in order to create a fundamental identity needed for their perceived image and not satisfaction. As a result, the theory limits religious people in their practices, beliefs, and psychological freedom. 

Furthermore, the studies have shown that most of the self-reported religious individuals have performed abortion fearing criticism and discrimination from their religious communities (Bartels & Pizzaro, 2011). Therefore, religion has used the fundamental teachings of God to create a judgment platform that measures morality. Conversely, judging other people is considered immoral and should only be done by God (Wade, 2009). Moreover, due to the limitation of thinking caused by the observation of these divine rules, people experience psychological imbalance trying to conform to the model against their will. For example, some of the abortion victims suffer from alcoholism, drug abuse, low self-esteem, and depression, mainly because of guilt. Despite the strict rules and the unanswered questions being neutral regarding religion, the wrongness and righteousness of people are determined by God (Wade, 2009). Therefore, even the non-religious people may have borrowed some parts of the concept of morality from religion. However, the non-religious community focuses most not on the observation of the law but on the outcome. Indeed, the utilitarian concept is based on the open-minded decision-making processes that bring maximum good effect (Baron, Scott, Fincher, & Metz, 2013). As a result, the satisfactory outcomes are reached through the utilitarianism, where there is less judgment on human practices.

Notably, people’s productivity is higher when they are free to make their own decisions and satisfy their desires. The divine command technique limits the ability of people to match their desires and actions without adhering to the society’s rules and customs, unlike the utilitarian technique. As a result, the unwanted pregnancies are becoming less challenging in the societies where abortion is legal. Additionally, a number of street children, the poverty level, and the economic degradation process have all decreased because women have the right to give birth only when they know they will be able to manage it (Alexander & Moore, 2007). In some societies, abortion is illegal but quite common nevertheless, thus creating confusion concerning its legality. For example, in North Carolina, the statistics have proven that many abortion clinics have performed a total of 8491 abortions in 2015. The availability of the services attracted foreign victims, and 2439 women flew into the country to undertake the procedure (Mreronimo5, 2016). Therefore, the intuitive thinking of humans is connected to their judgment but is also influenced by the social norms concerning defining morality.

Utilitarian thinking has been proved to have no unanswered questions regarding its foundation. Human needs and abilities are directly related to the decisions made. Moreover, the viability of the theory has been established by the study that has demonstrated a human being who adheres to the utilitarian practice maintaining their personality despite the changes of circumstances and locations (Eidelman, Crandall, Goodman, & Blanchar, 2012). This consistency is unavailable among religious groups because the change of their religion interferes with their personal beliefs and identity. Therefore, the stability of the utilitarian factor has made the theory more valid in establishing the morality foundation for and against abortion (Baron, 2013). However, despite the conducted studies, there is not enough evidence of the origins of the phenomenon of morality. Therefore, this study is aimed at defining the source of the morality and determining whether abortion is unethical. Thus, it is paramount to understand the metaethical code of behavior among religious and non-religious groups.

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Metaethics, Utilitarian, and Divine Command Theory

Metaethics is the set of beliefs regarding the properties or nature of morality that are shaped by the origins of people’s culture (Paul, 2010). The studies have shown that people have differences in the way they perceive morality. Most importantly, the perception of an individual is either influenced by their social factors or their state of mind. As a result, the origins and the foundation of morality can be subjective or objective, independent or dependent according to each person’s beliefs. Religion has declared abortion particularly unethical and unjust to the fetus. A mother has been denied the right to decide on the life or death of her unborn child and is only expected to take care of it (Baron, 2013). Therefore, the moral origins of religion are in agreement with the orders from God and should not be questioned. On the whole, God is all-knowing and should not be countered over the decisions He made for his people.

In the modern society, a woman has a right to live and to protect her body. Therefore, controversial perception of the will of God and priority of the human desire clash. Moreover, even without religion in the ancient times, people still survived without the limiting rules of faith. Therefore, since the concept of morality still existed in those days before religion, it could not be the foundation of ethics. As a result, this study supports the utilitarian theory that states that the morality of humanity is natural (Baron, Scott, Fincher, & Metz, 2013). Therefore, the morality of human beings is created naturally through intuition and the power of the brain. Thus, how people respond to different issues is far beyond the social influence created by culture, religion, and law.

Therefore, despite the differences between the views of a divine command theorist and a utilitarian regarding abortion, each person has the power over the ultimate decision. As a result, abortion can only be justified by the victim and their reasons (Stellar, Manzo, Kraus, & Keltner, 2012). Indeed, it is impossible to judge a person’s decision without understanding their position and motivation. Thus, the judgment on abortion is based on the utilitarian concept.



The morality of abortion is founded on the utilitarian moral theory and non-divine authority. The analysis demonstrated the differences between religious and non-religious individuals. According to the study, the ethics of religious group derive from the morals and attitude toward something whereas the non-religious are guided by the nature or form of individual thinking. Moreover, the religious group adopts a rule-based (deontological) technique in creating a basis for their ethics in contrast to the non-religious people. Therefore, the divine command concept has been proved insufficient compared to the utilitarian theory regarding the issues of the origins of morality and whether or not abortion is ethical. Ultimately, the study concluded that every human being should be free to decide whether to keep a baby or not. However, the justification of the decision should be measured by the reasons that motivate the individual to perform an abortion. The motivation behind the decision should be more beneficial for an unborn child and a mother in order to be considered ethical.