The Euthyphro Dilemma

The Euthyphro dilemma is an argument against divine command theory, the view that God’s commands are the source of morality. On this view, anything that God commands us to do is the right thing to do, by definition, and anything God commands us not to do is the wrong thing to do, by definition.

So, here’s the Euthyphro dilemma, based on one of Plato’s earlier dialogues:

  1. If morality is based on God’s commands, then either God commands us to do things because they are good, or it is good to do things because God commands us to do them.
  2. If God commands us to do things because they are good, then morality is independent of God, since things are good prior to God’s commands.
  3. If it is good to do things because God commands us to do them, then morality is unacceptably arbitrary. For example, God could command us to boil babies alive, and that would make it good to boil babies alive.
  4. Therefore, morality is not based on God’s commands.

This is usually taken to be a very strong argument against divine command theory.

Interestingly, this sort of argument is not usually taken to be a strong objection to other moral theories that base morality on the will of a specific person or group. For example, moral subjectivists don’t think it is a very strong objection to their view that it is consistent with boiling babies alive if my subjective desires incline me to. Moral relativists don’t think it is a very strong objection to their position that it is consistent with boiling babies alive if the group decides to boil babies alive. And so on.

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One thought on “The Euthyphro Dilemma

  1. dstamps2173

    What Man calls GOD’s commands are really instructions for how each individual can be a contributor in a unified Society. The use of commands that are not in line with who you are, or want to be, will only be followed out of fear. Fear will only produce a fractured Society unable to obtain its highest potential of producing peace within because individuals will be focused within themselves rather than the highest purpose of the Society of which they are a part.

    No, each individual must learn to focus on a purpose outside of themselves and give birth and mature lifestyles through love that contribute to the purpose of a unified Society. The instructions in Scripture, when properly understood and followed, will accomplish that purpose.

    Theories, such as, the Euthyphro dilemma are merely the imaginations of the self-serving nature of Man striving to justify its false view of Reality.

    Reply

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