Jephthah’s Plight: Moral Dilemmas and Theism (trans. Marcin Iwanicki)

  • William E. Mann University of Vermont, Department of Philosophy, Professor Emeritus
Keywords: moral dilemmas; theism; Jephthah’s vow


This essay examines the phenomenon of moral dilemmas from a theistic perspective. Many theists have supposed either (1) that a providential God would never confront a creature with a choice in which the creature cannot avoid doing wrong, or (2) that if a creature does confront such a choice situation, it is the result of some prior wrongdoing freely committed by that creature. This second alternative has been ascribed by many to St. Thomas Aquinas. I argue that the ascription is unwarranted, citing among other cases Aquinas’s examination of Jephthah’s vow in the book of Judges. As for the first alternative, the essay concludes with some observations about how one might develop a theistic normative ethical theory, consistent with God’s providence, that recognizes moral dilemmas. One of the assumptions that theists should seriously consider abandoning in the process is the principle that ought implies can.


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