The Euthyphro dilemma

David Drumm discusses the Euthyphro dilemma which can be stated as “Are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God?”

For the religious, the problem with accepting the former option is that it implies the existence of a prior morality that exists independently of god and makes god redundant, something believers are loth to concede because the existence of a universal moral sense is one of their ‘arguments’ for god.

Divine Command Theory, which “includes the claim that morality is ultimately based on the commands or character of God, and that the morally right action is the one that God commands or requires” argues for the latter view, and is used by religious apologists to justify all the unspeakable atrocities recounted in the holy books of religion, saying that if they were ordered by god, they must be automatically good, a variation on the ad slogan for jams and preserves “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good!”

It is discussions like these that forcefully remind me how simple life becomes when you don’t have a god to create logical problems.

Here’s a slogan: Theological problems giving you a headache? Give up god and they all disappear!


  1. says

    There’s another problem, which is accounting for the existence of morality as indicated by the fact that Plato’s Socrates was concerned with the topic, as were Confucius and LaoTze long before the invention of christianity. As Lewis Black says, “what were the children of israel doing before moses came down from sinai with those tablets? killing eachother and having sex with their camels and thinking it was OK?”

    I’ve pointed that out to christians before, to some effect. They usually respond that perhaps those other pre-christian philosophers were also “inspired by god” – then you can ask them if Hamurrabi’s code was similarly inspired. 🙂

  2. 'Tis Himself says

    William Lane Craig is a staunch defender of the Divine Command Theory. Any act which would be considered an obscene atrocity if ordered by a human automatically becomes good and moral if ordered by Yahweh. Craig defends Yahweh-ordered genocide and rape as being moral.

    So either Yahweh is the source of all morality or he’s a sadistic bully with the emotional maturity of a spoiled six year old. It all depends on how you interpret the propaganda.

  3. Jared A says

    “Theological problems giving you a headache? Give up god and they all disappear!”

    Well, sure, I agree with this, but to be fair the Euthyphro dilemma is at its heart not a theistic problem and doesn’t disappear if you assume there are no gods. It has more to do with platonic ideals.

  4. Charles Sullivan says

    Also, if god’s command creates the reasons for why an action is good or bad (Divine Command Theory), then before god gave the command there was no reason for why the action was good or bad, and hence god’s commands are arbitrary.

  5. Nomen Nescio says

    lacking a deity, Euthyphro devolves to something like “is there an objective morality at all, or are we just making it up as we go along”. the basic formulation of the dilemma pretty much presumes there is an objective morality, and proceeds to wonder about its relatedness (or not) to deities; without anything divine to distract us, we then get to debate what might make a moral code “objective” and whether any such beast exists, in any sense of “to exist”.

    fair warning, moral philosophers have been butting heads over that one for a LONG time with no resolution in sight. i’m something of an extremist relativist myself, but i do know better than to think i’ll ever convince anybody else one way or the other.

  6. Jared A says

    and if you have never seen Socratic Robologues and Euthyphro you owe it to yourself to watch

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *