A discourse on Euthyphro

Since this exchange concerning the classic dialogue took place on Chad Orzel’s blog more than four years ago, a lot of you never had the chance to read it.  I think it’s worth posting here in its entirety because it is very nearly a textbook example of the way half-educated midwits who can’t believe they are not smarter than their intellectual superiors behave.  Notice how at every step along the way, there are repeated attempts to disengage, attempts to avoid having to support the naked assertions without recanting them, pointless passive-aggressive shots, and in general, a consistent effort avoid dealing with the actual subject at hand.  And, in the end, the hapless midwit simply runs away, still clinging to his now-exposed assertions, appealing to others in the hopes that they will pat him on the head and tell him that he is still a smart and good boy.

This behavior is quite typical when dealing with the moderately intelligent.  They are so accustomed to being superior that they literally cannot grasp the idea that the thinking of the highly intelligent is as far beyond them as they are beyond those they regard as ignorant mouth-breathers.  Anyone who disagrees with them must be stupid and a bad thinker; the possibility that they are in over their heads despite their ability to even follow, much less address, the salient points genuinely does not occur to them.  This particular discourse began with a throwaway comment by one Jasper in reference to The Irrational Atheist.

[T]here’s no reason not to allow him to continue to maintain those
particular beliefs – although not necessarily the beliefs in the book
itself, most of which are a little sad, insofar as he genuinely appears
to think that he’s resolved the Euthyphro dilemma. (A clue: he hasn’t.)

As usual, nothing but safely general comments… because you can’t make
the specific case. Regarding Euthyphro, you’re about the 20th atheist
to claim this. And yet, every time I ask the person to explain
precisely how my resolution of the dilemma on either Christian or
Socrates’s own terms is mistaken, they fall silent. Every single time.
So, by all means, Jasper, please show how my resolutions of it are
flawed, as I always like to improve my arguments. Post your critique on
my blog or email it to me, I’ll post it in its entirety and we’ll see
how valid it is.

In seeking to resolve the dilemma, you state that At first
glance, this looks easy enough, as simply substituting “obedience” for
“the pious” will destroy the dilemma because it eliminates the tautology
posed. One can’t do this since it’s not right to simply substitute
whatever terms one likes and declare the problem solved.
Later in the argument, you then say: At
this point we can reach three conclusions: 1. The Euthyphro “dilemma”
is defeated by shifting the focus from “the pious” to “obedience,”
therefore it is an inappropriate criticism of Christian morality that is
founded on obedience to God’s Will.
So this point is based on you doing something that you have previously declared is not allowed.

You also state that it can only be considered a genuine problem
for those who insist that a fixed principle cannot be arbitrary. In
other words, for those paying absolutely no attention to reality. There
are a panoply of fixed variables which, if they were different than they
are, would radically alter the reality of our universe.
Here you
conflate moral principles with physical variables; but they are not the
same, and consequently this point is irrelevant.

You finally state that The section about disagreement between gods
regarding the pious and impious does not apply to a monotheistic god or
a Supreme God who rules over other, lesser gods and deines their
morality for them.
Socrates and Euthyphro agree in the course of the dialogue to discuss that “what all the gods love is pious and holy, and the opposite which they all hate, impious” – in all respects, a situation identical to being under a monotheistic god. So this point is irrelevant.

The rest of your refutation rests on a misunderstanding of what
actually constitutes the Euthyphro dilemma. You focus obsessively on a
literal translation of the language, rather than attempting to
understand the underlying argument. In modern terms, this is phrased as:
Is something moral because god commands it, or does god command it
because it is moral? You simply don’t address this at all in your
supposed refutation, as far as I can see; I may be missing the point
entirely, but in that case you have not managed to convey your argument
well. You may then say that you are not prepared to compromise your
writing in order to make yourself understood; but then why did you
bother to write in the first place?

Jasper, thank you very much for presenting your response to my critique
of the Euthyphro “Dilemma”. In summary, yes, you did miss the point, in
fact, you managed to successfully miss the point on all four issues you
raised. As promised, I will explain this in whatever detail is
necessary on the blog tomorrow, so please consider stopping by.

Vox: if that’s the case, I’ll withdraw my points, so there’s no need to
post them on your blog. Since you accuse nearly everybody that disagrees
with you of missing the point, your only problem is that you appear to
be unable to communicate fairly simple points, which I would have
thought was a pretty crippling problem for a writer.

Incidentally, why are you not prepared to address my response on this blog? It’s all very Sun Tzu, but a little bit childish.

“Vox: if that’s the case, I’ll withdraw my points, so there’s no need to post them on your blog.”

Please tell me you’re kidding. You don’t seriously expect me to
believe that you’re willing to just take my word that your critique is
flawed after you’ve informed us how my arguments are mostly sad and my
Euthyphro refutation is a failure?

“Since you accuse nearly everybody that disagrees with you of
missing the point, your only problem is that you appear to be unable to
communicate fairly simple points, which I would have thought was a
pretty crippling problem for a writer.”

I don’t accuse anyone of anything I can’t demonstrate. I don’t
pretend to be a particularly good writer, so fortunately, it’s merely a
pasttime. Perhaps if I really concentrate and write really well, I’ll
be able to demonstrate why the Euthyphro refutations are solid.

“Incidentally, why are you not prepared to address my response on this blog? It’s all very Sun Tzu, but a little bit childish.”

I’ll post it here too if you like. I just assumed that no one would
see it if I post it here tomorrow.

You didn’t say that my critique was flawed, you said that I’d
completely missed the point of your argument. If I’ve missed the point
of your argument, that means that my critique is not of your argument.
Nobody knows your argument better than you, so why wouldn’t I take your
word on it?

Since we’ve already established that you can’t convey relatively
simple points, why on earth do you think you’re “demonstration” will be
any more comprehensible than your original text? There are two
possibilities here – either you’re a poor thinker or a poor writer –
but in either case, why would anybody read your work?

“In seeking to resolve the dilemma, you state that “At first
glance, this looks easy enough, as simply substituting “obedience” for
“the pious” will destroy the dilemma because it eliminates the tautology
posed. One can’t do this since it’s not right to simply substitute
whatever terms one likes and declare the problem solved.” Later in the
argument, you then say: “At this point we can reach three conclusions:
1. The Euthyphro “dilemma” is defeated by shifting the focus from “the
pious” to “obedience,” therefore it is an inappropriate criticism of
Christian morality that is founded on obedience to God’s Will.” So this
point is based on you doing something that you have previously declared
is not allowed.”

You’re skipping over the extremely relevant section wherein I
distinguish between refuting the Euthyphro dilemma on its own terms and
refuting its mistaken application to Christian morality because the
definition of that morality precludes the second horn of the dilemma.
Ergo, no tautology and no dilemma. One cannot simply change Socrates’s
definitions and claim to be attacking the dilemma on its own terms,
while on the other hand, one cannot apply the dilemma to a specific morality such as the Christian moral standard without
first changing those definitions.

“You also state that it can only be considered a genuine problem
for those who insist that a fixed principle cannot be arbitrary. In
other words, for those paying absolutely no attention to reality. There
are a panoply of fixed variables which, if they were different than they
are, would radically alter the reality of our universe. Here you
conflate moral principles with physical variables; but they are not the
same, and consequently this point is irrelevant.”

Conflate? Combine into one? Not at all. You’re forgetting the
rather obvious fact that whereas the necessary physical variables of
this universe are fixed, moral principles vary even within it.
Therefore, it is a massive logical error on multiple levels to assume
that in the universe next door, moral principles must be the same as
they are in this universe, while physical variables are assumed to be
different. In fact, given the competing moral principles currently on
offer in this universe, one couldn’t possibly even say which of them
must be the fixed ones next door.

“You finally state that The section about disagreement between gods
regarding the pious and impious does not apply to a monotheistic god or
a Supreme God who rules over other, lesser gods and deines their
morality for them. Socrates and Euthyphro agree in the course of the
dialogue to discuss that “what all the gods love is pious and holy, and
the opposite which they all hate, impious” – in all respects, a
situation identical to being under a monotheistic god. So this point is
irrelevant.”

You’re incorrect. If you read the dialogue more closely, you will
see that the situations are not identical because in the one case, the
net result of “what all the gods love” is a drastically restricted set of
polytheistic divine preferences reduced to the lowest common denominator,
whereas in the monotheistic case, the preferences are singular and exercised in full.
For example, Athena’s love for Athens would have to be excised in the former
case, but retained were she the sole god in the latter one.

“The rest of your refutation rests on a misunderstanding of what
actually constitutes the Euthyphro dilemma. You focus obsessively on a
literal translation of the language, rather than attempting to
understand the underlying argument. In modern terms, this is phrased as:
Is something moral because god commands it, or does god command it
because it is moral? You simply don’t address this at all in your
supposed refutation, as far as I can see; I may be missing the point
entirely, but in that case you have not managed to convey your argument
well.”

This is a false statement based on intellectual laziness. There is
no “underlying argument”, Socrates makes a specific and detailed
argument which contains various assertions and assumptions along the way, and as I
have shown, some of them are not logically justifiable. Now, if you want an
answer to what you describe as the modern terms, it is that something
is moral because god commands it. God’s game, god’s rules. Now, you
can still argue that God doesn’t exist or that his rules are imperfectly
understood by Man, but that’s a tangential subject that cannot be
reasonably used to defend the dilemma.

I think we’ll have a problem with continuing the dialogue. It seems
fairly clear that – whether I have missed your points or not – you
genuinely don’t understand either my comments or – more worryingly – the
Euthyphro dilemma itself.

For example, your response to my first point appears to be completely
unrelated to the point that I’ve actually made – which was that you
said “one could defeat it by doing X, but obviously one can’t do X” and
then later said “by doing X, I’ve defeated the argument.” On the
“drastically reduced” set of preferences – it’s irrelevant to the
discussion. If there’s only one thing on the menu of divine command, it
still poses exactly the same problem for theists. On the “variable
morals”: well, you’re the one arguing that there is in fact only one set
of fixed morals in this universe (your god’s) – and since some physical
variables in this universe do vary depending on context, it seems that
your point is defeated on both sides. To be brutally honest, though,
your writing is poor enough that it’s possible that even you’re not sure
what your argument is.

Euthyphro stands. If you honestly don’t see that, there isn’t really
anywhere for the discussion to go – we can just leave it here and other
readers can decide for themselves. 

If you want an answer to what you describe as the modern terms,
it is that something is moral because god commands it. God’s game, god’s
rules.

Quod Erat Demonstrandum! It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

 “I think we’ll have a problem with continuing the dialogue. It
seems fairly clear that – whether I have missed your points or not – you
genuinely don’t understand either my comments or – more worryingly –
the Euthyphro dilemma itself.”


Actually, Jasper, you omitted what has become the most obvious
conclusion, which is that you’re simply not very intelligent. The fact
that you are having trouble understanding this doesn’t mean everyone is.
But do keep making those little passive-aggressive statements, I’m
sure they’re very convincing.

“For example, your response to my first point appears to be
completely unrelated to the point that I’ve actually made – which was
that you said “one could defeat it by doing X, but obviously one can’t
do X” and then later said “by doing X, I’ve defeated the argument.””

It’s not unrelated and I didn’t write “by doing X, I’ve defeated the
argument”, I wrote “The Euthyphro “dilemma” is defeated by shifting the
focus from “the pious” to “obedience,” therefore it is an inappropriate
criticism of Christian morality that is founded on obedience to God’s
Will”. It is not only appropriate to amend the relevant terms in order
to correspond with a religion that differs from the original, it is
necessary. You are clearly having problems understanding the
distinction between refuting the dilemma on its own terms and explaining
why the dilemma can’t successfully be applied to Christian morality.
Christian morality != “the pious” or “what God loves”.

“On the “drastically reduced” set of preferences – it’s irrelevant
to the discussion. If there’s only one thing on the menu of divine
command, it still poses exactly the same problem for theists.”

No, it isn’t because the second horn of the dilemma depends upon
this “irrelevancy”. You clearly haven’t read the dialogue closely
enough. Socrates even admits that he is amending his original
definition because he has to narrow it so closely that all individual
preferences are removed in order to maintain the viability of his
argument. This is why the second horn could be a problem for
polytheists, (although it really shouldn’t, due to the bait-and-switch
on Socrates’s part), but it is no problem for monotheists or those who
worship one supreme God.

“On the “variable morals”: well, you’re the one arguing that there
is in fact only one set of fixed morals in this universe (your god’s) –
and since some physical variables in this universe do vary depending on
context, it seems that your point is defeated on both sides. To be
brutally honest, though, your writing is poor enough that it’s possible
that even you’re not sure what your argument is.”

You’re dancing to avoid the obvious. Physical constants are assumed
to vary from universe to universe. There is absolutely no logical
reason to declare that moral principles could not vary as well, whether
the Creator God is the same in both universes or not.

“Euthyphro stands…. Quod Erat Demonstrandum! It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.”

It doesn’t stand in either modern or Greek terms. Do you also find
William of Ockham’s logic to be funny and sad, given that he reached
precisely the same conclusion I did?

Where do you go with these kinds of discussions, when somebody misses
the point of a basic philosophical argument so completely – and defends
himself by accusing everybody who disagrees with him of missing the
point? I begin to see what you were getting at in your original post…

Perhaps, after reading this, one will better understand why I am so often forced to tell people that they are missing a relevant point. Now, perhaps it is because I am a bad thinker, or because I am a bad writer and my points are so often insufficiently clear. Or, alternatively, perhaps Most People Are Idiots.

I leave it to you to decide which explanation is more strongly supported by the documentary and scientific evidence.