The Euthyphro Dilemma

Euthyphro is one of the Greek philosopher Plato’s early dialogues, dated to around or soon after 399 BCE. In it the Greek philosopher Socrates and Euthyphro, a man known for being a theologian, attempt to arrive at an acceptable definition of piety.

One of the key points in the Euthyphro dialog is called the Euthyphro Dilemma:

Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?

For the followers of the Abrahamic Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) this normally translates into – on the occasions when it is debated by the theologians – the question of whether something is commanded by their God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by their God.

Amongst polytheists – with the rare exception of myself – the question rarely arises do to our multiplicity of deities with possibly conflicting directives and our lack of requirement for- or belief in their omniscience or infallibility.

I can’t speak to whether or not the Sikhs have the Euthyphro Dilemma often or not. They’re monotheists, but their view of their God is vastly different from most other faiths.

In any case though, it’s an interesting debate. Is the God(s) the creator or legislator of morality, or is the God(s) the enforcer of a morality that originate from separately Divine will?

Tags: | | | | | |

3 Responses to “The Euthyphro Dilemma”

  1. Moriah Says:

    [I]s the God(s) the enforcer of a morality that originate from separately Divine will?

    I’m not sure I fully understand this in particular, but I’ll address the question in general. 🙂

    As I’ve looked at the arguments over the years, I would proffer that God is not the creator, as such, of morality, but rather is the very essence of the morality that is set forth; thus he hasn’t created it, nor is he simply the enforcer (for then, if morality existed apart from him and he was simply enforcing it, he’d cease to be God for there would be something greater than him, which undermines the very definition of “God,” I would claim).

    Morality is part of his very nature and essence, his very being, and as such, it’s source stems from him, eternal, and is not something he’s created. It simply is because of who he is, and he has revealed the moral law to us (humanity) through both creation itself but also through the “Law” (i.e. think Ten Commandments).

    So, to put some flesh on this, he demands justice because he is just, he demands holiness because he is holy, etc.

  2. jonolan Says:

    Within the context of the Dilemma, Christy, you seem to be subscribing to the precept that the God(s) are the creators or legislators of morality. You just – based on your comment – believe that this creation of morality was unconscious and wholly a byproduct of the intrinsic nature of divinity.

    That’s a quite interesting response. 😉 It opens up a dimension of this debate that – while probably not new in the course of more than 2 millennia – is new to my experience. Hmmmmmm…..

  3. Christy Says:

    Within the context of the Dilemma, Christy, you seem to be subscribing to the precept that the God(s) are the creators or legislators of morality. You just – based on your comment – believe that this creation of morality was unconscious and wholly a byproduct of the intrinsic nature of divinity.

    Well, sort of. I would actually argue there wasn’t a “creation” of morality (I get what you’re saying and that you’re trying to contextualize my answer; however, I would proffer that the two options given within the argument fail to recognize a third and viable option — that morality exists as part of the intrinsic nature of divinity and stems from divinity – thus it is neither created but nor does it exist apart from divinity – so to say that the “creation of morality was unconscious” still presupposes a premise I don’t ascribe to. Morality is inextricably tied to divinity – God is not subject to it, nor did he create it; it stems from his very nature and character, and it is absolute and exists apart from our knowing it; it is reality, and divinity thus reveals it to us through creation, our conscience and revelation and is the legislator.

    Thats a quite interesting response. It opens up a dimension of this debate that – while probably not new in the course of more than 2 millennia – is new to my experience. Hmmmmmm..

    Yes, not new; alas, it did not come from the amazing brilliance of my mind ;); I know I picked up the line of thought from a few great thinkers along the way (C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias immediately come to mind); tested the argument with reality and my experiences and logic, and found it sound. 😉

    Anyway, thanks for bringing up the Euthyphro. I miss these kinds of discourses.

Leave a Reply