The Euthyphro dilemma

EuthyphroI recently tackled again the always fascinating Euthyphro dilemma, first proposed by Plato in the short dialogue by the same name. I have written about it in depth in my Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life, but it now seemed as good a time as ever to revisit the issue.

I did so in two essays for The Philosophers’ Magazine Online, and I welcome further discussion here at Plato’s Footnote. I begin by mentioning an excellent paper by my City University of New York colleague Michael Levin, which summarizes what the dilemma is all about, as well as a number of (unsuccessful) attempts to wiggle out of it (including the ever favorite one: accusing Plato of setting up a false dilemma — but it should be obvious that just because there are some false dilemmas out there, it doesn’t mean that all dichotomous choices are false. For instance: 2+2 is either =4 or it isn’t.)

The first thing to understand about the Euthyphro is that it is not an argument against the existence of God. Socrates — despite being on his way, at the beginning of the dialogue, to defend himself from the charge of impiety, for which he was later sentenced to death by the Athenian state — was no atheist. Rather, the question being posed concerns, as Socrates himself puts it about one third into the dialogue, the source of morality itself: “And what is piety, and what is impiety?”

The rest of the first essay is a detailed presentation of the dilemma, leading into the beginning of a discussion of various theological attempts to respond to it. One of the first was by none other than Thomas Aquinas. He conceded that something is good because God says so, but this is simply because it is in God’s nature to be good, which guarantees that his commands will in fact be moral. I discuss why the “it’s in God’s nature” defense doesn’t actually do the trick (e.g., to even claim that God’s nature is good you need some concept of good, and where are you getting that, if not by impaling yourself again in one of the two horns of the dilemma?).

The above mentioned paper by Levin does make a novel contribution to the debate, and is worth reading in full for a fresh perspective. Michael analyzes the concept of God’s “dependence” on a given standard of value, and provides reasons to “dissolve,” so to speak, the dilemma. I refer you to the second half of my first essay for a full discussion of his approach.

The second essay moves on to consider what modern theologians have been up to, when it comes to answering Plato, and they haven’t fared much better than Aquinas, in my opinion.

A sophisticated attempt at avoiding being impaled by the Euthyphro, for instance, has been made by Richard Swinburne. It takes the form of a compromise, suggesting that moral values come in two flavors: necessary and contingent. In other words, some moral rules are universal and absolute, while others depend on circumstances. Absolute values, according to Swinburne, hold in all conceivable worlds, examples being the prohibitions against rape or murder. Contingent values, on the other hand, are not applicable everywhere and at every time — let’s say the prohibition on eating certain kinds of foods at particular times of the year.

Swinburne’s stratagem has a serious drawback: if absolute values are independent of specific circumstances, then they can be arrived at by reason (which is of course the project of most ethical philosophers), and one falls yet again on the horn of the dilemma that says we don’t need gods to tell us what to do. In this scenario, God at best gets to tell us his personal preferences in terms of minor actions, like whether or not to eat pork on which days, which hardly seems the stuff of serious moral discourse.

The final section of the second essay discusses what I think is the most sophisticated attempt to date, by Robert Merrihew Adams, and I refer you to my summary of it over at TMP Online.

Incidentally, you may want to check out this little test based on the Euthyphro, courtesy of Jeremy Stangroom, and see how you fare against other readers of The Philosophers’ Magazine.

126 thoughts on “The Euthyphro dilemma

  1. Robin Herbert

    Socratic, at least Pilate said something. So far I would remind you that you are still refusing to confirm or deny that we are even referring to the same argument as “Euthyphro”.

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  2. Coel

    Hi Robin,

    So we have the second horn as “if A decrees B because B has the property C then the property C is independent of A”

    No, that’s not it. We have the two possibilities:

    (1) “A decrees B because B has the property C, where C is independent of A.”

    That sentence contains information about why A decreed B (in terms of the external property C).

    (2) “A decrees B because B has the property C, where C was also decreed by A.”

    That sentence contains no information about why A decreed anything. It states merely that A decreed {B and C}, and that the decreeing was entirely within the discretion of A.

    Thus, (2) amounts to “God decreed morality (no reason supplied)”, and thus reverts back to the first horn of the dilemma.

    So it’s not that the second horn is inconsistent unless C is independent of A, it’s simply that it reverts to the first horn unless it is.

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  3. Robin Herbert

    Coel,

    Now we have a new version of it (or was that the version all along, I don’t know).

    You have an undisclosed premise in there: “if C is not independent of A then A decreed C” and that is just another thing you have to support.

    I am not sure what this decreeing business is supposed to mean, but again you just have to now show the inconsistency in::

    “A decrees B because B has the property C and C was not decreed by A and C is not independent of A”.

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  4. brodix

    “The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.” ”

    “24 centuries after that simple question was posed the dilemma seems to impale anyone who tries to wiggle out of it,”

    In the debate of the law versus the lawgiver, it is interesting there is not so much discussion of the emergent nature of law. Given the current premise of a mathematical universe is based on the premise of law as platonic, it seems we are still waiting for the paradigm shift.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robin Herbert

    But again, clarification would be good. In the context of this argument does “decree” mean “command” or “decide”? And by “independent of” do you really mean “cannot be changed by”?

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  6. Massimo Post author

    Robin,

    I keep being baffled by your comments. You obviously care a lot about this, but sometimes it sounds to me like you are trying to split hairs for no clear reason. Do you really think that – in this context – there is any relevant difference between “decree,” “command,” “decide” or whatever? Is it really that obscure what the problem is?

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  7. Robin Herbert

    Massimo,

    “Is it really that obscure what the problem is?”

    If the problem was ckear to me I would not be asking these questions.

    If the problem was clear to you, then you would simply answer them in a straightforward fashion.

    So the problem appears to be obscure to both of us.

    And now you are telling me I am splitting hairs in suggesting that there might be a difference in meaning between the words “love”, “command” and “decide”.

    Of course there is an important distinction between “command” and “decide” in this context. If you mean to imply by “decree” that God can decide whether or not something is good, rather than command something which is, in any case, good, then obviously that completely changes the meaning of the premise.

    And I am not sure why you are baffled at what seem to me to be pretty straightforward questions. I am baffled that they cannot be answered.

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  8. Robin Herbert

    And Plato cannot have meant “decreed” by “loved”. HIs word is ‘phileitai’, from ‘phileo’ which is, in various lexicons of Ancient Greek, rendered as ‘love, like, regard with affection, regard highly’ but never ‘decree’ or anything like it.

    And ‘decreed’ just doesn’t fit in the context.

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  9. Massimo Post author

    Robin,

    Your questions have been answered, several times. The issue is very clearly understood by any colleague in ancient philosophy I talked to, including for instance in the paper linked from my essay.

    The only question is this: is something moral/good/whatever because gods decide it is (arbitrary horn), or is it that the gods love/endorse/command/whatever that something is good because it is good (not-god source horn).

    As far as I can see the above choice is both crystal clear and exhaustive. I honestly don’t know what else to add, sorry.

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  10. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    I really don’t see how Euthyphro’s dilemma defeats divine command theory or moral realism generally, because at least one horn of the dilemma is perfectly consistent with divine command theory.

    This is the “arbitrary” horn — although it needn’t be arbitrary — God may make decrees to suit his purposes (whatever those might be), not arbitrarily. What is good is therefore just whatever God wants. Since he built the universe, it’s up to him to decide the moral laws and to bind us to them so that we can’t help but feel that certain things are good and certain things are evil.

    There could be another possible world where God has decreed that rape, murder and theft are good. Perhaps that’s not appealing to most theists but that’s not the same as defeating divine command theory. Since we can’t help but feel that rape and murder and theft are wrong (because God designed us so), the reason we don’t like this horn of the dilemma on an intuitive level is accounted for and needs no further explanation.

    So, from where I’m standing, the dilemma exposes some surprising consequences of taking DCT theory seriously rather than actually showing that it doesn’t work. I don’t know why the DCT advocates don’t just bite the bullet!

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  11. Robin Herbert

    Massimo,

    Firstly, you seem to have quietly dropped your claim that there is no important difference between “command” and “decide” in this context,

    “Your questions have been answered, several times.”

    No, not once and you are sidestepping the issue again in this post, here you state the second horn as:

    “love/endorse/command/whatever that something is good because it is good (not-god source horn).”

    Which seems to be more or less the same as I have stated it above and on twitter and on Scientia Salon as was, so yes, obviously I know that part.

    My question was not for you to repeat what I have already stated many times as my understanding of the second horn.

    My question was this:

    Can you demonstrate the inconsistency in the statement “God cannot decide what is good and God is the source of good”.?

    Is that really such a baffling question?

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  12. Coel

    Hi DM,

    So, from where I’m standing, the dilemma exposes some surprising consequences of taking DCT theory seriously rather than actually showing that it doesn’t work. I don’t know why the DCT advocates don’t just bite the bullet!

    You are right. Euthyphro does not defeat DCT. And DCT advocates do indeed bite the bullet, and advocate DCT for exactly this reason (see William Lane Craig for example).

    The trouble is that it has rather uncomfortable implications. For example, there is then no reason for choosing between God and Satan. “Good” is merely God’s opinion; “bad” is merely Satan’s opinion. The words mean nothing more than that.

    If the two of them have their opinions, we have no basis for choosing between them. “We should choose God’s opinion because it is God’s opinion” is a non-sequitur and works no better than “We should choose Satan’s opinion because it is Satan’s opinion”.

    Similarly, we have no reason for choosing between God’s opinion and the opinion of Fred Bloggs of 36 Acacia Avenue.

    Thus, under DCT there is no reason why we are morally obligated to follow God or God’s rules. Note that “might makes right” is also a non-sequitur.

    Thus DCT doesn’t give you moral realism, nor any sort of objective morality, all it gives you is a label for the opinion of one chosen entity. That choice is either arbitrary or subjective or random. It is thus a moral scheme that is arbitrary or subjective or random.

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  13. Coel

    Hi Robin.

    Can you demonstrate the inconsistency in the statement “God cannot decide what is good and God is the source of good”.?

    If God cannot decide “what is good” (and “what is good” is meaningful) then something non-God must decide “what is good”.

    If something non-God is deciding “what is good” then it is not God who is deciding “what is good”, and thus God cannot be the source of the decision “what is good”.

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  14. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Coel,

    Thanks for answering, but I disagree.

    I think what you’re missing is that if DCT is right, then moral obligation is simply defined as whatever God wants. So we do indeed have a moral obligation to follow God or God’s rules, because that’s what moral obligation *means*.

    What God wants is privileged over what Satan or Fred Bloggs want not because he is mightier but because he is the author of the moral laws of the universe. He’s the guy baked into the definitions of the terms and responsible for our impulse to be moral, not the other two.

    Now, you may say we have no reason to do what we are morally obliged to do, since moral obligation is just God’s opinion. But that’s true regardless of how we account for morality or even obligation. If you want to shirk obligation or be evil (consequences notwithstanding), you have no reason to be dutiful or good.

    But most people want to be good and do not want to see themselves as evil. DCT is providing an explanation for what this means and why it is, and what it is we must do to be good.

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  15. labnut

    It is a strange but interesting fact that we are invisible to ants.

    They cannot perceive us. They can, on occasion, perceive our effects, but those effects make no sense to them. So with that in mind, let’s consider the Allegory of the Scientist and the Formicarium.

    An eager young Scientist wished to study the evolution of ants through various stages until they developed a high level of cognition. To this end he constructed a large formicarium in the basement of his lab. The conditions were very carefully controlled for optimum conditions for evolution. It was carefully guarded against extraneous influences such as light, heat, vibration, shock or the presence of the observer Scientist.

    It was intended to be a fully self contained environment such that the evolution of the ants was not influenced by external factors. Leakage of information into the formicarium was controlled to be less than 1 part in 10*10*128. The Scientist’s supervisor was called Penrose Ant. This was a good and careful Scientist.

    Over time the ants went through various stages of Darwin-Ant evolution and eventually developed significant cognitive skills.

    With the cognitive skills came a spirit of curiosity and they started asking ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. Some ant philosophers deduced that there was a larger order and constructed the Scientist hypothesis to explain the larger order. Some ant scientists replied that formicarium was all there was, there was no Scientist because he was invisible and silent. And in any case, it was ant science all the way down. When challenged with the origin of the evident order of formicarium design, the ant scientists replied that the formicarium had obviously self-constructed randomly from nothing and that clearly there were countless other formicariums spontaneously bursting forth out of nothingness(the multi-formicarium theory). Some daring (green?) ant scientists, led by one Turok Ant, even claimed the formicarium was automatically recycling itself(the recycling-formicarium theory). Ant Creationists declared that the Great Scientist had created the formicarium. Ant Creationists were treated with derision by all right thinking scientist-philosopher ants.

    These ant scientists despised ant philosophy and antumanities in general because of their lack of explanatory power. In any case, ant scientists gained in confidence as their local predictions proved to be true and they confidently declared that all of ant creation could be explained by ant science and what could not be explained by ant science did not exist. The formicarium was all there was.

    Ant theologians went down a different track, led by Tillich Ant. He declared that everybody else had got it wrong, the Scientist was the ground of being. Huh? What did that mean, other ant theologians cried despairingly. Some turned to psychologist ants who knowingly declared that they could never know, since they were all suffering from Antnosogia (Ant Anosognosia).

    Let’s leave the philosopher, theologian and scientist ants to their debates.

    The observer Scientist smiled tolerantly as he watched their behaviour and wrote out the title for his next paper, Antnosogia – The Dogmatic Certainty of Ant Science in the Presence of Ignorance..

    But something troubled him. How had some ants inferred his existence? In a state of alarm he returned to the basement formicarium and carefully rechecked his equipment. Perhaps his lab assistants had been fornicating on the formicarium and screwed up the test. No, there were no problems that he could see, there was no leakage of information(!) into the formicarium. Puzzled, he scratched his head(this was the beginnings of his alopecia). Perhaps, sometimes ant urban myths get it right just by chance. But to make sure he released Dawkins Ant in their midst. That should take care of these persistent urban myths, he chuckled to himself, on reading the resulting Scientist Delusion.

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  16. Coel

    Hi DM,

    I think what you’re missing is that if DCT is right, then moral obligation is simply defined as whatever God wants. So we do indeed have a moral obligation to follow God or God’s rules, because that’s what moral obligation *means*.

    Well, if you defined “moral obligation” as “whatever God wants” then that still doesn’t place me under any actual obligation. All it does it attach a rather weird label (“moral obligation”) to whatever God wants.

    In the same way, if we choose to attach the label “moral obligation” to whatever Fred Bloggs of 36 Acacia Avenue wants, then that doesn’t actually place me under any obligation at all.

    What God wants is privileged over what Satan or Fred Bloggs want not because he is mightier but because he is the author of the moral laws of the universe.

    But if I then ask what you mean by “the moral laws of the universe” your only reply under DCT is “what God wants”.

    Thus your claim becomes: “What God wants is privileged over what Satan or Fred Bloggs want because it is what God wants”.

    Which doesn’t follow, any more than: “What Fred Bloggs wants is privileged over what God or Satan want because it is what Fred Bloggs wants”.

    He’s the guy baked into the definitions of the terms and responsible for our impulse to be moral, …

    Your argument there translates as “god made us with an impulse to do what God wants”. Even if we accept that as true, it does not follow that we are under any obligation to do what God wants.

    Compare: “evolution programmed us with the inclination to procreate”. That does not place on us any obligation to procreate.

    If you want to shirk obligation or be evil … you have no reason to be dutiful or good.

    But you’re sliding into moral realism, the idea that these terms actually mean something. Under DCT they don’t! Or rather, under DCT “evil” just means “not what God wants” and “good” just means “what God wants”.

    Therefore your sentence translates to: “if you want to do something that God doesn’t want, then you have no reason to do what God wants”. Which is true.

    But most people want to be good and do not want to see themselves as evil.

    But, again, that claim is founded on the notion that the words “good” and “evil” actually mean something! Under DCT they don’t! I feel under no obligation to do “what God wants”. Why would I be?

    The problem here is that moral realism is so deeply ingrained in us that it’s hard to think in ways that don’t assume that there is some objective meaning to the words! If there were then we wouldn’t need DCT, we’d just go to that objective meaning!

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  17. Massimo Post author

    Robin, DM,

    Interesting discussion, seriously. Unfortunately I was walking around London most of the day, and in a little bit I’m going to enjoy a pint at a local pub with fellow Stoics…

    Nonetheless, I have to say that I think Coel is precisely right in his responses to both of you.

    DM, Coel is correct that the Euthyphro is not a challenge to DCT, but it does force its proponents to say that either might makes right (god’s decisions are arbitrary) or that God himself derives his understanding of the good from some other source, in which case, at the least potentially, so could we.

    Robin, when you say “Can you demonstrate the inconsistency in the statement “God cannot decide what is good and God is the source of good”.?” you are again changing the wording in a way that confuses things. Still, Coel has responded perfectly, I think. Sure, God can indeed decide what is good, in which case of course he would be the source of good. But that’s simply the first horn of the dilemma: (divine) might makes right.

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  18. Thomas Jones

    I’m probably the odd man out here, but I don’t read Plato’s dialogues–when I summon the energy to read them–only for their logical arguments and implications. At the same time, I recognize that the Euthyphro continues to be relevant today because of the manner in which the dilemma is framed, i.e., the logical horns that we take to be the central concern. There are actually two dilemmas that run parallel courses through the dialogue: One is Euthypro’s, the other is Socrates’s. Their are common elements of course that reduce to the question “what to do” and whether either provides sufficient grounds to justify making a choice. The position Socrates is in mirrors that of Euthyphro’s father and provides the dramatic tension and irony that Plato skillfully weaves into the dialogue.

    I’m not keen on talking about omnipotence, omniscience, or the particular attributes of a God, say, for example, a Judeo-Christian conception, that have worked their way into the debates surrounding the Euthyphro over time. The Greek gods, while exhibiting super-human powers, were quite flawed and capricious, chiefly distinguished from humans because of their immortality. What we have as backdrop is the ethos of Homer and Hesiod’s Theogony that came under examination and scrutiny with the pre-Socratics into which Socrates now finds himself.

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  19. brodix

    Have we determined how many angels can dance on the head of a pin as well?

    The reason murder, rape, theft, etc are bad is because we have developed the ability to empathize. Yet we are also quite able not to empathize with those considered beyond our chosen group.
    Given this is a fairly ancient ability, it has been likely the original deity was the tribal self, that sense of empathy flowing through a closely knit group of individuals. Logically then, the next step would be to further project that sense of self identity and identification to other aspects of reality and you have the anthropomorphism of classic polytheism, which was gradually distilled down to the singular ideal of monotheism.
    Humanity can beat around this bush another 25 centuries and it isn’t going to change the fact that the structure of laws we abstract from both nature and social functionality is emergent with that nature and that society. It is the skeleton of solid structure left when all soft tissue of ambiguity has been boiled away, not the seed from which this reality sprang in the first place.

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  20. labnut

    A dear and departed colleague, when confronted with Antnosognosia{sic) would exasperatedly declare “it is obvious that the obvious is not so obvious. I concur, with the rider that the only thing obviously worse than Antnosognosia is wilful Antnosognosia(sic), which is obviously true.

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  21. Disagreeable Me (@Disagreeable_I)

    Hi Coel,

    > Well, if you defined “moral obligation” as “whatever God wants” then that still doesn’t place me under any actual obligation.

    What is an “actual obligation”? DCT is one account of what an obligation is. If you reject DCT and still want to say there isn’t an actual obligation then you must have an account of what an “actual obligation” is. If you’re not a moral realist it’s hard to see what an actual obligation could be, and if that’s the case then what do you mean when you say that “whatever God wants” is not it?

    > In the same way, if we choose to attach the label “moral obligation” to whatever Fred Bloggs of 36 Acacia Avenue wants

    That’s not what I’m doing. We all intuitively feel that we have moral obligations and that words such as good and evil have meaning. You and I agree that this is the result of evolution and socialisation, but to a DCT proponent these are instilled by God. I’m not just redefining terms, I am offering an account on DCT of what these terms, understood at a gut level by everybody who is not a sociopath, actually refer to and mean.

    Nobody cares what Fred Bloggs wants, but to a DCT proponent we can’t help but care at a deep instinctive level about being moral (i.e. doing what God wants) and this is what makes God more important than Fred Bloggs.

    > Compare: “evolution programmed us with the inclination to procreate”. That does not place on us any obligation to procreate.

    But it does give us a desire to procreate (or have sex at any rate). And we also have a desire to be good. This desire is translated into the language of obligations and goodness and so on in the arena of morality and the language of lust and broodiness and so on in the arena of procreation. To talk about evolution giving us an obligation to procreate is a category error because you’re applying the language of morality to a domain where it doesn’t apply. We might as well talk of being broody to do the right thing.

    So I would say that our desire to be good and the social contract we have implicitly entered is what gives us an obligation to be good, because that’s all that morality and obligations are (we both agree). The DCT proponent is saying the same sort of thing but disagreeing as to the origin and nature of that desire and contract.

    > Under DCT they don’t! Or rather, under DCT “evil” just means “not what God wants” and “good” just means “what God wants”.

    Exactly! So, on DCT moral realism is true, because they do actually mean something.

    > But, again, that claim is founded on the notion that the words “good” and “evil” actually mean something! Under DCT they don’t!

    You’ve just explained back to me that they do mean something. What God wants and doesn’t want.

    > I feel under no obligation to do “what God wants”.

    But you do. Not because it’s what God wants but because God designed you to want to be kind and prosocial and generous and all the other attributes we traditionally associate with “good”. The same way, a computer program doesn’t do what we want it to do because it knows that’s what we want and feels obliged to comply, but because we built it so it couldn’t help but do what we want.

    Of course It’s a bit more complex with humans because we supposedly have free will and can choose to disobey our moral impulses (i.e. our obligations), but it’s the moral impulses themselves we are trying to explain and not so much the end result.

    A better analogy might be training a dog. The trained dog is “obliged” to do what we want, not necessarily because it’s what we want but because we have conditioned to respond in a certain way to certain commands — even though it may occasionally disobey (and so fail to be “good”).

    > The problem here is that moral realism is so deeply ingrained in us that it’s hard to think in ways that don’t assume that there is some objective meaning to the words!

    To be clear, I’m no moral realist! I just think that the Euthyphro dilemma is not all it’s cracked up to be. It does not defeat moral realism or DCT. DCT is defeated simply by noting that there is no God and all our illusions about morality can be accounted for by evolution.

    @Massimo
    > but it does force its proponents to say that either might makes right (god’s decisions are arbitrary)

    Might is right is not quite correct, because God’s omnipotence has nothing to do with it. It’s that he is the author of the moral laws that we all instinctively appreciate (and that you and I would say have their origins in evolution and socialisation). We do not comply because we fear his wrath, we comply because we want to, because we feel at a basic level that murder and rape and theft are wrong. We feel this way because God made us so.

    Neither must the laws be arbitrary. Now, they could be, and I think that’s where the arbitrary thing comes into it, but they don’t have to be. If God made the universe we can assume that he has some purpose in mind. The laws are presumably not arbitrary but those which help him achieve that purpose.

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  22. labnut

    Massimo,
    Are you making up diseases now, and then diagnosing people who disagree with you?

    No, bemused by a pointless debate that has been framed to slant the outcome and so I am taking refuge in humour(even if you fail to recognise it as such). And so I say goodnight with good wishes for your trip.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Massimo Post author

    labnut,

    I absolutely recognized the humor! Did you not see my smiley face? 😉

    But I deny that the debate has been slanted on purpose. Unless you wish to accuse Plato of slanting it, which of course is a possibility.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Coel

    Hi DM,

    We all intuitively feel that we have moral obligations and that words such as good and evil have meaning.

    So what do you want the words “good” and “evil” to mean? If you want to define them in terms of our intuitive feelings about acts, then that is not DCT.

    You can have either: “good” and “evil” are defined as concepts about human feelings, or, “good” and “evil” are defined by reference to God’s wishes. The first of those is sensible (and is the only sensible account of moral terms), but it is not DCT.

    If you then hypothesize that our feelings were put there by God, to align with his own feelings, then that doesn’t help *define* the terms. Which of the two definitions would you then want to go with?

    (1) It is the human-feelings that *defines* the concepts “good” and “evil”. Then we can use human judgement to judge God, and the phrase “God is good” would mean that, as judged by human standards, God is good. That is coherent (and is indeed what most religious people actually mean!), but it is not DCT.

    Or (2) DCT *defines* “good” and “evil”. Your hypothesis then explains why human feelings align with God’s feelings. But this doesn’t give you moral realism! Euthyphro still tells you that the overall system is arbitrary. The fact that we’re now siding with God and echoing his feelings only means we’re siding with God.

    It still means that, had we happened to have been made by a sadistic “god” who enjoyed torturing children for pleasure, and who made us such that we enjoyed torturing children for pleasure, then torturing children for pleasure would be “morally good”.

    If you’re William Lane Craig you then just accept that. But for most religious people, that arbitrariness at the centre of the system is unpalatable. It may, though, be the best option for the theist! Hence the ongoing squirming by the religious about Euthyphro.

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  25. labnut

    I absolutely recognized the humor! Did you not see my smiley face?

    OK, OK, my bad!

    I must have exhausted my sense of humour, see below.

    But I deny that the debate has been slanted on purpose.

    I know, I should be more charitable. I blame it on a long, exhausting hill run at 38 deg C temperatures. It’s a better excuse than the dog ate my homework!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Coel

    Evening labnut,

    Leakage of information into the formicarium was controlled to be less than 1 part in 10*10*128.

    Nice parable! But, OK, I’m biting. Your scenario is one of a class of scenarios in which our “reality” is contained within a greater “meta-reality”, where, ex hypothesi, we can have no knowledge of the meta-reality. Descartes’s “Evil Genius” was perhaps the first of these.

    First, you are entirely right. Our science cannot rule out such a scenario. One can never have proof of its absence. This is why all sensible atheists state their position, ultimately, as “lack of belief”, not as “belief in lack”.

    But, the number of conceivable meta-realities is utterly vast, perhaps infinite. Therefore, lacking (ex hypothesi) any evidence about this meta-reality, the chances of any random guess as to a meta-reality actually being correct is infinitesimal.

    Given that the number of actually-true statements about reality is an infinitesimal fraction of the number of conceivable statements, it is overwhelmingly probably that any given un-evidenced statement is not true. (That is Occam’s razor.) That justifies the atheistic stance of dismissing un-evidenced claims.

    Further, are you entirely happy with your allegory? With the rate of information leakage that low, it means that the Bible could not be in any way influenced by your god. Nor could any of Catholic theology. Nor could this god ever respond to prayers in any way. And when theists say things like: “when you look into the eyes of a beggar, God is looking back at you”, there is absolutely no way they could know this, and so they’d have just made it up because they like the sound of it.

    In other words, while it would be true that your scenario is vaguely possible, and that your ants would be able to work out that it is in-principle possible, they could know absolutely nothing else about this “god” and every other statement in their theology and religion would simply be made up. Are you happy with your allegory?

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