On Euthyphro

Logical validity is a low bar and means little, however. Don’t forget that.


I recognize that. But it’s a crucial component to soundness.

I have no idea what you intend by “properly based beliefs” or “accept rationally” as opposed to “accept pragmatically”, just as it isn’t clear what you mean by “basic”. And I don’t see how you can go from our having moral intuitions to the inference that there must be a moral standard provided by God. As far as I can tell, moral intuitions are based on instinct and upbringing, the former a result of lengthy primate evolution as a social species. How does that feature God or any objective standard?

I think you confuse subjectivity or contingency with falsehood.

Your attempted escape, that God is his own standard whose very character is goodness, just isn’t coherent. It renders the concept of goodness circular. We know he’s good because he’s God, and God is good. How do we know that? Because he’s God.

I think you consider the two characteristics featured in A as unitary, with not A lacking both. You fail to consider anything lacking only one.

All true, but so what? If I say “If A, then B; A; therefore B”, that’s a logical argument, but it’s also vacuous without knowing what A and B are.

I don’t think that helps, since you reject our intuitions as a standard. If they were, that would be an external standard by which to judge God’s goodness. Further, God’s actions frequently violate our moral intuitions, or at least they violate mine. So far you seem unwilling to say.

It seems to be a problem that destroys your argument unless solved. Would you agree?

Don’t see it, especially since you declared 6b to be deism. My understanding is that the deist God is necessary, and whether he’s morally perfect is not considered. One problem is that 2a considers three characteristics, and we don’t know which one, or two or three, we’re rejecting if we accept 2b. “Something supernatural, but not God” in 3b doesn’t clarify, nor does 4 or 5. 6b allows that distinctness from the natural world wasn’t a defining characteristic, but we are left without any knowledge of whether necessity or moral perfection was the distinction, or whether they are considered unitary.

Your moral intuitions may. Mine do not. I reject premise 0.

They emerge from evolution, both biological and social, in reaction to the conditions of primate and human social environments. If that’s true, does it fit your description? I have to say that your intuition is doing a lot of work here, and intuition isn’t all that great a guide to objective truth.

I don’t think so. What you have there is an arbitrary rule. It’s just defining “good” as “what God would do”. But how can we say that what God would do is good, unless we have some standard of goodness by which to judge his character?

Crucial, but trivial, as it may equally be true of an unsound argument. It’s the premises that you need to justify.


Not quite. Rather, since we can only perceive the world thru our mind, we cannot assert that things like causation exist in the world apart from our mind.

There is an analogy I (partially) recall that I believe was made by Daniel Dennett: When you delete files from your computer, you point your cursor to the icon representing the file, then drag to the Recycle Bin icon and drop it there.

Of course, that is not what you are actually doing. You are not physically dragging something to a physical bin, and depositing it there. These are just graphic representations on the screen which acts as visual interface between the user and the processing going on in the computer.

Similarly, it is conceivable that the concepts we use when we think, such as the rules of math and logic, the existence of an external world operating in accordance with rules of causation, the very existence of ourselves as subjects, could be the equivalent of the icons created on the computer monitor by the operating system, and the real world is akin to the electronic process going on in the computer itself, which could be represented in any number of other ways. So a cockroach has a different kind of operating system suited to his particular evolutionary history.

Which is besides the point. You are arguing that they are true, so you need to do more than just demonstrate that they could be true.

Since it is premise 0 (Not even premise 1!) that is being questioned, it doesn’t matter how nice the rest of the argument is. I am asking you to support premise 0.

I also do not necessarily agree with this. I would say I live my life as if an external world exists because there is no other pragmatic way of existing that I can think of living. Speaking colloquially, I would even say I “believe” the external world exists. But if asked to demonstrate its existence by rigorous logical argument in a metaphysical discussion such as the present one, I cannot. So to that extent, it would not be entirely accurate to say I believe in its existence.

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Beliefs which we are justified in believing even in the absence of arguments for them. As I’ve already said. Basic refers to the fact that they aren’t arrived at by inference.

We accept a belief pragmatically when we treat it as true because it is useful to do so, not because we have any justification for thinking it is true. Such a belief does not constitute knowledge - it lacks the justification part. We accept a belief rationally when we have justification for it, and such a belief can constitute knowledge.

The proper basicality of a belief counts as intrinsic justification for it (though it can be countered by justification for its negation). The regress problem in epistemology demonstrates that some beliefs are properly basic in this way. Applied to moral epistemology, at least some moral intuitions are properly basic, or we have no moral knowledge at all.

And that’s enough of a crash course on my understanding of properly basic beliefs for now…

I’ve provided my reasoning for that inference elsewhere. I feel like you’ve already asked this, and I’ve already responded in the same way:

I do understand that your time is no less limited than mine, so if you don’t want to read my blog, that’s fine. But maybe instead of assuming that I’m “confusing subjectivity or contingency with falsehood”, you could consider that I may, in fact, have reasons for my claims that I haven’t taken the time to repeat here, though I’ve repeatedly alluded to them.

Now, this whole side conversation (about premise 0) is already a supporting point on a supporting point in the conservation - I laid out the moral argument by way of trying to explain how I arrive at my solution to Euthyphro, and why I see it as coherent. I’m going to try to steer the conversation back to Euthyphro shortly…

Totally false. Go back and read what I wrote under premise 7b.

Only vacuous if you have no idea what the terms are. It wasn’t my intention to say that this argument is meaningful if you have no idea of what moral perfection means, only that we don’t need to know the complete, precise definition for the argument to make sense. (I did not add in those qualifiers before, but I did talk about having a partial idea of what moral perfection means in the very next sentence…)

I simply don’t understand what you find problematic about this. Yes, our intuitions are not the standard. It follows that we do not have perfect knowledge of moral perfection. And…? Does this undercut my moral argument? My solution to the Euthyphro dilemma?

Keep in mind that how we know something and what makes something true (what grounds it in reality) are very often not the same thing.

I intend to get around to it. But I’d like to continue discussing Euthyphro first. As I’ve said, this objection relies on further premises, and is about the consistency of my solution to Euthyphro with other beliefs, not about the coherence of the solution itself.

Not at all! Why would it? Replace all mentions of “God” in my argument with the (far wordier) “a necessary being distinct from the natural world who is essentially morally perfect”. I give exactly the same support to the premises and I still believe the conclusion is true, regardless of further discussion about the identity of said being.

If you read earlier in the argument, I called it something like deism, and my applying that label was intended to be a helpful shorthand and nothing more. The actual definition of 6b is… get this… “One or more non-God supernatural entities distinct from the natural world”, and earlier statements in the argument make it clear that “God” refers to “a necessary being distinct from the natural world who is essentially morally perfect” and the the supernatural entity or entities referred to in 6b are concrete objects as opposed to abstract objects.

The negation of a conjunction is the disjunction of the negations. If God is “a necessary being distinct from the natural world who is essentially morally perfect”, then a being that is not God is any being that is either not necessary, or not essentially morally perfect, or not distinct from the natural world (with “or” understood inclusively, and where, for greater clarity, “necessary” means “necessarily existent”, as in “not possibly non-existent”).

All I see - if naturalism is true - is matter moving around. Some of it makes noises.

For some areas of truth, that is true. For others - debatable. I’d go back to talking about properly basic beliefs, rational intuitions, the foundations of our beliefs structures, and so on, but I’m tired of epistemology.

Now back to Euthyphro! Actually I’m out of time for now. I will comment again later.

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Well, now. Those are two different things. Just because a belief isn’t arrived at by inference doesn’t mean we’re justified in believing it. Intuitions are frequently wrong. Which one of those two things does “basic” mean?

That would include our beliefs about the existence of a reality corresponding to our senses, wouldn’t it?


Again, why? Is this still true if we reject premise 0?

I’m willing to believe that you may, but I’m certainly not going to consider those unexpressed reasons as an argument in favor of your pont.

Just not true. Our moral intuitions could exist for good empirical reasons having nothing to do with objective standards. They could, for example, make for a society that would function better, with benefit to its members, than a society without them.

I did. I don’t see that it satisfies the conditions I stated.

I’d say that it’s vacuous if you have no satisfactory, clear idea what the terms are. If your vague idea of moral perfection is merely that it satisfies our intuitions, that’s not good enough to support a point, and I believe it destroys your point, as it sets an external standard.

Yes, absolutely.

I’m not sure what “grounds it in reality” means, if it isn’t a reason for believing that it’s true. If God acting in a way that fits our intuition is a reason for believing he he’s perfectly good, isn’t him acting in a way the doesn’t fit a reason for believing he isn’t?

Why are those three things necessarily conjoined? And of course if that’s the definition of God, then God is morally perfect by definition. We still have no reason to believe that this entity, whatever name you give it, is morally perfect.

Is a 6b entity necessary? Perhaps a flow chart would explain this better.

Some of that matter is people. Do you really think that if naturalism is true there can be no morality? Is your religion all that keeps you from casually murdering strangers? I find this view incomprehensible, but I’m very glad that such people are religious.

You appear to be able to tell the difference, but I can’t see how.

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A post was merged into an existing topic: Pragmatic vs Rational Beliefs

A post was merged into an existing topic: Pragmatic vs Rational Beliefs

Now back to Euthyphro! (Sorry it took so long.)

Analogy time. @Faizal_Ali brought up the prototype meter in the other thread, so I’ll run with that. (There’s an obvious point of disanalogy that I’ll discuss shortly, so please don’t start responding before reading the whole thing. Also, you’ll have to pretend this is a world where they haven’t updated the SI unit of length to be based on c yet.)

Let’s say we have a few metal bars in various metrology labs in whatever society we are a part of, and we use them to make meter sticks. Problem is, they don’t agree with each other. Realizing the very concept of a meter requires that it is something that everyone has to agree on, we go about trying to find the correct standard for the meter. We trace down calibration certificates (or whatever), and eventually we find the bar that was used as the original prototype meter, locked in a vault somewhere.

The metrologists now say: aha! This is the correct standard for the meter! (We had forgotten about, haha, oops.) Anything that has the length of this bar is one meter long. Some of the bars that we have match it more closely and others less closely, and we set about adjusting the ones that are out of spec.

But no, someone comes along to say. A bar whose very length constitutes one meter, just isn’t coherent. It renders the concept of a meter circular. We know it’s a meter long because it because it is the prototype meter, and the prototype meter is a meter long. How do we know? Because it is the prototype meter.

And again, he says. What you have there is just an arbitrary rule. It’s just defining a meter as “the length of that bar”. But how can we say that bar is one meter long, unless we have a standard by which to judge its length?

Okay, first: the obvious disanalogy. The prototype meter is arbitrary. We could have just as easily picked any other length of dimensionally-stable metal and called it our unit of length instead.

God, on the other hand, is not arbitrary. He is the center of reality and the cause of existence of everything beside himself. Moreover, his character is not contingent, and thus, it is not possible for the objective standard of morality grounded in his character to be different than it actually is.

Now, it doesn’t actually matter at this point if the person raising the Euthyphro objection thinks there’s no reason to believe that God exists, or that his character is necessary, or any of that. Euthyphro is supposed to demonstrate an internal incoherence in the way the theist proposes grounding objective morality in God. So what matters is how the theist is proposing to do so.

And the way the theist proposes to do so is to say that goodness is grounded in God’s character. The horns of the original Euthyphro dilemma are either:

  1. What is good is so because God wills it, or
  2. God wills what he does because it is good.

The problem with (1) is that it makes goodness arbitrary, since God could will whatever. The problem with (2) is that it means goodness is something independent from God, so that God is not the ultimate reality after all. But by saying that goodness is grounded in God’s character, the theist avoids both these problems. Goodness is not independent of God, but neither is it arbitrary because his character is what it is necessarily.

Here is the point of analogy that I want to emphasize:

The discovery of the prototype meter in this little story did not suddenly remove everyone’s knowledge of what a meter is. It did not make the concept of a meter circular or vacuous. The man on the street still knows what a meter is: it’s roughly yea long, he might say, and he’d be right. His knowledge of a meter comes from the meter sticks he’s used, manufactured using the imperfect (but still approximately correct) bars that were in use at the start of the story. At the same time, it would be silly to say that he needs to grab one of his meters sticks to go measure the prototype meter before he can accept that a meter really is the length of that particular bar. If he does that, and finds they don’t match, what needs correcting is his meter stick.

In the same way, a philosopher or theologian claiming (perhaps because of an argument like the moral argument I laid out in this thread) that what actually defines goodness is what God would do, doesn’t make the concept of goodness circular or vacuous. We still have our moral intuitions to give us imperfect knowledge of what goodness is. (And our moral intuitions are approximately correct - at least in the broad strokes, because God put them there, yet they can go wrong because of sin or faulty reasoning, etc.) Yet, we don’t need to verify that God would only do good (as determined by our moral intuitions) as a precondition for accepting this theistic metaethical theory. And if we do compare our moral intuitions to God’s character - assuming we have the correct information about God’s character - it is our moral intuitions that need adjustment when they don’t agree.

(There are, of course, nuances here. Such as God is not a human being, which is why in an earlier post I said something to the effect of “goodness is what a person with God’s character would do” rather than merely “goodness is what God would do”. But I digress.)

TL;DR I have here a perfectly good resolution to the Euthyphro dilemma. :wink:

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We might as well reason as follows: since we can only perceive the world through our mind, we cannot assert that the world exists apart from our mind. In fact, you say something like that at the end of your post. I think that’s patently absurd, no offense, and that should be a clue to go back and consider that you might have taken a wrong turn. Be skeptical of your skepticism.

I actually don’t think that is conceivable. As in, I literally think it is impossible to conceive of those things (with the sole exception of the non-existence of the external world). You might decline to consciously entertain the fact of your existence, but you cannot have a coherent concept of your own non-existence as a subject while simultaneously being the subject of an illusion of your own existence as a subject. Similarly for logic and even, I believe, for causation.

I am not arguing that they are true on the basis that they might be true. I am not, strictly speaking, arguing that they are true at all. I am saying that I know they they are true in a properly basic way, and defending the reasonableness of that claim. (And I think you can know that they are true, too, and in the same way. Just takes some consideration of the nature and content of those moral intuitions.)

“Basic” refers to what I said it refers to. “Properly basic” also refers to what I said it refers to. I’m not just throwing that extra word in there to be verbose.

Yes and no. Beliefs formed through sense perception are properly basic and so are accepted rationally. They can also be accepted on a pragmatic basis at the same time. But in my previous comment I was intending to talk about beliefs that are accepted only on a pragmatic basis. So mostly no.

By definition. Or because that’s how an epistemological theory including properly basic beliefs works. (The regress problem in epistemology supports such an epistemological theory… somewhat in the same way that the moral argument supports the theistic metaethical theory.)

You can’t get a normative conclusion out of an argument containing wholly non-normative premises. (See: naturalistic fallacy. This claim is contested, but the only successful contender that I can see is of the Aristotelian-Scholastic variety, and doesn’t think much of Euthyphro either.) If we have some item of moral knowledge, it is a normative conclusion, because morality is normative. Hence we arrived at it via an argument that included a normative premise among our knowledge. But no human has time to think through an infinite chain of arguments, so there has to have been a normative premise among our knowledge that wasn’t arrived at through argument, hence properly basic.

And yes, still true if you reject premise 0.

… its great that our moral intuitions would be useful and all, but notice that useful is not the same as true. My point stands.

You said (emphasis added):

And what I said in 7b was (again, emphasis added):

Now, just in case anyone missed that… “Either A or B” means: “only A” or “only B” or both. So I wonder if you actually did go back and read 7b.

I even answered your follow-up questions on why both necessity and moral perfection are required, so it should have been quite obvious that I did consider a being lacking only one.

Why not?

How does it set an external standard? Referring to analogy in my other post - does the man-on-the-street’s vague idea of a meter set an external standard on the prototype meter? Does his vague idea prevent him from recognizing the concept of a meter as defined by the prototype meter?

How? Do tell.

A dinosaur dies and leaves some fossils fragments. From those fossil fragments, we infer things about it, like that it had a certain height when it was alive. The fossil fragments are our reasons for believing those facts. But the thing that grounds those facts in reality is the dinosaur.

The idea here is that reality isn’t constituted by our knowledge of it. It’s why your objection “how can we say that what God would do is good, unless we have some standard of goodness by which to judge his character?” is off the mark.

More like, because I know it is wrong to casually murder strangers, I infer that naturalism is false. I find your view inconsistent, but I’m very glad you maintain that inconsistency in favour of your moral intuitions rather than your poorly-justified metaphysical view.

Copying @Faizal’s question back over here to the thread on which it was originally posted to keep the context, and because it could be an interesting point to address here, as well


Exactly. What is the problem with that?

Again, that is exactly the point. It is inconceivable, just as it is inconceivable for a Mac computer to run Windows. My position is that it is a possibility that these aspects of how we experience the world are a reflection of the properties of our mind, rather than of the world.

It’s a weird thought, I agree, but I do not see how it is any less plausible than the belief that all of material reality including causation, and space-time is somehow “grounded” in some person who is immaterial, uncaused and unextended in space and time. I’ve never heard anyone even try to explain how that is supposed to work.

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No, that is not a disanalogy. That is, in fact, the very crux of the analogy.

That’s a bit of sleight of hand there. I am not saying that God is arbitrary. Rather, I am pointing out that defining morality in terms of God’s character is arbitrary.

And your response does nothing to dispel this. All you did is describe a bunch of other properties you attribute to your God that are extraneous to its serving as the standard of morality. It’s the equivalent of saying , "No, setting this bar as the standard of morality is not arbitrary. The bar weighs 20 kg. It’s silver gray in colour. It’s rectangular. Therefore there is nothing arbitrary about designating its length as the standard of a meter.

The dilemma remains unresolved.

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No problem for me. You’re the one admitting that you don’t know the world exists, you don’t know if reality operates according to the laws of logic and cause and effect, and you don’t even know if you exist. It makes one wonder if we should trust your epistemic judgement, however.

You appear to be contradicting yourself.

And I’m saying that you are incorrect about this. Because those other attributes are not extraneous to God being the standard of morality. His necessary existence and being the cause of all other reality implies, for example, that he is uniquely necessary and thus the only possible candidate for being the standard of morality (which, as I argued, must be necessary). And there are a number of other reasons as well, though that gets into philosophical discussions that I don’t yet feel prepared to wade into. Could point you in the direct of other writers on that subject, though.

So let’s be clear here: I am suggesting all of those things are properly basic beliefs. I thought we had agreed properly basic beliefs cannot be demonstrated to be true. If that is the case, and you are now thinking it somehow discredits my position to hold that these are PBB’s, then your argument must simillarly be undermined by your claiming “moral intuitions” are PBB’s.

Not if you read those sentence fragments in context, I believe. But if you are still confused I am happy to clarify.

Still a non-sequitur. Being the “cause of all reality” does not entail that one is moral, never mind that one is the only possible standard of morality.

And since it has yet to be established that any such standard is necessary (no matter how hard you have tried to argue this) it doesn’t even matter.

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You appear to still have different ideas about properly basic beliefs than I do. You indicated agreement with me that, by your reasoning, you cannot assert that the world exists outside of your mind. To me, this means you are claiming you do not know that the world exists outside of your mind.

Whereas I would say I do know that the world exists outside my mind. I know it in a properly basic way, but the fact that I cannot logically demonstrate it to a determined skeptic does not prevent it from being among the most certain propositions of my knowledge.

You are saying something like “it is conceivable that we could be wrong about these things, even though we can’t conceive of what that would be like”. Generically speaking, we can conceive of being wrong. But to conceive of being wrong in those ways specifically would require conceiving what you specifically say is not conceivable.

I don’t think we have any reason to believe that we are wrong in those ways. But even if we did, those reasons would likely be self-undermining - they would imply that we can’t even conceive of what reality is like, and so we wouldn’t actually have any idea if the reasoning we used to get to that point reflected reality after all. But that’s a wide digression.

I’ll grant that it doesn’t follow strictly from the meaning of “necessary being” or “cause of existence of everything outside himself”. But there’s a long tradition of philosophical arguments that moral perfection actually does follow from necessary existence, given other metaphysical premises which are themselves supported by arguments. (See Ed Feser’s book “Five Proofs for the Existence of God”; I could look up the specific chapter if you’re interested.) And there’s other arguments that the idea of an “evil God” (a necessary being but without moral perfection) doesn’t actually make sense, or is an ad-hoc hypothesis compared to the traditional theistic claim. I’m sure you’d find something you could disagree with in those arguments, but they show that the theist isn’t making the connection baselessly.

Even without those arguments, however, I’m not sure this is a problem. It would be a problem if God’s character could be different. I would totally agree with the charge of arbitrariness if that were the case. But it isn’t - God’s character can’t be different than it actually is. So as long as we have some independent reason for thinking that God actually is morally perfect if he exists, then we can infer that necessary existence and moral perfection are necessarily co-instantiated, even if we can’t explain why.

I think we do have such reason - coming from our partial knowledge of moral perfection via our moral intuitions, compared against the way God has revealed himself in the world. And I think there is enough beauty and goodness in creation, and especially in the character of God revealed in Jesus, to make that inference plausible. (Though, of course, the other arguments help.)

(Yes, that does mean that clashes between our moral intuitions and the way God has revealed himself in the world need to be weighed as well. So, I guess such objections are not quite as independent from the Euthyphro dilemma as I was arguing earlier in this thread.)

I don’t think I’ve actually tried to argue this. The argument isn’t hard, though:

Interlocutor 1: “do you think it is possible for (insert moral atrocity here) to be morally permissible?”

Interlocutor 2: “no, I don’t think that is even possible to be permissible.”

Interlocutor 1: “congratulations, you believe that there is a necessary standard for morality.”

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Could you please point the readers to some of these arguments?

Are they separate from, or do those arguments relate to your later statement that:

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Then that is the nature of our disagreement. Your claim that my position is undermined because I’m “the one admitting that (I) don’t know the world exists” misses the mark, because by the same standard you do not know that moral values exist.

Just to make our difference explicit, where you say “The fact that I cannot logically demonstrate it to a determined skeptic does not prevent it from being among the most certain propositions of my knowledge,” I would say “The fact that I cannot logically demonstrate it to a determined skeptic does not prevent it from being among the most indispensible propositions of my knowledge.”

I don’t see why that is the case.

To extend my earlier analogy: I know that the icons on the monitor of my Windows computer are only representations of the actual processes occurring in computer itself. Even so, it is inconceivable to me how I could use my computer other than thru its operating system and the icons it produces on the screen. I can’t directly influence the states of each of the microprocessors in the CPU so that the computer performs the task I want it to. (I’m not sure if that statement even makes sense in terms of how computers operate, but hopefully the point is made.)

There’s also a long tradition of philosophers saying that’s a load of bollocks, so you need a better argument than this, sorry.

And even if the the bar that defines a metre was made of indestructible and unalterable material such that its length could never be other than exactly what it is, that would not change the fact that using it as the standard is completely arbitrary.

And if I was interlocutor 2, I would answer “Sure. Why not?”

So your argument fails.

TBH, it appears to me you are smuggling in a number of assumptions that could taken as given if you were discussing with people who already accept Christianity are only disagreeing on the fine details of how the religion relates to moral epistemology and ontology. But that’s not the case here, so you are going to have to support many of the claims on which your argument rests and which have not yet been demonstrated to be true.

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Would you please clarify: Aren’t there certain atrocities that you would find morally impermissible, such as the holocaust or torture?

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