Are there any solutions to the Euthyphro dilemma?



Is there a way to believe that God is the source of morality without also having to believe that morality is arbitrary?


Posted 2019-02-13T15:28:03.563

Reputation: 67

Obviously, theologians (i.e. the "scientists of the Divine") propose that morality comes from God. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2019-02-13T15:41:01.877

Wikipedia already gives a laundry list of solutions. Do you have some further conditions to narrow it down?

– Conifold – 2019-02-13T18:50:59.683

@MauroALLEGRANZA Thank you, but I was looking for the reasoning behind there desition. It would seem that if morality comes from God, then morality is arbitrary. – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-02-15T14:33:37.633

@Conifold Thank you. I had read the Wikipedia article but left wanting. I do not have any further conditions. – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-02-15T14:36:01.157


Could you try to describe what exactly left you wanting? It is hard to tell what you are looking for, and we try to make questions as specific as possible. You can look at the architectonics of categories, which are the more metaphysical takes on what categories of things exist by major philosophers of old.

– Conifold – 2019-02-15T14:42:45.867

@Conifold I was looking for a response that would show that it is possible for God to be the source of morality without morality being arbitrary. You are correct. I should have asked the question that way. You have been on the site for a long time. Do you think I should delete my question and ask the question in a better way? – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-02-15T14:53:30.073

This question is not that old, so you can simply edit it to clarify. That would bump it up in the Active questions queue and perhaps attract more attention. If that does not help, after a while you can ask a new question. – Conifold – 2019-02-15T14:57:32.467

I would have thought that if God is the source of morality then it is not arbitrary. – None – 2019-03-15T13:17:22.713



The most handy solution that I know of is provided by William Lane Craig:

...does God will something because it is good, or is something good because God wills it? If the theist says that God wills something because it is good then the good is independent of God and, in fact then, moral values are not based in God. They are independent of him. On the other hand, if you say something is good because God wills it then that would seem to make what is good and evil arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good; then we would be morally obligated to hate one another, which seems crazy. Some moral values seem to be necessary, and therefore there would be no possible world in which hatred is good. So the claim is that this shows that morality cannot be based in God.

I think it is clearly a false dilemma because the alternatives are not of the form “A or not-A” which would be an inescapable dilemma. The alternatives are like “A or B.” In that case you can always add a third one, C, and escape the horns of the dilemma. I think in this case there is a third alternative which is to say that God wills something because he is good. That is to say, God himself is the paradigm of goodness, and his will reflects his character. God is by nature loving, kind, fair, impartial, generous, and so forth. Therefore, he could not have willed that, for example, hatred be good. That would be to contradict his very own nature.

So God's commands to us are not arbitrary, but neither are they based upon something independent of God. Rather, God himself is the paradigm of goodness.

elliot svensson

Posted 2019-02-13T15:28:03.563

Reputation: 4 000

I feel Craig is correct up to a point. His solution just shifts the problem back. He sees the false dilemma but then assumes God issues commands and has a Will as if He has needs and wants and must continually make correction to His Creation in order to achieve them. These ideas do not survive analysis. The Perennial view is expressed by Lao Tsu. The laws of Heaven and Earth would be as they are, 'Tao being what it is'. The principles of ethics and morality would follow from the nature of Reality and operate automatically according to inviolable laws. This completely solves the dilemma. . – None – 2019-02-13T18:44:26.280

I upvoted this, but I think you can find it a LOT further back than Craig... – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2019-02-13T19:07:55.390


If we follow the Neo-Platonic point of view, then the Euthyphro has an implicit solution, which is that God is the Good itself. If God is simultaneously the source and the measure of all goodness, the paradox disappears. This is arguably why the paradox is outlined in the Euthyphro in the first place, as a Socratic prompt to that conclusion.

It's worth noting, however, that this solution works better for an abstract, non-personified conception of God than for God as envisioned with concrete, specified traits. One of the charges against Socrates, as you may remember, is that he weakened the belief in the traditional Greek Pantheon of quarreling, anthropomorphic gods.

Chris Sunami supports Monica

Posted 2019-02-13T15:28:03.563

Reputation: 23 641

+1, good answer. In addition, I would say that this rules out polytheism, but that it doesn't rule out a singular personal God with the appropriate qualities. – elliot svensson – 2019-02-13T19:09:27.207

@elliotsvensson Yes, actually I just added a note about how this doesn't really work for polytheism. I think there's room for argument about whether it does work or not with traditional monotheism. // Personally, this is my point of view, but as a matter of faith, rather than as an intellectually justified conclusion. – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2019-02-13T19:13:53.247

Would you prefer if I removed my comment now that you've covered it? – elliot svensson – 2019-02-13T19:14:59.930

@ChrisSunami I believe this only pushes the problem back. The question that would come next is, "Could God's characteristics have been different?" because that is what we are basing morality on and that is what the source of morality is. If God's characteristics could have been different, then the way they would have changed is the reason goodness is what it is. On the other hand, if God's characteristics could not have been different wouldn't that make morality arbitrary because his characteristics just happen to be what they are? – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-02-15T14:11:25.790

@ChrisSunami I would also like to ask, when you said, "It's worth noting, however, that this solution works better for an abstract, non-personified conception of God than for God as envisioned with concrete, specified traits." could that be because the conversation has shifted from talking about God to talking about goodness itself? I am asking this because it seems like God without any concrete or specific traits except for the embodiment of goodness would be indistinguishable from goodness. – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-02-15T14:25:57.810

@IsaiahM3337 Neo-Platonism is an ancient school of thought that identifies God with Goodness Itself. According to this school of thought, that is the one unified hidden message in all of Plato's many dialogues. This also means that nothing about God can be arbitrary. You are correct that this is a very different way of looking at God --sometimes called "God of the philosophers" --than in most religious traditions. – Chris Sunami supports Monica – 2019-02-15T14:32:33.307

@IsaiahM3337 as you mention how "the conversation has shifted", it's important to remember that in the original dilemma Socrates wasn't talking to Euthyphro about God, but about gods (in the plural), so from the very beginning it's not about a concrete/specific (e.g. Abrahamic) God, but about the plurality of the divine, as the diverse pantheon worshipped in Greece and surrounding cultures. – Peteris – 2019-02-16T18:16:02.923

@Peteris Thank you. I was trying to express that the problem is different if someone claims that the source of goodness is the concept of goodness. When you strip away all other aspects of something except for its goodness, it becomes indistinguishable from the concept of goodness. My question is whether God can be the source of morality without morality being arbitrary. If God is redefined as goodness (which is not God) and we say that that is the source of morality, then we are saying that morality comes from outside of God. The conversation has shifted to, "Where does morality come from?" – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-02-20T15:19:45.910


Here's another suggestion, maybe not all together different than the William Lane Craig quote from elliot svensson.

God's nature grounds the truth of moral propositions (his nature is their "truthmaker", or that in virtue of which they are true) - they are therefore not independent of God, but at the same time they are not arbitrarily willed by God since they are absolutely true because of some objective and essential fact about him that God recognizes to be true.

So, if God commands us to refrain from acts of gratuitous harm, for example, it is because it is true that we ought not to commit such acts, and it is true because of some essential fact about his nature. There is no appeal to anything outside of God. Morality depends every bit on God as God's omnipotence or some other essential attribute of him. If God did not exist, neither would God's omnipotence, and neither would that which grounds the truth of moral propositions (and so there would be no true moral propositions). But it's not arbitrary, as God couldn't choose to not be the ground of moral propositions anymore than he could choose to be not omnipotent, or make 1 + 1 = 3.

Adam Sharpe

Posted 2019-02-13T15:28:03.563

Reputation: 3 594

What determined Gods nature? Wouldn't that be the ultimate source of morality? If nothing determined God's nature isn't that arbitrary? God's nature exists with no reason for it to be that way. God's nature seems like the universal constants which are arbitrary if there is not a creator. – IsaiahM3337 – 2019-03-18T14:22:33.977