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God and “The” Good: An Essay on Morality, Part V

January 17, 2012

IV.      The Euthyphro ‘Dilemma’

Once the enquirer has accepted the possibility that objective values could exist, the theist is faced with an immediate and profound dilemma posed effectively by Plato.  The dilemma goes something like this:  Is something good because God commands it, or does God command something because it is good?  If the theist says that something is good because God commands it, he is subject to the charge of arbitrariness.  If God commanded rape, would it then be good?  Though theists have proposed solutions, this objection presents a strong challenge to the divine command school of ethics.

On the other hand, if the theist answers that God commands something because it is good, then he seems to be admitting that the good can exist a part from God or that something greater than God exists—mainly objective values.  In either case, God’s existence is not needed and all the work we have done previously is severely undermined.  It may come as a surprise then to find that I answer affirmatively to the second part of the dilemma; I propose that God commands what is good and my explanation is as follows.

Good is a value.  So are terms like justice, love, truth, honor, courage, purity, kindness.  And I would argue that God commands things because they conform to or make possible these values —these terms all, obviously being part of the good.  So, do these values exist independently of God?  My answer is no.  These values, while objective, I consider to be intrinsically personal.  That is, without a person, they cannot exist.  Therefore, just as we concluded that values cannot be produced by nature, we must also conclude that values cannot exist independently of personhood.  Thus, they do not exist in some ethereal realm, independent of being (i.e. a personal being).  I maintain, then, that these values must be grounded in one of two beings—either human beings or the being of God.  We have seen the difficulties of grounding them in human beings (in the absence of God) from a naturalistic perspective.  Yet, for them to be objective, they must exist independently of human beings.  I conclude then that the best explanation of the existence of these values is that they exist or are grounded in the character of a Divine Being (i.e. God.)  Something is not good because God commands it, but God commands something, because he is good and commands what is consistent with his character.  These values exist in God’s character, and His commands simply reflect what that character is.




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