Saturday, October 16, 2010

On Ethics after the Theocide of God

Dear Mr. Supposedly Pious Philosopher:

So I can't remember for sure in which class I heard this -- It could have been in Ethics -- but I remember someone mentioning "Euthyphro's Problem" in the course of a discussion, at one point. It was described by asking, "Is it good because God said so, or did God say so because it is good?" The implication of this is, I take it, that if a particular action is only good because God said so, then we are left with a risk of arbitrary morality, subject to the whims of God. If, on the other hand, we say that God decreed that we should do X because X really is good, then we find God subject to some Higher Force, maybe akin to the Platonic "good," which is likeunto there being a second, impersonal God that the personal One always has to reference.  That seems a very unsatisfying theological assertion for a pious monotheist!

Obviously, I'm writing about this, since the dilemma has kind of stuck with me.  Equally obvious is that if professors are discussing this dilemma in their classes, thousands of years after Euthyphro's death, then the dilemma has likely not been solved to everyone's satisfaction.  So, everybody's stuck with it. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to find some answer that makes sense (at least to me;) and, as you're clearly a pious philosopher, I'd like to run a tentative theory by you on this matter for your analysis.

The thought that occurs to me--mostly from listening to other people who've had fewer real jobs, but more time and education with which to think about these things--is that the dilemma may be based on a false dichotomy. It assumes that there are two things: "God," and "good." How does the dilemma hold up if the following is true: "God = good"? If we turn it from a greater than/less than statement into an equality, then it seems to me like the problem doesn't get any traction.  Why so?  Because if "God = good", then something that is in line with God's will is necessarily in line with good as well.  It is comparable to this--that the concept behind the word "One" and the concept behind the symbol "1" is the same concept, right? So, "One = 1", and necessarily couldn't' be otherwise.  Stll, my theory might be too simplistic. I worry that I might be missing something.


Good-n-Godly, more or less.

Dear G.-n.-G:

You ask, "If 'God = good', then something that is in line with God's will should necessarily be in line with good as well, right?"  As I see it, this remark is equivalent to just restating the old, "God says it's so; thus, it's good" position from the Euthyphro. (And you were correct in your historical observation--that the dilemma hasn't been solved.)  Unlike you, however, I tend to think that "God = good" is not the same kind of claim as is "One = 1." 

As an interesting endeavor, consider again what it means to say that "God = good." If the atheists happen to be right, that there is no God, it would follow on the "God = good" view that there would be no good either; but, that seems a bit too radical.  Maybe a thought experiment could help clarify things:

Suppose God appeared to me in a vision and said he's going to make himself cease to exist, and thought I, the truly pious philosopher, should be among the few to know.  God then proceeds to (somehow and quite miraculously) off Himself. Poof! Now the atheists really are correct, sadly. What would then follow for my Ethics?

I wouldn't change my strong commitment to, say, not hunting children with rifles for sport, even though there is now no such thing as an absolutely transcendental moral standard against such. It's just that I'd say what was good earlier (w/ God) and what is good now (w/o God) could be the same, but the motivation for my doing good can no longer be about pleasing God, but only about not compromising my own moral intuitions, one's that a lot of people around me share, and ones which protect me from psychological trauma.

What 'good' now means (after the big Theocide event, of course) is tied to the objectivity of what a shared community does (or would) affirm of their intuitions, and not about what a divine affirms of His will, knowledge, preferences, design specs., etc.  So, as to "Is it good because God said so, or did God say so because it is good?" I can't say.  But the "God = good" view doesn't seem to advance the analysis.


[image] Aaron Wolf "Day and Nite" (Accessed Oct 16 2010)

[ * ] A quick synopsis of Plato's Euthyphro can be found here.

[ * ] An analytic overview of the Euthyphro dilemma can be found here.

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