Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Morality, God and religion - Plato Euthyphro

From PhiloGym course
6.5 Activity: Morality, God and religion
Read pages 104–108 of ‘Can we have morality without God and religion?’ in The Philosophy Gym.

Do you think Law succeeds in showing that morality is not relative to whatever God decrees

Explain your answer and post it in the Activity: Morality, God and religion forum.

Incidentally, you can read Plato’s (edited) original argument (on which Law’s argument in ‘Can we have morality without God and religion?’ is based) against the divine command theory of ethics (from the Euthyphro) in Introducing Philosophy, pages 539–40 or online (in full).

In PhiloGym forum, Do you think Law succeeds in showing that morality is not relative to whatever God decrees?



Chapter 10, pg 104-108, Philosophy Gym by Stephen Law
Can we have morality without God and Religion?
  • many people think morality requires both God and religion and without it
    • cannot talk of right and wrong
      • just have subjective preferences
      • moral chaos ensues
  • ethical atheists have rejected religion but have kept religions morality but discarded theology
    • borrows ethics from religious culture
    • if religious culture disappears so to will ethics
Can we have morality without God and Religion?
Mr Schnapper (an atheist) and Mrs Schnapper argue whether they should send their son Tom to a religious school:-
  • Tom should go to a religious school - without religion to give firm foundation, morality collapses
    • if no God to lay down right and wrong
      • things are right or wrong only because we say so
        • morality is unacceptably relative
          • if A says killing is wrong - it is wrong; if B says it is right - it is right!
          • but morality is not relative. Killing is in fact wrong - even if we say it is right
        • morality is unacceptably arbitary
          • if things are right and wrong only because we say so, then before we say so, nothing is right or wrong
  • killing really is wrong
    • not just because we say it is wrong
    • Morality comes from God and he says its wrong so it is wrong
      • but this means God morality is no less arbitary than ours
      • Plato Euthyphro (Into to Philosophy, Pojman pg 569) - a dilemna
        • are things wrong because God says so
        • (Divine Command Theory of Ethics)
        • God makes certain things to be wrong by decree
          • had God decreed killing is good then it would be good
          • but killing cannot be wrong merely because we say so
            • right and wrong would be relative and arbitary
          • so if God says something is wrong
            • that too is relative and arbitary
          • morality is independant of our own free will and also that of Gods
            • so God is not required for morality
      • Or does God say that they are wrong because they are?
        • viz. God is not required to make things wrong
          • their is a standard of right and wrong independant of God
          • so God is not required for morality

David Warden in his unpublished essay "On Being a Humanist" (2008) says that Humanists believe that freedom, understood as moral, intellectual and volitional autonomy or self-determination, is the principle condition or pre-requisite of human well-being. Humanists do not submit to any gods, gurus or sacred texts.

Warden says religion teaches that moral rules come from God and that they have been revealed in sacred texts like the Bible. Long ago, however, Plato posed a serious problem for this belief. In one of his famous Dialogues, Socrates asks Euthyphro: "is goodness loved by the gods because it is good, or is it good because it is loved by the gods?".

In other words, says Warden, could anything be classified as "good" or "evil" just because God says so? If yes then God would be seen to be an arbitary tyrant. If no, then it would seem that God is governed by an independant source of morality.

Philosophers and theologians, says Warden, have struggled with the Euthyphro's dilemma ever since. Meanwhile the Humanist observes that some religious believers have justified all manner of cruelties on the understanding that what God commands is good (for instance that unbelievers should be shunned or even killed) whilst other people, both religious or non-religious, have recoiled from biblical norms where they conflict with their own innate sense of what is right or wrong (for instance the Bibles acceptance of slavery). The Humanist approves of the second, autonomous, type of morality, because it is based on compassion, rather than blindly following the perceived commands of God and losing touch with one's own moral compass.


Richard in HASSERS forum said on 22/1/08
talking about the HASSERS term Ethical: - "Religion is not the source of morality, nor is morality proof of the existence of God. Morality has to be independent of God. Plato showed that in the Euthyphro Dilemma": Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God? Bertrand Russell expanded on it in "Why I am not a Christian"" (

In Introduction to Philosophy, ed 4, by Louis Pojman pg 566 talks about Religion & Ethics.
Does God love goodness because it is good, or is it good because God loves it? Do moral standards themselves depend on God for their validity or is there is an autonomy of ethics, so that even God is subject to the moral order. The Divine Command Theory (DCT) says that ethical principles are simply the commands of God.

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