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The Euthyphro Dilemma

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This series of short dialogues begins with Socrates conversing with young Euthyphro, a religious expert who is prosecuting his own father for murder. Since Socrates is charged of being impious and Euthyphro is an expert at what is and is not holy, a series of questioning ensues. Socrates asks for Euthyphro to define piety in such a way that it be universally true for all cultures at any time. This definition of piety will be the standard against which all actions can be measured to determine whether or not an action is holy. After a short series of questions and answers as to the definition of piety, Socrates finally asks Euthyphro if the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods. This is an intriguing question because the results lead to some surprising conclusions. Either anything can become pious because the gods wish it so or there is piety that exists independent of the gods.

Socrates is really asking if morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God. Both sides to this dilemma seem to undermine the omnipotence of God. This type of argument only seems to work for theists because I could deny the existence of God altogether. However, philosophers like E.O. Wilson suggest that morals do not come from God but are the result of biological processes like evolution and natural selection.



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