The Euthyphro Dilemma

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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 be called ‘the independence problem’4, ‘the arbitrariness problem’4, ‘the emptiness problem’4, ‘the problem of abhorrent commands’ , not knowing God’s will, and the ‘naturalistic fallacy.’ Firstly I’ll explain the ‘problem of abhorrent commands’. Divine command theory states that whatever God commands determines good or bad. So if God commanded us to not kill, it would become immoral to kill. However, it also allows for the opposite to happen – he can order us to kill our neighbours, and this would become morally good. This is troubling for many theists, and so a common reply to this would be that God would not command such a law because God only commands morally good acts. This is ‘the independence problem’, and contradicts divine command theory. If God chooses which moral commands to give his subjects based on morality, it means that morality is in fact independent of God after all! Another similar reply to the one just put forward is that God, by his very nature, is good. But what does this mean? In divine command theory, it turns out, absolutely nothing! This is ‘the emptiness problem’. By using divine command theories on morality, the phrase ‘God is good’ is like saying ‘God is what God desires’. And if God is the standard of Good, then calling God good is a logical mistake according to Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said it is like calling the platinum metre stick in France, which was used as a standard for the metric system, both a metre long, or not a metre long . Also, saying ‘God’s commands are good’ is like saying ‘God’s commands are what God desires’. Surely there is more to morality than simply saying ‘God is good because God acts how he wants to act’? Another problem is ‘the arbitrariness problem’. Because certain actions do not have moral values before God gives it some, it can be deduced that God decides whether these are good or bad on an arbitrary whim. This means that things like murder, rape and theft are only bad because God impulsively, and without...
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