A few weeks before his death (399 BC), Socrates asks Greek religious figure Euthyphro –
“Why does God love something (or hate something)?”
Euthyphro says –
“God loves what’s good (and hates what’s bad).”
Socrates asks –
“Why is something good (or bad)?”
Euthyphro replies –
“Something is good because God loves it (and bad because God hates it).”
This gives us the famous Euthyphro dilemma.
Let’s state the two things Euthyphro says –
Statement 1: God loves X because X is good.
Statement 2: X is good because God loves X.
Socrates quickly points out that both these statements can’t be true together.
If both 1 and 2 are true, then we run into circular logic.
By combining 1 and 2, we get –
God loves X because God loves X.
X is good because X is good.
But these make no sense.
So, at best, only one of the statements can be true.
Let’s examine two cases.
Case A: [Statement 1 is true, Statement 2 is false]
If God loves X because X is good (and God’s love is not the reason why X is good), then the standard of goodness is independent of God.
But from the standpoint of most religions, God is the source of objective morality (contrary to Case A).
Case B: [Statement 1 is false, Statement 2 is true]
If X is good because God loves X (and God loves X not because of its goodness), then God’s love is arbitrary.
But from the standpoint of most religions, God’s love, and hence his commands, aren’t arbitrary (contrary to Case B).
Both of these cases and their conclusions are very uncomfortable for theologians.
The original Euthyphro Argument described in Plato’s “Euthyphro” is slightly different from the simplified version presented here. However, the core logic is exactly the same.
Some philosophers think the Euthyphro dilemma is a “false” dilemma. However, despite their efforts to prove so, it remains one of the most interesting philosophical arguments to this day.