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On the Euthyphro Dilemma

Is God because good, or is good because God?

Or to put it less tersely, is God good because He upholds some absolute standard of

goodness, or is there no such thing as an absolute standard of goodness, but only that what God commands as good is good. Goodness first, then God? Or God first, then


is called, among other things, rationalism, or objectivism, the second horn divine command theory, or voluntarism.

These are the two horns of the so-called Euthyphro dilemma. The first horn

Naturally, (to spoil the ending,) we take a position which transcends the idea that one must be a consequence of the other, but rather that, morally speaking, God, and goodness are identical. Thus the question arises merely because of limitations of our thinking. So instead we propose, (as have others,): The Word is God; God is the Living Word. Or:

“God ‘acts only out of His nature.’”*

First, if God is good because He upholds some absolute standard of goodness, then He would not be absolute. There would be that which was greater than Him. Further, he would not be omnipotent, since He could not arbitrarily make something good which was ‘bad.’ His freedom of will would be compromised, since if He were good, He could not command anything opposed to this standard of goodness.

And He would be unnecessary, for moral authority could exist even without Him. (Could God, out of love, make Himself unnecessary for His children?)

But if instead goodness is merely what God commands, we lose reason for morality. If the only moral standard is God’s will, then the moral basis for behavior is arbitrary. There no longer exist any moral principles. Indeed, since His will can change, and thus by definition what is moral, there is no definition at any point in time or space for any moral behavior. What is moral in one instant and place, can be immoral the next.

Neither can we claim God is rational, for the claim is the opposite, that His will transcends His reasons. For if reason dictated God’s behavior, then reason would be transcendent.

Further the entire moral basis for behavior comes into question, “if one only acts out fear of God, or in an attempt to be rewarded by Him.” There is no higher obligation to obedience. Only might makes right, and God should only be obeyed because He is the biggest bully. Truly moral, principled, behavior thus becomes impossible. Thus this highest possible goal for humanity is taken away, as is the only possible significant behavioral distinction between man and animal. Man is reduced to animal. (Which suggests that adherence to the doctrine that a thing is good merely because God says it is good is, in fact, an evil. And truly moral behavior does not become impossible, but becomes instead opposing the bully, and thus the ‘willful God’ is necessarily less than the moral principles He supposes Himself to transcend. God is reduced to oppressor, pressing

Man back down to the animal, which Man, by adopting a higher morality, seeks to rise above. Would God want to be this oppressor?)

That outlines the dilemma.

The solution is to address the limitations in our thinking:

same thing and think therefore that one name must be the consequence of the other name. We give order to things which have no order. And so, here as in the question of free will and determinism, we tend to imagine we have to choose one ordering, one truth, over the other, where in fact it is the superposition of truths which is ‘the Truth.’ Yet holding this superposition of truths in the mind is uncomfortable, and we find it easier to relax into one (erroneous) alternate truth or the other.

We give different names to the

And because of this discomfort, even our very notions of the ultimate qualities we talk about, such as God, and goodness, will and determinism, right and wrong, absolute and relative, each of which are themselves superpositions of things we suppose truths, may change when we relax our hold. Further, these qualities almost certainly diverge from the very nature of the qualities others may give the same names to, whose minds may be comfortable with juxtapositions we might find discordant.

Clearly, God’s reasonings transcend our own. This does not make them separate from His will, or His will unhinged from His reason. There are no boundaries between His will and His reason. Neither does one extend beyond the other. The dilemma arises because we make boundaries between His will and His reason, and extend one beyond the other. After all, our notion of will is informed by our experience, where we do things with reference to will, but sometimes not with reference to reason. But that cannot be God’s experience. He is omniscient, and aware of all reasons for all things.

Anyway, our thought is that God desires to be emulated: Man created in His image, to act in His image. And that God and good are inseparable, at least in the context of moral standards. Thus, that to emulate God, the goal is not to exercise arbitrary standards with absolute authority, but to seek instead to identify with the absolute moral standards that are God. To identify with the Word of God. Granted, this puts the ideal above the flesh, as it were, God the Word over God the Body, rather than the flesh above the ideal, which is the tendency of voluntarism. So this chooses the first horn of the dilemma, as a practical guide for personal behavior, above the other.

To choose the other, of course, to emulate the powers of God before the responsibilities, is to lose all moral compass: To lose one’s soul, though one gain (power over) the world.

*A more thorough, neutral, discussion of the Euthyphro dilemma can be found at: Quotes are from the article.