Friday, 24 October 2014

Morality 2 - The Euthyphro Dilemma

Higher RMPS Podcast
The Euthyphro Dilemma

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices.

The first area we consider is the Euthyphro Dilemma.  The dilemma considers where morality comes from: God or elsewhere.  The Euthyphro Dilemma is found within The Dialogues of Plato.  It is a conversation between Socrates, the founder of Western philosophy, and Euthyphro, a religious expert, on the source of morality.

Euthyphro has dragged his father in front of the magistrate charging him with manslaughter.  A worker had killed one of the family’s slaves; Euthyphro's father bound the worker and gagged him, leaving him in a ditch until the lawyers told him what to do with him.  The worker dies; Euthyphro, who is deeply religious, is driven by a sense of what is right.  Everyone is accountable to the gods, regardless of their relation to you.

Socrates has, at this point, been charged with being impious (not showing reverence and respect to the gods).  He overhears Euthyphro instructing the Magistrate that his father has broken the laws of the gods and should be punished accordingly.  Socrates decides to press Euthyphro – how do you know what God is telling you to do is good?  The Greek gods had shown themselves to be, cruel, vengeful, as well as contradictory and inconsistent.  Socrates asked a very simple question: why should we do what they tell us to?  The argument that followed forced Euthyphro to confront both his lack of knowledge and ignorance and him ending the conversation abruptly by making an excuse that he 'had to go' (this ACTUALLY happened!).

Euthyphro argues that the gods love the pious (deeply faithful) person, that they love what is good and hate what is...well...not good. Socrates, snappy as ever, asks:

"Is something good because God says it is good

or does God say it is good because it is good?"

That one line, simple as it may seem, is the dilemma.  As with all statements it needs to be broken down and unpacked.  What is he actually saying?  Socrates is trying to establish the source of morality.  Is right and wrong dictated by God (or gods), or is right and wrong independent of God.  We can cut the dilemma in two and look at each: 

“Is something good because God says it is good...” -   Is right and wrong, good and evil, given to us by God?  In the first part Socrates asks if the source of morality is God; does he/she/it decide what is right and wrong and give these rules to us?  What if God commands you to kill a child (Exodus 21:15)?  Inside your mind something will itch forcing you to question if it really is the right thing to do.  However, good is whatever God says it is so you'd better make it quick or face the wrath of the all mighty.  Plato (Socrates student) asked why anyone would follow a God or gods who would ask you to do such things. 

“Does God say it is good because it is good?” - does God ask you to do something that is good because the action itself is good?  This can be confusing.  In the first part of the statement we do things that are good because God states that it is good; in this part of the statement God does what is good because the action is good and not because He/She/It states it is.  Morality is something therefore separate from (or beyond) God, something that even God must follow.  It raises the question if the source of morality is something greater than God, a Higher Power, or if it is a concept that is manmade.  Plato asked why anyone should follow gods who are bound by the same rules of right and wrong that we are.

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