The Euthyphro dilemma and the arbitrariness objection’: Answering Wes Morriston

Image result for Abraham Sacrifices Isaac
Domenichino "Biding of Issac" 1641




Wes Morriston, philosopher from University of Colorado, Boulder, writes an excellent [1] paper against divine command theory and specifically attacking William Lame 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:

 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

Comments

The Pixie said…
Joe: 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.

A little off-topic, but pretty much all ancient cultures, indeed up to a few centuries ago, agreed that slavery was moral. Can we therefore conclude that that is written in our hearts, and that God wrote it there?

An alternative view, and I think a better one, is that mankind developed morality to benefit the tribe, i.e., to protect the in-group, not outsiders. A tribe where members trust each other not to steal from each other, not to murder each other, and indeed to treat each other well will prosper considerably better than a tribe where there are no moral laws.

However, in ancient times these rules apply only to members of the tribe. Killing outsiders was okay, possibly even encouraged. Slavery was considered fine, as long as outsiders were enslaved. We can see exactly this attitude in the OT, which is clearly focused on protecting Jews, with rules about how Jewish slaves are to be treated well, and how enslaving a Jew is punishable by death, but gentile slaves can be treated ruthlessly.

Joe: 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.

What does "God's character is love" actually mean? Are you suggesting that the two quantities, God's character and love, are actually the same thing? I think this is patently not true. So what does it mean? Your argument seems founded on this idea, so an explanation is vety much required here.

Joe: 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.

It should assuredly not be enough for rational people! If God is obliged to do so because of his nature, then God's nature is a higher authority than God. This is just like an alcoholic wanting to give up drink, but unable to because of his nature.

The implication here is that God has no free will. Everything he does he does because he has to; he is obliged to do as his nature requires. He is an impotent puppet.
The Pixie said...
Joe: 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.

Pix:A little off-topic, but pretty much all ancient cultures, indeed up to a few centuries ago, agreed that slavery was moral. Can we therefore conclude that that is written in our hearts, and that God wrote it there?

(1) I said: "These similarities of course don't prove divine inspiration "

(2)I don't knw that it was was universal since no one asked the slaves



Pix:An alternative view, and I think a better one, is that mankind developed morality to benefit the tribe, i.e., to protect the in-group, not outsiders. A tribe where members trust each other not to steal from each other, not to murder each other, and indeed to treat each other well will prosper considerably better than a tribe where there are no moral laws.

But we moved beyond that point and developed empathy. I;m mot sure given a strict naturalistic account that empathy is possible or even makes sense

Pix:However, in ancient times these rules apply only to members of the tribe. Killing outsiders was okay, possibly even encouraged. Slavery was considered fine, as long as outsiders were enslaved. We can see exactly this attitude in the OT, which is clearly focused on protecting Jews, with rules about how Jewish slaves are to be treated well, and how enslaving a Jew is punishable by death, but gentile slaves can be treated ruthlessly.

In my view (Hinminianism) the primary function of the OT is to offer cultural backgrond that makes sense of the Messianic mission.

Joe: 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.

Pix:What does "God's character is love" actually mean? Are you suggesting that the two quantities, God's character and love, are actually the same thing? I think this is patently not true. So what does it mean? Your argument seems founded on this idea, so an explanation is vety much required here.

Love is a term we use for an attitude and that attitude originated with
God and fits the nature of his charter. Our ability to also share that attitude is the result of being made in God's image


Joe: 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.

Pix:It should assuredly not be enough for rational people! If God is obliged to do so because of his nature, then God's nature is a higher authority than God. This is just like an alcoholic wanting to give up drink, but unable to because of his nature.

One is not separate from one's nature,Your nature is part of you


Pix:The implication here is that God has no free will. Everything he does he does because he has to; he is obliged to do as his nature requires. He is an impotent puppet.

Quite the contrary. First of all I said nothing about God being obliged. If God acted according to wisdom that is not determinism it's choice. Having a criteria for making a choose is not deterministic.There is a distinction between determinism and determination.
The Pixie said…
Joe: (1) I said: "These similarities of course don't prove divine inspiration "

Well on that we agree. I think the evidence points to a morality that evolved out of the self-interest of the group.

Joe: (2)I don't knw that it was was universal since no one asked the slaves

Universal on a per culture basis. Each culture developed its own morality to protect its own members, not the slaves taken from neighbouring cultures.

Joe: But we moved beyond that point and developed empathy. I;m mot sure given a strict naturalistic account that empathy is possible or even makes sense

I think empathy is ancient. What is recent is applying it to those outside your group. Nowadays most people feel empathy towards all people of the world, but there are still plenty of people who are racist, for example. They are empathic to people of their race, but not outside of that.

Joe: In my view (Hinminianism) the primary function of the OT is to offer cultural backgrond that makes sense of the Messianic mission.

And I was using it as a guide to the cultural background of that time.

Joe: Love is a term we use for an attitude and that attitude originated with God and fits the nature of his charter. Our ability to also share that attitude is the result of being made in God's image

So when you say "God is love" you mean "God created the attitude we call love"?

Joe: One is not separate from one's nature,Your nature is part of you

And yet people can be ruled by their nature or they can act against it. God, apparently, is entirely controlled by his nature; he lacks free will.

Joe: Quite the contrary. First of all I said nothing about God being obliged.

Can God act other than his nature? If not, then he is obliged to act according to his nature.

Joe: If God acted according to wisdom that is not determinism it's choice. Having a criteria for making a choose is not deterministic.There is a distinction between determinism and determination.

He is not acting according to wisdom, he is acting according to his nature. Just like an alcoholic reaching for a meths bottle, or a shark pursuing its prey.
The Pixie said…
Joe: (1) I said: "These similarities of course don't prove divine inspiration "

Well on that we agree. I think the evidence points to a morality that evolved out of the self-interest of the group.

Morality is inside us, it's our reaction to truth. God is not going to dictate it. He gives us general principles we fit them to the context of our lives.

Joe: (2)I don't know that it was was universal since no one asked the slaves

Universal on a per culture basis. Each culture developed its own morality to protect its own members, not the slaves taken from neighbouring cultures.

Yes but my point was we saw beyond that selfish interest of the group because God put it in us to seek the divine standard of justice.

Joe: But we moved beyond that point and developed empathy. I;m mot sure given a strict naturalistic account that empathy is possible or even makes sense

I think empathy is ancient. What is recent is applying it to those outside your group. Nowadays most people feel empathy towards all people of the world, but there are still plenty of people who are racist, for example. They are empathic to people of their race, but not outside of that.


Throughout the world we always find notions of morality are also tied up with nitions about God.

Joe: In my view (Hinminianism) the primary function of the OT is to offer cultural backgrond that makes sense of the Messianic mission.

And I was using it as a guide to the cultural background of that time.

ok

Joe: Love is a term we use for an attitude and that attitude originated with God and fits the nature of his charter. Our ability to also share that attitude is the result of being made in God's image

So when you say "God is love" you mean "God created the attitude we call love"?

He didn't create it. It;s what he feels the way he is. Can you imagine God
saying "I' going to create that I;m wrathful now."


Joe: One is not separate from one's nature,Your nature is part of you

And yet people can be ruled by their nature or they can act against it. God, apparently, is entirely controlled by his nature; he lacks free will.

We are not talking about us imperfect faulty fallen humans we are talking about the bassos of reality

Joe: Quite the contrary. First of all I said nothing about God being obliged.

Can God act other than his nature? If not, then he is obliged to act according to his nature.

Since that impinges upon divine sovereignty I assume he could act contrary to his nature but why should he? U can act contrary to y nature to my nature to some extend,

Joe: If God acted according to wisdom that is not determinism it's choice. Having a criteria for making a choose is not deterministic.There is a distinction between determinism and determination.

He is not acting according to wisdom, he is acting according to his nature. Just like an alcoholic reaching for a meths bottle, or a shark pursuing its prey.

wisdom, is part of his nature, you have no justification for your assertion. God is not analogous to an alcoholic, You are arbitrarily making n absurdly strong reading of that concept,
I am acting contrary to my nature when I am rude because: I am a sweet and wonderful person who people naturally take to i have been known on rare occasion to be rude.
The Pixie said…
Joe: Morality is inside us, it's our reaction to truth. God is not going to dictate it. He gives us general principles we fit them to the context of our lives.

What does that even mean?

Joe: Yes but my point was we saw beyond that selfish interest of the group because God put it in us to seek the divine standard of justice.

Why should I believe that? Seems to me this could be something mankind worked out for himself. Given it only happened so recently, that seems the more likely scenario - God has supposedly been around forever.

Joe: Throughout the world we always find notions of morality are also tied up with nitions about God.

Sure, because no one knows where morality comes from. When we do not know, we imagine God.

Joe: He didn't create it. It;s what he feels the way he is. Can you imagine God
saying "I' going to create that I;m wrathful now."


Ah, so when you say God is love you mean God feels love. So why not say that?

Joe: We are not talking about us imperfect faulty fallen humans we are talking about the bassos of reality

So? God is - you say - not capable of acting against his nature, therefore he has no free will.

Joe: Since that impinges upon divine sovereignty I assume he could act contrary to his nature but why should he? U can act contrary to y nature to my nature to some extend,

That is like saying a robot could act against its programming, but never actually chooses to do so.

Joe: wisdom, is part of his nature,

What does that mean? Do you mean he knows a lot because that is his nature?

Joe: you have no justification for your assertion. God is not analogous to an alcoholic, You are arbitrarily making n absurdly strong reading of that concept,

Okay, robot or shark if you prefer. He is acting exclusively according to his nature, just like a shark that smells blood, or a robot following its programming.

Joe: I am acting contrary to my nature when I am rude because: I am a sweet and wonderful person who people naturally take to i have been known on rare occasion to be rude.

Right, and you can do that because you have free will. A robot could not.
Joe: Morality is inside us, it's our reaction to truth. God is not going to dictate it. He gives us general principles we fit them to the context of our lives.

What does that even mean?

Is there any sentence you would accept as obvious? I don't see how this could be any clearer.

Joe: Yes but my point was we saw beyond that selfish interest of the group because God put it in us to seek the divine standard of justice.

Why should I believe that? Seems to me this could be something mankind worked out for himself. Given it only happened so recently, that seems the more likely scenario - God has supposedly been around forever.

It's not very characteristic of man to be understanding. Of course I started by saing it' not proven. This argument is my answer to the Eutherpho dilemma not the moral argument.

Joe: Throughout the world we always find notions of morality are also tied up with notions about God.

Sure, because no one knows where morality comes from. When we do not know, we imagine God.

For anyone who actually studied theology there's a lot more to it than that. But that is not invalid,it doesn't apply to any unknown idea, It has to be in certain categories,



Joe: He didn't create it. It;s what he feels the way he is. Can you imagine God
saying "I' going to create that I;m wrathful now."

Ah, so when you say God is love you mean God feels love. So why not say that?

He is the first to ever feel love,so he is the originator of it.


Joe: We are not talking about us imperfect faulty fallen humans we are talking about the bassos of reality

So? God is - you say - not capable of acting against his nature, therefore he has no free will.

That is clearly not what I said, I celery said I can act contrary to my nature so
God could more so to a point. The bible does say God can't lie but does it mean it literally?


Joe: Since that impinges upon divine sovereignty I assume he could act contrary to his nature but why should he? U can act contrary to y nature to my nature to some extend,

That is like saying a robot could act against its programming, but never actually chooses to do so.

It's at all like that, God is not remotely analogs to a robot

Joe: wisdom, is part of his nature,

What does that mean? Do you mean he knows a lot because that is his nature?

that's your definition of wisdom just knowing a lot? Not insight, in depth understanding, rationality?

Joe: you have no justification for your assertion. God is not analogous to an alcoholic, You are arbitrarily making n absurdly strong reading of that concept,

Okay, robot or shark if you prefer. He is acting exclusively according to his nature, just like a shark that smells blood, or a robot following its programming.

My argument says God has chosen to follow his nature nothing I said implies that he could not choose otherwise,

Joe: I am acting contrary to my nature when I am rude because: I am a sweet and wonderful person who people naturally take to i have been known on rare occasion to be rude.

Right, and you can do that because you have free will. A robot could not.

what possible reason do have to asserting God is a robot? Robot has to be a creature
God ls not a creature, he is the creator not a creature. A robot is a priori created by a higher power. There is no power higher than God,
Px you make a lot of assumptions that are contrary to the articles, do you actually read what I wright?

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