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Euthyphro dilemma


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#1 Fred B.

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 05:27 PM

Does the Euthyphro dilemma come up in patristic thought?

From wikipedia:
"The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?""

Or to put it another way: "Is what is moral commanded by God because it's moral, or is it moral because it's commanded by God?"

To me this seems like a false dilemma, but I wonder what Orthodox response would be.

Many thanks.

#2 Paul Cowan

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 12:04 AM

God loves all His children equally. We are the ones that don't know how to love back.

What is morality?

#3 Guillermo M.L.

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 01:09 AM

My understanding has been, since many years, that moral rules (or natural law) is not an "artificial set" of rules invented by God out of His own whim, but rather a reflection of God's way of being. Natural law would be a reflection over Creation of God's own nature (I know I'm using improper terms, but I hope you understand what I'm trying to say).

After all, what Jesus asks of us is to be like him. And "being like him" would be morality, right?

#4 Paul Cowan

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Posted 05 April 2011 - 01:26 AM

And "being like him" would be morality, right?


Would it? I'm not trying to be a smart patute but I don't think we can say morality is being like Christ. I can't say what it is really. But if we have to lower him to our ideal of morality, we're sunk.

Paul

#5 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 04:24 PM

Guillermo is right. What might be helpful is to take a look at the theological heresy known as voluntarism. To put it crudely, whatever God wills is moral a good because God wills it. So God could will murder and it would be moral because God wills it. It's a lot more complicated than that of course. But essentially God is pure essence, and cannot be reduced to just acts of His will. His will is governed by what He is. God does not have an arbitrary or whimsical will. One of the interesting facets of Islamic history is apparently this war was waged early on and the voluntarists won, with the obvious consequences we see today in Islam. Protestantism has been described by some as a victory of voluntarism (and nominalism).

#6 Bryan J. Maloney

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 05:00 PM

To ask whether something is moral because God wills it or God wills something because it is moral is to ask whether the Father existed before the Son or the Father existed before the Holy Spirit.

#7 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 10:20 PM

No it's not the same. There is a very clear and important distinction, not a what comes first issue here.

#8 Father David Moser

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Posted 06 April 2011 - 10:57 PM

Owen is right, there is an underlying issue on the nature of morality. I would have to respond in one sense that the answer is both - not either or. However if one had to choose either/or, I would have to say that it is moral because God commanded it. If something was moral on its own independent of God then that would imply that God suffers some necessity (that of the outside morality) or is Himself subject to some law outside Himself. This would then mean that God is not All-Powerful and All-Sufficient.

Fr David Moser

#9 Owen Jones

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 12:58 PM

I don't think the issue is whether or not something is good in an absolute sense, i.e. apart from God Himself. Nor is the issue that God is subject to some law outside himself (natural law?). I think we all would agree that it is basic Orthodox dogma that God is not capable of evil acts. God is "limited" only in the sense that he cannot be not-God. He cannot act like Satan. I think it tends toward reductio ad absurdum to argue that because God cannot be not-God, then that means he is not really God! So, something is not moral JUST because God commanded it. It is moral because of who and what God is. God's commandments are an extension of who and what He is.

#10 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 01:12 PM

I know that every word we use in terms of God is beyond abysmally weak. But still I think the problem arises in terms of thinking of God's will in terms of abstract power instead of as an expression of Who He Is.

Because we are fallen and confused and broken, our will can be at great variance with what we really are as human. However with God this can never be so. How He acts always matches Who He Is.

In Christ-
Fr Raphael

#11 Fred B.

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 01:39 PM

Wow, thank you all so much. It seemed like a false dilemma to me, or at least based on a misunderstanding of the relationship of God's will and essence, and your responses help clarify that for me and direct me to further research. Many thanks.

#12 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 April 2011 - 01:51 PM

I don't think it is a false dilemma. It is an important theological distinction that colors everything that we think and do. While it has been a while since I read the Euthyphro (decades in fact) Plato was quite good at clarifying theological and philosophical questions and problems and is still relevant. What you have to realize in Plato is that it is never about winning an argument with the Sophists. There is never an argument between Plato (Socrates) and the Sophists because the Sophists always change the subject at the critical moment at which there might be some clarity. So Socrates has to move on and, in the form of the myth, explains what the issue is all about and usually ends up by giving us an aesthetic vision of a higher truth. He saw quite clearly the inherent problem of relying exclusively on a doctrine of God wills whatever He wills.

#13 Fred B.

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 01:34 PM

Sounds like I need to read the Euthyphro then. The dilemma was brought up to me in the context of a debate about theism, so I only know of it 2nd or 3rd hand.

#14 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 02:10 PM

Yes, I would definitely go back to the source! Some will say, philosophy can only lead you astray; if it's not in the Fathers don't read it! There is always a truth in that. But if you read Plato the way he is intended by Plato to be read, it will not be a problem. The problem is reading Plato searching for a solution to an intellectual problem. That's not how Plato (nor the Fathers) should be read.

#15 Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 03:04 PM

Socrates' question was unbalanced. God's will is not a deliberative choice (i.e. it would not be possible for God to 'say' in expression His will that, say, and evil is good) -- it is a revelation of His person.

INXC, Fr Irenei

#16 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 03:23 PM

What if the question were posed by Socrates only to illuminate the nature of the problem: we don't really know! And when we fixate on the chicken or the egg we are missing the point. One has to be careful about examining Socrates's questions as if they are designed to impart some dogmatic truth. In short, he is not posing a question as if there is an answer to the question. Never seek the answer to the question, he is saying. It is the act of questioning that matters. And by questioning he does not mean it in the modern scientific sense of asking a question as a way of deducing a solution to a problem. Nor is the Socratic question to be understood in terms of a skeptic's questions.

The problem that Socrates is trying to uncover, expose, reveal, is spiritual closure, the spiritual closure that comes from assuming that we already have the answer, or that the answer lies in the solving of a problem, etc. The Socratic dialogue is not a dialogue between the philosopher and the sophist. There is never a dialogue between Socrates and the sophists because the sophists always change the subject at the critical juncture. The dialogue is between the philosopher's soul and it's source and true destiny in God. And the question is designed to open the philosopher's own soul to its true source and redirect it toward its true destiny. It is not a question that leads to an answer as a solution to a problem. It is the act of questioning that is designed to change and reorient the questioner.

This approach is not entirely foreign to any Christian believer, e.g. "What is man that Thou are mindful of him?" or, "who will cast the first stone?"

#17 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 03:34 PM

I'm calling this post "The Nature of the Question" and I beg your indulgence by posting a long quote from Eric Voegelin about it. I find that typically with Voegelin you have to read it a few times closely to get it.

The Insight into Being and Scientific Analysis

[The philosopher's] questioning leads to a conflict with opinion. This is quite another kind of conflict than that between differing opinions; for although the philosopher's questions are concerned with the same subjects as those of the philodoxer (these are the terms Plato adopted to describe the adversaries), the nature of his inquiry is radically different.

The philosopher's question represents an attempt to advance beyond opinion to truth through the use of scientific analysis as developed by Aristotle in the Analytica Posteriora. With the instrument of analysis current statements about political matters are broken down into pre-analytic opinions and scientific propositions in the strict sense; and the verbal symbols, into pre-analytic or insufficiently analyzed expressions and the analytic concepts of political science. In this way, advocates of opinions who attack one another in daily politics are grouped together over against their common adversary, the philosopher.

When we speak of scientific analysis, we wish to emphasize the contrast with formal analysis. An analysis by means of formal logic can lead to no more than a demonstration that an opinion suffers from an inherent contradiction, or that different opinions contradict one another, or that conclusions have been invalidly drawn. A scientific analysis, on the other hand, makes it possible to judge of the truth of the premises implied by an opinion. It can do this, however, only on the assumption that truth about the order of being—to which, of course, opinions also refer—is objectively ascertainable.

And Platonic-Aristotelian analysis does in fact operate on the assumption that there is an order of being accessible to a science beyond opinion. Its aim is knowledge of the order of being, of the levels of the hierarchy of being and their interrelationships, of the essential structure of the realms of being, and especially of human nature and its place in the totality of being. Analysis, therefore, is scientific and leads to a science of order through the fact that, and in so far as, it is ontologically oriented.

The assumption alone, however—that the order of being is accessible to knowledge, that ontology is possible—is still not enough to carry out an analysis; for the assumption might be unfounded. Therefore, an insight concerning being must always be really present—not only so that the first steps of the analysis can be taken, but so that the very idea of the analysis can be conceived and developed at all.

And indeed, Platonic-Aristotelian analysis did not in the least begin with speculations about its own possibility, but with the actual insight into being that motivated the analytical process. The decisive event in the establishment of politike episteme was the specifically philosophical realization that the levels of being discernible within the world are surmounted by a transcendent source of being and its order. And this insight was itself rooted in the real movements of the human spiritual soul toward divine being experienced as transcendent.

In the experiences of love for the world-transcendent origin of being, in philia toward the sophon (the wise), in eros toward the agathon (the good) and the kalon (the beautiful), man became philosopher. From these experiences arose the image of the order of being. At the opening of the soul—that is the metaphor Bergson uses to describe the event—the order of being becomes visible even to its ground and origin in the beyond, in the Platonic epekeina, in which the soul participates as it suffers and achieves its opening.

Only when the order of being as a whole, unto its origin in transcendent being, comes into view, can the analysis be undertaken with any hope of success; for only then can current opinions about right order be examined as to their agreement with the order of being. When the strong and successful are highly rated, they can then be contrasted with those who possess the virtue of phronesis, wisdom, who live sub specie mortis and act with the Last Judgment in mind.

When statesmen are praised for having made their people great and powerful, as Themistocles and Pericles had made Athens, Plato can confront them with the moral decline that was the result of their policies. (One thinks here not only of classical examples, but perhaps also of what Gladstone said of Bismarck: He made Germany great and the Germans small.)

Again: When impetuous young men are repelled by the vulgarity of democracy, Plato can point out to them that energy, pride, and will to rule can indeed establish the despotism of a spiritually corrupt elite, but not a just government; and when democrats rave about freedom and equality and forget that government requires spiritual training and intellectual discipline, he can warn them that they are on the way to tyranny.

These examples will suffice to indicate that political science goes beyond the validity of propositions to the truth of existence. The opinions for the clarification of which the analysis is undertaken are not merely false: They are symptoms of spiritual disorder in the men who hold them. And the purpose of the analysis is to persuade—to have its own insights, if possible, supplant the opinions in social reality. Analysis is concerned with the therapy of order.
CW VOL 5,
Science, Politics and Gnosticism
Ch 2 Science, Politics, and Gnosticism,
§ I pp 258-260.

Edited by Herman Blaydoe, 12 April 2011 - 03:55 PM.
Extraneous text (non-linking links) removed


#18 Fred B.

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Posted 13 April 2011 - 01:40 PM

Wow, Owen, thanks so much. You have really inspired me to read Plato, and my understanding of Socratic dialogue has been changed a lot. Socratic dialogue had always been presented to me as a method of arriving at conclusions. I had never considered it as a method of revealing and maintaining the dynamic tension of ideas. Many thanks.

Is there any particular book you would recommend first? Socratic Dialogues?

#19 Owen Jones

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 01:03 PM

Yes, but it's not even the "dynamic tension of ideas" but rather the dynamic tension of the soul. What is its orientation? The question is designed to re-orient.




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