The Euthyphro Dilemma

In the above video, Dr. William Lane Craig describes the basic structure of the Euthyphro Dilemma and why it serves as an attempted objection against the moral argument.  This objection is found in Plato’s first dialogue named Euthyphro.  His objection is laid out as follows:

“Either something is good because God wills it or else God wills something because it is good” 1

Let’s dissect each half of that statement to get a better understanding of what is truly being objected to within the moral argument.

The first half states that, “something is good because God wills it”.  That means that God could have willed anythingto be good.  God could have potentially willed rape, murder, lying, kidnapping, torturing, etc… to be good.  If those horrible actions were to be willed good by God, then we would be obligated to do those things to one another by Him.  What is good becomes arbitrary under this option. Therefore, the first half of this dilemma clearly seems to be an implausible assertion because the possibility of murder, lying, kidnapping, torturing, etc… being good just because God wills it undermines the fact that some moral values are necessary in this world 1

The second half states that, “God wills something because it is good”.  That means that whatever is good is completely independent of God and would completely undercut the first premise of the moral argument (If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist).  If we contend that the first premise of the moral argument is true, we see that objective moral values are dependent upon God for their moral grounding.  Therefore, God does not will something because it is good 1.    

Since the moment I heard the Euthyphro Dilemma, I’ve always questioned why this dilemma has become the authority on the moral argument for the atheist.  Are there any other options outside of the two that are presented within the dilemma?  It appears that this dilemma isn’t providing us with all the options for the origin of moral grounding.  It seems that Plato failed to acknowledge the option of God making our moral foundations good because He is good!  They are reflective on His nature.  So, if an atheist states, “If God commanded rape, we would be obligated to do so”, the atheist is presupposing that God could command such an atrocity.  God couldn’t command rape because it is against His nature 2.  Stating otherwise would be as non-nonsensical as identifying red as blue, a square as a triangle, and the moon as the sun. 

In conclusion, God’s nature is the foundation for the morality in this universe.  If humanity acts immorally, it’s because they’re acting contradictory to God’s nature and not because God willed it.  Those who present the possibility of God willing unspeakable actions are simply confused by how morality is bound by God’s nature.If God’s nature is the basis for all moral foundations, then it would logically fall into place that morality would be determined upon that nature.  Since God is the greatest possible being, it would be illogical to assert that God would impose rape simply because He wills it.  God couldn’t will something against His own nature.  In essence, we recognize morality today because God is good and we are made in His image, which gives us a key to acknowledging such goodness in this world.


1 William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith(Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books) Chapter 4

2 William Lane Craig, On Guard (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook) Chapter 6


2 responses to “The Euthyphro Dilemma

  1. The Euthyphro's dilemma actually applies to all transcendant values, not just morality. You could just as easily pose it in regards to logic, justice, love, etc. And the answer you gave is the same in each case: these values exist because they are as integral to His nature as the number 2 is to the concept of "math".

  2. I sincerely thank you for your comment. What you said is entirely true, however I often see this objection posed against the moral argument which was my reasoning for specifically highlighting transcendent morals vs any other transcendent values such as logic, justice, love, etc… All of these transcendent values are applicable to the Dilemma. To use your example, "Is logic good because God wills it or does God will logic because it is good?". My goal for the post was to illustrate how the Dilemma didn't exhaust all possible options regarding these transcendent issues from a moral standpoint. Thanks for your comment!!

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