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    Thread: Euthyphro's Dilemma

    1. #1
      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Euthyphro's Dilemma

      I have a friend (on another forum, not in really life sillies) who is a Platonist as well as a theist (actually his theistic beliefs stem from his Platonism but I’m not going to get into that). In a discussion on objective morality I brought up Plato’s Euthyphro, in which Socrates queries Euthyphro about the nature of piety and impiety.

      Socrates, who is also being tried for impiety runs into Euthyphro who is prosecuting his own biological father for killing his (Euthyphro’s) slave. Socrates assumes that Euthyphro, who is a religious man, must know about the nature of piety and impiety and hopes to gain council from Euthyphro to help him beat his own charges of impiety. Euthyphro asserts that piety is that which the gods love and impiety is that which the gods despise. Not satisfied with this answer, Socrates queries further until Euthyphro changes his initial assertion to: piety is “attending” to the gods wishes, through praying, sacrificing, etc.

      What I am most interested in is the question Socrates puts to Euthyphro about halfway through the dialogue. He asks (I’m paraphrasing and replacing “holy” for simply good):

      1) Is the good (piousness) loved by the gods because it is good?
      2) Or is something good because it is loved by the gods?

      If the good is loved by the gods because it is good (1), then this implies that the standards of the “good” exist external to the gods and prior to their commands. Therefore, if this is true then the gods are not the source of morality but are a subject to this objective moral standard as well and we are no closer to discovering the nature of piety or the source of morality.

      If the good is good because it is loved by the gods (also known as Divine Command theory) then this presents a significant problem as well. First being, that which is good is subject to gods arbitrary will (keep this in mind for later); this calls into question whether morality is founded on pure reason or on gods arbitrary whims? Probably the most damning refutation to this option is that any action can be called good as long as god says it’s good. I’m just going to bring up an awful appeal to emotion fallacy as an example so brace yourselves: If the gods deemed, say, killing children and eating them to be good, then this would be good, independent of our objections.

      My friend responded to this problem by asserting that the gods could not command us to kill children because that would be contrary to their nature (ignoring the fact that in his religion, god does command the Israelite's to kill children in various passages). However this does not escape the dilemma either because we can ask: Does god determine his own nature (as being pious) or is he bound by his pious nature, which had to exist externally to him? As far as I can tell there doesn’t at first glance, appear to be a solution to these problems. Is this a valid argument against objective theistic morality, is it a false dilemma, have you read this far?

      As a side note I'm not interested in trashing on one particular religion, this dilemma applies to all religions which assert god(s) as the source of moral law.

    2. #2
      Dedicated Dreamer Neoquestmoo's Avatar
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      I believe the Divine Command theory. The God(s) (wouldn't want to offend anybody) are the ultimate deciders of what is good and what is not. This is simply because they are God(s), and therefore they are all-knowing and all-powerful. Something they say could be morally objected to. But let's say you are against something a God or God has said is right. What are you going to do? They are God(s) and you are a mortal. We can only trust that the God(s) are just. It is, quite literally, because they said so- and there is nothing we can do to change that. Now you could argue that there are no divine beings and that's a different argument. Assuming they are, they are the source of all morality. That's my two cents. Thoughts?
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    3. #3
      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      I appreciate your response. I have many qualms with the Divine Command theory but I only want to bring up one problem with this ethical system for now. That is, it asserts that we have knowledge that an action is right or wrong because god says it is right or wrong. This implies that we have no knowledge of what is right/wrong without it being communicated to us through a divine being. However moral sentiments regarding murder for instance, precede religion. How could we know that killing is wrong before god communicates this to us? Furthermore according to Divine Command theory, we do not not have knowledge of why killing is wrong we only know that god says it is wrong.

      Not to mention that many moral commands from deities, like condemning adulterers to death, are not regarded by us in the modern age, to be worthy of the death penalty. Adulterers still are subject to social pressure and isolation but many religious people would think it is wrong to kill a cheating husband even though god says it to be right.

      Also don't worry about political correctness, I only used the word gods (plural) because Socrates was directly addressing the gods of Greek mythology, although the problem can be applied to any theistic religion for the most part.

      Furthermore, Neoquestmoo, using the argument that gods will is ultimately unknowable does not help the validity of your argument. If gods will is truly unknowable then how come theists claim to know what god wants from us? This is a bit like pulling the rug from under your own feet in my opinion.

      Anyway it is not my intention to refute your religion, I'm merely trying to refute Divine Command theory (in this post at least, not in the whole thread though).

      Also if anyone is interested you can find the dialogue online here http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/euthyfro.html
      Last edited by stormcrow; 12-13-2011 at 01:48 AM.

    4. #4
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      Isn't it basically futile to try to make complete logical sense about something that begins by assuming the existence of gods, which in itself defies all logic? I mean, regardless of whether they actually exist or not, isn't it impossible to prove or disprove the existence of such a being, whose abilities and purposes would be utterly beyond our understanding?

    5. #5
      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Darkmatters View Post
      Isn't it basically futile to try to make complete logical sense about something that begins by assuming the existence of gods, which in itself defies all logic? I mean, regardless of whether they actually exist or not, isn't it impossible to prove or disprove the existence of such a being, whose abilities and purposes would be utterly beyond our understanding?
      Euthyphro (in my interpretation of it at least) does from the get go assume the gods existence. It is not an argument intending to "disprove god" (which in my opinion is not anymore possible than disproving the existence of an ice-cream shitting taco) but to bring up questions regarding the foundations of an objective morality. I enjoyed the dialogue very much, I would recommend you read it if you have the time, its only about 10 pages.

      I know its your job as a mod to troll atheists who you think are trolling theists but that is not my intention believe it or not (I realize your incredulity regarding this claim but oh well) this is a discussion on the foundations of morality as it relates to theism not about the existence or non-existence of god. As I said the Euthyphro presupposes the existence of the gods in the first page of the dialogue. I love literature and philosophy and Euthyphro is a wonderful example of both, I only wish to discuss this dialogue.
      Last edited by stormcrow; 12-13-2011 at 02:23 AM.

    6. #6
      Dedicated Dreamer Neoquestmoo's Avatar
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      Gods will is not unknowable, and if I came off that way I apologize. God's will, at least in my interpretation of my own Christian religion, is brotherhood of men and the ultimate salvation of all men and an end to sin. Which leads to a question- what is sin? Is it something that is against the 10 commandments? Is it one of the 7 deadly sins? And, if God cannot simply defeat sin with His will, is sin a force equal and opposite God?
      In other words, the will of any sort of deity is based on their assumed ultimate knowledge.

    7. #7
      D.V. Editor-in-Chief Original Poster's Avatar
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      All the morality people project from a God's point of view has a very practical, evolved purpose in society. To be a good person is simply to pursue behavioral impulses that promote the sustainable success of the community rather than temporary alleviation for the self.

      There is only one single judge when it comes to ethics and sin: Survival/Success. If it works, it is justified. There is no such thing as absolute justification. There is never any sort of omnipotent being who praises your good deeds. You have only your wake to reflect upon.

      This may seem contradictory when people are forced to choose between their ethics and survival or make some other kind of ethical decision that appears to oppose their species but it's still about survival, just not the survival of DNA so much as the survival of ideas. For instance we all know that the Ends Never Justify the Means but why not? If all ethics comes down to survival it ought to be one big game of justifying means for positive ends. But the way I'm defining ethics here is specifically referring to ideas as opposed to physical DNA. Traditions are the DNA of Ideas. Compromising your ideas for survival is unethical because you are mutating from that original philosophy into something else which may not be as sustainable. Myopia is the greatest root of this kind of mutation. People only see the power right in front of them and lose sight of the long term process. This is the equivalent of cancer in the body.
      Last edited by Omnis Dei; 12-13-2011 at 06:51 PM.

      Everything works out in the end, sometimes even badly.


    8. #8
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      That dialogue is less a philosophical inquiry than a comedy routine ridiculing the notion of piety by declaring it an empty set and portraying those who pursue it as vain and ill reasoned. The purpose of the question you ask is that it cannot be answered. To consider the ramifications of the two possibilities presented is like arguing about the character traits of Who from Who's on First.

      stormcrow likes this.
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



    9. #9
      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Taosaur View Post
      That dialogue is less a philosophical inquiry than a comedy routine ridiculing the notion of piety by declaring it an empty set and portraying those who pursue it as vain and ill reasoned. The purpose of the question you ask is that it cannot be answered. To consider the ramifications of the two possibilities presented is like arguing about the character traits of Who from Who's on First.
      Well that is certainly an interesting interpretation of Euthyphro. I say it is interesting because I actually walked away from the dialogue with the exact opposite sentiment. You said "ridiculing the notion of piety by declaring it an empty set and portraying those who pursue it as vain and ill reasoned" regarding Socrates stance in the dialogue, like I said this is quite the opposite of my interpretation of the dialogue.

      Socrates explicitly states throughout the dialogue "What is piety? That is an inquiry which I shall never be weary of pursuing.." for Plato the notion of how we should act or live is interwoven with his metaphysics and epistemology (Plato is after all a theist, arguably a deist) it is a question that rears its head into many of his dialogues.

      Furthermore I think it is clear that Socrates does have a notion of piety that he hints at throughout the text. Socrates is not "ridiculing" piety he is clearly trying to convince Euthyphro to not prosecute his father, as that would be an impious thing to do.

      When Socrates queries Euthyphro about the nature of piety it is clear that Euthyphro cannot present an adequate definition, insinuating that it would be impious to act on a notion (piety) that he (Euthyphro) does not fully comprehend.

      At the end of the dialogue Socrates proclaims: "If you had not certainly known the nature of piety and impiety, I am confident that you would never, on behalf of a serf, have charged your aged father with murder.....I am sure, therefore, that you know the nature of piety and impiety."

      To me Socrates is clearly trying to dissuade Euthyphro from proceeding to prosecute his father considering he knows very little about the nature of piety, considering Euthyphro changes his definition of piety several times throughout the text. He never comes up with a satisfactory answer but walks away in a hurry.

      -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Just to explore the text a bit more I wanted to bring up the forms. Euthyphro was written right after Meno and before the Apology, Plato does not discuss the forms until Phaedo. When first asked what is piety, Euthyphro basically replies "what I'm doing now (prosecuting his father)".

      Socrates is not satisfied with the definition and presses Euthyphro to answer "what is it that pious actions have in common?" Here I think he is strongly referring to the forms. We cannot answer the question "what is it that pious actions have in common?" with "they are all pious" because we are not really getting to the heart of the matter.

      In this regard I think this can also be used (I think Plato might even have entertained this idea) as an argument against the forms. If we posit that "what pious things have in common is that they are pious" or "by virtue of them being characteristics of the form of the pious" we are not really answering the question or to put it another way, we are just restating the question in the answer. Socrates would have no doubt found this definition to be too vague and ambiguous.
      Last edited by stormcrow; 12-14-2011 at 11:09 PM.

    10. #10
      widdershins modality Achievements:
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      I can't speak to Plato's broader views or Socrates', or to the historical context of the dialogue or the episode it relates. A deist mocking piety, however, would hardly be unprecedented (or in a case of this antiquity, perhaps unprocedented). What do you think Ben Franklin would have thought of Pat Robertson?

      It is established at the outset that Socrates is out of sorts and inclined to sarcasm, in his initial reticence, followed by his unflattering description of his accuser, and then the obviously sarcastic praise of his accuser's motivation and prospects. Euthyphro's response establishes him as the oblivious straight man, taking Socrates' words at face value. Euthyphro is then established in no uncertain terms as the very living paragon of piety in his day, and Socrates proceeds to run him in circles, demonstrating that every foundation for piety is weak clay, and that the certainty of the pious is unfounded.

      The rhetorical purpose of Euthyphro's dubious charge against his father is to discredit the charges against Socrates himself, and for the two to demonstrate the foolishness and danger of piety. It's wrong to equate piety with "the good" in this dialogue. One of the few points Socrates establishes without irony or guile is that the good is in dispute among both gods and men, and so piety cannot be concerned with the good, moral or just.

      Socrates is not trying to persuade Euthyphro of anything. He's taking the opportunity to discredit his accuser, Meletus, by proxy, without overtly criticising either of them, which would arguably prove the charges against him. Plato uses the dialogue in the same way that Socrates uses his flattery of Euthyphro: to mock his critics mercilessly, but with plausible deniability.
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



    11. #11
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      If you look at earlier times, people followed the gods commands out of fear. Fear and pleasing the gods was always seen as the primary reason for worshiping a god, and you see that in all religions. God is supposed to be all powerful and could kill you in an instead on a whim, and so you need to be careful and always try to please him.

      In modern times people have, for the most part, lost their fear of gods. We pretty much know that god isn't going to come down and smite us. He isn't going to send plagues or strike us down with lightning, and we have no real fear of him. So in modern times we follow the idea that values and morals have always existed, and that we should all know without being told what is right or wrong.

      So really I think they are both true. At first, a long time a go, things were good because god commanded it. Even things we see as evil today were seen as good back then because god enjoyed it. Things like sacrifices were good and necessarily. And now, god likes things because they are good. Our values no longer come from fear but from civilized laws and a sense of community.

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