Friday, April 15, 2011

Euthyphro's Dilemma revisited

Due to the recent William Lane Craig and Sam Harris debate, there has been more discussion regarding objective morality and Euthyphro's *cough* false *ahem* Dilemma. Rather than write an entirely new piece, I'm going to use a part from my post Objective morals and Euthyphro's False Dilemma.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

What is another response from unbelievers? It's called the Euthyphro Dilemma (named after a character in one of Plato's dialogues). The dilemma is: Is something good because God wills it? Or does God will something because it is good? This is a popular objection to the moral argument for God's existence. If you say something is good because God wills it, then that good becomes arbitrary. God could have willed that cheating is good or that hatred is good, etc. That doesn't work does it? If you say that God wills something because it is good, then that good becomes independent of God, which makes moral values and duties exist independently of God, which contradicts premise 1. 

How does Craig answer the Euthyphro dilemma? He says that "we don't need to refute either of the two horns of the dilemma because the dilemma is a false one: There's a third alternative, namely, God wills something because He is good...I mean God's own nature is the standard of goodness, and His commandments to us are expressions of His nature. In short, our moral duties are determined by the commands of a just and loving God."6
So according to Craig, moral values and duties don't exist independently of God because God's own character/nature defines what is good and those morals flow out of God's nature. When the atheist asks, "If God were to command spouse abuse, would we be obligated to abuse our spouses?" he's asking a question akin to "If there were married bachelors, who would the bachelor be married to?" There is no answer because the question is absurd. 

Craig assures us that the Euthyphro dilemma presents us with a false choice, and we shouldn't be tricked by it. "The morally good/bad is determined by God's nature, and the morally right/wrong is determined by His will. God wills something because He is good, and something is right because God wills it."7

1. William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), pg. 132
2. ibid, pg. 133
3. ibid, pg. 133
4. ibid, pg. 134
5. ibid, pg. 134
6. ibid, pg. 135
7. ibid, pg. 136

Common questions to this answer of Euthyphro's Dilemma are: How do we know God is good? How is his nature good? Wouldn't it be possible for murder and rape to be 'good' if God commanded it? 

Philosopher Ed Feser has an answer to the above questions. [h/t] Joe's comment on WK's blog post.

“Given the doctrine of the convertibility of the transcendentals, on which being is convertible with goodness, that which is Pure Actuality or Being Itself must ipso facto be Goodness Itself. Given the conception of evil as a privation – that is, as a failure to realize some potentiality – that which is Pure Actuality and therefore in no way potential cannot intelligibly be said to be in any way evil. Given the principle of proportionate causality, whatever good is in the world in a limited way must be in its cause in an eminent way, shorn of any of the imperfections that follow upon being a composite of act and potency. Since God is Pure Actuality, he cannot intelligibly be said either to have or to lack moral virtues or vices of the sort we exhibit when we succeed or fail to realize our various potentials. And so on. All of this is claimed to be a matter of metaphysical demonstration rather than probabilistic empirical theorizing, and the underlying metaphysical ideas form a complex interlocking network that is (as anyone familiar with Platonism or Aristotelianism realizes) motivated independently of the problem of evil or the question of God’s existence.” 

Read more by clicking here

Greg Koukl answers the questions too

"The Christian's job is not done, though, because Bertrand Russell's observation suggests a second problem. Socrates' challenge to Euthyphro has not been met. What is "good"? It doesn't help to say that God is good unless we know what the term refers to. 

If the word "good" means "in accord with the nature and character of God," we have a problem. When the Bible says "God is good," it simply means "God has the nature and character that God has." If God and goodness are the very same thing, then the statement "God is good" means nothing more than "God is God," a useless tautology. 

The answer to this problem hinges on the philosophical notion of identity, expressed symbolically as A = A. When one thing is identical to another (in the way I'm using the term), there are not two things, but one.[10] For example, the president of Stand to Reason (Gregory Koukl) is identical to the author of this article. Everything that's true of the one is true of the other.[11] The author and the president are the same. They are not two, but one. 

According to Christian teaching, God is not good in the same way that a bachelor is an unmarried male. When we say God is good, we are giving additional information, namely that God has a certain quality. God is not the very same thing as goodness (identical to it). It's an essential characteristic of God, so there is no tautology.[12]
A proper understanding of Christian teaching on God removes one problem, yet we still face another: What is "good"? How can we know goodness if we don't define it first?
The way Abraham responded when he first learned of God's intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah gives us a clue to the answer:
Far be it from Thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from Thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly? (Genesis 18:25)

Here's the question. How did Abraham know justice required that God not treat the wicked and the righteous alike? As of yet, no commandments had been handed down.
Abraham knew goodness not by prior definition or by some decree of God, but through moral intuition. He didn't need God to define justice (divine command). He knew it directly. His moral knowledge was built in.[13]
Even the atheist understands what moral terms mean. He doesn't need God in order to recognize morality. He needs God to make sense of what he recognizes. 

This is precisely why the moral argument for God's existence is such a good one. The awareness of morality leads to God much as the awareness of falling apples leads to gravity. Our moral intuitions recognize the effect, but what is the adequate cause? If God does not exist, then moral terms are actually incoherent and our moral intuitions are nonsense. 

Christians need not fear Plato on this score. When Euthyphro's dilemma is applied to Christianity, it mischaracterizes the Biblical view of God. Goodness is neither above God nor merely willed by Him. Instead, ethics are grounded in His holy character. Moral notions are not arbitrary and given to caprice. They are fixed and absolute, grounded in God's immutable nature. 

Further, no outside definition of piety is necessary because morality is known directly through the faculty of moral intuition. God's laws express His character and--if our moral intuitions are intact--we immediately recognize those Laws as good. 

This doesn't mean Christianity is true, only that it's is not handicapped by Plato's challenge to Euthyphro."

Read his whole post by clicking here

Study objective moral values and duties further:

Do objective moral values and duties exist?

Euthyphro Argument

What is the basis of our values?

For more posts on morality click here.

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