4.2.3 The Euthyphro Dilemma: The Independence Problem

Blake's angel

The Euthyphro dilemma is an objection to divine command theory introduced with the question, “Are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God?” If the divine command theorist gives the first answer to the question, holding that God wills good acts because they are good, then he faces the independence problem.

The Independence Problem

The independence problem is the problem that the first answer that the theist might give to the Euthyphro dilemma appears to entail that moral facts hold independent of God’s will. Divine command theory, in most of its forms at least, denies this, holding that all of morality is dependent upon God. If it is correct that the first answer to the Euthyphro dilemma has this implication, therefore, then the divine command theorist cannot answer the Euthyphro dilemma in this way.

The reason that the first answer to the Euthyphro dilemma gives rise to the independence problem is as follows:

If morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, then it seems that they must be morally good prior to God’s willing them, otherwise God would not will them. If morally good acts are morally good prior to God’s willing them, though, then they must be morally good independent of God’s willing them. For if morally good acts are morally good prior to God’s willing them then God’s willing them is not a necessary condition for their being morally good. Rather, it is possible at least for acts to be morally good without their being willed by God.

Moral goodness, then, would be independent of God’s will, and divine command theory would be false.


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