Sic et Non on the Euthyphro problem

A: First of all, Plato has nothing to do with the Euthyphro problem.

B: He wrote the dialogue, didn’t he?

A: He wrote a dialogue about piety that challenged us to see the degree of unity required for its object, but it would never cross his mind to raise the question whether the gods were necessary for morality.

B: The unity of piety’s object?

A: Right. What could be more Platonic than that? Your relation to the highest things should be a relation to the One. Socrates starts by arguing against a multiplicity of things willed and moves on to arguing against the more profound multiplicity of knower and known, willer and willed. It’s this second move that is misunderstood as the Euthyphro problem.

B: But it’s just basic henad-dyad stuff that the Neo-platonists talked about.

A: They would have just called themselves platonists, but sure. The dialogue isn’t aporetic (as though it ends randomly). It goes as far as the mind can go in ascending to the divine. We have to (a) see God as a knower, and (b) see knowers as knower-known dyads. But the One is beyond this dyad of knower-known, willer-willed.

B: True piety cannot be to the dyad.

A: Right. That’s the point.

B: But what about the Euthyphro dilemma then?

A: It seems like a way of struggling with our belief that morality is obligation. Honestly, it seems like a way of struggling with the contradictions in the morality of Thrasymachus.

B: Obligation and authority.  The “will of the stronger”

A: Yeah. If morality is obligation we supposedly need a deontic superman to account for it.

B: Craig argues for that.

A: Right. But obligations are restrictions on action not fulfillments or fruits of it.

B: So we end up opposing the need for a deontic superman to actions that are fulfilling and enjoyable.

A: That’s exactly the dispute between Craig and Harris. If morality is obligation, we need superman-authorities to account for how it is “objective” (I think this means “universal”). But if morality is obligation, then it is not a fulfillment or fruit of action.

B: The idea of a “good we are obliged to do” becomes a contradiction.

A: You would suppose that when your moral theory got to that point, you’d dig around for a mistake somewhere.

B: And you see it as what?

A: I think that only children see morality as obligation.

B: There you go with the extremes again.

A: Okay. It’s only so far as our morality is imperfect that we see it as obligation. Better?

B: So seeing morality as an obligation is a subjective judgment that we make from inexperience?

A: Something like that. But since everyone starts of as inexperienced the obligation account of morality can be taken as universal. Only the perfect see morality as a good that sets us free. Everyone else sees it as a burden and a restriction.

B: An obligation.

A: Right. The ligo in “Obligation” means “to tie up” or “to bind”. But if moral growth is being more and more tightly bound, who needs it? The experience of learning anything worth knowing only feels like being bound at the beginning. It’s not as if it is a permanent feature, much less one that gets more and more extreme.

B: So is God necessary for morality or not?

A: As a good, maybe. But he doesn’t make obligation any more than he makes any other thing that arises from uninformed judgment.

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