Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Nice Paper on God and Morality...

...can be found here.
The Euthyphro Dilemma is an old objection to divine command theories of ethics (i.e., ethical theories that say that what makes a type of action right or wrong is that God commands or forbids it). The objection can be expressed as follows:

1. Either God commands certain types of actions because they are morally right, or certain types of actions are morally right because God commands them.
2. If God commands certain types of actions because they are morally right, then moral standards are independent of God.
3. If certain types of actions are morally right because God commands them, then moral standards are arbitrary, and thus provide no justification for obeying them.
4. Therefore, either moral standards are independent of God, or moral standards are arbitrary, and thus provide no justification for obeying them.

The standard response is to go between the horns of the dilemma by saying that moral goodness is rooted in or identical to God's nature. Thus, actions are right because a God with a morally good nature commands them. In this way, there is no moral standard higher than or indpendent of God. Also, God's commands, and thus moral standards, are not arbitrary, since they are in accordance with what is morally good (God couldn't/wouldn't command, say, that we should torture babies for fun, since that would conflict with his morally good nature).

In the paper linked to above, Wes Morriston shows that this standard response only pushes the problem back a step. He expresses this with what we can call 'The New Euthyphro Dilemma', which can be stated as follows (though I don't know whether Morriston would like the way I set it up):

1. Either God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, or the properties are good because God has them.
2. If God is good because God has the properties that constitute moral goodness, then the moral properties are the standard of goodness -- not God.
3. If the properties are good because God has them, then goodness is arbitrary.
4. Therefore, either moral properties are the standard of goodness (and not God), or goodness is arbitrary.


Thus, the most popular defense of divine command ethics isn't motivated. If there is a good argument for the existence of God from morality, this isn't it.

The non-theist has a perfectly good ground for moral facts and properties if she is a platonist about properties, just as a non-theist has a perfectly good ground for mathematical facts and properties if she is a platonist about mathematical objects and properties.

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