The Fault in Euthyphro’s Stars

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.


  1. Are you saying that there is no moral valuation to a command issued by an authority beyond whether or not it is obeyed? If, instead of “clean your room,” you instructed your son to slaughter your neighbor, his wife, their children, and their pets, would you still assert that command is neutral by virtue of your authority?

    It just seems to me that “put your toys away” is a fairly poor analogy for “Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Sam 15:3, NRSV).

    • Begs the question of authority. My command to my son “clean your room” is based on the authority of my provision of a place for him to live, it begins and ends there.

      God’s authority to use one nation as a means of judgment against another is based on His authority that both nations exist because He allows them to exist in the places and times that He allows (Acts 17:26, Deuteronomy 32:8, Malachi 2:10), plus is divorced from the observation of God in 1 Samuel 15:1-3
      Then Samuel said to Saul, “I was the one the Lord sent to anoint you as king over his people Israel. Now listen to what the Lord says. 2 Here is what the Lord of hosts says: ‘I carefully observed how the Amalekites opposed Israel along the way when Israel came up from Egypt. 3 So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death – man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.'”

      • I think you’re missing my point. The entire question posed by Euthyphro’s Dilemma is as regards the morality of that authority.

        If you commanded your son to kill your neighbors, I’m sure you would agree that this command is immoral. On your theology (and please let me know if I am incorrect in this), it is immoral because God has commanded against such actions, and he has moral authority over you.

        The question inherent to Euthyphro’s Dilemma regards whether God’s commands are moral because God is the ultimate arbiter of morality, or whether God adheres to some objective morality from outside of God’s self. You seem to be implying the former, that God is the ultimate arbiter of morality.

      • And I think that you are missing the point. Part of your question is headed in the right direction but then careens off into a ditch, where two different categories are being conflated in error, and that is the main problem with the modern formulation of Euthyphro’s dilemma, it commits the logical fallacy of category error, by assuming that creature and Creator are interchangable, and they’re not.

      • Euthyphro’s Dilemma makes no assumptions about the interchangeability of creature and Creator, at all. The question it poses is a simple dichotomy: does God arbitrate morality or not?

      • The question assumes that the person has the right to ask such a question about the gods, which is an indicator of what people secretly assumed about the deities they worshipped: that they were missing and aspect of trueness. My point, which I may have to go back and edit this into the post itself, is that to bring the question into a monotheistic, especially Christian, philosophy makes the question irrelavent because there are categories that exist in that philosophy that do to apply to the question.

  2. Heraclitus would answer:
    “106. To God all things are beautiful, good, and right. Men,
    on the other hand, deem some things right and others wrong.”

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