The (in)applicability of "Euthyphro"

So far, I find that the unity of persons in the trinitarian understanding of God takes away one of Socrates complaints. God doesn't internally disagree about the good. "Something all the persons of the trinity agree upon as good" is the same as something any one of them considers good. Sebeia and dikaiosunen (piety and justice) mean something different in our terms than in the civic/religious terminology of Socrates' Athens, but that's as may be expected in the Euthyphro case. The gods are different; the mores are different. This is because the Euthyphro dilemma starts from a position the philosophical discussion of it does not: there are no abstract deities. Philosophical theism as we discuss it tends to be an abstract dominant monotheism with vaguely Christian roots. It's certainly a legitimate discussion, but only in the same ways that Alston and Plantinga are legitimate discussions: in the abstract.

Epistemologically speaking, such a theism is only valid as an abstraction from genuine particular religions. Christianity is not a "theism plus"; theism is a "Christianity minus." When we pull the rug out from under a "Euthyphro objection" built on this sort of grounds, we get a more sensibly original Euthyphro. No hypothetical deities who might hypothetically demand torture and so hypothetically invert our notions of good/evil (which are, we must therefore conclude, superior to such a hypothetical deity). Even the complaint that such a problem would only be a problem if an actual deity did so, and it were actually evil, falls short by the fact that it maintains the same absolute, singular, hypothetical deity of philosophical theism. Omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good, and rational rather than real. Socrates has no such god, nor do any actual believers of my acquaintance, of whom Socrates' questions to Euthyphro might be asked.

Given that it is inapt to both Christian dialogues and Platonic ones, perhaps we should hie over to where the real action in "divine command theory" is happening. Since I'm particularly worried about Barth (for my exams, not really for his own internal validity; the man takes care of himself in that respect), we'll work with the actual Christian deity in essential Trinitarian construction and Biblical particularity, and try to work with Euthyphro as read rather than as received.

We start with a person feeling as of vital importance a command of God toward an action, a command which contradicts certain elements of received piety so as to raise the dilemma of which action is both a) truly pious (eusebous), and b) just (dikaios) for them to undertake. Classically Greek, in the Tragic sense, but also rather scientific in its isolation of the issue within a limited context. Even though the ethical life consists of minor conflicts in mostly-grey areas, we will tackle a major conflict in a major moral issue, so as to work from the greater to the lesser: death as murder/manslaughter.

So: my own father causes the death of a murderer by a combination of intentional actions and negligence. I am the chief witness and impetus behind his prosecution for this.

First, we're not talking about good versus evil; that's no dilemma at all. We're talking about a notion of higher justice perverse to gestalt moral sentiment but comprehensible as a legitimate and congruent divine command. The command does not violate the nature of the deity as known by the believer, even if it is unpleasant and inconvenient to pursue. As divine command, it becomes the better among two goods.

I see two possibilities: 1) I have determined my way out of a textual dilemma of commandments, placing "Thou shalt not kill" over "Honor thy father and mother" by my own interpretation of the exigencies; 2) My prayerful attention to the will of God has caused me to violate filial piety and my prior sense of the order of goodness in the world because God has expanded my sense of duty and justice to encompass new territory. (1) is what I find it easier to envision as a contemporary explanation; (2) is my best Barthian reconstruction of the Euthyphro position.

It seems that Socrates, the characteristic atheist, implicitly believes that (1) is the case, and that (2) stands on poor epistemological ground. The question is not about (1), but about justification of (2). So we start with the nature of the gods as moral arbiters. This is a classic Socratic point which is telling against the Greek pantheon. If we have a unified will of a singular deity (which proper trinitarian doctrines of God still reasonably approximate as the unified will of an interrelated being of persons), as touched at the top, we void some of that critique. Since this is getting long, I'll try and write a "part II" continuing this topic.


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