Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Article: "What is Euthyphro's Dilemma?" by

Originally text found here:

Plato's famous question concerning the nature of goodness asks whether a thing is good because God says it is good, or does God say it's good because it is good. This is known as Euthyphro's Dilemma (named after the character Euthyphro in Plato's 'socratic dialogue' on the subject of goodness).

The problem this question raises for the Christian is two-fold. First, if a thing is good simply because God says it is, then it seems that God could say anything was good and it would be. This might include things that we instinctively know to be evil, like rape or murder. But we don't want a morality based on God's arbitrary declarations, so it seems this choice is a poor one for the believer. However, if God is simply reporting a thing's goodness, then He is no longer the standard for goodness and seems to be at the mercy of some outside standard. But we don't want there to be a standard above God that He must bow to, so this response does not seem attractive, either. Hence the dilemma.

There is, however, a third option. As Christians we should affirm both God's sovereignty and His non-derived goodness. Thus, we don't want a standard that is arbitrary nor one that exists outside or above God. Fortunately, God is both supremely sovereign and good. Therefore, God's nature itself can serve as the standard of goodness, and God can base His declarations of goodness on Himself. God's nature is unchangeable and wholly good; thus, His will is not arbitrary, and His declarations are always true. This solves both issues.

How is God the standard of goodness? Because He is the creator. A thing's goodness is determined by its purpose. A dull knife is not a good knife because the purpose of a knife is to cut. Sharpness is bad for a shoe, however, for a good shoe is one that is comfortable and supportive to a foot. God, as creator, is the determiner of all purposes of His creation. What He makes is made purposefully, and anything that stands in the way of that purpose is bad. Rape is evil because that is not what sex is made to be. Murder is evil because it is not the purpose of humans to arbitrarily decide when people should die. (Note that this does not necessarily vilify all human-caused deaths, such as capital punishment or war. If God has stated guidelines for these actions, then it is no longer arbitrary human will being carried out.)

In conclusion, a thing is good to the degree that it fulfills its purposes. Because God is the creator of all things, according to His own good nature, He is therefore both the standard and declarer of goodness.

Courage and Godspeed,


Andrew Ryan said...

"A thing's goodness is determined by its purpose."

Is this a law created by God, or is it a rule that exists outside of God?

If the former, then isn't this is a circular argument – God created the rule that says that if you create something then you have the authority to determine its purpose?

If its a simple logical fact that the creator of something determines its purpose, then are there other such rules that exist outside of God? If so, then one could use such rules to ground a moral system. In other words, if one can say that it's a logical fact that the creator of something determines its purpose, then surely other ideas such as property law can be said to flow logically too. If one can assert that (A) "A thing's goodness is determined by its purpose" then why not also simply assert that (B) Having sex with someone without their consent is wrong?

If you reply that one requires a God to exist to assert (B) then one must also need a God to exist in order to assert (A). In which case, again, the argument becomes circular – or at least you've only succeeded in moving the dilemma back a step.

"A dull knife is not a good knife because the purpose of a knife is to cut."

It might might work for the purpose that the designer came up with, but the owner of the knife might well find another purpose for it. The film 'White Dog' concerned a dog bread and trained by racists to attack black people. It was found, rehoused and retrained. It could be said that the animal is now not 'performing its purpose' but that doesn't mean we must conclude it was become a 'worse animal'.

You can reply "Well, it wasn't the racists that really created the dog, it was God". But if that's the case then one can't really use any analogies between A) God creating us and B) humans creating knives or shoes – as God would ultimately be the creator of those objects anyway, not us.

And of course it simply moves the dilemma back a step – did, for example, God not make rape part of his purpose for us because it is wrong, or is it simply wrong because he didn't make it part of his purpose for us?

If the former, then it's a standard that exists apart from God. If the latter, then it becomes arbitrary again. He could have designed a species purely for the pleasure of watching one gender raping the other, and then one would have to conclude that it was moral for members of that species to rape other members.

Thus morality in this view is simply about fulfilling God's purpose, regardless of how cruel or ultimately meaningless it might be, rather than having any intrinsic connection to values such as love or compassion.

Chad said...

For readers who are interested in examining Euthyphro's Dilemma more in-depth, the following links may prove helpful:

Here is a great post we featured a few years back.

The Christian Apologetics Alliance has a great article here.

And Neil Shenvi has a great piece he wrote here.