Is there a way to believe that God is the source of morality without also having to believe that morality is arbitrary?

  • Obviously, theologians (i.e. the "scientists of the Divine") propose that morality comes from God. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 13 at 15:41
  • Wikipedia already gives a laundry list of solutions. Do you have some further conditions to narrow it down? – Conifold Feb 13 at 18:50
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA Thank you, but I was looking for the reasoning behind there desition. It would seem that if morality comes from God, then morality is arbitrary. – IsaiahM3337 Feb 15 at 14:33
  • @Conifold Thank you. I had read the Wikipedia article but left wanting. I do not have any further conditions. – IsaiahM3337 Feb 15 at 14:36
  • 2
    Could you try to describe what exactly left you wanting? It is hard to tell what you are looking for, and we try to make questions as specific as possible. You can look at the architectonics of categories, which are the more metaphysical takes on what categories of things exist by major philosophers of old. – Conifold Feb 15 at 14:42

The most handy solution that I know of is provided by William Lane Craig:

...does God will something because it is good, or is something good because God wills it? If the theist says that God wills something because it is good then the good is independent of God and, in fact then, moral values are not based in God. They are independent of him. On the other hand, if you say something is good because God wills it then that would seem to make what is good and evil arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good; then we would be morally obligated to hate one another, which seems crazy. Some moral values seem to be necessary, and therefore there would be no possible world in which hatred is good. So the claim is that this shows that morality cannot be based in God.

I think it is clearly a false dilemma because the alternatives are not of the form “A or not-A” which would be an inescapable dilemma. The alternatives are like “A or B.” In that case you can always add a third one, C, and escape the horns of the dilemma. I think in this case there is a third alternative which is to say that God wills something because he is good. That is to say, God himself is the paradigm of goodness, and his will reflects his character. God is by nature loving, kind, fair, impartial, generous, and so forth. Therefore, he could not have willed that, for example, hatred be good. That would be to contradict his very own nature.

So God's commands to us are not arbitrary, but neither are they based upon something independent of God. Rather, God himself is the paradigm of goodness.

  • I feel Craig is correct up to a point. His solution just shifts the problem back. He sees the false dilemma but then assumes God issues commands and has a Will as if He has needs and wants and must continually make correction to His Creation in order to achieve them. These ideas do not survive analysis. The Perennial view is expressed by Lao Tsu. The laws of Heaven and Earth would be as they are, 'Tao being what it is'. The principles of ethics and morality would follow from the nature of Reality and operate automatically according to inviolable laws. This completely solves the dilemma. . – PeterJ Feb 13 at 18:44
  • I upvoted this, but I think you can find it a LOT further back than Craig... – Chris Sunami Feb 13 at 19:07

If we follow the Neo-Platonic point of view, then the Euthyphro has an implicit solution, which is that God is the Good itself. If God is simultaneously the source and the measure of all goodness, the paradox disappears. This is arguably why the paradox is outlined in the Euthyphro in the first place, as a Socratic prompt to that conclusion.

It's worth noting, however, that this solution works better for an abstract, non-personified conception of God than for God as envisioned with concrete, specified traits. One of the charges against Socrates, as you may remember, is that he weakened the belief in the traditional Greek Pantheon of quarreling, anthropomorphic gods.

  • +1, good answer. In addition, I would say that this rules out polytheism, but that it doesn't rule out a singular personal God with the appropriate qualities. – elliot svensson Feb 13 at 19:09
  • @elliotsvensson Yes, actually I just added a note about how this doesn't really work for polytheism. I think there's room for argument about whether it does work or not with traditional monotheism. // Personally, this is my point of view, but as a matter of faith, rather than as an intellectually justified conclusion. – Chris Sunami Feb 13 at 19:13
  • Would you prefer if I removed my comment now that you've covered it? – elliot svensson Feb 13 at 19:14
  • @ChrisSunami I believe this only pushes the problem back. The question that would come next is, "Could God's characteristics have been different?" because that is what we are basing morality on and that is what the source of morality is. If God's characteristics could have been different, then the way they would have changed is the reason goodness is what it is. On the other hand, if God's characteristics could not have been different wouldn't that make morality arbitrary because his characteristics just happen to be what they are? – IsaiahM3337 Feb 15 at 14:11
  • @ChrisSunami I would also like to ask, when you said, "It's worth noting, however, that this solution works better for an abstract, non-personified conception of God than for God as envisioned with concrete, specified traits." could that be because the conversation has shifted from talking about God to talking about goodness itself? I am asking this because it seems like God without any concrete or specific traits except for the embodiment of goodness would be indistinguishable from goodness. – IsaiahM3337 Feb 15 at 14:25

Here's another suggestion, maybe not all together different than the William Lane Craig quote from elliot svensson.

God's nature grounds the truth of moral propositions (his nature is their "truthmaker", or that in virtue of which they are true) - they are therefore not independent of God, but at the same time they are not arbitrarily willed by God since they are absolutely true because of some objective and essential fact about him that God recognizes to be true.

So, if God commands us to refrain from acts of gratuitous harm, for example, it is because it is true that we ought not to commit such acts, and it is true because of some essential fact about his nature. There is no appeal to anything outside of God. Morality depends every bit on God as God's omnipotence or some other essential attribute of him. If God did not exist, neither would God's omnipotence, and neither would that which grounds the truth of moral propositions (and so there would be no true moral propositions). But it's not arbitrary, as God couldn't choose to not be the ground of moral propositions anymore than he could choose to be not omnipotent, or make 1 + 1 = 3.

  • What determined Gods nature? Wouldn't that be the ultimate source of morality? If nothing determined God's nature isn't that arbitrary? God's nature exists with no reason for it to be that way. God's nature seems like the universal constants which are arbitrary if there is not a creator. – IsaiahM3337 Mar 18 at 14:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.