• Emotivism may be defined as a subjectivist moral theory that suggests that social values are merely the expression of one's subjective feelings and emotions (Rachels, 2010, p. 41).

Thus, the emotivist theory holds the ultra-subjectivist point of view and does not recognize any objective truths in ethics. Emotivism understands moral judgments as a response to one's personal emotions and feelings. In other words, emotivism rejects reason as a necessary tool in moral philosophy. For example, emotivists may be opposed to murder but not on the ground that it is objectively wrong as it violates the basic rights of people. Their argumentation will be focused on the mere observation that the murder of one person may lead to negative emotions and feelings among other members of society.

The fact that their conclusions on some issues may be right does not mean that their theory per se is correct. If, for any reason, murders do not lead to negative emotions and feelings any more, emotivists may decide that murder should not be morally condemned as the subjectivist perceptions of it have changed. All these objections may lead to ideal observer theory that claims that all moral judgments should be formulated from the position of the well-informed and impartial ideal observer. However, this theory does not seem to be an improvement as it is highly unrealistic and performs no valuable moral function.

  • Divine command theory may be defined as an ethical theory that suggests that moral status of actions is dependent on whether they are commanded by God.

For example, people should oppose murders because God considers it as impermissible. However, such a position has some problems, as well. Some terrorist organizations claim that God allows killing people of other religions. Thus, analyzing morality from exclusively this position, does not lead to objectively true statements. As no one can express the ultimate commands of God (as we are people and can make mistakes), this theory may contribute to the complete denial of reason that typically leads to socially dangerous consequences. God's commands become arbitrary and may justify the opposite actions (Rachels, 2010, p. 52-53). Finally, this theory provides wrong theory of moral reasoning and analysis.

If a person adopts divine command theory, he/she may become morally irresponsible as nothing in the sphere of morality ultimately depends on him/her and his/her reason. It may lead to the passive adaptation of ideas of other people who claim they know the "real" commands of God. However, the abovementioned critique of divine command theory does not present the argument for atheism. It merely presents the argument for rational reasoning that is supported by many believers (such as B. Spinoza, A. Einstein, etc.).

  • Social contract theory may be defined as a moral theory that tries to establish the natural laws that may be grasped through human reason.

The prisoner's dilemma demonstrates that people may have strong incentives not to cooperate even if the optimal solution to the problem may be achieved only through cooperation. This dilemma refers to the moral obligations of one person to the other one under the extremely difficult conditions and high uncertainty (the optimal answer of any of them is dependent on the answer of the other prisoner).

According to social contract theory, the extent of moral obligations is dependent on natural laws that people are able to understand. Thus, the extent of moral obligations is dependent on human reason and thinking. The main objective to this theory is as follows. Through reason and investigation, it is possible to determine the existing order of things. However, it does not mean that things should be organized in such a way. This theory confuses "is" and "ought". This problem was outlined by D. Hume in the 18th century (Rachels, 2010, p. 56).


Rachels, J. (2010). The elements of moral philosophy. New York: McGraw Hill, 7th ed.

Related essays