Euthyphro’s Dilemma

This post is a slightly updated version of an essay I submitted for a philosophy class in my third year of college.

In the Euthyphro dialogue, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss piety and morals. The central issue uttered by Socrates is, “The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is loved by the gods” (Euthyphro 9). Other issues arising from the dialogue concern determining how to distinguish from right and wrong and how to account for the origins of morality. If believers in benevolent deities adhere to a certain religious moral code, it should be important to understand this moral code and have a response to the central issue in this dialogue. Non-believers and believers should also be able to understand and account for naturalistic origins of morality.

Euthyphro presents himself as a very knowledgeable individual in regards to the nature of piety and the gods, so Socrates proceeds to question in order to achieve understanding. Euthyphro says, “Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them” (Euthyphro 5). Socrates notes that the gods have quarrels and different opinions (Euthyphro 6), but Euthyphro counters and says that the gods have agreed on certain matters and agree that injustice should be punished (Euthyphro 7).

Eventually, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the central issue in the dialogue. Euthyphro doesn’t understand the distinction that Socrates makes, but Socrates elaborates so that Euthyphro can understand. Euthyphro says that piety is loved by all the gods because it is holy, but Socrates says that “the holy has been acknowledged by us to be loved of God because it is holy, not to be holy because it is loved” (Euthyphro 10).

Using a god or gods for the sole basis of morality is very problematic for several reasons. Who or what determines that the gods are moral? The gods simply declare what is moral and what is not moral without any standards or external judges. If there is no guideline outside of what the gods determine is moral, morality may be designated by the gods. With no guidelines for morality, the gods can declare certain actions like rape and murder to be morally acceptable in any given situation…and this obviously can’t be the case.

If what is willed by the gods is willed because it is good (not because the gods decided that it is good), then the good is independent of what the gods determine and the gods did not establish what is good; morality is clearly grounded apart from the gods. If the gods, for example, endorse charitable giving because it is good, we learn that the good actions are good regardless of what the gods have endorsed.

Some modern-day and past apologists assert that God would never or could never endorse something like rape, but this means that there is some sort of standard that limits God that can be viewed as external, thus we need not evoke a deity in the moral realm. Others may assert that God’s character is what makes God’s commands moral, but this backs the dilemma up a step and forces the theist to consider “Is an action justified because God’s character endorses/is in line with the action or is an action ethically justified because it is endorsed/is in line with God’s character?”

Another main problem is how we can even establish, in the first place, that a god is good or, in the case of many theists, that a god is omni-benevolent. When we consider whether a person is moral or not or, in the case of god, whether a god is moral or omni-benevolent, one would, I would wager, look at the actions and inactions, in many cases, of a being. What examples, exactly, do we have to draw from to establish that god is good? With threats such as the problem of evil or specific religious passages in which gods endorse abominable actions, it’s quite hard to establish this.

Some theists will assert that God, by definition, is omni-benevolent because he is the greatest conceivable being, but where does this get us? I can assert that a gooblegoop exists and is, by definition, an omni-benevolent being, but this, simply like asserting things about a god, makes no progress to establish a conclusion. Why, also, must the greatest conceivable being be all-good? Is not a ‘greatest conceivable being’ subjective from person to person and how can we objectively declare what a greatest conceivable being is? I can formulate a very good argument, for example, that the greatest conceivable being is actually a being which interferes least in human affairs and designed the universe in such a way that humans would only die to old age, violence, and accidents. I could posit that such a being might be simply good, loving, and very intelligent, but not maximally so and perhaps this would be best because if an omni-God existed and humans knew this, bad consequences would follow (I don’t necessarily agree with this, but am simply positing it here for sake of argument although many theists actually do argue that bad consequences would follow if God frequently intervened in human affairs and revealed himself unequivocally).

Humans are social animals who need to work together to some basic degree in order to have a society. Although survival of society is by no means the only consideration for morality, this is a good explanation for how morality came to be. We treat others how we would like to be treated when we arrive at the conclusion that other humans have basic desires such as we have like need for shelter, security, privacy, stability, etc. At a very basic level, people refrain from being immoral because they want to avoid punishment and maintain a good reputation. It is possible to account for a naturalistic morality separate from what the gods declare to be moral or immoral.

Morality is informed by human knowledge, research, philosophy, evolution, basic intuitions, and societal rules. Over time, some actions previously considered acceptable such as slavery and stoning adulterous women have been abolished because of our increased understanding and empathy toward others. In the case of slavery, the god of the Old Testament explained rules for owning other beings. Today, whether or not people believe in any gods, we can look at these passages with horror and come to the conclusion that owning other humans beings is morally wrong. We can judge the rules that are said to come from the Christian god and view them as morally repugnant.

Reflecting on the Euthyphro dialogue reveals that morality can be had independent of what the gods say. If we agree with what the gods say is moral, the decision of the gods is arbitrary and the gods are just endorsing what we already know. Regardless of whether or not any gods exist, we can deliberate and come to conclusions about moral issues and even revise our moral zeitgeist when our current state of knowledge advances. With morality declared by the gods, this doesn’t seem to be the case because the questions have already been answered and the word of the gods is supposed to be final. Morality is determined independent of the gods and humans can come to conclusions without divine declarations.

Works Cited

“Euthyphro.” MIT.edu, 2009. Web. 25 Sep 2010.

More Hate From King’s Students

I love hate mail from King’s College students. It’s great for blog fodder, entertainment, and proves many of my points that I put forth in my blog posts. Instead of actually responding to arguments, some people will just levy personal attacks [and ignore what I say].

I find it funny that people say “no one is impressed when you have a blog” when I constantly have people commenting and discussing my posts saying things like “great job,” “you write really well,” etc. I’m not huge by any means, but my blog is getting a huge amount of traffic and it’s quite fun. I enjoy writing and I enjoy having others interact with my ideas. People obviously are impressed by my blog.

I find it funny that people think I am arrogant when I constantly post things like “I’ll change any and all of my beliefs provided new evidence and argument comes in.” I hate the notion of absolute certainty and would never say that I am absolutely certain on anything. I always welcome people to disagree with me.

I still enjoy the argument of “it doesn’t hurt anyone” being a justification to leave things alone. Many violations of the law certainly don’t physically harm anyone, but are violations regardless. Should we leave things alone just because no one is harmed? I think not. Separation of church and state is a very important issue that people should support.

I do wear my accomplishments as badges of honor; my actions made a difference in this community and I was able to voice my opinion in a very public forum. I endured the criticism, wasn’t wavered by the threats, and didn’t shut up.

I don’t expect anyone to care whether or not I call in the Corbett show. I enjoy the radio show and like participating in discussion.

I’m not sure what the Atheist tonight show is…

I do enjoy the publicity and attention. It’s nice to be heard. Publicity doesn’t drive my actions, though. I stand up for just causes and fight for what is right regardless of what other people think. I ask questions, challenge that which is supposed to be unchallengeable, and make people think.

I’m not harming anyone by any means…I’m simply asking questions and trying to make a difference in this world. People are thinking. People are reading arguments that they haven’t heard before. More people are becoming non-religious. People are coming out of the “atheist closet” and are making a difference. The tides are turning.

The purpose of this blog is to clear up common misconceptions about commonly held beliefs (religious and others) to make people think, sharpen critical thinking skills, and for me to keep a log of my thoughts. Even moderate theists enjoy my blog. If they disagree, they can post (hopefully good arguments) and we can discuss the issues at hand. People can also read what I have to say and might possibly reconsider opinions.

Wilkes University Discussion about Holiday Displays

Constitution Day Announcement [Wilkes University]

Come celebrate the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day, Friday, September 17! Join Dr. Kyle Kreider and local attorney Don Brobst as they discuss “The First Amendment, Religion, and Luzerne County: The Constitutionality of Holiday Displays on Courthouse Grounds.” Mr. Brobst will be speaking about the Establishment Clause and the recent First Amendment squabble over the nativity scene located on courthouse property. The talk will be from 1:00 pm to 1:50 pm in the Ballroom (Student Center). If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Kyle L. Kreider at kyle.kreider@wilkes.edu or by calling x4473.

Published On: 9/14/2010

http://www.wilkes.edu/pages/194.asp?item=59234&category=Today

Are Atheists Bad for Challenging Beliefs and Asking Questions?

Apparently, when you have no good arguments for your god, the next logical alternative is to attack the person who challenges your beliefs, make baseless assertions, and make demeaning statements. Here’s one for the Hall of Shame.

From a recent discussion in Facebook….
(Click the image to enlarge it)


I respond….

“If you really think you are so wonderful, why does everyone talk about you behind your back? Why do you have a reputation for being a cocky SOB? I CAN’T GO INTO THE LIBRARY WITHOUT HEARING ABOUT HOW BIG OF A DICK AND A JERK YOU ARE TO PEOPLE.”

Well, I can’t control what people think and how biased people are. People can read what I have to say on my blog, on my Facebook, have conversations with me face-to-face, etc, but they hardly ever do. Almost every theist I chat with face-to-face walks away not in rage, but in understanding. I’m friends with many theists here and work with theists – we share mutual respect. If you look at my hate mail, you see nothing but personal attacks, misrepresentation of my positions, and nothing but rude comments. Where am I rude to people? Where am I sending hate mail? I just have conversations, challenge beliefs, and critically examine the issues at hand.

If I’m a dick for challenging beliefs, that’s not my problem, but the problem of the people who are being challenged. If people can’t take criticism and thought provoking discussion of ideas, they might as well just crawl in a cave and just stay there.

I’d like to see one piece of physical evidence attesting to me being a dick to people, sending nasty messages, etc. You …but I can show you several hate mails from students here at King’s College. I hardly, if ever, lose my cool in discussions. I may have been a bit mean once before when people threatened my life, incited violence against me, called for people to attack me, etc, but that’s almost certainly warranted and excusable.

A very low amount of actual discussion takes place from the “haters.” Just the other day, someone who was pissed with me apologized to me online and I accepted the apology:

“So, I know I’ve been reading what you have been saying the wrong way, but after talking to one of my professors today, I’ve came to realize that I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry.

Most of what you post is very interesting to me, as I have a strong love for philosophy. You actually remind me of Socrates actually. Mostly because you seem to tell people what they don’t want to hear.

I’d like to hear what you have to say, so if you ever want to get a coffee or something and chat I’m all ears.”

If people have a problem, they should could to me, post on my blog, etc, instead of running around misrepresenting me.

—–

” If you believe that there is no proof for God, that’s your business, but what we believe is none of your business.”

So, do you think that we should stop all philosophy, critical thinking, and halt any societal change? Beliefs are often not private matters…they effect public policy, education, science, and almost everything in the world.

Beliefs certainly do effect me when people want to kill me because I disagree with them.

Beliefs certainly do effect me when I see a tremendous amount of unneeded suffering in the world because of a religious ideology.

Beliefs do effect me when friends are victimized by religious thoughts.

Beliefs effect me when my aunt disowns me because I’m not a Christian.

Beliefs effect society when children are taught not to listen to science and accept what the Bible says instead.

Beliefs effect society when we funnel money into abstinence-only education and forgo safe sex education. The rate of STDs in America is about 800x that in France.

We should challenge beliefs that are seemingly held for no good reason and are harmful. Psychics, for example, prey on the emotions of people who lose children and are very emotionally weak – individuals pay out thousands of dollars to scam artists. We should challenge psychics, call them out, and advocate critical thinking. I recently did this in two letters to the editor in local newspapers, online, and personally in sending a message to the psychic. Am I a bad person for doing this?

If your beliefs are so strong and true, why should me questioning them be so much of a big deal? You should be able to defend your faith as the bible suggests or just not worry about opposition.

If someone challenges what I accept as being true, I don’t threaten people, hate people, call for violence, etc. I have critical discussion with the individuals and give my side of the story. I’m not personally threatened or offended by people who disagree with me, nor do I hate people who I disagree with.

—-

“What if we don’t want to be “helped”? What if we don’t want to succumb to your “correct” way of thinking? We are content with what we believe and who we have in our life. That’s what matters. “

Great, if you don’t want to listen to what I have to say, don’t. If you don’t want to think about your beliefs and be self-reflective, don’t. Don’t visit my blog, don’t visit my profile, don’t respond to my messages, and stop questioning.

Personally, I feel that the truth and reality matters more than comfort or beliefs, but if you disagree, then simply disagree and don’t question your beliefs.

—-

If you have to list your good characteristics in a list, you must be trying to rationalize and prove to other people that you are a good person, because we won’t believe it to begin with.”

Well, it seems that you’re making me out to be a bad person, so I offered a rebuttal to the claim. If someone says that you are a bad person, wouldn’t you say, “well, I’m not because…”


Anyway, how does it logically follow that since a person lists good characteristics he/she is rationalizing? Is this the attitude we should take when we meet new people?

——

There is more to life than that. There’s more to life than sitting behind a computer desk searching random articles and trying to convince people that Atheism is the only logical possibility out there.

I don’t only let atheism define me, but it is a big deal. Besides matters of religion, I read books, play D&D, go to college, have a job, have friends, play Scrabble, go to community events, etc.

I also don’t say that atheism is the only logical possibility out there. Non-theistic Buddhism, Humanistic Judaism, Pastafarianism, Humanistic Christianity, Deism (with one qualm), Agnosticism, Apathetic, Secular Humanism, Skepticism, and many other choices are viable options, I think. I just don’t think that theism is a logical possibility and have various arguments for why it is not. If you don’t agree, so be it.

—–

“You have potential to have people respect you, honestly consider you to be a great person, and what do you do with that potential? You offend the crap out of pretty much every Christian you come in contact with…. I pity you, really I do. And I hope for your sake you can look past atheism as a crutch and discover who you truly are.”

If I’m going to be a bad person for questioning beliefs and inspiring people to think critically, I guess I’ll be a bad person. If people are “offended” by my questions and my critical examination of religion, that’s on them. I could claim offense at long dirty fingernails of males, gangster rap, baggy pants, the republican party, and various other things, but does this warrant me complaining about the people and saying that they offend me even if they don’t try to?

Asking questions and prompting people to think, apparently, is a horrible thing. We should stop philosophy, psychology, all questions of others’ ideas, movie reviews, book reviews, disagreements about sports teams, opinion polls, popularity contests, King’s Idol, all satire, all comedy, and just sit in public square holding hands followed by crawling into caves and vow to never critically examine anything, disagree with anyone, or raise valid questions about the world.

If people can’t take valid and charitable criticism of IDEAS, that’s too bad for them. Ideas don’t deserve respect and religion or anything else shouldn’t be above criticism. We should question everything, critically examine everything worth examining, and be informed citizens of the world.


Update: After this post, I was de-friended and my posts were deleted. So much for discussion.