The Euthyphro Dilemma

The Euthyphro dilemma is the apparent impossibility of attempting to invoke God as the source of morality. In simple words the problem can be put as: Why did God choose the moral rules he did? For example, why did God make charity good and rape wrong? Were there any reasons for that (Lets say because they increase human well-being)? If there were any reasons, then those reasons provide the basis of morality and not God. And if God had no reasons and he decided arbitrarily, then he could just as easily have made rape good and charity wrong. The problems exists because we all feel that there is something intrinsically moral about certain actions, which exists independent of anyone commanding us to do that action. This dilemma is clearly a fatal blow to any conception of God that relies on a revealed scripture for providing a moral code for humans. However, this dilemma can be by-passed by considering certain conceptions of God.

Komal explains the problem and then offers its possible solution:

The Euthyphro dilemma is a dilemma that the believer in Divine command theory is supposed to be faced with. The dilemma goes as follows: either what God commands is the good, or God commands what is good. If the first, then that may have counterintuitive consequences, such as having to accept that a genocide is good if God commands it. If the second, then Divine command theory is false.

This dilemma is fairly easy to resolve, if one posits that the source of one's moral intuitions are the same as the source of Divine command. In other words, if our moral intuitions are an expression of the Divine nature within us (our souls), and Divine command is an expression of the Divine nature, then the two cannot conflict.

Further, the Divine nature is orderly and intelligible. For example, God is love, not hate. God is providential, not malicious. God is truth, not falsity. Thus, there is only kind of thing that can be an expression of the Divine nature. God does not act arbitrarily, but acts in accordance with His nature.

If the Socratic opponent argues that God lacks free will if He is only able to act in one way (according to His nature), then I would simply disagree with my opponent's conception of free will. My view of free will is similar to that of Leibniz, who believed that free will was to act according to one's nature. I believe free will is to act according to the highest nature; or rather, that there are degrees of freedom, such that the higher the nature from which you are acting, the more free your actions. Since the highest nature is the Divine nature, it follows that God is always perfectly free. However, this freedom does not entail arbitrariness, as this conception of free will is not one that defines free will in terms of the ability to make an indifferent choice or to act arbitrarily.


Anonymous said…
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that you are a sophist, which, of course, makes your post less interesting on one level, but more interesting on what is perhaps a level unnoticed by you.
I'm still left with a feeling of annoyance engendered by your easy assumptions that you often preface with the phrase 'we all feel'. The spring of human action and reaction is humanity itself. You are moving seemingly without protest to the view that God exists. I find it hard to deal with posts like this because they start with this assumption. I will, however, continue to read you. I shall do so rather in the spirit of reading a newspaper which supports political views with which one disagrees. Contrary views stir one's brain and make one think about one's own views. But I am still sad. As the cliche has it, when we learn that someone we know is to marry, 'Ah! Another good man gone!'
You have been very active and I haven't had time to work through a number of your posts. I will get round to it. Stay safe.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Alec

You always like to read much more than what the argument at hand intends to say :)

Providing a possible solution to Euthyphro dilemma is not the same as providing a proof of God's existence. Even an atheist can appreciate that such a solution is possible.

Secondly, if you had read my previous posts, I had said that there are two ways of explain the objectivity of intuitions. One is to take them as Platonic Ideals, and the other is a conception of God that by-passes Euthyphro dilemma. Both solutions are adequate, so an atheist can pick the Platonic Ideal solution if God so distastes him.

The spring of human action and reaction is humanity itself.

And I am supposed to believe that this is not an easy assumption on your part? :) What proof do you have of this professed naturalism?
ahish said…
Miss Komal is very smart. She believes in two things.
1. God exists.
2. There are moral actions.

Her belief in first is so strong that any fact/idea which could be explained independently can be accounted for if we are willing to tweak the interpretation of God.

So how does she set the argument up?
She utilizes the incompleteness in the first statement.
God exists; but where? two possibilities 1. within us 2. outside us. Moral intuitions by definition are developed from 'within'.

Now creatively she uses conflation of the idea of 'within' to say "our moral intuitions are an expression of the Divine nature within us...". Very ingenious! But why should that be so? Just to avoid conflict? The argument seems more like an effort to paste 'morality' as an appendage to the wall of 'God' so that it appears as part of a common framework.
Anonymous said…
We both, it seems. are reading too much into the others words. I didn't as it happens, believe that you set out to prove the existence of God by providing a possible solution to Euythphro dilemma, just from this post, nor indeed do I think you necessarily to set out to do that in any other. My feeling about where you are headed is based on my inability to detect that you start any train of thought from a point that doesn't presuppose the existence of God. It's what you might call an intuitive :) feeling, but I would say is based purely on the evidence you give me. Then that's what I believe all 'intuition' is :)
There may be two ways to 'explain the objectivity of intuitions', but there sure are plenty of ways to demonstrate their unreliability.
I don't believe there is such a thing as entirely unshakeable proof of any statement. I try to sort out thoughts which rely least on belief and seeing on which side, if any, they fall. Not too shabby a way to approach a problem, I think. It's the way I'm working with naturalism, although I allowed irritation to phrase it too certainly. That's another aspect of argument you might consider - how much philosophical positions are influenced by irritation, even testosterone come to that :)
Anonymous said…
I meant to add, please stay safe. Life without you would seem duller, much less bright. Alec xx
Komal said…

First, I hope you know that your comment does not make a case against what I said.

Second, I didn't come up with the idea that the Divine nature is within us. This is a mystical insight that is universal among mystics who have had any kind of genuine awakening. I happened to believe this already, and it also explains why the Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma.
Komal said…

What I presented was a solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma, a solution that Awais seems to accept. This in itself does not presuppose God's existence, any more than the dilemma itself does.

However, I happen to believe in God, so I don't mind this 'criticism'.
Komal said…
I would also like to mention, and I hope this isn't too personal a criticism, that I find it very bizarre that your comments are 98% unbridled, and frankly bigoted, attacks on theists (and even sometimes on Awais), and the remaining 2% is gushing over Awais as if he were the light of the world.

You might want to reflect on your love-hate relationship with this blog, and while you're at it, consider not talking about us theists as if we were morons. It's quite irritating, and feels to me like homophobic generalizations would feel to the both of us.
Anonymous said…
I didn't, as it happens suggest that your solution did pre-suppose the existence of god.
If my comments were 98% unbridled attacks on theists then one might think that merely redressed the balance a tiny bit. I don't happen to think they are, but you must be the judge. I would like theists and atheists alike to apply reasoned thought to their ideas. Most of the time I am trying to understand.
Do you think there was just a hint at the end of an attempt to suppress contrary views? I am no expert on Pakistan, but to an outsider it does seem that there is a strong current carrying your society towards suppression, and that, if it's true, in my view would be a sadness. Perhaps you don't think that's true, or if it is you approve? I will leave the blog if Awais (who I'd never thought of as the light of the world, but maybe as a light in the world) wishes it.
If I do show irritation with theists from time to time that is generally because I think them mis-guided, but on the other hand I do sometimes hope that one of them will make the breakthrough and demonstrate something wonderful to me.
Try to keep calm, and stay safe.
Komal said…
How was anything I said an attempt to suppress contrary views? What you said was basically: you're Pakistani, so you must be innately predisposed to attempting to suppress contrary views, and that's what you must be doing in this situation.

Pakistan is an unfree society: a totalitarian, theocratic society. I am against not only the idea of Pakistan (I don't believe partition should have happened), but I also do not support the unfree nature of that society.

Your remarks about theists are rude, and often bigoted. For example, you once said that theists do not possess the ability to use logic or reason. This is ridiculous, and is in the same league as saying that all atheists are immoral. Surely you understand the nature of bigotry, and why making remarks like: 'all people in X group are completely lacking in some essential human trait,' is a bigoted thing to do.

I did not ask you to leave the blog. It is not my blog, and I don't care whether you stay or leave. But I too get irritated when my beliefs are repeatedly attacked, and when you don't bother paying attention to the post but merely label it as sophistic or whatever.

I have come to the conclusion that you are a self-righteous and unreflective person. I hope this provokes you into looking into yourself.
Komal said…
Also, what makes you think I'm not calm?
Anonymous said…
I won't respond to the specious leap in the first paragraph. I don't deny, but I don't remember, saying that atheists are incapable of using logic and reason, and I'm not going back to search it out. I do think that part at least of the point of being a theist is that you adopt your god's rules and in that act surrender the possibility that they might be wrong, or that he/she doesn't exist. In that act logic and reason are ended because the questions are answered. I don't want to make a judgement about that. Myself, at the moment, I neither believe nor disbelieve in god. I feel you are pigeon-holing me as an atheist when I don't myself know whether I am or whether I'm not. Reading 'A myth in creation' it seems to me that much of its content is predicated on the assumption that the divine does exist. Again I don't actually have a problem with that (my 'irritation' is probably due to passing incomprehension) but I would like to read thought which expresses many points of view.
In law a defence to slander or libel is that a statement is neither of those things if it can be shown that it's true. The essence of bigotry is that it is an attitude deriving from something which is unreasonable and peversely false. If I did say that theists are not capable of logic or reason it would not be bigoted if it could be shown that they aren't capable of logic and reason. Again I'm not claiming that they do lack logic or reason, just that there's a possibility that it might not be bigoted to take that stance. I'm not even sure that logic and reason are essential human traits, if by essential you mean innate, but I'm not denying they're useful.
I get that you are cross. I don't know whether I'm a racist or not. I'm a bit suspicious of those who confidently say they aren't. I'm not sure it's a judgement that an individual can make about himself. If you say I am, then I should be worried. I did think that I'm not. When you ask yourself that question, what answer do you get?
All in all I'm still very much adrift, but still analytical and suspicious.
As for your conclusion, I believe you.
Awais Aftab said…
Please please, let's not argue over such matters. Let us do what we are here to do, to philosophize. Let us not argue over trifles. Let us discuss ideas, not each other.

This blog is neither theistic nor atheistic. I have been on both sides of the debate, and I know that there is much validity on both sides. I wish to promote neither theism nor atheism. My excursions into philosophy are not meant to exclude anyone, I hope they offer all something to think about and reassess their own philosophical views. If I assume something, my assumptions are open to criticism by those who disagree.

Alec, you are always welcome to read this blog and share your thoughts with us. Komal, you are always welcome to write more.
ahish said…
Here's a slightly different take.
This is in today's Indian Express:
Neuroscientist V.S.Ramachandran's speculations on morality from an evolutionary perspective.
"You can ask about morality, it is completely going on in the brain, where else? But then there is a point in evolution, this is a sort of neoplatonist view of whats going on. Basically, it's the idea that something like morality or love doesn't cause pain. Maybe it evolved for evolution, but once we became conscious beings it divorced itself from its original function, and then it becomes an absolute value in itself. Values exist in this Platonic realm and Plato would say, well, they were created by God. But I think once that stage in evolution has been reached these higher functions become obsolete". Read the whole interview here:(caveat:nothing else he talks on is of relevance to the question at hand)
Awais Aftab said…
@ ahish

Interesting interview, thanks for sharing. Though I can't really make sense of what he's saying about morality, apart from that he's endorsing some kind of neo-Platonism.
ahish said…
Caveat lector- here is my take on what he says;
he conceives of the existence of a prehistoric man who has no consciousness(a monkey-like man). He argues that morality evolved in this man as it is a useful trait which inhibits self destruction of the species. As evolution progressed he developed the faculty of consciousness and at this point to paraphrase prof.rama "it (morality) ceased to perform its original function, and then became an absolute value in itself". He seems to hint that maybe morality got hardwired in us and survived among the infinite other possibilities and later when we evolved further to recognize it, it became an objective value.
Awais Aftab said…
@ ahish

So, based on this interpretation, the "neo-platonism" of morality is merely an illusion created by the superimposition of consciousness on evolutionary instinct?
ahish said…
Yes I think that is what he is implying. But I wonder whether it is a tenable position.
Awais Aftab said…
@ ahish

First let me make it clear that I don't mean to deny that morality did not develop through evolution. Clearly whatever our moral sense is, evolution shaped it this way. However, i just don't think this is the whole story.

I think it is clear to most people that animals do have consciousness, though of course it is less developed than man. Anyhow.

This account of morality, it runs into the same problem of rationality that I had mentioned earlier. Let me show you:

Let's assume the existence of a prehistoric man who has no consciousness(a monkey-like man). Rationality evolved in this man as it is a useful trait for survival of the species. As evolution progressed he developed the faculty of consciousness and at this point rationality ceased to perform its original function, and then became an absolute value in itself. So rationality was actually developed just to aid the survival of species, and had no "truth-value". Our imagining the "truth-value" of reason is merely an illusion created by superimposition of consciousness on evolutionary instinct.

But the problem is, if our reason has no truth-value, we can't even assume the truth of evolution in the first place! The whole story just back-fires. So if we are to be coherent, we have to accept that even though rationality developed as a result of evolution, it does have a truth-value. But now this question arises that if rationality can have a truth-value, then why can't morality have a truth-value too? And that is what i discussed in the post 'Re-assessing the moral realism debate'.
Anonymous said…
I followed all that right down to, but not including, the last paragraph. Why wouldn't evolution and reason be self supporting? The existence of reason confirms the 'truth' of evolution, and evolution confirms the 'truth' of reason? Before I get my head bitten off again I'd just like to confirm that this is a question not a statement of what I think is fact.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Alec

Evolution cannot explain why the "sense of reason" that we humans developed ought to correspond to any 'objective fact'. If rationality developed because it was of aid to the survival of species, then the function of rationality is to aid in the survival of species, not to tell us about the "truth". It cannot guarantee us the truth of anything, because it wasn't even developed to determine the truth. And if reason cannot determine the truth, then how can we determine the truth of evolution of itself?

I hope you can understand the contradiction involved here.
Butters said…
Awais, may I play Devil's advocate a bit?

It is in our survival advantage to respond to contingencies in our environment appropriately. If knowing the truth means knowing what those contingencies are, then isn't there a survival advantage to knowing the truth? For example, if there is a dangerous animal behind a bush, knowing that may lead an individual (early homo sapien or pre-homo sapien hominid) to run away, and hence have a greater chance of surviving that particular attack.

So, it seems that knowing the truth does put you at a survival advantage. At least, this applies to knowing the truth about the physical world around you. Your point may hold for mathematical and esoteric truths, however.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Awais for the explanation of your view of reason. I'm sorry to say I'm still not getting it.
Isn't reason a process we developed for evaluating things based on experience, whether they be objects, dangers, or ideas. Didn't it develop precisely to tell us about the truth of things, because in the truth of things lay the possibility of our survival? But never an innate truth, just truth in so far as reason could deduce from the observations we made, and the 'facts' we put into the process.
Reason has never in fact lost this original function, although we adapt it for all sorts of other purposes.
There are different forms of reason and different aspects to survival other than trying not to be caught by a sabre-toothed tiger - survival in the workplace, on the bus, in the street, mental survival. We still use reason in just the same way to negotiate these dangers. But as you know I stoutly disbelieve that reason and morality became 'hard-wired' in us at some point; that we somehow acquired a new (and improved?) nature, with an innate morality. But then I'm back to the beginning!

I try to follow the fortunes of Pakistan, but reporting is very patchy, and concentrates, of course, on the sensational, with, I suspect, little understanding. Stay safe.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Butters

A very good and tough question, something i was wondering myself. I'll attempt a detailed answer tmrw.

@ Alec

Thank you, dear. The concern is much appreciated. Your question is similar to Butters. I'll consider it with that.
ahish said…
I've been wondering over the last couple of days as to whether one can consider rationality as the product of biological evolution. A case can be made that rationality is the product of 'cultural evolution'.

P.S.:Does Komal have a blog? I am curious about her views on the 'idea' of Pakistan. Frankly I am a little surprised that after 63 years of partition somebody still holds a view that partition must not have happened.
Awais Aftab said…
@ ahish

Frankly I am a little surprised that after 63 years of partition somebody still holds a view that partition must not have happened.

It's not that uncommon. I am not a big fan of partition myself.
Komal said…

I don't believe partition should have happened because it unnecessarily fragmented this part of the world. Further, there are too many cultural continuities between Pakistan and India, so the partition is an 'artificial' one. There is also no essential unity within Pakistan: it's not a nation, it doesn't have its own culture; all it has is not being India and being Islamic, which is a recipe for disaster.

Plus the very idea of an Islamic state, or even a place for Muslims, is a bad one. We all know where it leads.