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Religion has been an important influence on humanity for a very long time, so much so that our definitions for morality and divinity are religious in nature. However, an argument opposing morality by divine command states: “If actions are right because God commands them, and it’s possible for God to command seriously harming an innocent person with no compensating beneﬁt to anyone, then it’s possible for SHIPNCBA to be right.”. The argument proposes that God could command SHIPNCBA, but that SHIPNCBA is not right. With this contradiction, it is thus concluded that the morality of an action is independent of God’s commands. The issue with this argument is 1) it does not identify the “God” being referred to (Christian, Jewish, Deist, etc.), and 2) it does not identify the moral framework behind the assertation that “it’s not possible for SHIPNCBA to be right”. Thus, from the perspective of Christianity, it can be concluded that this argument is unsatisfactory. However, case in point, there is a possibility that Euthyphro, a work by Plato, could refute even the Christian claim.
The argument presented proposes a possible refutation of Divine Command Theory, a theory which in its simplest form states that “God’s commands are what makes actions right or wrong”. As this argument gives no clear answer as to which “God” it is refuting, it should be presumed that “God” is defined by the Judeo-Christian interpretation. To understand the Judeo-Christian God, one must understand their holy scripture. It is important to note that “holy scripture” will exclusively be the Bible, and more specifically the King James Translation of the Bible. In the Old Testament scripture, specifically in the Book of Exodus, God commands “Thou shalt not kill”. It is the sixth out of ten famous commandments, all of which form the foundation of Christian and Jewish ethics. Western society itself resets on these very same ethical ideals, such that every law and writ is fundamentally tied to these commandments. For instance, “Thou shalt not kill” is a condemnation of murder, and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house” is a condemnation of theft. The sixth commandment is further reiterated in the Gospel of Matthew, where Matthew the Apostle writes “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill, and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment”. From this commandment, it must be concluded that the Judeo-Christian God would never command murder, and as murder is a far greater transgression than “SHIPNCBA”, it can be partially concluded that God would never command “SHIPNCBA”. To come full circle with this conclusion, take, for instance, the Epistle to the Colossians, where Paul the Apostle writes “But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.”. In this verse, Paul the Apostle brings about the notion of retributive justice, which in simple terms is a justice system where the wrongdoer is punished (emotionally or physically) as compensation to the victim. With God presiding over justice, it must be the case that God would never command that which is immoral and unjust. The reason why God must be the ultimate authority is presented in the Epistle of Paul to Titus, where Paul the Apostle writes “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began”. The importance of this verse is its claim that God “cannot lie”, and from this statement, it can be understood that God does not make declarations or arbitrary judgments on what is right and what is wrong, but that God is the standard by which one ought to decide right and wrong. Therefore, the Judeo-Christian God would never command “SHIPNCBA” as God’s nature if of love, justice, and forgiveness, and to do otherwise would be a lie, and God cannot lie. Nonetheless, if this conclusion is to be challenged, then it should be done so fairly and honestly, and Plato’s work Euthyphro is fit to object.
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato is well known for his work Euthyphro, a dialogue between the esteemed Socrates and Euthyphro, a man who was deeply religious. Through the course of the dialogue, Socrates attempts to “demonstrate that Euthyphro doesn’t know the true nature of piety”. The dialogue truly commences when Euthyphro makes a claim to a common-sense definition of piety, with Socrates challenging this definition. To put it briefly, Euthyphro claims “that which is loved by the Gods is pious”, but Socrates states that if the Gods (Ancient Greek Polytheism) were to dispute the sanctity of an act, this divine quarrel would result in a contradiction as it would be assumed that the act is then both pious and impious simultaneously. As such, Euthyphro must then conclude only “that which is loved by all the Gods is pious, and that which is hated by all is impious”. The teardown of each suggested explanation continues, with Euthyphro unable to provide an explicit definition to piety each time, and so Euthyphro walks away. Concerning the morality argument originally presented (the “SHIPNCBA” proposition), the “Euthyphro Dilemma” must be transformed in such a way that it can apply to monotheism over ancient polytheism. As such, the “revised” Euthyphro argument would go as follows: “Are actions wrong because God prohibits them, or does God prohibit them because they are wrong?”. The first question of “Are actions wrong because God prohibits them?”, if true, would imply that wrongness is arbitrary, such that God could well in fact command “SHIPNCBA”. A rational person would presumably reject the notion that murder and rape are acceptable, even if God endorsed or commanded such acts. As such, a conflict arises between personal ethics and divine morals. Then, the second question of “does God prohibit them because they are wrong?”, if true, would imply that the wrongness and rightness of an action are entirely independent of God’s commands and that God’s commands simply act as an insurance of their moral essence. In both cases, the monotheist would be left in quite the conundrum. The logical choice would be the second question, which concludes that morality is practically independent of God’s commands, and so Divine Command Theory would, in turn, be redundant. If the monotheist concludes with the first question, then they would have to accept that a tyrannical cosmic dictator is completely possible, but that God chooses to do otherwise, which then conflicts with God’s nature of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence (all power, all-knowing, all just/wise). To reiterate, an all-knowing God would already know what is moral and immoral, and so the choice would be unnecessary. But if God still chooses that which is immoral to be moral, then God is no longer all-just, and if God is not all-just, then He is not God. Despite the above assertion, this argument does not include the third option mentioned previously, and that is of a God who “cannot lie” and who condemns murder, theft, and so on.
The “SHIPNCBA” argument against Divine Command Theory is invalid by its very nature as 1) it does not identify the “God” being referred to and 2) it does not identify the moral framework by which it was determined that “it’s not possible for SHIPNCBA to be right”. However, if a select description of God is made, such as a Judeo-Christian perspective, and Judeo-Christian morals are upheld, then the “SHIPNCBA” would be better substituted with the “Euthyphro Dilemma”. Therefore, the final verdict to the question of whether morality is God-determined will remain inconclusive.
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