Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Euthyphro’s Dilemma Solved

In Plato’s famous dialogue we are given the classic philosophical conundrum called Euthyphro’s dilemma:

Are things good because God commands them, or does God command them because they are good?

(NB: Good here refers to a standard of good distinct from God and to which God may be subject).

Apparently we are told that philosophers, theists and atheists have debated this for centuries, continually reaching a stalemate.  When I first read Euthyphro’s dilemma in my formative years I couldn't really see why it was such a poser - it seems pretty easy to solve with a little economic analysis.

If what is meant by God is the God who is thought to be omnipotent, omniscient, omni-benevolent and the all-loving creator of everything in nature, then it stands to reason that God does not command good things because they are good, because that would be to suggest that goodness has an existence independent of God.  I don't think a creator God that has the properties of omnipotence, omniscience, omni-benevolence and all-lovingness can be subject to a standard higher than Himself, because if such a God exisits then 'omni' properties contain the very properties from which such qualities emanate.

Given the foregoing, it must be the case, then, that things are good because God commands them. And unless we want to make the injudicious suggestion that a God with 'omni' properties commands anything arbitrarily, we must say that the goodness that emerges because God commands it is, in fact, due to God being the epitome of goodness. Hence, there’s no real problem if we say that qualities like goodness, love and grace are inherent properties of the Divine mind, and are thus inextricably attached to Divinity. 

The solution to Euthyphro’s dilemma seems quite straightforward to me. Things are good because God commands them, but God commands them because what is being commanded is an inherent part of, and inextricable from, God's own nature.

* Photo courtesy of christian.resourses