When I was a Muslim I believed God is the source of goodness.

When I quit, one of the most frequent questions that I think about and I couldn't find an answer for is

  1. If we say God is good, that means that the good is a separate concept from God and that even God follows goodness.


  1. If we say that God is the good, then isn't good completely subject to the will of God?

How has this conundrum been solved by various philosophers?

  • 1
    @A01001001 Please give first definitions how you use the terms "God" and "good". Otherwise answering your question would be just playing around with words, thanks.
    – Jo Wehler
    Mar 6, 2016 at 10:41
  • 1
    there is another option — that god transcends good (and evil)
    – nir
    Mar 6, 2016 at 12:30
  • As Jo suggests (viele Danke!), please clarify what you mean by "good" and "God" also please clarify the philosophical context you want to ask this is in -- and why you think it's a better fit for philosophy than say christianity.SE or hinduism.SE . There are several interesting questions about this -- many of which have already been asked and answered here on philosophy.SE, but potentially others that could be asked as well.
    – virmaior
    Mar 6, 2016 at 12:52
  • the definition from a religious/philosophical view of both of them, based on good and evil context. if there's any previous interesting questions about this, please mentioned them @virmaior
    – 0x0584
    Mar 6, 2016 at 13:26
  • First off, edit your question rather than reply in comments. Unfortunately, that doesn't make any sense. Hinduism and Christianity mean very different things by the term "God" and would not see the problem as identical. You should be able to find many similar questions by looking up God and good in the search function.
    – virmaior
    Mar 6, 2016 at 13:28

7 Answers 7


You are asking a very fundamental question. Its original formulation in the West was in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro in which Socrates asks Euthyphro:

Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (10a)

Consequently, that fork has received the name Euthyphro's dilemma. Is has been discussed throughout history, under the aspect of philosophical theology. See the link to the Wikipedia article above, for a survey of arguments and views on the subject.

Roughly speaking, there seem to be three main positions on the subject:
1. pagan/rationalist: the standard of the Good is separate from God. This was the view of Socrates and of Plato.
2. voluntarist: whatever God wills is the Good, even when His will is arbitrary.
3. essentialist: God and Good are one. God's essence is the essence of the Good. God's will flows from His essence, and cannot be arbitrary.

  • 1
    This is generally an excellent answer, but it's worth noting that Plato's actual position is quite ambiguous, especially when you take other dialogues into account, and that your #3 was essentially the position of Plato's "Neo-Platonist" followers, who took it to be hidden under Plato's work. If you follow their point of view, it's quite possible to read Euthyphro as a veiled critique of polytheistic paganism, rather than an endorsement of it. Mar 7, 2016 at 16:22

The most influential school of thought to hold that The Good is the same thing as God is Neoplatonism, a philosophical school founded by the Greco-Roman philosopher Plotinus, based on his interpretations of the work of Plato.

In Neoplatonism, all things are emanations of a single perfect entity consisting of the unity of all perfections --perfectly good, eternal and beautiful. Things are good because they partake in the essence of the One --there is no goodness apart from that essence.

Neoplatonism was highly influential on both Muslim and Christian theology, achieving a presence in official doctrine in the latter through the work of early Christian theologian Saint Augustine, and influencing the former through the Isma'ili movement.

  • 1
    thank you very much, you gave me some interesting subjects to search on.
    – 0x0584
    Mar 7, 2016 at 19:10

Matter and form; two separate words; however, in this world, the world we dwell in, matter never comes without form; and form never comes without matter... (Aristotle calls this hylomorphism 'from, hule - wood, timber; morphe, shape and form').

So, the world is there in its sturdiness, in its shapeliness...both at the same time - inseparable.

But when we refer to them by signs, that is words, we can separate them; this in Aristotles Categories, is called separation by definition; that is by defining or signifying them by words, signs or pictures, we can tease apart the signification in a way we can't with the thing signified.

And we can do this because the sign and the signified are always separated; and it's also separate from signification or signifying.

In Plato, the Good, is the highest good - the most perfect; we can say in Western monotheism it is not separable from our notion of what God is: where God is found, there goodness is found; where goodness is found - there is God.

Can God not be God ... is a sentence we can write, like other sentences ... like: can God not be Good; but this is to take one of the attributes of God and separate it from him, when the attribute is intrinsic or essential to him.

Our notion of the Good is only a shadow of real Good; like our notion of what God is only a shadow of the real God.

A stone is something you can pick up and hold in your hand; what then is a stone that cannot be held? The word 'stone' is not a stone, but merely sign of one, and by being a sign separable into its parts; you cannot take apart an actually existing stone in this way: a stone in virtue of its stoniness is something that can be picked up and held; how then, to separate a stone from its stoniness and to deny altogether the possibility of holding it?

Take a photo of a stone, or draw or paint one; and then erase it, leaving only the bare outline of one; the mere hint of a stone.

And then look at the really existing stone and do the same ... one could take a hammer to it; hammer it down to dust; so the question turns, revolves and turns away from this to another; which is merely the same under another guise - can you take away the dustiness from dust? Etc, etc, etc till:

  • Can you take matter away from matter?

  • Can you subtract from subtraction?

  • Can Logic be illogical?

So you can: in the imagination - the imagination being the theatre of the possible and impossible; for the world is, and what is cannot be otherwise in its thisness (haeiccity).

We can place God on a page and put him under erasure; likewise we can place the World on a page and place it too under erasure; but look up - away from what was erased: the world is still there - it shines forth - there it is, standing in its sway - the act of erasure was only to erase a word that you yourself wrote; the word is not the world but merely refers to it; it's not the first word, but merely your word; likewise with God, and the signs (ayat) of God and the signs of the signs of God - ie the letters, words, sentences, pictures ...

It's worth noting that all this is in line with the third option outlined in @Tobolski's answer - the essentialist reading.


From the viewpoint of Christian theology the question has been discussed by Thomas Aquinas. In the following all references are from Summa Theologiae, Part I (highlighted by me)

Aquinas claims that God is good.

His arguments are embedded in the theological thinking of medieval religious philosophy, its premiss, and the accepted philosophical principles. Two of his main arguments:

I answer that, Every being, as being, is good. For all being, as being, has actuality and is in some way perfect; since every act implies some sort of perfection; and perfection implies desirability and goodness, as is clear from A. 1. Hence it follows that every being as such is good. (Q 5, Art.3)

I answer that, To be good belongs pre-eminently to God. For a thing is good according to its desirableness. Now everything seeks after its own perfection; and the perfection and form of an effect consist in a certain likeness to the agent, since every agent makes its like; and hence the agent itself is desirable and has the nature of good. For the very thing which is desirable in it is the participation of its likeness. Therefore, since God is the first effective cause of all things, it is manifest that the aspect of good and of desirableness belong to Him [...] (Q 6, Art. 1)

For the whole issue see also Reichenbach, Bruce: Why is God Good? The Journal of Religion, Vol. 60, No. 1 (Jan., 1980), pp. 51-66

Aside: I doubt that many Christians can be convinced by this kind of argumentation - not to mention non-Christians. For me the argumentation puts in doubt that the original question can be handled in a philosophical manner at all. Here we are beyond the limits of Christian philosophy.


God is consistently good. Others can be good some of the time, but non as consistently as God. God has his own free will and could choose to be not good, but always chooses to be good.

  • you finish you answer buy but always chooses to be good.; what about hell, is that a good? if yes, what's good in burning people just because they don't follow some certain rules?
    – 0x0584
    Mar 7, 2016 at 19:08
  • you don't need to believe it hell. not all religions have the same concept of hell.
    – kns98
    Mar 7, 2016 at 20:01
  • can you clarify more, i guess i didn't get you point well..
    – 0x0584
    Mar 7, 2016 at 23:39
  • 1
    my views on hell are kind of tangential to the original question, but if you must, I kind of believe that people create their own hell via their choices. also, people may not always make the correct decision, but if they are humble, God can help them to correct their mistakes. I really don't know if God has an 'eternal hell' planned for those who oppose him. I suppose he could just leave them to their own devices and let them die off on their own. But as I said, we don't really know all the details, just be good and believe in God and that is enough.
    – kns98
    Mar 8, 2016 at 17:38
  • yes, be good and you'll be OK , no matter what kind of God it is
    – 0x0584
    Mar 8, 2016 at 19:39

It's more a question of an 'objective morality.' The answer of which is moral relativism.

When you state "God is good," "God follows the good," and "God is the good," I think you are asking less about the lexical ambiguities present and more about objective axiological (moral) truths in general.

Religions attempt to provide an objective axiology, as outlined in their respective religious text. This concerns what behavior is morally right or wrong.

The truth is there are no objective moral truths, only the objective manner in which we each develop our own subjective moral truths. That is from birth, every wave of light to hit our eyes, every wave of sound to hit our ears, every force and particle to interact with our bodies have altered the molecular structure of our nervous systems, deriving the totality of our identities and what beliefs we hold. Our environments fundamentally sculpt who we are, some people's environment just so happens to contain religious indoctrination.

Think less about what is universally good, think more about what is good for you and good for others. Think less about belief validity, think more about broadening your understanding of the environmental contexts through which people form different beliefs: everything from what is beautiful, to what politics one has; from what is moral, to what one considers socially acceptable, etc.

You stated you were a Muslim, i.e., following unconditionally an "objective" array of morals; now you need to be a moral relativist, so you can fathom the unfathomable objective conditionality that exists within the human condition.


2 follows, but 1 follows partially. God follows goodness in the sense that He does what is good, but goodness itself is God. Goodness is, thus, determined by Him, but since He does not violate it (as He cannot deny Himself), He "follows" it. It is only partial because goodness is not separate from Him. The notion of that being arbitrary doesnt work because the very point is that God is goodness itself. It is like asking, without considering God, about why goodness is good. There is no arbitrariety in the standard of goodness dictating that which it dictates, and indeed, whatever conforms to that standard is good, what does not conform is not good. Just "switch" this standard to God, and voilá. Whatever God thinks is good, whatever disagrees with God is not good. Now, one might propose absurd conditionals: if God wanted rape to always be morally acceptable, would it be so? The answer is yes, although both the antecedent and the consequent are impossible. The same follows for this absurd conditional: if rape was objectively moral, would it be objectively moral? the conditional is true, despite both the antecedent and the consequent being false. (And impossible, indeed) Thus, "are good things good because God wills them, or does God will them because they are good" presents two options, both of which are technically true, and such that there is no logical inconsistency.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .