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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At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Tony Scialdone said...

Good is an adjective, not a noun. Good has no absolute value. We only talk about "a good" because that thing is to be CONSIDERED good...not because something is good by itself.

Justice, for example, is good...but it would be better to not NEED justice. If justice is intrinsically good, then those who create a need for justice would be providing a valuable service. Instead, we only consider justice good IN LIGHT of the fact that it's needed.

Likewise, mercy is good...but it would be better to not NEED mercy. Forgiveness is good in the same way. Everybody considers first aid to be a good thing, but nobody considers the NEED for first aid to be intrinsically good.

We know that first aid is good because we know injury, and health...might we not also say that we know good because we know both God and things that are NOT God?

Consider: those things that are an accurate, even if pale, reflection of God's nature might be called "good" to some extent. Those things that are in contrast with God's nature might be called something else. We only have "good" BECAUSE we have God. Without God, we have nothing with which to, without God, there is no way to measure "good".

Your thoughts?

At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God IS good, his nature IS good, his essence IS good. One does not attribute God with having good qualities but rather with being good. In comparison to mankind, its nature is not good for if we were good, then we would be God and otherwise perfect. We can, however, acquire good qualities. So yes, good is good in reference to God. I belive that what exist is good and bad is just the consequence of moving further away from good,God.
The statement, "it is good because God 'said so,'" seems as though God can all of a sudden sate that rape is good, and because he said it is good, it all of a sudden falls under the category of good. In doing this, God would be going against his nature(which is impossible, for if God contradicted himself, he wouldn't be God); thus, the statement is incorrect. The statement "God said so becaus it is good," can be interpreted in two ways. One way is G-n-G's suggestion that this statemnt suggest God is subjected to the power of good, or one might say that this statement is a portrayal of God's father-like fugure. As his children, God disciplines us, differentiating the good and the bad and because at times we don't understand the omniscience of God because we don't know everything, we must say, "It is good because God said so," for God only wnats what is best for us.

P.S: Phraseology is the true dilemma here.


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