If a theist or God declares that I ought to do something, say A (such that it is good and I would get to heaven, but which is supposedly intrin, out of intrinsic duty, then this scenario seems to render that divinely inspired ought as meaningless:


If I want to go to hell, then in what sense of the word can it be said that I ought to do A? The duty to do good is circular so that I cannot say I ought to do good in order to do good, since this is tautologous. I ought to put oil in the car so I can put oil in the car…?


So if I want to go to hell, I ought to do B. Thus the ought is totally dependent on the outcome – it is goal oriented.


The question “why?” to follow an ought statement will provide a ‘just because’ answer when applied to a divinely inspired ought. However, when using consequentialist theories, the questioning will bottom out in an axiomatic goal, say happiness.


And we also return to the notion of internalism and externalism such that ought can only be relevant, meaningful and coherent when understood in internal terms to the agent. What this means is that someone else telling me that I ought to do A is meaningless, that that reasoning has to come from myself to be coherent. It’s almost as if the actual semantic definition of ‘reason’ is ‘an internal mechanism of rationality which influences a decision or action in one way or another’ such that I simply cannot have an external ought (something that the philosopher Bernard Williams talks about). Thus God, or a theist, telling me I ought to do A should be met with, at best, a “so what” and at worst a “that means nothing to me”.


‘Ought’ should be seen as a goal-oriented internal duty. If I want to be happy, then I ought to do C. If I want my car to run well, then I ought to change the oil. If I want to go to hell, then I ought to do B. And so on. A Bishop telling me I ought to give to charity or believe in Jesus as Saviour is met, by myself, as a “So what! Only if I want to achieve a greater happiness for the world and these were the actions which would achieve, in my opinion, that end”.