Euthyphro’s dilemma is the bane of theist philosophers because of the two-pronged nature of the question, which is often formulated like this:
“Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”
Both parts of the question assume a standard, either the moral goodness of a command or the moral goodness of God in issuing the command. The inherent problem with the question, that is brought out in the dialogue itself, is the environment in which the question was broached: a system of multiple, competing lesser gods. So, the question which the argument then begs is whether or not that question can be asked in a monotheistic system where one being is the moral authority?
Moreover, the problem still assumes that commands themselves are moral, but omits the author of the command. Most often, this question arises in what is commonly known as the “slaughter of the Canaanites” in skeptical circles, as to whether or not God had the right to order such a thing. The presumption, though, is wrongly placed, and I think that I can illustrate this as a parent.
If I were to tell my son to clean his room, to put his clothes in the closet and in the drawers where they belong, to pick up his toys and put them away, to make his bed, and to take out any trash, my command is neutral based in my authority as his father. The moral aspect of the command comes through whether or not the command is obeyed. My motives are not in the equation, whatever they may be.
I recently read an article that stated that morality (action) is objective and therefore needs no one or thing to establish or justify it, which is a thesis that I found thoroughly question begging, namely who was this person (from what did he derive his authority) to make such a broad statement? It also raised a question of bias because he was presupposing that his worldview enabled objectivity, something no worldview or philosophy can ever truly achieve. He was appealing to a standard which he had to define (namely a situation where gratuitous pain was minimized) without justifying why such a situation was “good” or why pain is “bad” or what is even meant by “gratuitous“. Those questions essentially undo the entire argument the writer was putting forward. He essentially wants me to agree without good reason based on a faulty assumption, which is why motives are important when examining any work by men.
If my son questioned my motives in regards to whether his obedience is required or not, is quickly answered by my position. Being his father, I attempt to lead by example keeping my room clean and orderly so as to increase my authority, but that is not required, only obedience is. Now, his obedience has benefits (i.e., he can go over to his friends’ homes, he can roam around) but his disobedience limits his freedom, my provision for him (food, clothing, shelter) will not change, but his freedom will decrease. His obedience should stem out of gratitude, because there is no reason that I should care for him, but the fact that I do should engender a will (desire) to obey. However, if pride causes him to question my motives, his obedience will become less and less an act of gratitude but one where the option to rebel against my unconditional provision and my standards becomes a greater reality.
When it comes to Euthyphro’s dilemma, it is essentially a question of human pride and assumption rather than actual facts in evidence. It is an irrelevant question that seeks to justify human rebellion rather than legitimizing the authority of God to do as He wills.