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Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Euthyphro Argument: A Philosophical Dinosaur

Available on the Nishma web site

9 comments:

  1. I wrote about the Euthyphro Dilemma on my own blog. Like R' Averick, my own resolution also focused on the idea that Plato presented a false dichotomy. There is a third option, something that is neither arbitrary nor compelled by a pre-existing morality (thereby implying that G-d is subject to something, i.e. that morality). R' Averick's third option is G-d's own Essence, thereby defining morality as making His "Image" manifest in ourselves. My own suggestion was that the third option is His Purpose for creating us. This in itself might be unknowable, but then, so is His Essence. The difference is subtle, since He made man for some purpose that is best served by making us in His Image, in a manner in which we can make that Image ever closer (or G-d forbid further) from the Original. Thus, to be one is to be the other. My preference is for a couple of reasons: 1- It allows me to give the word "tov" (good) a single meaning, whether we're talking about a good pen or a good person. A good pen is one that writes well, that is good at its intended function. A good person is moral, which is also being good at its intended function. (This being Judaism, it's more critical to me that the same can be said of "tov" in Biblical Hebrew.) 2- If morality means "in the image of G-d", ascribing morality to G-d then becomes vacuous -- He is what He is. However, if it means "doing what He made us for" we are saying that everything G-d does is purposive, to serve His Ultimate Purpose. 3- (And by far the weakest:) It also fits a very modern notion of reward and punishment. Not so much that sin is punished by that by definition, sin is that which doesn't fit your function and thus minimizes your gain.

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  2. moe.david@hotmail.comNovember 17, 2010 at 7:03 AM

    What do you mean when you say ascribing morality to Gd is vacuous? I dont understand why you would want to ascribe "morality" to Gd, in the context of this discussion.

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  3. If G-d's actions are termed "moral", but moral means "in accordance with G-d as He is" then saying that G-d's actions are moral reduces to "G-d behaves in accordance with G-d." Circular.

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  4. moe.david@hotmail.comNovember 17, 2010 at 7:05 AM

    this is really a response to what micha berger wrote: forgive me if I did not understand what you wrote. If good means fulfilling Gds purpose, it seems we are stuck at the same question; Is Gds purpose arbitrary, or is it real? If it is real, then what is it? If the purpose is anything other than Gd himself, the purpose is separate from Gd, and the euthyphro dilemma stands. Again, if my question is based on a misunderstanding of what you said, please explain
    Moshe Averick

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  5. G-d's purpose obviously would therefore come from His Essence, everything has to lead back to that. But I'm not defining morality directly as imitating Him. I stated some reasons why in the previous post. (Which would have been more readable if this forum allowed paragraphing.) In addition, we don't know His Essence, we know How He shows Himself to us. Which eliminates the power of your answer. Second, we don't always imitate G-d; murder is immoral, but natural death is common. The fact that G-d kills doesn't mean we can. And last, my answer obviates the need of asking and answering "Wh follow G-d? If the creator was an infinite but evil [as we now understand the term, one who would say 'thou shalt slowly torture to death'] deity, would I be compelled to follow?" I would argue that if any of our actions have meaning, it's because we are significant creatures. So, either our purpose for being here is morally significant, or our actions have no moral import and our moral decisions pointless anyway.

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  6. I just wanted to add a note regarding the various previous discussions. There would seem to be a disagreement in the literature as to whether the ultimate goal of Torah is dveikut which reflects a relationship with God or whether this goal is shlaimut, a level of perfection which reflects the idea of emulating God. Of course, in theological terms both views are open to challenge for is there really a possibility of relating to or emulating that which is Incomprehensible. That argument though usually leads to religious nihilism. In a certain way, this argument has again emerged within this discussion with both sides also dealing with the issue of defining God. The key point is that by tying the idea of morality to God we avoid the problem of euthphro and gain a greater understanding of the essence of morality even as we still face the philososphical problem of defining God. Morality only works within a theistic system because it only has a possibility of meaning and defintion wuth a recognition that it inherently ties to God

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  7. I thought of another reason to look to purpose... (Or, to state it in a sound-bite of philosophical jargon: eschatology determines axiology.) When speaking of free will, one is also left in a middle ground between being externally determined and random. And there the issue is whether people are capablr of purposive behavior. If they are indeed the same question -- one with regard to Divine Will, the other with regard to human will, one resolution should be "in the image" of the other. But I would agree with R' Hecht and go further - morality only has meaning in a system in which there is a single purposive Creator.

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  8. I would argue (as per R' Saadia Gaon and the Ramchal, and probably many in between in both historical and hashkafic diversity) that man's purpose is to perfect his ability to receive Hashem's good. The question then becomes whether the job G-d left to us is more like making sure the cup is under the faucet (deveiqus), or more like making sure it has an adequate mouth and no holes (sheleimus).(PS: Much of what I'm saying in this discussion is already on my blog.)

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  9. That is an interesting way of putting the distinction. I see it a bit differently. I see the shlaimus model as defining Hashem's good in terms of the intrinsic development of the person. IOW, as someone grows and becomes more shalem, by definition, he intrinsically receives a greater good through the intrinsic change in his/her being. I see the dveikus model and more involving the relationship and including the idea of receiving the good from an external source. As one comes closer to Hashem, one is able to receive the good in a better way. As such, I would agree with you in regard to the analogy to the cup in defining the dveikus model. I, though, also see the cup model you have for shlaimus as also being a dveikus model -- the good is received from Hashem in relationship terms. I think that the shlaimus model, though, defines the very becoming of a better cup as intrinsically the reception of a greater good.

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