Morality, Religion and Simple Truths


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Morality and religion have been inseparable for the longest time with the fundamental characteristics of religion being ethical in nature while morality is viewed as a derivative of religion. The Euthyphro dilemma is one significant factor that has continued to challenge this relationship for many years. The Euthyphro Dilemma can be defined as a philosophical problem with a moral view related to theism. Euthyphro and Socrates argue outside a court about the nature of piety. His definition of piety and impiety is provided by an example where he states that the pious is what the gods hold dear and impious is what they do not. Socrates, after further discussion, is not satisfied with this definition. This hence sets the stage for discussing the question, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” . I will examine the reasoning behind Euthyphro’s seemingly fitting definition, as well as examine the main issue Socrates has with it. After viewing both sides it will become clear why it is impossible for Euthyphro to defend his definition.

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Euthyphro wants to prosecute his father with a murder charge and this action surprises Socrates. According to Euthyphro, prosecuting his own father is a pious act and the failure to prosecute him is impious. According to Euthyphro, the impious nature of the actions of his father determined his decision to prosecute or not prosecute him. The appeal to moral authorities of the gods determines his moral question to prosecute his father. Moreover, he must have thought of the authorities as rational and wise because they are gods after all and so their rationality and wisdom are what makes them moral authorities. Such rationality and wisdom according to Euthyphro, make them perceive what is pious and moral where the mere mortals fail to fully understand this. According to the God’s, murder is impious. Therefore, Euthyphro must prosecute his father or risk doing something impious himself.

Euthyphro understands piety on the basis of religion which is the relationship between humans and gods. This is what he had in mind when arguing that piety is about doing what is dear to the gods and impiety what is displeasing to the gods. The main interest in this dilemma is to highlight the relationship between piety and God. Is it possible to have piety without the idea of Gods? Certainly not. Piety is intrinsically linked to and relies on the idea of God or Gods existing. With this in mind, is it so surprising that the definition Euthyphro gives relies on the values of said Gods?

On the other hand, Socrates argues that if pious is defined through approval of the gods, then the piety of an action cannot be the bases in which the gods approve of the act. Basically, if there is a rational basis on how they approve of a pious act, it must then be based on how they perceive other features of the act in which the pious need to be defined. If the normative ethics of a person are authoritarian, have rational authorities and use their rationality while making a moral judgment, then their meta-ethics cannot be said to be authoritarian.

Euthyphro fails to help Socrates understand the meaning of pious and impious because he simply pointed out an instance of how piety occurred in reference to the crime of his father. Socrates believes that things do not become pious because of how the gods view them. Rather, the gods love actions that are pious like for instance helping a stranger that needs help because such acts have the intrinsic property of being pious. Therefore, the decision of whether or not Euthyphro should prosecute his father should be set through the determination of whether the action is pious and if the gods approve of it. Therefore, Euthyphro’s argument is based on an authoritarian normative ethical theory however; he seems to offer an authoritarian meta-ethical theory because to him, pious is defined as the approval from an authoritative figure.

By posing the question, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it’s pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Socrates can be understood as simply enquiring whether God commands a certain act because it is morally right or is it morally right because God commands it? Socrates wanted Euthyphro to affirm the first part of the question and deny the second, however, Euthyphro failed in understanding this question. Divine command theorists find it difficult to answer this question. A defender of the theory can argue that an action can be morally right since God commands it. It, however, gets complicated because if God commanded the infliction of pain and suffering on others then doing that would be morally right.

The problem with Euthyphro’s response is that the moral foundations with his argument, can be arbitrary allowing for actions that are morally reprehensive to become morally obligatory. Socrates provides a skillful argument showing how insufficient Euthyphro’s argument is by stating that although what is considered pious will be loved by the God’s, the two cannot be said to be the exact same thing. The God’s love plenty of things that are not necessarily pious such as love and compassion between people. By relating piety so closely with the God-beloved, Euthyphro’s definition is bound to fail.

If I were to try and defend the definition of Euthyphro, I would examine the second half of the question, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it’s pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” If something is pious because it is loved by the Gods, we find a definition of piety instead of hiding that definition behind the God’s reasons for loving something pious. I also feel like the circular reasoning is justified considering how closely related the idea of piety is to the idea of a God. We need to have Gods in order to have piety. Well the Gods could love anything, therefore making it possible for anything to be pious. At first this seems to break down the definition and make piety an arbitrary thing. However, If God is our creator, then it makes sense for us to inherit the same values as that God, and therefore inherit the same definition of piety. Regardless of what those values are, it can be said that it is pious. Moreover, the God’s could love anything, but they simply don’t. The God’s value morality, truth, and a host of other positive values that manifest themselves in the human spirit.

That being said, I have already stated that there is a difference between the God-beloved and the pious. Piety is simply a part of the God-beloved. On closer inspection we can see that by acting in a way which maximizes the God-beloved values in our life, we are pleasing the Gods. We are acting in the way which they designed us and perhaps acting in a way similar to the Gods themselves. But by pleasing the Gods are we not acting piously? It may not be a definition but surely the main characteristic of piety is that is pleases the Gods. With this in mind we can argue that simply everything loved by the Gods is considered pious.

This, however, is obviously a slippery slope. The definition of piety may be dependent on the values of the Gods, but everything else God-loved exists independently of the idea of God. Love, compassion, honesty and even morality are dependent on the interactions between people and leave God out of the picture.It is very difficult, then, to claim all of these things are pious in nature. Socrates claim that there is a difference between the God-loved and the pious holds strong. Euthyphro’s claim that “the pious is what all the gods love” simply cannot be defended as an accurate definition.

Most religions believe that the nature of God is good and promotes objective morality to be grounded in Him. The dilemma posed by Socrates helps us think critically about morality and God’s will. In order to avoid arbitrariness, the first part of the dilemma must be denied.The second horn of the dilemma seems more plausible according to Socrates as it leaves room for morality.It is very interesting to see how the dilemma from thousands of years ago is still relevant today.The discussion about God’s nature and His command along with the moral obligations of human beings will hence always be a great debate area in the field of theology and philosophy.

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