Euthyphro Dilemma Crash Course

The so-called Euthyphro Dilemma has been said to present problems for many theists; however, I would argue that it really doesn’t present any problems at all, especially for the Christian theist. Consider this modified version of the dilemma: Is something good because God wills it, or does He will it because it’s good?

At first glance, this would appear to present a problem for the theist; however, since the alternatives are not contradictories, the theist can propose a third alternative, namely, that God wills it because He is good. Does this solve the so-called dilemma?

If we say that God is good, that presupposes that good exists in the first place. If good exists necessarily, it must exist outside of us. If that’s the case, we can rightly say that good is objective, rather than subjective or illusory. To say that God is good is perhaps the best way to ground the good because it exists in His very nature, but this is only half the story.

When you think about virtues that constitute goodness, they are almost always specific to persons. Consider the virtue love; how can we say that God loved perfectly before He created anybody? It seems to me that the answer is made manifest in the Trinity: the God of Christianity. For before God created anything, He loved the Son perfectly from all eternity, and this is worthy of praise and worship.

If God is the good, there is no standard of good that is outside of Him; for God neither has a standard to adhere to, nor does He have any moral duties to fulfill. We, on the other hand, have both. If good is objective, it is binding for everyone. This is where it’s important to make a distinction between moral ontology and moral epistemology. Merely knowing that good exists is not enough; we also need to be able to discern between what is right and what is wrong. We are able to do this from God’s commands; they are good and obligatory for us.

So, If God is the good, the Euthyphro Dilemma fails: God neither wills something because it’s good, nor is it good because He wills it, rather He wills it because He is good. It makes no sense, then, to ask why God is good because that’s tantamount to asking why goodness is good, which is nonsense. If God does not exist, I see no reason to think that good does either. However, if God does exist, He is the object of goodness, if ever there was one.

Advertisements

13 thoughts on “Euthyphro Dilemma Crash Course

      1. And is being the paradigm of goodness good because it’s God who is the paradigm of goodness, or is God the paradigm of goodness because being the paradigm of goodness is what being good is?

      2. No. The first part of that question is the second horn of the dilemma and the second part of that question is the first horn. And I’m asking because the question illustrates that shifting the goalpost from God’s commandments to something else (like God’s nature or being the paradigm of goodness) doesn’t escape the dilemma. It’s always possible to reformulate the dilemma again with that in the place of God’s commandments.

        Let me illustrate: There’s a conceivable world which is identical to ours, except in that world’s Old Testament, Leviticus 11 says:

        “These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron and the hoopoe.”

        Instead of:

        “These are the birds you are to regard as unclean and not eat because they are unclean: the eagle, the vulture, the black vulture, the red kite, any kind of black kite, any kind of raven, the horned owl, the screech owl, the gull, any kind of hawk, the little owl, the cormorant, the great owl, the white owl, the desert owl, the osprey, the stork, any kind of heron, the hoopoe and the bat.”

        Which is what it says in the actual world. Given that God’s commandments flow from His nature, in this conceivable world, there is a god-like being with a nature almost identical to God’s nature in the actual world, but slightly different – different enough to account for the discrepancy in Leviticus 11.

        My question is this:

        Would the definition of what it means to be the paradigm of goodness be different in that conceivable world from what it is in the actual world because in that conceivable world, being the paradigm of goodness is defined as being what the nature of the god-like being is (just like in the actual world, being the paradigm of goodness it is defined as being what the nature of God is)?

        Or would the definition of what it means to be the paradigm of goodness be the same in that conceivable world as it is in the actual world and the god-like being would not be the paradigm of goodness?

        If you answer yes to the first question, you’re answering yes to the second horn of the dilemma. If your answer is yes to the second question, you’re answering yes to the first horn.

      3. The question has nothing to do with the dilemma; you’re confused. The dilemma has to do with God willing certain acts as either right/wrong/good/bad. You’re asking why God is good, which I’ve already answered: He’s the paradigm of goodness.

  1. Wow, a really stimulating Post; especially,I like your wise observation that, “God neither wills something because it’s good, nor is it good because He wills it, rather He wills it because He is good. ”
    Your Post reminds me of the words of Jesus when he said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except my Father in heaven.” Maybe, you can clarify why Jesus did not refer to himself as good in this conversation, since he knew that he and the Father we’re one.Was he just expressing his humility.
    Your words in this Blog also remind me of John words when he said, “God is love.” (1 John 4:16)
    As John wrote, “God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God.” Does that mean that the more we love, the more we can live in God, or the more God lives in us! And does that mean we extract from God something of his unlimited love-character tied up in his goodness,or does he extract from us something of our love, that our expression of love for another in our own character is returned to God, and thus,we live in him more, or he lives in us more? What I’m trying to say is this, Is God’s love a passive love in so far as it being part of his character, or can it be inputted, actively, not just inparted? By the way, can I share with you my Article I wrote, entitled, “How to Listen to God’s Voice.” I would love like to know your thoughts.

    1. Thank you for the kind words!

      When Christ asked, “Why do you call me good?” And goes on to say that no one is good except for the Father? I think He was doing just what you said, putting Him and the Father as one; it was just another way of doing it, I think. He never denied being good; He only added that only God was good.

      In regards to God being love, I think you are mostly right in your understanding, although I wouldn’t say that His love is passive per se. His love is like ours in the sense that it is free and of the will, but it differs in that God loves perfectly, having loved the Son perfectly from all eternity. In that sense, love, just like good, are objectively real and grounded in God’s nature. Love is something unique to persons, so we can say that love exists necessarily if it exists within His eternal person. That is to say that love would still exist whether humans did or not. However, since He created humans, He created us in His image, with the capacity to also love; never are we more like God than when we love one another.

      By the way, I would love to read your article. Thank you again for your comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s