Friday, April 11, 2008

Vox Day and the Euthyphro dilemma revisited

The Euthyphro dilemma is based upon a line in Plato's dialogue "Euthyphro" in which Socrates asks, "Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" The dilemma for that the theist is that he seemingly must choose one of these two options (asserting both simultaneously is a circular definition of piety), and that each of the options is associated with philosophical pain for him.

Note that the choice is clear for the atheist: something is pious (or in modern terminology, moral or good) because it is choosen to be pious. That is to say that that morality is necessarily a personally contingent classification of actions, not a real property of actions. Obviously there are still questions of free will versus determinism associated with a "personally contingent classification", but these go beyond the scope of the discussion here.

The theist, on the other hand, is free to choose his position. In "The Irrational Atheist", page 281, Vox Day makes his choice as follows (author's overcapitalization and italics):
In this context, the Bible is clear on OBEDIENCE being God’s priority, not piety, as there are several examples of pious sacrifices to God being rejected due to their being rooted in disobedience one way or another, beginning with the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. And Jesus Christ’s low opinion of the pious Pharisees is proverbial.

From the Christian perspective, the question “Is obedience loved by God because it is obedience, or is it obedient because it is loved by God?” only poses a problem for omniderigistes [those who believe in an all-acting God] who reject free will and believe that God is directly controlling those who exhibit the behavior He loves. (As well, one is forced to assume, of those who behave in a manner He does not love.) So, unless one subscribes to the notion of an omniderigent god, there is no contradiction whatsoever involved in positing a god who holds obedience dear, who loves that which conforms voluntarily to His will.
Vox has made it clear (in a recent response to a reader) that this is not merely redefining piety as obedience:
You're skipping over the extremely relevant section wherein I distinguish between refuting the Euthyphro dilemma on its own terms and refuting its mistaken application to Christian morality because the definition of that morality precludes the second horn of the dilemma. Ergo, no tautology and no dilemma. One cannot simply change Socrates's definitions and claim to be attacking the dilemma on its own terms, while one cannot apply the dilemma to a specific morality without changing those definitions accordingly.
The first negative consequence is the admission that any resemblance between God's will and any human understanding of morality is a happy coincidence. As Vox puts it ("The Irrational Atheiest", p.282):
If it were Moloch who were the Creator God, then no doubt child-killing would be considered a virtue;...
The second negative consequence is that defining the task of the Christian as being voluntary obedience to God's will does nothing to distinguish God from non-divine beings such as ourselves. The act of willing a course of action for others to voluntarily adopt is perfectly within the capabilities of limited beings such as ourselves.

Observe, however, that Vox's position does not necessarily disprove the existence of God. Instead, it simply conceeds that Christian morality, on its own, cannot be distinguished in origin from atheist morality.


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