Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Euthyphro's Dilemma (Pt. III)

Yesterday we took a look at the challenge posed by the Euthyphro Dilemma to those who believe that God's existence is a necessary condition for any meaningful, non-subjective, non-arbitrary ethics. We began by considering the second horn of Plato's famous dilemma which we stated this way:
Is an act morally good because God commands it or does God command it because it is good?
In this post I'd like to reflect on the first of the dilemma's two horns: Is good simply whatever God commands such that cruelty or hatred would be good if God commanded it? If so, it seems that good is just the arbitrary choice of the deity which strikes most people as an unacceptable option.

The problem with this part of the dilemma, though, is that if we stipulate that God is omnibenevolent, and that "good" is that which conduces to human happiness, then the suggestion that God could command cruelty or hatred is an incoherent act description. Here's why:

The question of God commanding cruelty presupposes a state of affairs in which a perfectly good being, i.e. one whose essence it is to always do that which ultimately conduces to human well-being and happiness, nevertheless commands us to do something which produces gratuitous suffering and pain. There appears to be a logical conflict in that.

In other words, if goodness is as we've defined it, and if God is perfectly good, then it's logically impossible for cruelty to be part of his nature or for him to command cruelty or anything else which would conflict with ultimate human well-being and happiness. It would require of God that he issue a command that is opposed to his own nature. It'd be like asking whether there is something which a being who knows everything nevertheless doesn't know.

So, the proper answer to the question of whether God commands us to love because love is good or whether love is good because God commands it, seems to me to be: "neither." God commands us to love because it is his desire to have the world conformed to his own essential nature which is love.

If what's been said in this and the previous post is correct then the Euthyphro Dilemma fails as an objection to the moral argument outlined in the first post in this series. It certainly doesn't succeed in putting the theist in the kind of bind some have thought it does.