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The Euthyphro Dilemma

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  • September 18, 2008
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Religion and morality have been seen as inseparable since the advent of Western thought (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religion-morality/) - religion's fundamental characters being frequently ethical in nature, and morality often viewed as a derivative of religion. However, the relationship is not as clear cut as many people would like you to believe. A very old and important dilemma facing this relationship is the Euthyphro dilemma, discussed in Plato’s Euthyphro. In it, Socrates and Euthyphro argue about the nature of morality outside of a court. Socrates is being prosecuted for impiety, while Euthyphro is charging his father with murder. Although charging your father, even for murder, is frowned upon in Ancient Greek culture, Euthyphro justifies it by claiming that this is similar to what the Gods have been reported to have done, and therefore it is alright. After multiple definitions of holiness and piety, Socrates brings up the Euthyphro dilemma , which when adapted to a monotheistic context where God is an all-powerful, all-knowing being (which I will be using), goes: (1)Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral?, or (2)Is it moral because it is commanded by God?

First I will discuss ‘divine command theory’, one horn of the dilemma (2). Next, I will talk about the other horn, which includes all theories about ethics (or meta-ethics) that aren’t related to God’s will (1). After examining the weaknesses of each option, I will consider – and argue against - the alternative options presented by theists. Finally, I will state the reasons why the arguments for divine command theory aren’t strong enough, and why (1) is the most sensible option to choose. God’s commands determining morality – otherwise known as divine command theory - is often a popular option at first, since it nicely puts ethics and God together, but the more you look into it, the more implausible it begins to sound. The six major problems with divine command theory can...