Euthyphro

Mar 5, 2023 - 00:03
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Euthyphro

Socrates encounters Euthyphro outside the court of Athens. Socrates has been called to court on charges of impiety by Meletus, and Euthyphro has come to prosecute his own father for having unintentionally killed a murderous hired hand. Socrates flatters Euthyphro, suggesting that Euthyphro must be a great expert in religious matters if he is willing to prosecute his own father on so questionable a charge. Euthyphro concurs that he does indeed know all there is to be known about what is holy. Socrates urges Euthyphro to instruct him and to teach him what holiness is, since Euthyphro's teaching might help Socrates in his trial against Meletus.

First, Euthyphro suggests that holiness is persecuting religious offenders. Socrates finds this definition unsatisfying, since there are many holy deeds aside from that of persecuting offenders. He asks Euthyphro instead to give him a general definition that identifies that one feature that all holy deeds share in common. Euthyphro suggests that what is holy is what is agreeable to the gods, in response to which Socrates points out that the gods often quarrel, so what is agreeable to one might not be agreeable to all.

Euthyphro's most important attempt to define holiness comes with his suggestion that what is holy is what is approved of by all the gods. Socrates sets up a rather elaborate argument to show that the two cannot be equivalent. What is holy gets approved of by the gods because it is holy, so what is holy determines what gets approved of by the gods. And what gets approved of by the gods in turn determines what is approved of by the gods. It follows from this reasoning that what is holy cannot be the same thing as what is approved of by the gods, since one of these two determines what gets approved of by the gods and the other is determined by what gets approved of by the gods.

Euthyphro is next led to suggest that holiness is a kind of justice, specifically, that kind which is concerned with looking after the gods. Socrates wonders what Euthyphro means by "looking after the gods." Surely, the gods are omnipotent, and don't need us to look after them or help them in any way. Euthyphro's final suggestion is that holiness is a kind of trading with the gods, where we give them sacrifices and they grant our prayers. Our sacrifices do not help them in any way, but simply gratify them. But, Socrates points out, to say that holiness is gratifying the gods is similar to saying that holiness is what is approved of by the gods, which lands us back in our previous conundrum. Rather than try to find a better definition, Euthyphro leaves in a huff, frustrated by Socrates' questioning.

Euthyphro's Dilemma is a philosophical problem concerned with a view of morality related to God.

The Euthyphro Dilemma asks: do the gods love good action because it is good, or is good action good because it is loved by the gods?

The problem comes from Plato's Euthyphro, and is asked by Socrates to Euthyphro.

Euthyphro's dilemma is a challenge to the moral absolutist position of divine command theory in meta-ethics. Divine command theory, which is generally held by many monotheistic religions, holds that ethical statements such as ‘charity is good’ obtain their truth values from attributes of God. That is, the statement ‘charity is good’ is true if and only if God loves charity.

Euthyphro's dilemma challenges this position by questioning whether this means that what is morally correct is merely an arbitrary choice by God, or whether or not these things have objective, eternal truth. Each position has problems:

The first position is to state that God loves good things because they are good. This claim is generally a denial of divine command theory — it states that there is goodness that is determined independently of God. The major problem with this view is that it holds that there is something outside of God, over which God has no control — that is, God is not fully omnipotent. It's also worth pointing out that taking this position denies that God is necessary for morality.

The second position is to assert that what is good is good merely because God says that it is good. If God's choices are arbitrary, then morality is not objective. This view holds that anything, at any time, could become good or bad. Phrases like ‘murder is wrong’ depend on how God feels about any particular action. For instance, if God commands a murder, then it is a just murder.

It may be that, tomorrow, God changes the rules. If God's choices are arbitrary, then they are not rational, and there is no reason to make assumptions about what God wants. There seems to be no reason to say that it is necessary that one obey God, other than that obedience may bring reward while disobedience may bring punishment.

Under the second position, it would also be misleading to say something like ‘God is good’. Under divine command theory, that amounts to ‘God loves God’, which is not what is normally intended by religious claims of that nature.

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