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God and Morality: why the Euthyphro dilemma matters

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Presentation on theme: "God and Morality: why the Euthyphro dilemma matters"— Presentation transcript:

1 God and Morality: why the Euthyphro dilemma matters

2 An overheard conversation…
Rick: We’re sending little Sid to Saint Michael’s. The local comp’s ok but you need a church school if he’s going to know the difference between right and wrong. Nick: But you’re not religious! Rick: Yeah, sure I don’t believe any of that funny stuff but you don’t need that in order to teach right and wrong. Nick: So if the ‘morals’ don’t need God, why bother with a church school? You’re being a hypocrite! Is Rick being inconsistent? Are religion and morality linked? If so how?

3 The Euthyphro dilemma (1)
This comes from a dialogue written by Plato. In it Socrates ties young Euthyphro in knots with this tricky question Is ‘X’ good because God commands it OR Does God command ‘X’ because it is good? Can you work out what problems there might be with each option?

4 The Euthyphro dilemma (2)
If things are good because God commands them; his commands could be arbitrary. For example, murder would be good if God said so. If goodness is independent of God then God is hampered and must refer to a standard of goodness (and hence he isn’t needed to determine what goodness is).

5 Divine Command ethics The idea that whatever God commands is objectively good is called the Divine Command Theory or Divine Command Ethics. The Old Testament, with its laws such as the Ten Commandments, are a prime example of a Divine Command system. Several key Christian thinkers have been Divine Command ethicists such as William of Ockham, William Paley and John Calvin. Islamic ethics, which draws its main sources from the Qur’an and the hadith, can also be described as a Divine Command Ethic. What arguments can you think of to support this idea?

6 Defending Divine Command
The Bible gives examples of immoral acts being made right by God’s commands (for example Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac). Conforming to the will of God is seen as the most important aspect of spirituality. Since God created us, we must live in accordance to his will. Our maker knows best! Can you think of counter-arguments to the above points?

7 Weaknesses in Divine Command
Divine command theories give outcomes that are against our intuition. If God had commanded murder and rape, would these have been good? Believers may disagree on what God’s command is, for example Churches differ over issues such as homosexuality and abortion A response to this might be to suggest that God could not command such a thing as he is good. Kai Nielson argues that it would be morally wrong to blindly obey Divine Commands. It diminishes our humanity. So if it is difficult to say that God’s commands make things good then…

8 A problem with objective morality (1)
If we want to argue that morality can exist independently of God we have a problem. The example below is taken from Stephen Law’s Philosophy Files. Suppose you are visited by Martians, Flib and Flob. You witness a mugger snatching a purse. You say that the action is wrong but your visitors suggest that they don’t know what you mean... Flob says: our senses are like yours. We see the man take the purse, we see the woman crying, but we cannot see the wrongness. Where is this ‘wrongness’?

9 A problem with objective morality (2)
Flib and Flob have identified the fact value problem. You cannot get from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’. The facts of a case do not logically show us the values (the rights and wrongs) More later at A2 when we do Meta Ethics So if God doesn’t exist and we cannot find absolute morality anywhere else we are left with a problem.

10 Everything is permitted?
In ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, dim witted servant Smerdyakov kills the brothers’ father. He blames Ivan for persuading him that God does not exist. Ivan: Did you kill him alone? Smerdyakov: Only with you sir. I killed him with your help (Ivan seems bemused) Smerdyakov: Everything, you said is permitted...this you did teach me, sir, for you talked to me a lot about such things: for if there’s no everlasting God, there’s no such thing as virtue and there’s no need of it at all. Yes sir, you were right about that. Would the absence of God make all things permissible?

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