Publication Date

2002

Degree Granted

Ph.D.

Institution Granting Degree

Wayne State University

Keywords

Theistic activism, Euthyphro dilemma, Ethics, Divine command

Disciplines

Philosophy | Religion

Abstract

My dissertation focuses on the Euthyphro question, from one of the Socratic dialogues, understood in terms of the following dilemma posed against theistic ethics: (1) Either what is good/right is moral because God commands it, or it is not. (2) If what is good/right is moral because God commands it, then the good/right is arbitrary and vacuous. (3) If what is good/right is moral for reasons other than that God commands it, then God is superfluous from the standpoint of morality. (4) So, either the good/right is arbitrary and vacuous or God is superfluous to morality.

The dilemma is really two-fold. In the axiological version I reject premise (3) of this argument, because though I deny that the good is determined by divine command, I argue that there is an intimate connection between God and the necessary moral truths constitutive of the ultimate intrinsic good. Such truths are a reflection of his nature, and God probably best accounts for their existence in the first place. So even if God's commands typically are commands of what is good, that does not entail that goodness is independent of God.

In the deontic version of the question I reject premise (2). If God commands, rendering obligatory, something that is morally good, then his command is not arbitrary, but predicated on what is morally good. God cannot make the violation of a necessary moral truth morally obligatory; these constraints are internal to God's perfect nature. This affirmation of God's (de re) impeccability is what enables me to reject the premise that God can sin, a premise shared by versions of both the arbitrariness and vacuity objections to divine command theory. I also reject premise (3). I do not interpret God's commands so expansively as to include every clear apprehension of a necessary moral truth, yet in those cases where obligations result by this alone without God's commands, there is still an apprehension of a truth rooted in God's nature.

My conclusion is that the Euthyphro Dilemma has yet to be shown to pose the in-principle objection to theistic ethics for which it is often credited.