Sunday, 26 April 2009

A debate with Tom Gilson on the Euthyphro and God

The last three posts have been triggered by a debate I have been having with Tom Gilson author of the Thinking Christian blog on the Euthyphro dilemma, as a challenge to whether moral good can come from God.

The actual debate started in the comment thread in the above linked post on his blog. There is the usual noise in such a thread but I list the key comments below from myself and Tom Gilson which relate to this current post, although I have written this so you do not need to read them  but please read the prior three posts first if you are unfamiliar with the issues at hand.

Note also that the debate started between myself and Tom much earlier in the thread, which was originally on a different topic but there are many comments as you can see from the count numbers here. The three aforementioned posts some up much of what had already occurred in the debate, certainly from my view.

Well if you are interested I suggest you start with my #176 and Tom's  #177 and the following replies specifically #183 to #188. The following is addressed to Tom's comments #190 and #191. My reply here makes reference to questions raised in all the referenced comments but no others (older ones being repeated in these). I am also writing this post so that you do not have to refer to any of these comments if you are not interested. 

Which dilemma?

For new readers unfamiliar with our conversation I want to add it is my position that Tom is, or at least has been, not addressing the actual challenge posed by Socrates to Euthyphro. The challenge being to provide a  a coherent, transparent, non-circular definition of moral good but rather he had been addressing what I have called, in a recent post, a caricature of the dilemma. This is to show that the repugnant conclusion of the original second horn can be avoided with some form of divine natural explanans where a divine command explanans fails. And it avoids this by avoiding this second horn entirely so the repugnant conclusion does not follow. This is probably the underlying issue here and, I think you will see, pervades our conversation till today as the end of this posts shows.

Hi Tom

This s a very interesting debate I will try and sum up where we are

Focus: Good or God?

The issue here is that our focus should be what is moral good - this is the explandum. The explanans is the answer. Euthyphro and you and offering god as part the explanans. However what seems to be happening is a changing of the subject to as if I am asking for a definition of god and  where you are offering your definition God as the explanans to that question. My only interest in your God is as to whether it can provide a definition of good. As far as I can see the question is over a possible definition of moral good in term of god. Once that is established one can look to see as to whether your God can fit that possible explanation. That is after Euthyphro is resolved , if it is.

So all I need is for you to show how god could be part of the explanans. Certainly you can draw off your understanding of your God and you might have the position that no other god could do this - that this is the only way to resolve the dilemma. I am guessing this is your position.


Still I only have interest in your definition of your God to the degree it might resolve the dilemma and no more. All I ask is what are these aspects(?) or attributes(?), that is all that is should be required here. The issue of incoherence is that you have not provided a coherent explanation of the relevant aspects of God that can answer this question. You say that:

God is the ground of being and a being
God is three beings and one
God has no parts but has attributes and aspects
You have knowledge of God but are unable cannot judge God

These are all contradictory and render your definition of God incoherent and to base a definition of moral good on an incoherent concept is... incoherent. But I am not trying to debate your definition of God. And the issue of incoherence is different to the issue of transparency and opaqueness (I will address this below).

So here I am asking you to provide the coherent relevant features (?) of your God, that is required to, in your view, satisfy a definition of moral goodness and no more. I think this is a reasonable request, if you disagree, please explain why.

Good as an Inherent Property

This another and separate issue over  incoherence. It is as to whether moral good could be an inherent property of an object, let alone God. 

Now I was basing my point on Socrates' "state of being carried" argument by analogy to show the problem with Euthyphro's definition of moral good in terms of what is loved by all the gods.  You are correct to note that Socrates using his carrying analogy in comparing it with Euthyphro's loving is referring to attributional definition of good  and that these are both transitive verbs and in need of an object and to note that good is a adjective and adjective express properties of objects.

Now given my complaint that you have been addressing a caricature of the dilemma I was trying to draw as much as possible from the original dialogue and so made reference to this argument. However there has been much development in thought and philosophy in the last 2,500 years as you must agree since your conception of God came later, indeed that is one of your arguments that Socrates was unaware of such a conception of God.

So if you are entitled to do that then so am I. Although please consider this paragraph a minor point in my questions and answers to you. I do think this was implied in Socrates arguments over transitive verbs but we can state this more clearly over my argument that  good is not  the type of thing that cold be an inherent property. The adjectives good and bad are similar to big and small in that they express relational properties not intrinsic properties. So how could good be an inherent or intrinsic property of a being such as God? If you invoke the ground of being alternative then I fails to see how this serves as a differentiator over any relational or intrinsic property. This leads to my next question

Good or Evil and Opacity

In the original explanans by Euthyrphro one could tell what was morally god (0r pious) and morally bad (or impious). What is loved by the goods is morally good and what is hated by the gods is morally bad. The capacities to love and to hate clearly being attributes of those gods, is if they did not have those attributes then they could not love or hate.

My opacity complaint was that all you have done is make it less rather than more clear what such an attribute is. In an early definition you claimed "what is morally good is an eternal attribute of an eternal good". Now you were focused on "eternal", in my view, thinking that this resolves the repugnant conclusion of the second horn (whilst at the same time claiming it as as alternative to the second horn but see below). I am focused on what this attribute is and none of your later definitions resolve this.

At least with Euthyphro we could possibly tell what is moral good and morally bad by looking at what the gods loved versus what they hated. Now we cannot tell that at all. You have offered no way to distinguish between good and bad. Hence my challenge to in asking why could it not to be the case that moral evil is an eternal attribute of an eternal god?And makes no difference as to whether God is a being or the ground of being with parts or not. Although without parts but only "aspects" that, presumably, must be what you mean by attributes, surely this is even more obscure, unclear and hence opaque?


You keep on repeating that you have resolved this issue but I fail to see where. It seems that you presuppose the correctness of your answer and whenever I ask how it could be correct you respond how could it not, tacitly based on you presuppositions - which is what I am questioning. Your last answer to my question of why moral evil is not an attribute of God is a classic circular response. To quote:
Evil is not a creation of God; it is a privation of the good. There is no evil in God<
Well what is evil is exactly this that I am trying to determine - indeed this was Socrates actual question to Euthyrphro - and all you have offered is that if you assume that God is good then this follows. You have not showed this nor provided a non-circular reason. This is still a definition by fiat or arbitrary.


You seem to be fixated (sic) on the importance of these properties being eternal, immutable, non-contingent and so on. This might be part of the definition of moral good but you have failed to demonstrate why it is important (I read it as you thinking this resolves the repugnant conclusion of the original second horn when it does no such thing, as my last post post made clear, the repugnant conclusion still follows). In a latest comment you say: 
He has the property of being good just because he has that property eternally
This looks like being eternal is a supporting explanation for this property but there is no good reason as to why this is, it certainly is neither necessary nor sufficient for this. That it is fixed is ..ahem.. a contingent fact of the explanans, if this is the case. I think you are trying to say that if good is an eternal property then God could not change his mind and be bad. However asserting the eternity of a property does not to illuminate whether this property is possibly good in the first place. And if it not, this has dire consequences for your theology. Fixity still appears to be a red herring here as we are trying to establish the value of the property that, you argue, is fixed. However we are not arguing over whether it is fixed and cannot change.

The Third Horn

I have repeatedly asked for this other option -the third horn as I called it - a label you reluctantly accepted. You  provided a configuration with three options  and for new readers I repeat it here:
1. There is some standard that defines goodness for all of creation including God; God is good because he meets that standard

2. Goodness has no standard except in God’s own decrees; thus he could at his own whim arbitrarily declare just anything to be good, and there would be no other standard that would say that it wasn’t good.

3. Goodness is an eternal aspect of God’s eternal nature, and its definition and instantiation in God is eternally unchangeable. It is part of his character which is itself unchangeable, and thus is not subject to whim.
You inference for 2 is not part of the question I asked. The dilemma  or trilemma with benevolent horns can only be formed from one and only one definition and relation not as at first glance appears above two definitions and relations.

What you seem to be getting at is something like (1)God meets a standard (2)God sets the standard (3)God is the standard? This still has the focus on God not good and you are not trying to define good but only a standard of good.

Now you have two different types of relation here. However we cannot have different types of relations, it is one relation we must consider between God and good. "Meets" does not make sense but defines does so we get (1) God does not define the standard (2/3) God defines the standard - how God does it is not the issue in the definition.Two horns collapse.

Making good the focus we get something like:(1) Good is independent of God (2) Good is defined by God (3) Good is (some aspect of) God. However 2 and 3 again collapse with respect to (in)dependence so this becomes (1)Good is independent of God (2/3) Good is dependent on God.

You responded with:
I simply do not agree with what you wrote. I don’t know how to put it other than this: what you assert about my arguments is not what is in my arguments; it’s just not there. You and I will continue to disagree.
Well I struggled for a very long time to get a list of three alternatives, whilst only a few comments in total were mine or yours but there was probably a hundred on this in the whole original thread. Finally I get what I have been asking for all along so I can finally see what you are supposedly getting at and do some analysis on this. Now I have done some tentative analysis, I have to say I am disappointed with this response although not with our dialogue in general.

Maybe we have to end on this point or maybe others might wish to contribute here. All I can provisionally conclude is that you have failed to make case for resolving the dilemma and that the repugnant conclusion still follows - that  God can only command what is in it's fixed eternal nature makes no difference to the implications of such command, as will be made amply clear when I next post on the Willaim Laine Craig podcast that you asked me to listen to.


Tom Gilson said...


I understand the desire to move the discussion here in a way, but it does run the risk of ripping things out of context. You have at least referenced the major comments from the discussion on my blog. I'm not sure moving it is such a great idea regardless.

I don't see that the focus should be on "what is moral good." The focus of the Euthyphro dilemma (ED) is on whether the relationship between God and the good can be understood in a way that does not do damage to one or both, i.e., in a coherent way. I've said that repeatedly. Apparently you disagree, and yet I think you are wrong on that point, so I have stayed with the focus I believe is appropriate to the question.

You say that all of these are contradictory:

God is the ground of being and a being
God is three beings and one
God has no parts but has attributes and aspects
You have knowledge of God but are unable cannot judge God
1. Are you saying that the ground of being, if there is such, is something that is not a being? Than you are saying that the ground of being is something that has no being, i.e. something that does not exist. That's an odd thing to say, to say the least. God exists, he is uniquely self-existent, and he is the ground of all other being besides. That is the sense in which I have meant to refer to him as the ground of being.
2. I did not say God is three beings and one. He is one in essence and three in person. I refer your readers to my blog, to do a page search for "Trinity" for more on that.
3. This is not a contradictory statement.
4. I explained this more clearly on my blog also. "Judge" means to take a position where one might pronounce God morally wrong. I cannot do that. But we can recognize that he is good, based on our knowledge of him (Psalm 34:8 for example).

I think that I have provided the coherent relevant attributes of God for this question. I'm sorry you do not recognize that this is the case.

I do not agree that good cannot be an inherent property of God. There can be good without there being evil to compare it to.

At least with Euthyphro we could possibly tell what is moral good and morally bad by looking at what the gods loved versus what they hated. Now we cannot tell that at all. You have offered no way to distinguish between good and bad.Not true. I invite your readers to check what I have written on this; I do not feel any need to write it again here.

On circularity I refer your readers to my comment #177 on my blog.

He has the property of being good just because he has that property eternallyThat was ripped out of context.

You have not yet understood my third horn, and you have seriously mischaracterized it here. It may be my fault, though I think I've been clear, and I've stated it many times. I don't see how another try at it would be likely to have any different result.

So what I'm offering as a response here is this: readers, recognize that this is not where to go to get a sense of where this argument has been going. That's all I have to say here. To try to answer your questions further here would require too much repair work on the false premises of your questions and the lack of context.

Tom Gilson said...

It's not your fault, I know, but I want to also mention that blogspot's new (?) commenting system is hard to work with, and what showed up after posting is not what was shown in the preview, with respect to line breaks after italicized sections above.

faithlessgod said...

HI Tom

Addressing the salient points of your response:

Judgement"'Judge' means to take a position where one might pronounce God morally wrong. I cannot do that. But we can recognize that he is good, based on our knowledge of him "1.Without the capacity to judge there is no basis for knowledge.
2. The recognition of good presupposes that one can judge what is good.
3. If one cannot judge the moral goodness of God, then one does not know whether God is good or not.
Your position on this point still looks self-defeating.

Distinguishing between Good and BadIt feel like I have been asking forever to provide a definion of good and this is another way of making this same point - one that Socrates did not need made to Euthyphro since he at least provided supposes mean to distinguish between these. Again I eventually find an effective way to make my point and then you avoid answering! I am sorry but you claim you have answered this but not in any of our conversations.

So again what is about God's attribute that can distinguish between good and evil?(as Euthryphro did distinguishing between loved and hated)

Any of your definitions are more opaque than any provided by Euthyphro as in your failure to show why moral evil is not also an eternal attribute of an eternal god. - without using circular reasoning of course.

The so-called Third HornIt took me a very long time to see these three positions side by side and as soon as I did a cursory analysis on this you gave up! The vacuity of your third horn is demonstrated in tentative analysis in this post here and confirmed by you completely fail to address my analysis.

ConclusionThe questions over judgement (relatively new), its opaqueness (from the beginning with the distinction variant being a new take) and the third horn (long asked, finally delivered) coupled with the circular arguments which comment #177 fails to address the problems of there being a so-called third horn or alternate solution to the dilemma, which is mean tot s
dissolve the challenge.

There are no false premises in my questions, the same premises has been used throughout. If they are false which premises are you referring to and why are they false?

The only premise I have made it to ask you to answer the equivalent challenge made by Socrates to Euthyphro to provide a transparent, non-circular definition of moral good. The Dilemma argument shows that you have, to date, failed to do this. That is you are still stick on the second horn with its repugnant conclusion.