Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Response to Vox Day, Part I

Vox Day has responded to my recent post about the Euthyphro dilemma. It also seems to me now that my discussion of the dilemma was sloppy and might need to be amended. So I'll go through some preliminaries in this post and address Vox Day's criticisms in the next one.

To avoid any misunderstanding, here draw a distinction between the "Euthyphro dilemma" and the "Euthyphro dialogue". Let the Euthyphro dilemma denote the philosophical problem exemplified in the statement "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?"; this is a problem that we might pose for ourselves in multiple parallel forms if necessary. Let the "Euthyphro dialogue" simply be the particular form of the Euthyphro dilemma that Plato poses along with any associated arguments as set down in his book titled "Euthyphro".

To define what I mean by the Euthyphro dilemma (in the sense used above), consider the following propositions:

A1: The gods love the pious.
B1: The gods love the pious because it is pious.
C1: The pious is only pious because it is loved by the gods.

The Euthyphro dilemma is that propositions B1 and C1, independently asserted to be true (along with A1, which we presumably are attempting to save if possible), have a great deal of negative philosophical baggage attached to them. B1 and C1 simultaneously asserted to be true offer a circular definition of the pious.

To resolve the dilemma, one can either assert that A1 (and thus B1 and C1) are false, one can assert that A1 and either B1 or C1 (but not both) are true and accept the philosophical pain associated with the stance, or one can assert some superior proposition that that allows one to assert that A1 is true and that both B1 and C1 are false.

For the Christian we might wish to pose the parallel dilemma (which I'll also call the Euthyphro dilemma for simplicity) defined by:

A2: God loves the pious.
B2: God loves the pious because it is pious.
C2: The pious is only pious because it is loved by God.

Now, I orginally wrote this on the subject:
The Euthyphro Dilemma was described by Plato in his dialogue Euthyphro and is posed as a question asked of Euthyphro by Socrates: "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" The nature of the dilemma is that one would presumably wish both assertions to be true, even though this would seem to lead to a circular definition of "the pious".
Certainly it is more precise to define the Euthyphro dilemma as I have done here than I had done originally. Instead of wishing two contradictory propositions to be true, the dilemma is to discover some superior proposition to replace them both. I then wrote:
If we suppose that God does not love at least one case of a pious sacrifice that is rooted in disobedience, then we have done nothing more than assert the negation of the dilemma (in the sense that one or both of its propositions would therefore be false). And if we suppose that God does love every pious sacrifice even if He decides to reject them on the grounds of disobedience, then we have simply evaded the dilemma without having resolved it. Alternatively, we could suppose that God simply loves "the obedient", but this is simply to say that only obedience is pious for God as described by Christianity.
In the context of Christianity, it is more correct to say that either God does not love at least one pious sacrifice that is rooted in disobedience (i.e. the assertion that A2 is false); that God does love every pious sacrifice even if He rejects them (i.e. the assertion that A2 is true without further explanation); or that God simply loves "the obedient", which is to assert that A2 is true with the understanding that only obedience is pious. This last option implicitly used the assumption that we are trying to save A2 to be true, by the way, so an extra option that I hadn't originally considered is that one could gratuitously assert that A2 is false by deciding that God only loves a non-pious obedience.

So, with these corrections to mistakes in my original post -- and before addressing the criticisms that have been expressed -- we tentatively conclude that my original conclusion still stands for now:
Thus, regardless of which interpretation we choose, Vox Day's argument that "God's priority is obedience, not piety" gives us no way of resolving the Euthyphro Dillemma that we didn't have available already.

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