Traditional And Utilitarian Approaches To The Euthyphro Dilemma

1842 words - 7 pages

Traditional And Utilitarian Approaches To The Euthyphro Dilemma

In the Euthyphro, Plato describes the proceedings of a largely circular argument between Socrates and Euthyphro, a self-declared prophet and pious man, over the nature of piety and even of the gods themselves. The issues raised in this dialogue have been reinterpreted and extended to remain relevant even with a modern theological framework, so much so that the central issue is now known simply as ?the Euthyphro dilemma.? This is based on Socrates? two-way choice which he offers in the dialogue:

"Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?" (10a)

In the context of the dialogue, this simply segues to a logical argument about the definition of piety, and the question is more or less rhetorical as Socrates asks it. When Euthyphro chooses the first option, the discussion moves on to his next point without further ado, and the implication that this limits the omnipotence of the gods is ignored, probably because the omnipotence of the pantheon of gods wasn?t an assumption of Greek theology (after all, as we read in the dialogue, the father and grandfather of Zeus were castrated; what kind of omnipotent being would allow that to happen to himself?). However, when read with a Judeo-Christian concept of God in mind, the dilemma becomes this:

"Did God decide what goodness is? If so, then "good" is more or less the arbitrary decision of a frightening being to which we cannot relate, and that being could just as easily have made murder and stealing the ultimate moral actions without any contradictions. On the other hand, if God did not decide what goodness is, he cannot truly be omnipotent."

This has become the main issue of the Euthyphro in modern times; other questions the dialogue raises, like what the purpose of prayer is, and of course what the definition of piety is, are more or less ignored for the "big issue" here.

There is no big agreement in the modern monotheist camp as to which half of the dilemma to choose; for example, Descartes chose the big-scary-unknowable-god option (I'll refer to that as Option 1) and Saadia Gaon fell firmly into the good-came-before-god camp (Option 2) (Rich 1, Solomon 36). However, there are clearly problems with choosing either side if you want a traditional God; it is a dilemma, after all.

The assumptions that cause the dilemma to be so problematic are more or less: a) God is omnipotent, b) God is good, and c) God is like the Biblical God; God is knowable in some sense, and we can form meaningful relationships with Him (or Her, to be PC). For simplicity's sake we will just deal with the Old Testament, since both Jews and Christians accept it and it prevents us having to delve into the finer points of Trinitarian theology.

Assumption a is pretty much a fair assumption in modern discussions of God. If God were not omnipotent then we have no real use...

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