Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Theistic Natural Law and the Euthyphro Problem

Theistic Natural Law (TNL) theory seems to be subject to the Euthyphro problem much as divine command theory (DCT) is. On DCT, the Euthyphro problem takes the form of the question:

  1. Why did God command what he commanded rather than commanding otherwise?

On TNL, the Euthyphro problem takes the form of the question:

  1. Why did God create beings with the natures he did rather than creating beings with other natures?

In both cases, one can respond by talking of the essential goodness of God, by virtue of which he makes a good choice as to how to fittingly match the non-normative with the normative features of creatures. In the DCT case, God makes the match by benevolently choosing what sorts of creatures to create and what sorts of commands to give them. In the TNL case, God makes the match by benevolently choosing the non-deontic and deontic features of natures and then creating creatures with these natures. Thus, in the DCT case, God has reason to coordinate the sociality of creatures with the command to cooperate, while in the TNL case God has reason to actualize natures that either both include sociality and the duty to cooperate or to actualize natures that include neither.

So in what way is TNL better off than DCT with regard to the Euthyphro problem? The one thing I can think of in the vicinity is this: TNL allows for there to be deontic features that necessarily every natural includes, and it allows for there to be some deontic features of creatures that are entailed by the non-deontic features. For instance, perhaps every possible nature of an agent includes a prohibition against pointless imposition of torture, and every possible nature of a linguistic agent includes a prohibition against lying. But I am not sure this difference is really relevant to the Euthyphro problem.

I do prefer TNL to DCT, but not because of the Euthyphro problem. My reason for the preference is that many moral obligations appear to be intrinsic features of us.

Of course, the above arguments presuppose a particular picture of how natural law works. But I like that picture.


Christopher Michael said...

(2) is only a Euthyphro problem if it is possible for creatures to have had different natures than they do. But it isn't. Change of specific identity entails change of numerical identity. So (2) isn't a Euthyphro problem at all.

Also, the fact that it isn't possible for creatures to have different natures than they do is another reason that corruptionism is true. :-)

Alexander R Pruss said...

I was of course assuming that creatures with other natures would be numerically different. But I don't see how this makes a difference.
Also, by the strong essentiality of origins, if God issued other commands, everybody except maybe the first humans would have been different.

Alexander R Pruss said...

But I can see how my wording may have seemed to ask why God created *these* creatures with these natures rather than with other natures, so I reworded to make it clear that I don't endorse this formulation.

Christopher Michael said...

It makes a difference because unless there is a single creature for whom the moral norms could have been different, there is no Euthyphro problem. DCT gives us a scenario in which a creature could have been subject to different norms, which then gives rise to a Euthyphro problem because there seems to be no satisfactory account of what would ultimately ground those alternative norms without undermining DCT. But TNL blocks the possibility of any such scenario, and so we never even get to ask the Euthyphro question of what would ultimately ground God's alternative choice of norms for this creature.

Alexander R Pruss said...

We get to ask what grounds God's choice of norms for creatures: why did God create creatures with these norms and not others. We can't ask what grounds God's choice of norms for Socrates, since had God chosen other norms, Socrates would not have existed. But the Euthyphro question isn't put in this individual way.
Maybe a more parallel way to ask the question is: Why did God not create beings with the same non-normative (variant: non-deontic) features of the nature but other deontic features?

steve said...

I don't see that TNL and DCT are relevantly parallel in relation to the Euthyphro dilemma. The stock objection to DCT is that it makes morality or duty arbitrary–because there's nothing over and above God's sheer command or prohibition that constitutes morality or duty.

By contrast, according to TNL, God's commands and prohibitions are adapted to the nature he endows us with. So there's something that grounds the injunctions. An internal relation between the nature of the creature and the nature of the command.

Sure, God could create different kinds of creatures with different kinds of natures, which might, in turn, result in different kinds of obligations, but so what? That's still significantly disanalogous to DCT.

For instance, humans have certain social duties because we're social creatures by design. We're born dependent, so parents have a duty to care for their needy young kids. And by the same token, grown kids have a duty to repay the favor by caring of needy parents.

Compare that to, say, leopards. A leopard impregnates a leopardess, then it's up to her to raise the cubs single-handedly. But that's at least in part due to a different nature. A leopardess has natural equipment that a woman does not. Moreover, leopard cubs don't need both male and female-role modeling, unlike humans, as part of their social development.

So what's permissible for a leopard isn't permissible for a human male. But there's nothing arbitrary about that difference.

Someone might object that leopards don't have real duties because they aren't moral agents. Animals are amoral. And that's because they lack sufficient intelligence to be moral agents.

Okay, suppose a leopard had human intelligence. In that case, not only might they have duties, but different duties.

In the wild, the leopardess raises the cubs until they can fed for themselves. After that, they never see her again. If she can no longer hunt due to illness, injury, or age, predators will polish her off.

But if leopards were as smart as humans, then arguably, grown cubs would have a duty to keep an eye on mom. If she can't hunt anymore, they have a duty to protect her and bring her a fresh kill.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Consider a planet of humans and a planet of humans*. They both have the same body plan, very similar brains, etc. But human* nature differs from human nature in that for humans*, sociality is neither normal nor abnormal. However, humans* happened to have formed communities just as humans did (and it may have helped them to survive, just as it helped us), but this behavior was neither required by their nature nor contrary to their nature. It seems we can imagine this. So now we have the Euthyphro-like question: Why did God in fact create beings with human nature rather than with human* nature?

I suppose one could try to solve the problem by saying that there are some necessary interconnections between features of a nature. Perhaps there couldn't be a nature that makes sociality possible but not required, as human* nature would in the thought experiment. But is that really the case?

The deep question here is what mix of features, especially non-deontic and deontic ones, can come together in a nature.