4.2.1 Divine Command Theory: The Euthyphro Dilemma

Euthyphro

Divine command theory is widely held to be refuted by an argument known as the Euthyphro dilemma. This argument is named after Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue, which contains the inspiration for the argument, though not, as is sometimes thought, the argument itself.

The Euthyphro dilemma rests on a modernised version of the question asked by Socrates in the Euthyphro: “Are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God?”

Each of these two possibilities, the argument runs, leads to consequences that the divine command theorist cannot accept. Whichever way the divine command theorist answers this question, then, it seems that his theory will be refuted. This argument might be formalised as follows:

The Euthyphro Dilemma
(1) If divine command theory is true then either (i) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, or (ii) morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God.
(2) If (i) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, then they are morally good independent of God’s will.
(3) It is not the case that morally good acts are morally good independent of God’s will.
Therefore:
(4) It is not the case that (i) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good.
(5) If (ii) morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God, then there is no reason either to care about God’s moral goodness or to worship him.
(6) There are reasons both to care about God’s moral goodness and to worship him.
Therefore:
(7) It is not the case that (ii) morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God.
Therefore:
(8) Divine command theory is false.

The first premise of the Euthyphro dilemma presents two alternatives to the divine command theorist: either morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, or morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God. The two options offered to the divine command theorist are intended to be logically exhaustive, so that if divine command theory is true then one of the options must be the case. The divine command theorist is therefore forced to choose one of the options to affirm.

The second premise states the consequences of the divine command theorist affirming the first of the options offered to him in premise (1), “morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good”. It states that if the first option is true then the morally good is morally good independent of God’s will. This claim is supported by an argument known as the independence problem.

The third premise denies that the morally good is morally good independent of God’s will. Of course, the critic of divine command theory does not believe this premise to be true; he believes that morality is independent of God’s will. However, the divine command theorist is committed to accepting this claim because divine command theory just is the theory that all moral truths are dependent on God’s will. Though critics of divine command theory disbelieve this premise, then, they can still use it against the divine command theorist.

The first subconclusion, (4) is the rejection of the first option offered to the divine command theorist in premise (1), “morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good”. That this option is false follows from premises (2) and (3).

Premise (5) states the consequences of the divine command theorist affirming the second of the options offered to him in premise (1), “morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God”. It states that if this option is true then there is no reason either to care about God’s moral goodness or to worship him. The first claim is supported the emptiness problem, and the second by the problem of abhorrent commands.

(6) states that we do have reason both to care about God’s moral goodness and to worship him. Again, this is used as a premise to which the divine command theorist is committed, rather than as a premise that the critic of divine command theory believes is true.

The second subconclusion, (7), is the rejection of the second option offered to the divine command theorist in premise (1), “morally good acts are morally good because they are willed by God”. (7) follows from premises (5) and (6). Instead of the emptiness problem and the problem of abhorrent commands, the arbitrariness problem can be used to support it, if need be.

Finally, (8) concludes that divine command theory is false. Premise (1) stated that if divine command theory were true then one of the two alternatives offered to the divine command theorist would also be true. The argument from (2) to (7) has, it is claimed, shown that neither alternative is true. It is therefore inferred that divine command theory is false.


Labels: , , ,