Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Euthyphro Dilemma and the Nature of God

Lets think about philosophy for a minute because I think there has been some confusion over some key metaphysical issues in theology.  In Plato’s Euthyphro a dialogue takes places between Euthyphro and Socrates over the nature of piety.  Euthyphro begins throwing out different definitions for piety which Socrates socratically dismisses in a way that only Socrates can.  For our purpose we want to focus in on the second definition that Euthyphro gives.  Here he says that “piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what all the gods hate.”  What is interesting is what Socrates says in response, “do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?”

Socrates’ question is one of those locus classicus questions some times referred to as the “Euthyphro Dilemma.”  What Socrates is getting at if I might amplify is:
Q.1 God command X because it is morally obligatory.
Q.2 X is morally obligatory because God commanded it. 
How one answers these questions has much to say about her understanding of God.

Q.1 assumes that X is independent of God.  That is to say that moral actions are right or wrong in themselves.  This was the understanding that both Socrates and Euthyphro both agree on, the gods love piety because it is pious.  Having made their appeal for Q.1 necessarily means they must reject Q.2 on the basis that the god’s loving the pious does not explain why the pious is the pious.  Or in our example above God commanding X does not explain X.  Lastly, both Q.1 and Q.2 cannot both be true because to say that “God commands X because it is morally obligatory and X is morally obligatory because God commands it” is circular reasoning.  In either case Socrates’ initial question goes unanswered.  Namely, what is the nature of moral laws?

The problem is in Socrates’ question itself “do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?”  It creates an either / or situation or false dilemma without the possibility of a third option.  Namely, that the nature of morality is God Himself.  God is moral and is the standard of morality therefore when it comes to moral laws He looks only to Himself.  Q.1 fails to answer the question because it assumes moral laws are independent of God.  If moral laws are independent of God then they exist outside of God requiring God’s obedience.  Thus these moral laws would be deified above God and command His obedience.  Moreover he would then lose His God like qualities and cease to be God.  This latter view of the problem as a false dilemma was articulated early on by Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas.  The bottom line is that God does not conform to nor does he create moral laws.  Rather His very nature stands for them.

1 comment:

Denny Fusek said...

Maybe this philosophy is above my head, but is their another option?

The way I think about it is that it is a combination of 1 and 2. I'll use concrete examples.

We are commanded to worship God and we are also commanded to not murder. To me, those seem like they each fall into one of the different categories.

Worshiping God is not something that God needs - because he lacks nothing. It is morally obligatory because God commanded it.

Murdering someone goes against the very nature of God - who is love. God commanded this because it is morally obligatory.

Admittedly, philosophy is not my strong suit and I may be missing a lot here, so please clear up anything that you think I might be mistaken in.