Saturday, February 3, 2018

Generalizing the Euthyphro argument

On my reading of the Euthyphro, what is supposed to be wrong with the idea that the pious is what the gods love is that as even Euthyphro knows the gods love the pious because it is pious. (The famous dilemma is largely a rhetorical flourish. It’s clear to Socrates and Euthyphro which horn to take.)

It seems to me that little is gained when one says that the pious is what it is appropriate for the gods to love. For it is just as clear that the reason that it is appropriate for the gods to love pious actions is that the pious actions are pious.

Once we see this, we see that a similar objection can be levied against many appropriateness views, such as Strawson’s view that the blameworthy is what makes appropriate certain reactive attitudes. For it is clear that these reactive attitudes are appropriate precisely because the person is blameworthy.

There might be some things that are to be accounted for in terms of appropriate responses. But I can’t think of any other than perhaps pure social constructions like money.


Walter Van den Acker said...


The "problem" with God loving the pious because it is pious, is that it makes morality independent of God, which destroys the Moral Argument, especially in the version used by William Lane Craig.

I am not so sure about the application of the ET in the case of being blameworthy. Is a person blameworthy because he does something bad or is a person bad because he does something blameworthy?

Heath White said...

Great big literature on this under the rubric of the "wrong kind of reasons problem".

Alexander R Pruss said...


I am not sure that this is the same as the wrong kind of reasons (WKR) problem. I think WKR is supposed to be the problem that you might have spurious reasons to, say, admire someone -- e.g., because they'll torture you if you don't -- and hence the admirable isn't the same as what one has reason to admire.

The issue I'm worried about is the intuition that, say, something's being admirable explains why there is reason to admire it. I don't see how to reduce it to WKR.


It makes morality independent of what God loves. It could still be ontologically dependent on God in some other way. For instance, it could be that the right action is one that constitutes one as similar to God. For then one could coherently say that God loves an action because the action makes the agent similar to God (I am not endorsing that view, just pointing out that it escapes the objection).

That said, I am not attracted to the ontological versions of the moral argument. I am attracted to the epistemological ones (theism as part of an explanation of how we know what is right), but these work even if morality is independent of God.

Heath White said...

The connection I was aiming for was this. It is easy to identify spurious reasons to admire if admirability explains the (right kind of) reasons to admire: spurious reasons are just all the other reasons. It is only when one explains admirability as (roughly) "what one has (the right kind of) reasons to admire" that the problem arises in a serious way.

Here is a quick argument that admirability might not explain reasons to admire. Consider "clapworthiness," the property something has whenever there are sufficient reasons (of the right kind - bracket this problem) to clap for it. It applies to most plays, few movies, when small children blow out their birthday candles, some musical performances but not most religious ones, etc. It seems clear that clapworthiness is best understood in terms of reasons to clap, not the other way around, because it is a very heterogeneous category. The point being: it is *possible* for the order of explanation to go this way.

But if it is possible, then we need an argument that, say, admirability and piety do *not* get explained this way.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Clapworthiness is a nice example, but it goes along with the last sentence of my post. There are other plausible examples in etiquette.

It is interesting, though, that even in this case it seems right to say that you have reason to clap because the performance is clapworthy.

Alexander R Pruss said...

By the way, I think a modified reasons responsiveness account of clapworthiness might escape the WKR problem, because clapworthiness is expressly relative to a social practice, which lets us say that something is clapworthy provided that this social practice generates a reason to clap. I think this may also escape the Euthyphro worry: it doesn't seem mistaken to make the explanatory claim that you have reason to clap because social practice C generates a reason to clap rather than to say that the practice generates the reason to clap because the event is clapworthy.

But this doesn't work as neatly for norms like moral ones not generated by identifiable social practices. Still, I think one can try to do the analogous thing, which is to identify the source of the reasons. For instance, on natural law accounts, the source of the reasons is the nature of the will. And the nature of the will directly generates, let us suppose, all and only moral reasons. So then we can say that there is moral reason to do something iff the nature of the will generates a reason to do it. And this escapes the Euthyphro worry: the explanatory claim that you have reason to keep your promises because the nature of the will generates a reason to keep your promises is perfectly fine. (It is akin to saying that there is a spill of milk because a sudden moment of excitement caused a spill of milk.)

OK, so now I'm seeing one way the Euthyphro and WKR problems may be connected, in that both can be solved if one can specify the right kinds of reasons by specifying features of their source that are both explanatory of the existence of the reason and sufficient to classify the kind of reason.

But not every solution to the WKR problem proceeds in this way, and hence not every solution to the WKR problem solves the Euthyphro problem. For instance, suppose one has a crazy divine command solution to the WKR problem, where on even numbered days God's commands have moral force and on odd numbered days God's commands have aesthetic force. Thus, when on January 1, God says: "Admire this painting", this gives you the kind of reason that makes this painting admirable, but when on January 2 God says it, it gives you the wrong kind of reason. The WKR problem is solved. But the Euthyphro problem remains unsolved.

Heath White said...

FWIW, my views on the WKR problem: .

Michael Gonzalez said...

Just re: ontological vs. epistemological moral arguments vis-à-vis the Euthyphro problem... I don't think Euthyphro's dilemma is about epistemology. The problem is an ontological one. Bill Craig thus splits the horns of the dilemma with an ontological grounding in God's own nature (so, He neither chooses what is good or bad, nor is it something apart from Him which He must acknowledge).

Is there really an epistemological worry in Euthyphro? What would it be?