Essay on The Euthyphro Dilemma

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The Euthyphro Dilemma


In Plato's dialogue, 'Euthyphro', Socrates presents Euthyphro with a choice: `Is what is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved [by the gods]?'

Euthyphro responds by asserting that piety is that which is approved [loved] or sanctioned by the gods; whence impiety is whatever is disapproved of by the gods. However, as Socrates points out, the question poses a dilemma for those who believe as Euthyphro does that Truth is revealed by divine authority alone.

Now, a dilemma is an argument forcing a choice of two unfavourable alternatives. The important point here is that the alternatives must be equally unfavourable. Simply to be faced with two alternatives is not to be
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But surely we can know, for example, that cruelty is wrong independently of any reference to what God has revealed. Also, the person whose moral life consists in blindly following what he or she takes to be moral rules revealed by God is morally immature, just as the child who sticks rigidly to the rules of a game without ever asking what those rules are for is immature.

The consequences of accepting that the goodness of actions consists simply in the fact that God favours them are obviously disagreeable. However, the consequences of accepting the alternative also appear unfortunate. If it is maintained that God favours certain actions because they are objectively good, it seems that their goodness is independent of His will. But such a view appears to be inconsistent with the conception of God as the omnipotent creator and sustainer of all that is. It means that there is a realm of moral values which exist quite apart from God's creative will and to which His will must conform. Such a view must inevitably appear blasphemous to all those who believe in God, for it makes God out to be less than He is.

The theist, therefore, appears to be faced with a choice between a view which implies a kind of moral chaos and a life of moral immaturity, and one which belittles an Almighty God. One attempt to resolve this dilemma turns on the distinction…