Plato’s Euthyphro and the Divine Command Theory

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The Divine Command Theory is the view that morality is reliant on upon God, and that humankind has a moral obligation to be subservient to God’s directives. Additionally, it encompasses the allegation that morality is ultimately based on the commands or character of God, and that ‘right’ actions are those that God commands or requires. The Divine Command theory is that to which the exact substance of these divine commands would vary on the particular religion and the particular views of the individual.

In Plato’s Euthyphro, it would not be of a happenstance that Socrates encounters Euthyphro, and is astounded to learn that Euthyphro is prosecuting his own father for the assassination of a servant. Which is an allegory for the attempt at holding God or the Gods responsible for the absence of security, and failing to protect the value of life. Euthyphro’s family finds this to be disconcerting, because they think that holding the ‘father’ accountable for the actions that give rise to in the servant’s death, as impious. This sets the stage for a discussion of the nature of piety and consequently Socrates asks the prominent philosophical question: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”

To rearticulate the question to pertain it to the Divine Command Theory, it would be suitable to ask, “Does God(s) command particular actions because it is morally right, or is it morally right because God commands it?” The complications that this inquiry creates for the Divine Command Theorist, or those who would reply in ratification that an action is right because God instructs it, would find that if God commanded that the infliction of pain on others for no mere aim that it would be pleasurable, then doing so would be warranted as morally right. It would be an obligation to perpetrate suffering on others as God orders it. Furthermore, if God commanded us to wreak such suffering, doing so would be a just. To say that God’s commands are the foundations of morals, then consider indiscriminate, which allows morally disgraceful actions to become morally enforced.

Those who are in backing of this theory, or agree that morals is reliant on God(s) and God’s commands, do not wish to be wedged with the repercussion that malice could possibly be morally right, nor do they want to consent that the consequence that their fundamentals of morality are essentially capricious. Likewise, the divine command theorist might attempt to evade this quandary completely and opt for a different answer to Socrates’ question, “Does God (s) command particular actions because it is morally right, or is it morally right because God commands it?” They will ponder that the better answer is to propose that for any specific action that God (s) commands, He commands it because it is morally right. This will set up the divine command theorist to evade the impression that imposed suffering on others for merriment could perhaps be a morally right action. It is affirming that an action is right exclusively because God commands it. If God commands a particular action because it is morally right, then ethics no longer is contingent on God in the manner that the Divine Command Theorist avows. It proposes that God is no longer the originator of ethics, but rather just a recognizer of right and wrong and God is no longer the essence of ethics.

Besides, it will seem as though God has advanced some sort of substance to an external moral law and no longer a matter of dominion. John Arthur, “If God approves kindness because it is a virtue and hates the Nazis because they were evil, then it seems that God discovers morality rather than inventing it. So haven’t we then identified a limitation on God’s power, since He now, being a good God, must love kindness and command us not to be cruel? Without the divine command theory, in other words, what is left of God’s omnipotence? (Arthur)” Therefore, that would mean that God could no longer be absolute over the complete cosmos, but rather just as subjected to the moral law external to himself. Which leaves it problematic to admit that the concept of God being subject to an external moral law and not inevitably being at the top of the chain of existence. The Divine Command Theory of ethics is at a strong predicament: either morality rests on arbitrary foundations, or God is not the source of ethics and is subject to an external moral law, both of which allegedly compromise his supreme moral and metaphysical status.

In conclusion, the questions tackled are: What if a person claims God has said something to them, and another person claims god has said something different. Who should be trusted? The answer would be the right one, but who would be right? Moreover, how would one verifiably determine that God had actually said something to one or either individuals? This dilemma is identifiable in, shall I say, the Judeo-Christian faith, the Bible, and in the millennia of time and generations of translations that have multiplied the problems that lead to 41,000 (and counting) denominations that accept different parts of the Bible, and exclude others from the very inclusion in printing. All of these arguments lead us to the fact that the divine command theory is not as universal and full-bodied as many might believe it is. This ought not to be viewed as an anti-religious argument, but as a request for one to delve into profounder contemplation into the subject. To answer that goodness is what God says it is, but God is all good and we know this from his works, is not a satisfactory enough argument. It’s a circular argument and the most horrible part about circular arguments is that they lack common sense, and within ethics, they also lack moral common sense. Additionally, it can be regarded simply as request as a way to concede, that rudiment of religion, do and should develop from moral thoughts, but moral formations may exist distinctly from religion.

Works Cited

Arthur, John. “Religion, Morality, and Conscience.” White, James E. Contemporary Moral Problems. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2012. 24.

Plato. “Euthyphro.” Landau, Russ Shafter. The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings In Ethics and Moral Problems. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. 63-71.

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7 thoughts on “Plato’s Euthyphro and the Divine Command Theory

  1. Theological philosophy is the area I enjoy reading and this article is worth pondering as it is brilliantly written echoing the so-called Euthyphro challenge.

    “Does God(s) command particular actions because it is morally right, or is it morally right because God commands it?” I find that DCT can successively argue their case as follows:

    Necessary: For any x: x is morally right iff x is command by God(Greatest conceivable being).

    The objection that God could command unjust cause of suffering and thus unjust causing of suffering would then be morality could be answered by the idea that there is no possible state of affair where God(morally perfect being) could offer such commands. God’s command exemplifies God’s essential character(s) one of it being moral perfection.

    Thus,

    Necessary: For any y: y is morally right iff y exemplifies God’s essential character(i.e. moral perfection)

    This solve the second horn. What is right does now depend on God’s essential character(i.e. moral perfection) God’s moral perfection is thus the paradigm of rightness. Plato’s The Good.

    In either way, I find none of the horns challenging to DCT.

    I would like your thought?

    • If there was a frame of reference to determine if God is morally perfect then that frame would be greater than God(the greatest conceivable being) which is absurd.

      Your question assumes there is a paradigm of goodness or rightness transcending the greatest conceivable being (i.e. A greater paradigm than the greatest paradigm viz., God).

      God being morally perfect is a brutal fact of what it means to be the greatest conceivable being as three connected angles is a brutal fact of being a triangle. As, gollowing Plato’s thoughts, there cannot be something good greater that The Good, there cannot be a paradigm greater that The Paradigm of Goodness(God).

      There is no and cannot be other reference beyond God to determine if God is morally perfect as the perfect circle of Plato being the form of the circle and other circles exemplifying it(the closer to the form the better), there cannot be another perfect circle to be a reference to determine if the Form of circle is perfect circle since there is nothing beyond. Form of circle is the paradigm of all others.

      I hope that clarifies. Let me know your thoughts.

      • Mark Twain said in, “Thoughts of God” that:
        “To rescue without personal risk a cripple from a burning house is not a mercy, it is a mere commonplace duty; anybody would do it that could. And not by proxy, either–delegating the work by confiscating the credit for it. If men neglected ‘God’s poor’ and ‘God’s stricken and helpless ones’ as He does, what would become of them?”

        But you’re telling me that God is justified in neglecting His poor and his stricken and helpless people, because he’s morally perfect?

        And you’re also saying that out of all the Gods that have existed since the human consciousness has been, we cannot compare the Christian-Judeo God to that of other Gods that have existed or that do currently exist? We cannot use other Gods as a frame of reference to compare the Christian-Judeo God, or other Gods for that matter? We can’t even compare out own morality to that of a ‘supreme being’ because God is beyond goodness? So, being unable to have a frame of reference to God’s goodness because he’s too good, then we have to submit to all of that which we think is ‘bad’, as a consolation that god is doing what he thinks is good?

      • I stated that “If God commanded that the infliction of pain on others for no mere aim that it would be pleasurable, then doing so would be warranted as morally right. It would be an obligation to perpetrate suffering on others as God orders it. Furthermore, if God commanded us to wreak such suffering, doing so would be a just.”

        And you stated, “There is no and cannot be other reference beyond God to determine if God is morally perfect as the perfect circle of Plato being the form of the circle and other circles exemplifying it(the closer to the form the better), there cannot be another perfect circle to be a reference to determine if the Form of circle is perfect circle since there is nothing beyond.”

        Then, what you’re asserting is that because there cannot be a frame of reference to determine if god is morally perfect or not, than if God did command an individual to kill or inflict pain on another individual (or a mass of individuals) than God would be justified as he is perfect and his command holds merit? So, God commanding his followers to wreak havoc on other individuals would be just? Or a glimpse (or sneak peak) into God’s goodness?

      • Yes, I am telling you that God is justified in neglecting His poor and his stricken and helpless people not because He is morally perfect but because God, as defined by Anselm if exist, has morally sufficient reasons to do so.

        Your second questions confuses the idea/ title of God with the persons believed to hold that position. Moslem, Christian, Platonist and other theists would agree that a being that is God must be necessarily, perfectly omnicompetent, the first cause and the unmoved mover.

        This being that is God cannot be compared for there is none other to compare. Christian and Jews claim that Yahweh is a being holding the title God, Moslem claim it is Allah, e.t.c. But that is on epistemological level not on the ontological. Ontologically there is but one supreme being since it is metaphysically impossible for there to be more than one omnipotent being.

        Let me know your thoughts.

      • The idea that God could “command an individual to kill or inflict pain on another individual (or a mass of individuals)” or “God commanding his followers to wreak havoc on other individuals” is simply meaningless as square-circles because they are metaphysically impossible.

        There is no such possible state of affairs that God(morally perfect being) could issue such commands.

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