Monday, July 24, 2017

Death to Euthyphro!





Wes Morriston, philosopher from University of Colorado, Boulder, writes an excellent [1] paper against divine command theory and specifically attacking William Lane Craig. The guys over at secular outpost (or as I like to call it, "Kill Bill's ideas) link to that article. Divine command theory in it's simple direct form says that what is good is that which God commands and it is good because God commands it. The paper is very long and covers a lot of ground, I have isolated what I think is one of the  key points and i will deal with just that small but important section: the ground of moral duty as grounded in the divine.

Craig is answwering the Euthyphro dilemma, This is a problem raised by Plato in the from of Socrates question to Euthyphro, " is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, "Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"  [2] The answer Craig takes to it is one I have also argued for years, that the good flows out of God's character so it's neither arbitrary now does it constitute a standard above God.

Morriston takes issue with Craig at the point where he says the good "flows out of God's character.

One might wonder about the phrase ‘flow necessarily from his moral nature’. Does it mean that each divine command is necessitated by God’s moral nature – that God’s moral nature makes it impossible for him not to command what he does in fact command? Or does it mean merely that it is necessary that all divine commands flow from God’s moral nature, where the ‘flow from’ relation is understood in a weaker sense ?Craig doesn’t say.[3]

He's really conflating two different issues here: (1) do all commands flow equally from God's nature (2) could god chose to violate his nature? The question here is still veg because we are talking about Biblical commands? Or, are we talking about the human capacity to be moral itself? The latter is the kjey to the answer. Paul tells us the moral law is written on the heart (Romans 2:6-14). C.S. Lewis shows a great harmony in many Axial age civilizations as far flung as Briton and China. Although there are problems will will bracket them for fn.[4] These similarities of course don't prove divine inspiration but they may indicate that if human moral nature is God given then God's commands must be generally flowing through that basic moral nature and even though filtered through cultural constructs the basic sense of moral goodness grounded in agapic sense of human dignity is possible universally. So the latter "weaker sense" would come closer to the answer, although I would not think of it as "weaker."

But whatever the details, it’s clear that the main point of the claim that God’s commands ‘flow necessarily from his moral nature’ is to head off a familiar objection to the divine command theory. It will be convenient to refer to it as ‘ the arbitrariness objection’. It goes something like this. Either God has good reasons for his commands or he does not. If he does, then those reasons (and not God’s commands) are the ultimate ground of moral obligation. If he does not have good reasons, then his commands are completely arbitrary and may be disregarded. Either way, the divine command theory is false.[5]
That's a fair assessment of the dilemma, and the answer is all moral motions ultimately point to love. God's character is love, thus there is warrant for the assertion that Divine love stands behind morality that God's  commands are neither arbitrary nor are they stemming from a source higher than God. "Those reasons" are bound up in God's character, They are of concern to God because he is love. Obviously they are not "completely arbitrary since they arise out of the same basic aspect of who and what God is. The question about the goodness of reasons is transgression upon the concept of the transcendental signified. Truth is what is and the basis of what is is the ground being ie God). Thus God's reasons are a priori good not because they arbitrarily manufacture good via command but because they stem from the nature of God which is the ground of being. This idea that God's commands are arbitrary ( the "arbitrariness objection") is regarded as an ace in the hole by many skeptical philosopjhers.

Some philosophers think the arbitrariness objection is decisive (Shafer-Landau (2004), 80–81). But Craig thinks his version of the divine command theory is completely untouched by it. To see why, consider the duty to be generous to those in need. On Craig’s account, we can endorse all three of the following claims.

(A) God has a good reason for commanding generosity: generosity is good.

(B) Generosity is good because, and only because, God is (essentially) generous.

(C) Nevertheless, it takes a divine command to turn generosity into a duty for us.
Given (A), it might be thought that there is nothing objectionably arbitrary about God’s commanding generosity. Given (B), the goodness of God’s reason for issuing this command is rooted in his moral nature; it is not therefore independent of God. (C), finally, assures us that it is God’s command, and not merely the goodness of generosity, that raises it to the level of a moral imperative.[6] 
I take issue with the last sentence and with B to which it refers. "Generosity is good because, and only because, God is (essentially) generous." Basically true but it requires some tweaking that zi think matters. It's not just that God is generous so requires that we be generous but that generosity is a of love, it's an expression of love in the agapic sense., The reason It is played that generosity is good only because God is generous is to avoid the prospect of atheists claiming they can be generous without God. Of course that's  begging the question unless it's answering a certain kind of moral argument for God. If God exists it's legitimate to think that goodness flows from God's nature, If there is no God we are just Whistling in the dark anyway. From a purely metaethical standpoint generosity could be grounded in any number of things such as social contract theory, but they would all have a hard time establishing an ought denontologically without going teleological. It would be more certain to assume grounding in God. But switching from answering Euthephro a God argument would change the trajectory of the answers.

"Many questions remain. Could God have failed to command generosity? Could generosity have failed to be a duty ? Just what degree of generosity is required ? And why did God choose to require just that degree of generosity rather than some other ? " If love is the background of the moral universe, as is my assumption, (ala Joseph Fletcher) [7] then the direct proximity of God's will to a specific command might be less important in terms of metaethical theory than understanding the nature of love. In other words, rather than seeking to pin down a list of rules we need to be seeking ways to learn to love people. Of course that doesn't mean it's unimportant that God issues a particular command. Yet the important thing is not keeping rules but internalizing values of the good.

At this point he moves on to a second objection. If God turned around tomorrow and ordered something that is now evil such as eating children would it then become good to do so? Craig says can't happen it's opposed to God's nature.[8] That should be enough for rational people. But if you are an atheist looking to throw a wrench in the works of belief, or a philosopher, no it's not. If you are both well better start looking for that eye of the needle. "Even if such commands are incompatible with God’s nature, isn’t it still true that according to the divine command theory eating our children would be morally obligatory if – per impossible – God commanded it?" It's another version of  can God make a rock so big he can't lift it? The answer I've always given to that is "why should we expect God to do non sense.?"  It's a cleaver question for skeptics to ask because it's a perfect double bind. If we do say "well theoretically if God did command even God would be wrong," we have relativized God's authority. If we say no we relativize his goodness. Either way we make belief in higher power seem silly.

Morriston kind of concedes that the question doesn't make sense and thus it doesn't matter what is said but he still concludes in such a way as to raise doubt with the oblivious:

Remember that for Craig God is, necessarily, a perfect being. If that is understood, then it really doesn’t matter to Craig’s position whether it’s impossible for a perfect being to command such a thing. Why ? Because if a perfect being commanded it, the being would have a morally sufficient reason for doing so; and if – per impossibile, perhaps – a perfect being had a morally sufficient reason for commanding us to eat our children, we should do it. If I am right about this, then Craig’s divine command theory escapes refutation – not for the reason he gives, but rather because the alarming-sounding counterpossibles implied by it turn out to true! 10 What’s so special about being God-like? Given fairly standard assumptions about God’s moral nature, [9]

The real problem is that the skeptics have underrated the scope of God's relation to reality. We are not just talking about the most powerful being. They approach it like the question is "this powerful guy is not like this but what if he was.?" It's not about the will of a powerful guy. It's about the nature of reality and trust and the relationship of that to love itself. Like the rock issue I refuse to believe that truth can be stumped by nonsense. Truth is what is (a simplified version of correspondence theory) and God is Being itself. Love is the background of the moral universe because God is love and God is the basis of reality. Thus if God is love, truth, and being. Thus morality is an extension of the good, and the good is wrapped up with the nature of truth and being. We must understand particular moral codes as best we can having filtered moral motions through culture. There is a reality back there behind it all that can't be cheated by questions like the one about the rock.


[1] Wes Morriston, "God and the ontological foundation of morality," Religious Studies,   Cambridge University Press 2011 (2012) 48, 15–34 f doi:10.1017/S0034412510000740 URL:
http://spot.colorado.edu/~morristo/DoesGodGround.pdf  accessed 2/27/2016.

 WES MORRISTON Department of Philosophy, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0232 email: Wes.Morriston@Colorado.EDU

[2]Plat, "Euthephro," Five Dialogues, 10a, or see on line copy, see "Euthephro" by Plato,  Translated by Benjamin Jowet, Internet archieve UROL:http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/euthyfro.html

[3] Morriston, op. cit. 18.

[4] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of man: With Reflection on Education With Special Reference to The Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. New York, NY: Harper One, 1971, 83.
The problem with this is that it's limited to a segment of history from a period known as the Axial age, roughly from the 900 to 200 BC. The term is from Karl Jaspers. It excludes new world, Africa, Russian steppes and times before and after. Bit it is probably the best attempt to show universal moral sense. It does at least show large segments of humanity share similar moral motions.

[5] Morriston, op.cit., 18-19

[6] Ibid. 19-20

[7] Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics The new Moraloty.Louisville, Lomdon:  Westminster John Knox Press. 1966,    58.
Fletcher discusses the same dilemma but not by the name "Euthephro." He discusses the nominalist position and argues that modern ethical thinking is nominalist and that is what's wrong with it. That's why philosophers ask questions about this dilemma because they can't ground moraloity in love since they are reductionists and can't understand values.

[8] Morriston, op cit.,20-21

[9] Ibid

39 comments:

im-skeptical said...

I don't think you quite grasp the problem. You say: "It's about the nature of reality ..." So you are implying that goodness is non-arbitrary, since it is a reflection of reality. At the same time, if God's nature is reality, and reality is what it is, then God doesn't decide what is good. God can't change his mind about what is good because that would be opposed to his nature. The clear implication is that this reality is beyond God's power to change.

But you seem to want to have your cake and eat it too. You want us to believe that God himself decides what his own nature is. And thus he is the arbiter of reality and of what is good. And the clear implication of this is that it is arbitrary after all. And so we find ourselves right back where we started. You think you have answered the question, but you really haven't.

Eric Sotnak said...

"He's really conflating two different issues here: (1) do all commands flow equally from God's nature (2) could god chose to violate his nature? "

No, I don't agree that Morriston is guilty of such a conflation. The issue is over what "flow necessarily" amounts to.

Suppose Ferd asks God, "My neighbor, Gerd, has no food. What shall I do?"

Consider these three possible responses God could make:
(1) I command that you give Gerd a loaf of bread.
(2) I command that you give Gerd a pound of ground beef.
(3) I command that you hack Gerd to death with an axe.

Suppose that God, in fact, issues command #1. If we ask why God commands #1 instead of #3, it seems plausible to answer that God has a loving nature and that #3 is (at least prima facie) inconsistent with such a nature. But that answer won't do if we ask why God commanded #1 rather than #2. Morriston's point is that "flows necessarily from" could be taken to mean either than if God commanded #1, then his nature necessarily implies #1 (and no other possible command) OR it could be taken to mean that commands like #1 and #2 are both consistent with God's nature, while #3 is not.

The distinction here, by the way, closely parallels the question of whether God's goodness requires that he create the best possible world, or merely a world that is "good enough" (whatever that turns out to mean).

Eric Sotnak said...

"It's not about the will of a powerful guy."

Actually, since the divine command theory (at least as accepted by Craig) says that God's will creates moral obligations, that is exactly what it is about.

Joe Hinman said...

Suppose that God, in fact, issues command #1. If we ask why God commands #1 instead of #3, it seems plausible to answer that God has a loving nature and that #3 is (at least prima facie) inconsistent with such a nature. But that answer won't do if we ask why God commanded #1 rather than #2. Morriston's point is that "flows necessarily from" could be taken to mean either than if God commanded #1, then his nature necessarily implies #1 (and no other possible command) OR it could be taken to mean that commands like #1 and #2 are both consistent with God's nature, while #3 is not.

that doesn't change the fact that there are two separate issues there,

Joe Hinman said...

Eric Sotnak said...
"It's not about the will of a powerful guy."

Actually, since the divine command theory (at least as accepted by Craig) says that God's will creates moral obligations, that is exactly what it is about.


DCT might be bit not Christian ethics.

Joe Hinman said...

m-skeptical said...
I don't think you quite grasp the problem. You say: "It's about the nature of reality ..." So you are implying that goodness is non-arbitrary, since it is a reflection of reality. At the same time, if God's nature is reality, and reality is what it is, then God doesn't decide what is good. God can't change his mind about what is good because that would be opposed to his nature. The clear implication is that this reality is beyond God's power to change.

It's not arbitrary it's based upon an eternal standard but that standard is not separate from God,

But you seem to want to have your cake and eat it too. You want us to believe that God himself decides what his own nature is. And thus he is the arbiter of reality and of what is good. And the clear implication of this is that it is arbitrary after all. And so we find ourselves right back where we started. You think you have answered the question, but you really haven't.

I never said god chooses his own nature,

im-skeptical said...

I never said god chooses his own nature

- I still think you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. You say that good is good because of God, but also that good is an eternal standard about which God has no choice. So either it's independent, and would be so whether or not God exists, or it's not independent, but is a standard that is set by God. But you're telling us it's both. And that is nonsense.

Joe Hinman said...

I still think you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. You say that good is good because of God, but also that good is an eternal standard about which God has no choice. So either it's independent, and would be so whether or not God exists, or it's not independent, but is a standard that is set by God. But you're telling us it's both. And that is nonsense.

false dichotomy God is not separate from his nature,there's no reason why God's standard has to be separate from himself. you are amusing God is a big man in the sky.

when you say a standard "set by God" you assert a tacit notion of a separate standard that you have already loaded into the concept, he doesn't have to "set" it or even choose it, it's just the standard by which God judges. It's the standard of love it;s not arbitrary but meaningful.

im-skeptical said...

he doesn't have to "set" it or even choose it, it's just the standard by which God judges.

- Then the standard is independent of God.

Joe Hinman said...

how does that follow? the standard God uses is love and he uses it because he is loving,how is that independent of God?

im-skeptical said...

how is that independent of God?

- How could it NOT be independent if it is an eternal standard about which God has no choice?

Eric Sotnak said...

"DCT might be bit not Christian ethics."

But I thought the whole point of this blog post was to point out inadequacies in Morriston's objections to Craig's version of DCT. That is, it appears to be a defense of DCT against Morriston's criticisms. But it isn't, and here you not only move the goalposts, but change the whole playing field. Morriston isn't attacking Christian ethics (by the way, Morriston is a theist). He is highlighting a difficulty in one particular variant of DCT.

Joe Hinman said...

Eric. I doubt that Jeff an co like that because they care about obscure aspects of Christian theology, the discussion about teh article at the time seemed to make clear taht they used that as a vehicle for their criticism,

Joe Hinman said...

m-skeptical said...
how is that independent of God?

- How could it NOT be independent if it is an eternal standard about which God has no choice?

because God cant be separated from his nature,it's simple God loves, because he loves he provides the good

im-skeptical said...

because God cant be separated from his nature,it's simple God loves, because he loves he provides the good

- And in this manner, you are having your cake and eating it too.

Joe Hinman said...

so what? translate that into logic.

im-skeptical said...

so what? translate that into logic.

- You're apparently too dim to see the conflict. You talk about "good" as if it's an independent entity that is eternal and beyond God's ability to change its essence. But you also claim that God's command is what defines good in deontological human ethics. You're just too blinkered to recognize the conflict between these two beliefs. If "good" stands alone, then we don't need God to tell us what it is. If we do need God's direction, then "good" is arbitrarily defined by whatever God chooses to tell us. Your attempt to say that good can't be separated from God's nature is just a cover-up for your logical failure.

Joe Hinman said...

You're apparently too dim to see the conflict. You talk about "good" as if it's an independent entity that is eternal and beyond God's ability to change its essence.

No I don't I talk about it as though it is synonymous with God, which it is,

But you also claim that God's command is what defines good in deontological human ethics. You're just too blinkered to recognize the conflict between these two beliefs. If "good" stands alone, then we don't need God to tell us what it is.


You are just reading in what you think I should say because I should say stuff other Christians say. I told the whole idea of resting the standardize God's nature is erase the distinction between God and the standard,the Euthyrpho quesiton is obsolete it has no allocation with Christian God,


If we do need God's direction, then "good" is arbitrarily defined by whatever God chooses to tell us.

No it's defined by God's charter


Your attempt to say that good can't be separated from God's nature is just a cover-up for your logical failure.

of course a thing cannot separate from its nature that's nature means,that is insane to think it could be,

im-skeptical said...

I told the whole idea of resting the standardize God's nature is erase the distinction between God and the standard,the Euthyrpho quesiton is obsolete it has no allocation with Christian God,

- That's your way of whitewashing the issue. It's like saying you have a square circle, and then you're trying to tell us that it's insane to think it could be otherwise.

Ryan M said...

"Jeff an co like that because they care about obscure aspects of Christian theology,"

Joe, that's nonsense. Jeff and co primarily attack the theism common among Americans, so it's not obscure at all. There is a reason why William Lane Craig gets packed debate halls whereas you won't find streamed debates in the US where God is neither the sort of God talked about by classical theists or theistic personalists.

Joe Hinman said...

I was being sarcastic Ryan. We were talking about Wes Morriston, being a theist.

tell me about it,I asked the other CADRE guys to show some support form my debate with Bradley they go"we don't understand your argument," Because they don't read my blog,

Joe Hinman said...

I told the whole idea of resting the standardize God's nature is erase the distinction between God and the standard,the Euthyrpho quesiton is obsolete it has no allocation with Christian God,

- That's your way of whitewashing the issue. It's like saying you have a square circle, and then you're trying to tell us that it's insane to think it could be otherwise.

your obtusity is getting tiresome

im-skeptical said...

No. You are papering over your self-contradiction by simply claiming that God can't be separated from good. It sounds good to you. You think that solves everything, but it only works for people who don't think about the implications of your statements. Of course, I'm sure you wouldn't be bothered by a little contradiction here and there. Theistic belief in general is riddled with contradictions.

Joe Hinman said...

Definition of natureb (websters)
1
a : the inherent character or basic constitution (see constitution 2) of a person or thing : essence the nature of the controversy
b : disposition, temperament
it was his nature to look after others — F. A. Swinnerton
her romantic nature
2
a : a creative and controlling force in the universe
b : an inner force (such as instinct, appetite, desire) or the sum of such forces in an individual
3
: a kind or class usually distinguished by fundamental or essential characteristics documents of a confidential nature acts of a ceremonial nature

im-skeptical said...

Yes, I am aware of the definition of 'nature'. But you are still unaware of your self-contradiction. If goodness is this eternal universal thing as you describe, and it is the essence of God, then it should also be the essence of God's creation. Your deontological view of ethics makes no sense in that light.

Joe Hinman said...

es, I am aware of the definition of 'nature'. But you are still unaware of your self-contradiction. If goodness is this eternal universal thing as you describe, and it is the essence of God, then it should also be the essence of God's creation. Your deontological view of ethics makes no sense in that light.


(1) you shifted your argument, you were arguing that nature was separate now you shift to God's creation has to be the same essence

(2) That does not follow, why would a creation have to be the same essence as the creator?

(3) We are made in God's image we are the same nature that is why we can love although we also our nature in God's image became fallen due to sin

(4) nothing thee that contradicts deontology,it's our duty to love because we have the ability, You do not read the essay where I quoted Fletcher who said love has aspects of both teleology and deontology. still up to youroold trkicks of not reading the piece,

im-skeptical said...

you shifted your argument, you were arguing that nature was separate now you shift to God's creation has to be the same essence

- No, you simply fail to understand my point.

Joe Hinman said...

you fail to have a cogent point,

im-skeptical said...

OK, Joe. You are offering a simplistic solution to something that has been debated for many centuries by philosophers much greater than you or me. Let's just leave it at that.

Joe Hinman said...

wrong. It's been remembered because it;s Socrates not because anyone thought it applied to the Christian God. No one ever did util modern idiots who don't know the history of ideas. The original dilemma Soc worked on Euthie was about the fates vs Zeus. Doesn't work with Christian God, no fates. No early church father ever worries about the dilemma.

Eric Sotnak said...

No one ever did util modern idiots who don't know the history of ideas.

Modern idiots like that Leibniz fool?

" it seems that any act of the will presupposes some reason for it—a reason that naturally precedes the act—·so that God’s choices must come from his reasons for them, which involve his knowledge of what would· be good; so they can’t be the sources of the goodness of things." (Discourse on Metaphysics, section 2)

C'mon, Joe. The dispute between theistic voluntarism and theistic intellectualism has a long and deep history. By trying to pretend that the adaptation of the Euthyphro dilemma to theism is the creation of people ignorant of the history of ideas, it is you, ironically, who betray an ignorance of the history of ideas.

Joe Hinman said...

Sorry Eric, i said no major Christian theologian (of which Leibniz ant one) in the years after Plato was ever worried that God is subjected to a higher standard. Even Leibniz did not say "o that disproves God becauseof the Euthyphro dilemma.

Sure the ideas in that set of notions we label as a dilemma were evoked by him. It's true Leibniz had a place in the scheme of apologetic and God arguments. That is not a major thing in theology. Most actual theologians don't waste their time trying to prove God exists. They accept the that God is the ground of being and they move on. Schleiemacher, freed theology from the need to prove with an early rendition of phenomenology.

Saying that idea around Euthyphro stimulated thinking about related ideas is not the same as saying theologians are sweating out the Euthyphor dilemma as a serous impediment to belief in God.

Eric Sotnak said...


Except that I don't know of anyone who has ever said that the Euthyphro dilemma shows that God doesn't exist.
In the context of theism, the Euthyphro dilemma arises only in response to Divine Command accounts of morality; or actually more broadly to accounts of morality on which God CREATES morality (if there are ways this would happen other than by command).

Joe Hinman said...

you don't wast your time on message boards talking to stupid people I did that for a long time I have seen many atheists who say that.

Joe Hinman said...

there are atheists who can't imagine anything else but divine command.

im-skeptical said...

there are atheists who can't imagine anything else but divine command.

- Every atheist can see something besides divine command. Something that you are incapable of seeing. But why should you be so critical of atheists for having an understanding of theistic ethics that is consistent with your own?

Eric Sotnak said...

Ok: Perhaps there are some atheists who wrongly assert that the Euthyphro dilemma proves God's non-existence. I have yet to see any. But you boldly declare the death of the Euthyphro dilemma, then proceed to critique Wes Morriston, apparently tarring him with the same brush as you would those ignorant atheists you claim to have encounter d on message boards.

I don't get it. You criticize atheists for lumping all theists together and then proceed to do the same to atheists, and sweep a lot of theists into the same dustpan while you're at it (Morristown is a theist, remember). In other words, I don't see how you are not guilty of criticizing people like Morriston for holding views they don't hold. If your intent was to argue that the Euthyphro dilemma does not disprove the existence of God, then Morriston's article is completely irrelevant. It would be as unfair as if I wrote a post criticizing young Earth creationism and quoted from your book The Trace of God.

Joe Hinman said...

I sis not say all atheists think this I said some. besides other uses, the counter apologist uses it against the moral argument.

Joe Hinman said...

In other words, I don't see how you are not guilty of criticizing people like Morriston for holding views they don't hold. If your intent was to argue that the Euthyphro dilemma does not disprove the existence of God,

Go back to SOP pretend you don't know who Morrison is and look at the way they affirmed it as an article and it would be easy to get the impression that he is an atheist. I just read the Aristotle I did not read his life story.