The Euthyphro Dichotomy by Mariano Grinbank
Christianity is true because it splits the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma.
In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates proposes a dilemma that calls into question the premise of theistic ethics:
1. Is something good because God proclaims it?
2. Or, does God proclaim it because it is good?
The points of the dilemma are:
1. Is something good merely because God proclaims it? In which case, goodness is arbitrary and God could interchange good and evil at a whim.
2. Is there something separate from God to which God adheres; does God have to act according to an ethical standard which is outside of Himself? In which case, God is not all sufficient and obeys a higher standard.
(MP3 Audio | RSS | iTunes)
Let us survey our options and see which concept best provides an absolute and imperative moral premise: an ethos.
All claims to naturally evolving ethics can be logically disregarded since—as commonsensical or true as they may be—while there may be actions which help to ensure survival, since nature is not an ethical agent there is no natural ethical imperative. We could feed the poor or eat them.
Ethics can be immediately grounded in human dictates but not ultimately. Humans can make epistemic statements about morality but not provide an ontological premise since—as this view presupposes the above under “Nature”—there is no objective, extrinsic ethical imperative. Thus, humans can, without recourse to God, declare certain actions ethical or unethical, even claiming that these are absolutes, but these are ultimately ungrounded assertions; they are semantic, intonated morality.
We concoct useful and survival assisting concepts but these do not amount to ethical imperatives. Also, this ethic is impotent, being established by humans who can only deal out justice if the evildoer is caught—its justice is restricted. On this view, ethics are based on majority rule; the fittest as it were. Justice in Nazi Germany differed from the Allied Forces’.
An aside: let us grant that the above (“Nature” and “Semantic Morality”) are valid and let us call these, for the sake of economy of words, “the naturalistic view.” Let us now pose the A-Euthyphro Dilemma:
1. Is something good because a naturalist proclaims it to be good?
2. Or, does a naturalist proclaim something to be good because it is good?
Does a naturalist determine what is good? In that case, what was unethical yesterday, is ethical today and may again be unethical tomorrow and thus, this is arbitrary and robs us of the ability to condemn anything since the moment we condemn one action and declare another virtuous they may be shifting like so much quicksand.
Or, are naturalists adhering to something outside themselves? They are, and this implies an ethical imperative which implies an ethical law, which implies an ethical law giver, administrator and adjudicator.
Now, to theologies:
Generally, two coeternal gods (two separate and distinct beings) consisting of a “good” and “evil” god. This is truly arbitrary as the subjective goodness of the one is measured against the subjective evil of the other and visa versa.
Envisaged is one single eternal being, one person, perfectly united, not in the least bit divided. Perhaps such a God lacked companionship/relationship and had to create someone with whom to enjoy that which it lacked.
Being alone in eternity, relationship is not a part of its nature, character or being. Thus, when this God creates beings it does not seek personal relations with them and thus, does arbitrarily concoct ethics for them. Such a God is capricious as it is not bound by relationship and since ethics is not intrinsic to its nature, ethical actions by this God are not guaranteed.
Pantheons, Polytheism and Henotheism:
These groups of gods are generally conceived of as having been created by one or two previously existing gods. Whether the many gods are eternal or created by others, they enjoyed relationships with each other. Yet, being distinct beings and persons, they are not famous for conducting ethical relationships with each other but are infamous for quarreling.
In the view of many gods who were created by other gods; the ancient gods somehow established an ethical law which is then external to the subsequent gods and is a law to which these gods are subservient.
Since they could enjoy relationships with other supernatural beings they were not generally interested in relationships with humans. They considered humans to be play things—they manipulate our fates or take human form to fornicate with us but there is little, if anything, in the way of ethical relationships.
Essentially, this view postulates that God is the creator and creation. Thus, on this view God’s creations are, in reality, extensions of God. Therefore, on pantheism or panentheism ethics amounts to God dictating to God how God should treat God. God is the director, the actor and audience.
In the Bible we are dealing with Trinitarian monotheism, a triune being: one God, one being, and yet, three “persons” (a being who exhibits characteristics of personhood) each is God, each is eternal, each is distinct and yet, each is the one God. One coeternal, coexisting, coequal being consisting of three “persons.”
This God is not alone in eternity, is not in relation to separate eternal beings and is in relationship to separate persons. Since each member of the Trinity is eternal, each has enjoyed eternal relationships. This God is not lacking in relationship. God enjoys a relationship that is both unified in purpose and diverse amongst the persons.
Resolving the Euthyphro Dilemma:
Ethics are based upon the Triune God’s nature. God’s nature is relational and benevolent, eternal and free from conflict. God enjoys relationships and encourages His creation to enjoy likewise relationships. Life consists of enjoying relationships with humans grounded upon the enjoyment of an eternal relationship with God.
Thus, the Triune God neither adheres to external, nor constructs arbitrary, ethics since they are an aspect of His very nature.