The Euthyphro Dilemma

What is the Euthyphro Dilemma?

Euthyphro is a famous moral question posed by Plato, a famous philosopher. He recorded the following dilemma that came from a debate between Socrates and Euthyphro.

The Background

Euthyphro was a lawyer who brought his father to court for killing a slave. Euthyphro was adamant that his fathers action was wrong and his father should be punished accordingly. He believed his father’s action was impious and unholy.
Socrates was a famous philosopher, who is dubbed as the ‘father of philosophy’. Socrates was at the court to see this trial of Euthyphro’s father and he himself was facing the Death Penalty for ‘corrupting the youth’ — for encouraging them to think for themselves and not just do what they were told.

Socrates wanted Euthyphro to define the term impious.
Euthyphro defined piety as “what is pleasing to God” therefore impiety is an action that is displeasing to God.

The Dilemma

 

Socrates responded “is something pious because it is pleasing to the Gods or is it pleasing to the Gods because it is pious?”

Put simply – Is something good because God commands it to be good or does God command it because it is good?

If something is right because God commands it to be right does this mean that God is making up the rules for everyone to obey? Does this make something right just because God says so?

If God says something is good because it is already good, then who has already decided it was good? Is there a higher order than God who makes this choice?

The Problem with the Gods.

Socrates is facing the Death Penalty for encouraging his students to think for themselves. Socrates asks Euthyphro who will judge that he has done something wrong. Euthphyro states that God will be the judge – they decide what is pious and what is not.
Socrates asks how the Gods make their decisions – is there a moral law out there somewhere which they use to judge goodness or does it come from within them.
The problem with this is that the Greek Gods often did awful things like rape and murder so if morality came from them then it would be okay to rape and murder but if they used a moral law then they would not be all powerful and therefore should not be seen as the ultimate source of moral philosophy.

Where does Morality Come From?

  • Does it come from Reason and Views Independent of Religious Belief? – Moral Autonomy
    • This school of thought features ways of thinking such as Relativism, Utilitarianism, Kantian Ethics.
  • Is it embedded in religion and from the gods? – Religious Heteronomy

Euthyphro Dilemma and Christianity

This is religious thought. The original Dilemma was adapted for Christianity changing the wording from many gods (polytheism) to one God (monotheism).
We are going to look at the argument from a monotheistic christian perspective.

Is something good because God Commands it?

This position assumes that a moral act is good if God wills it. By following God’s will, humans act morally.

Strengths

  • God’s existence is proven (if its accepted that morality exists) as God is the ‘creator’ of moral acts.
  • God is above Morality and it is under His control.

Weaknesses

  • If God commands something good does this make it morally good?
    • E.g. God commands Saul to slaughter the Amalekites-men, women, children and cattle. Is this acceptable?
  • Morality seems arbitrary – it is not based on laws or reason but on God’s whims
    • e.g God Says do not kill but then commands Saul to kill the Amalekites.
  • What happens when God does not give a command?
    • e.g. Modern day moral issues such as cloning or genetic engineering. How do we know what is a good thing?
  • What happens when there is a conflict of commands?
    • e.g. The sixth commandment states “do not kill” yet later the Bible states “an eye for an eye… a life for a life”
  • Atheists do not believe in a God but still have a moral code – where does this come from?

Does God command it because it is good?

This position assumes a link between God and Morality but argues that moral values are not established by God’s will. Rather He operates according to moral laws already existing in the universe.

Strengths

  • Morality is seperate from God so we can judge moral decisions for ourselves – there is an independent guide.
  • Atheists can have a legitimate sense of morality.

Weaknesses

  • God is limited by the laws of morality – He has to abide by them. He must abide by laws rather than set them.
    • This therefore could go against the idea that God is Omnipotent – All Powerful and Almighty.
  • When God commands things which may be considered ‘immoral’ does this make God less good? If so, this diminishes His omnibenevolence (all-goodness/all-loving nature)
    • For example — some Christians believe that God has commanded that marriage should be only between men and women. Whereas it has been widely accepted that same sex marriage is morally acceptable. This also shows that God is not all loving of everyone.

 

Why is this a dilemma?

For atheists this is not a problem; atheists accept that morality exists and is unexplained but does not require an explanation.
It does present a dilemma for those who do believe in God. God is either bound by Moral laws (and is not omnipotent) or is inconsistent in his commands of morality (and therefore is not omnibenevolent)

Further Reading

http://www.alevelphilosophy.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Euthyphro-dilemma.pdf

https://moralphilosophy.info/normative-ethics/deontology/divine-command-theory/the-euthyphro-dilemma/

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