Euthyphro: Evaluation and Implications for Divine Command Theory

In Euthyphro,Socrates and Euthyphro, a self-proclaimed pious man, debate the question of whether an act is pious because it is loved by the gods (theory A), or if the gods love certain acts because they are pious (theory B). Supposing the former, there are two options: the gods assign their love based on some reason/rational justification, or they assign their love arbitrarily/based on some irrational preference or whim. Socrates suggests that the gods must love the pious because of some reason, otherwise the gods love the pious because of some arbitrary justification. Since arbitrariness would denigrate the gods, Euthyphro assents to Socrates’ suggestion, and the two endeavor to illuminate the reason. After some wordplay, the two appear to settle on the notion that the reason that gods love certain things is that they are pious. So, it seems that the two come to the conclusion that the latter principal option presented in the inquiry is the correct one.

Although Socrates and Euthyphro never come to a conclusion about what makes a thing pious (a secondary point of interest), we do easily come to the larger implications of the inquiry; Divine Command Theory. For the purposes of our discussion, we will examine two types of DCT; Strong DCT, and Weak DCT. SDCT says that, “An act is right if and only if (iff) god commands it, and because god commands it.” WDCT merely claims that, “An act is right iff god commands it.” This point in our evaluation seems to be a natural arrival, for if their discussion would have continued, this surely would have been the next issue to resolve. So what is the answer? What is Socrates’ likely view? Why does he hold such a view? I offer the following as a reason answer on Socrates’ behalf…

Socrates would have to reject SDCT in favor of WDCT. Socrates being strict adherent to logical form, he would have noticed rather immediately that SDCT collapses into circular reasoning. We can illustrate this circularity by simply noting the equivalence of our initial question in the inquiry to SDCT. SDCT tries to employ both theory A and theory B in establishing its position (this is the favored position of most theists). The circularity is clear:

“A thing is pious because it is loved by the gods, but the gods love it because it is pious.”
This can also be read as follows:
“An act is right iff God commands it, and an act is right because God commands it, and God commands all and only those acts that are right.”

Whereas the clarity of the second approximation is dismissed by its technical prolixity, it does express the same proposition, and thus demonstrates the same problem, but without relying on equivalence. Because WDCT omits the requirement of God’s command to X in order for X to be moral, we can fit this into our overall goal of a true moral theory. In addition, it remains compatible with secular ethics; ethics which would carry superior universal applicability because of the omission of religious necessity. This is clear upon inspection of the theory’s claim. It merely avers that God commands X because X is moral. This leaves free the possibility that X is independently moral of God’s command. One approximation of this argument can appear as follows:

P1: An act is right iff X (X is a true moral theory)
P2: God commands X
C: Therefore, if God commands X, then it is right

However, nothing about this argument claims that God exclusively commands things in accord with X, in addition, this argument points to the possibility of God commanding both moral, immoral, and intermediate things.

Yours in Contemplation,

PS. You may have noticed a lack of “personal touch” to this entry. I apologize for that. The truth is that I have not come fully to grips with the sad events of Valentine’s Day. I am not in denial; I fully understand the severity of the revelation delivered to me so cold and so plain. I have been trying to avoid the rather surprising rage that so rapidly builds when trying to write about it all, and of course, I have been fearful of succumbing to a mighty sadness that threatens to derail my academic pursuits that are soon to reach an important milestone.

“Stay focused,” I tell myself, because no one else is with me.


About facedownphilosophy

Proud recipient of the "Award for Outstanding Excellence in the Field of Unrivaled Superiority"
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One Response to Euthyphro: Evaluation and Implications for Divine Command Theory

  1. whitefrozen says:

    There have been some pretty interesting developements of DCT in the last few years – Nicholas Wolterstorff holds to a DCT. It’s been some time since i studied the issue but I remember thinking that the whole DCT discussion gets off on the wrong foot and ends up being a kind of category mistake. Ill try and follow up on that if I get time today – but as usual, a thought provoking post.

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