Euthyphro dilemma: contemporary interpretations

The relationship between religion and morality is a constant in the history of western thought. No wonder that this theme is also present in the analytic tradition. Here, it takes the more specific form of the relationship between theism and the foundation of the moral obligation which goes under the name of the Divine Command Theory (DCT). In the first part of this contribution the DCT will be taken into consideration and the principal arguments in favour and against it will be critically displayed. Scholars that discuss the DCT often refer themselves to the Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) appealing to the homonymous Plato’s dialogue. The aim of the second part of the paper (second and third paragraph) is to present the core of the ED and to evaluate its use. In particular I undertake to show how platonic is the ED interpreted in the light of the DCT. Finally the Wittgensteinian approach to the ED will be expound in order to demonstrate that this approach is the more qualified to promote an advance in the DCT because it changes the received tradition.

1. An historical introduction with a methodological hint

Anyhow the terms morality and religion are considered, they are closely linked over the history of Western philosophy long before the encounter between the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and Greek philosophy. It is even possible to refer to Homeric poems. In all of these the gods take pleasure, and in return they give honor to mortals in the form of help or assistance. There is a clear analogy with purely human client-relations, which are validated in the Homeric narrative. The gods and goddesses are not, however, completely at liberty. They too are accountable to fate or justice. This way of thinking became problematic with the diffusion of rational thought. The sophists, to whom Socrates responded, rejected this tie between human law and divine law and this was in part because of their expertise in rhetoric, by which they taught their students how to manipulate the deliberations of popular assemblies. The view of what this justice is, namely the interest of the stronger, is disputed by Plato. But the claim that justice operates at both the divine and human levels is common ground. Socrates in one of the early dialogues debates the nature of the holy with Euthyphro, who is a religious professional. Euthyphro is taking his own father to court for murder, and though ordinary Greek morality would condemn such an action as impiety, Euthyphro defends it on the basis that the gods behave in the same sort of way, according to the traditional stories. Socrates makes it clear that he does not believe these stories, because they attribute immorality to the gods.1 The dispute between Socrates and Euthyphro has informed the western philosophy in each century.2 At the beginning of the modern philosophy, both rationalism and empiricism led, in different ways, to the possibility of a greater detachment of ethics from theology. In particular, in Britain, Hume had a number of successors who accepted the view (which Hume took from Hutcheson) that our fundamental obligation is to work for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. William Paley thought he could demonstrate that morality derived from the will of God and required promoting the happiness of all, that happiness was the sum of pleasures, and that we need to believe that God is the final granter of happiness if we are to sustain motivation to do what we know we ought to do. Jeremy Bentham, on the other side, rejected this theological context. His grounds were radically empiricist and so do not include God. He thought he could provide a scientific calculus of pleasures. Discarding the theological context made moral motivation problematic, for why should we expect (without God) more units of pleasure for ourselves by contributing to the greater pleasure of others?

Thanks to problems as this one, the question about relationship between religion (better, divine authority)^[3] and morality reached the Nineteenth century analytic philosophy. The origin of analytic philosophy can be associated with Moore.3 His Principia Ethica can be regarded as the first major ethical document of the school. He was strongly influenced by Sidgwick at Cambridge, but he rejected Sidgwick’s negative views about intuitionism. He thought that intrinsic goodness was a real property of things, even though it does not exist in time and is not the object of sense experience. He explicitly aligned himself here with Plato and against the class of empiricist philosophers. His predecessors, Moore sustained, had almost all committed the error, which he called the naturalistic fallacy, i. e., trying to define this value property by identifying it with a non-evaluative property. For example, it makes sense to ask whether pleasure or the production of pleasure is good. This is true also if we propose a supernatural property to identify with goodness, for example the property of being commanded by God. It still makes sense to ask whether what God commands is good. This question cannot be the same as the question is what God commands what God commands? which is not still an open question. Moore thought that if these questions are different, then the two properties, goodness and being commanded by God, cannot be the same, and to say (by way of a definition) that they are the same is to commit the fallacy. It is interesting to note that in Principia Ethica the Euthyphro Dialogue is never quotes. Intrinsic goodness, Moore said, is a simple non-natural property (i. e., neither natural nor supernatural) and indefinable. He thought we had a special form of cognition that he called ‘intuition, ‘which gives us access to such properties. By this he meant that the access was not based on inference or argument, but was self-evident (though we could still get it wrong, just as we can with sense-perception). Even if Moore speaks about two different questions, in the following philosophy of religion and moral philosophy, they are considered on the same level and they are contrasted:

1) Is an act moral simply because God commands that we so act, or God so commands because such action is moral?4

The theory that God commands something because it’s moral is problematic because it means that God’s command is dictated by morality, which is contrary to the theological doctrine of the supreme authority of God. If God commands something because it’s moral, then something is moral because it has some defining quality. God must first determine what does, and doesn’t, possess this moral quality, and then command accordingly. Therefore, contrary to the theological conception of morality, what’s moral and immoral is independent of God’s will. So it must be the case that something is moral simply because God commands it. Indeed, if God instead first worked-out what was moral, and then commanded accordingly, then it might be expected that God would mention morality when making such commands, and there is no reference in the monotheistic revealed books to God doing so. However, if God’s command is instead used by us to define what’s moral and immoral, then it isn’t surprising that God doesn’t mention morality when commanding. This is the DCT.5 However, it also arouses concern, for it presents God as amoral (given that God isn’t guided by morality) and God’s command as arbitrary. God could have commanded, or failed to command, anything, and that thing would have then been, or not been, of moral significance, respectively. According to the DCT, nothing is intrinsically moral or immoral — for example, it’s only God’s forbidding of killing that makes killing immoral. To use Taliaferro’s formulation: L is morally right because God Command L & M is morally wrong because God prohibits M.6 Another way in which the DCT is contrary to our intuitions about morality is that it means that acting morally is simply about complying with a command to act in that way, rather than acting in that way as an end in itself. It might be countered that we obey God’s commands in order to act morally. But within this theory the term ‘moral’simply means in accordance with God’s commands. It seems, according to the DCT, that acting morally is simply about complying with the whims of an amoral dictator, which is far from the view of morality held by most people today.

This problem with the DCT may be resolved. It could be argued that concern over the potential arbitrariness of God’s command misses the point of both the DCT and the theory that morality determines God’s command. Both theories state that what is in accordance with God’s command is moral and what’s contrary to that command is immoral. Therefore, within either theory, any contrary views people have on what’s moral and immoral are both irrelevant and irreverent. Any believer with such concern over the nature of God’s command doesn’t have complete faith in God, because if they did, then they’d be wholly unquestioning of, and obedient to, God. Therefore, concern over arbitrary divine command would simply not arise for those who have the genuine faith in God required to be a true believer. Another reply to concern over the potential arbitrariness of God’s command is the follow. Given that God is, by nature, all-good, God wouldn’t have failed to give us moral commands. That is, while God’s command may not be explicitly determined by moral considerations, God nevertheless instinctively commands what’s good and forbids what’s bad. However, there are two serious problems with this argument. First, within the DCT, if God hadn’t forbidden killing, then killing wouldn’t be bad, and so God wouldn’t have failed to forbid something that’s bad. Similarly, if God hadn’t commanded helping those in need, then doing so wouldn’t be good, and so God wouldn’t have failed to command something that’s good. Second, God can’t actually be good or bad to any degree within this theory, never mind all-good. If being good or bad simply means, respectively, acting in accordance, or not, with God’s command, then only those who are the target of that command can be good or bad, which obviously excludes God. Within the alternative theory morality is above God, but within the DCT God is above morality. It’s often written that if God’s command defines goodness, then it’s a mere tautology to say that God is all-good. That is, grand statements of God’s all-goodness become empty. In fact, such statements aren’t even tautologies. Tautologies may be redundant expressions, but they at least make sense. However, for the above reason, no statements of God’s goodness make any sense within the DCT. Two changes are possible to produce a statement that, within the DCT, both makes sense and isn’t a tautology: What God commands is referred to as “good”. The first strategy is to consider the subject of the statement what God commands is good the content of God’s command, not the command itself. The second one is to use the word good is used simply as a label for an assessment, not as an assessment itself. That is, the statement is simply a definition of the assessing term ‘good’. The impossibility, within the DCT, of the goodness of God is a third problem with this theory. However, even if God can’t be described as all-good, God can still be all-loving, and therefore all-benevolent as God is currently believed to be. The terms ‘all-benevolent’and ‘all-good’are sometimes used interchangeably. But whereas ordinary morality concerns benevolence, benevolence doesn’t concern morality: it simply concerns acting in the interests of others at the expense of one’s own, whether or not such action is considered moral. The conclusion that God could still be all-loving, and therefore all-benevolent, if not all-good, actually resolves all of the above apparent problems with the DCT. In avoiding the objection that the DCT implies that morality is simply the product of God’s whim, the DCT has actually become the alternative theory, that morality is independent of God’s will. Before commanding, God must establish what is, and isn’t, in our overall best interests, and then command accordingly.

Recent development in analytic ethical theory has been a revival of DCT parallel to the revival of natural law theory. A pioneer in this revival was Philip Quinn7 who defended the theory against the usual objections: the first, deriving from Plato’s Euthyphro, that it makes morality arbitrary, and the second, deriving from a misunderstanding of Kant, that it is inconsistent with human autonomy. Quinn proposed that we understand the relation between God and moral rightness causally, rather than analyzing the terms of moral obligation as meaning “commanded by God”. Though we could stipulate such a definition, it would make it obscure how theists and non-theists could have genuine moral discussion, as they certainly seem to do. Adams first proposed to separate off the good (which he analyzes Platonically in terms of imitating the ultimate good, which is God) and the right. He then defends a DCT of the right by arguing that obligation is always obligation to someone, and God is the most appropriate person, given human limitations.8 Hare defends a version of the theory that derives from God’s sovereignty and defends the theory against the objection that obedience to divine command itself requires justification. He also compares Christian, Jewish and Muslim accounts of divine command.9 Carson10 argues that normative theory needs to be based on an account of rationality, and then proposes that a divine-preference account of rationality is superior to all the available alternatives. An objection to divine command theory is mounted by Murphy11 on the grounds that divine command only has authority over those persons that have submitted themselves to divine authority, but moral obligation has authority more broadly. Wainwright12 defends the claim that divine command theory provides a more convincing account of moral obligation than any virtue-based theory. More recently Evans13 has articulated both in Kierkegaard and in its own right a divine command theory that is argued to be superior to all the main alternative non-theist accounts of the nature and basis of moral obligation. The last contribution to be mentioned here is Zagzebski’s Divine Motivation Theory which proposes, as an alternative to DCT, that we can understand all moral normatively in terms of the notion of a good emotion, and that God’s emotions are the best exemplar.14

Following all this suggestion is impossible in this article, but a methodological strategy is available. The analytic philosophy holds a historiographic root that Bambrough, inspiring himself by Ryle, defined as follow:

It is now widely recognized that the study of the history of ancient philosophy can be combined with the first-hand study of philosophical problems and questions, to the advantage of progress in both enquires.15

This approach, which now became a defined historiographical principle called principle of recursivity,16 can be useful to give a precise direction to this enquire into the DCT. In fact I would ask: what is the role of the ED in the DCT?

2. The Euthyphro Dilemma

To answer to this question is necessary to introduce a first Plato’s passage:

Socrates. I abjure you to tell me the nature of piety and impiety, which you say that you know so well, and of murder, and of other offenses against the gods. What are they? Is not piety in every action always the same?

Euthyphro. To be sure, Socrates.

Socrates. And what is piety, and what is impiety? […] tell me what is the nature of this idea, and then I shall have a standard to which I may look, and by which I may measure actions, whether yours or those of anyone else, and then I shall be able to say that such and such an action is pious, such another is impious.

Euthyphro. I will tell you, if you like. […] Piety is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them.

Socrates. Very good, Euthyphro; you have now given me the sort of answer which I wanted. But whether what you say is true or not I cannot as yet tell […] . The quarrels of the gods, noble Euthyphro, when they occur, are of a like nature [to the quarrels of men] . They have differences of opinion […] about good and evil, just and unjust, honourable and dishonourable […] .

Euthyphro. You are quite right.

Socrates. Then, my friend, I remark with surprise that you have not answered the question which I asked. For I certainly did not ask you to tell me what action is both pious and impious: but now it would seem that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them.17

The general point behind the discussion that follows seems to be this. No normative term such as pious or right can be defined satisfactorily as what some rational authority, such as God or the gods, loves or commands, unless we suppose that the command or approval is without rational justification. Alternatively, if we suppose the approval or command to be rationally justified, then it is to that justification, rather than to the action or attitude of the authority, that we must look for the meaning of the normative term.18 Socrates’problem with the traditional stories about the gods gives rise to what is often called the Euthyphro Dilemma. If we try to define the holy as what is loved by all the gods (and goddesses), we will be faced with the question in which Socrates asks Euthyphro:

(2) Is the pious (τò όσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? (10a).19

Socrates makes it clear that his view is the second (though he does not argue for this conclusion in addressing this question, and he is probably relying on the earlier premise, at Euthyphro, 7c10f, that we love things because of the properties they have) .20 But his view is not an objection to tying morality and religion together. He hints at the end of the dialogue (Euthyphro, 13de) that the right way to link them is to see that when we do good we are serving the gods well. Socrates and Euthyphro both accept the first option: surely the gods love the pious because it is the pious. But this means, Socrates argues, that we are forced to reject the second option: the fact that the gods love something cannot explain why the pious is the pious (10d). Socrates points out that if both options were true, they together would yield a vicious circle, with the gods loving the pious because it is the pious, and the pious being the pious because the gods love it. And this in turn means, Socrates argues, that the pious is not the same as the god-beloved, for what makes the pious the pious is not what makes the god-beloved the god-beloved. After all, what makes the god-beloved the god-beloved is the fact that the gods love it, whereas what makes the pious the pious is something else (9d-11a). Thus Euthyphro’s theory does not give us the very nature of the pious, but at most a quality of the pious (11ab). The first horn of the dilemma, i. e., that which is right is commanded by God because it is right goes by a variety of names, including intellectualism, rationalism, realism, naturalism, and objectivism. Roughly, it is the view that there are independent moral standards: some actions are right or wrong in themselves, independent of God’s commands. In modern English philosophy, Cambridge Platonists like Whichcote and Cudworth mounted seminal attacks on voluntarist theories, paving the way for the later rationalist Clarke’s and Price’s metaethics:21 what emerged was a view on which eternal moral standards, though dependent on God in some way, exist independently of God’s will and prior to God’s commands. Contemporary philosophers of religion who embrace this horn of the Euthyphro dilemma include Swinburne22 and Mawson.23 This horn of the dilemma presents a significant challenge to the attributes Christians define for their concept of a God, in particular sovereignty, omnipotence, freedom of the will and the possibility of a morality without God.

The second horn of the dilemma, i. e., that which is right is right because it is commanded by God, is known as divine command theory or voluntarism. Roughly, it is the view that there are no moral standards other than God’s will: without God’s commands, nothing would be right or wrong. This horn of the dilemma also faces several problems. It seems to give no reason for morality; to give no reason for the existence or the nature of God; to suggest that anything goes; to support the moral contingency; to give no answer to the question about the obligation of God’s commands; to doubt God’s goodness; to link morality and God in a too many strong way and, finally, to lay itself open to the is-ought problem and to the naturalistic fallacy. Another possible response to the ED centers on the distinction between value and obligation. Obligation, which concerns rightness and wrongness (or what is required, forbidden, or permissible), is given a voluntarist treatment. But value, which concerns goodness and badness, is treated as independent of divine commands. The result is a restricted divine command theory that applies only to the deontic region of obligation. This response has been prominent in contemporary philosophy of religion, appearing in the work of Adams,24 Quinn,25 and Alston.26 A significant attraction of such a view is that, since it allows for a non-voluntarist treatment of goodness and badness, and therefore of God’s own moral attributes, some of the aforementioned problems with voluntarism can perhaps be answered. God’s commands are not arbitrary: there are reasons which guide his commands based ultimately on this goodness and badness. God could not issue horrible commands: God’s own essential goodness or loving character would keep him from issuing any unsuitable commands. Our obligation to obey God’s commands does not result in circular reasoning; it might instead be based on a gratitude whose appropriateness is itself independent of divine commands. These proposed solutions are controversial,27 but by freeing up a realm of value independent of God’s will, this view might result in a satisfactory form of divine command theory. One problem remains: if God’s own essential goodness does not depend on divine commands, then on what does it depend? Here the restricted divine command theory is commonly combined with a view reminiscent of Plato: God is identical to the ultimate standard for goodness. Alston offers the analogy of the standard meter bar in France. Something is a meter long inasmuch as it is the same length as the standard meter bar, and likewise, something is good inasmuch as it approximates God. If one asks why God is identified as the ultimate standard for goodness, Alston replies that this is “the end of the line, ” with no further explanation available, but adds that this is no more arbitrary than a view that invokes a fundamental moral standard.

A final way to deal with the ED is to evade it. This strategy may be historically checked, among others, in Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas.28 They discussed what is basically the Euthyphro dilemma, but they did not name it either. Monotheistic religions reject such a view as inconsistent with God’s omnipotence, which requires that God and what he has made is all that there is. From a classical theistic perspective, therefore, the ED is false. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order: rather his very nature is the standard for value. For the Hebrew scholar Sacks, in Judaism, the ED does not exist. It is misleading because it is not exhaustive: it leaves out a third option, namely that God acts only out of His nature.29 Also many contemporary philosophers of religion suppose that there are true propositions which exist as platonic abstracts independently of God. Among these are propositions constituting a moral order, to which God must conform in order to be good. As I will show below, these scholars are inspired by James and Wittgenstein.

3. Use and Abuse of the Platonic Text

Before making references to these scholars, it is reasonable asking if the original ED (2) correspond exactly to the modified form usually used in the DCT (1). It seems no. The religious and cultural contexts in which (1) and (2) are formulated are in fact really different. Not always analytic philosophers have taken the trouble to interpret the original platonic text and to use it for the same aim for which it was conceived. Some cognitive science scholars use it to turn into a problem the mental representation of values;30 philosophers of education look at it as a model of what means to oblige people to change their minds and to think in a different way;31 philosophers of religion appeal to it to show how moral demands would be superficial in a mere naturalistic world.32 To restrict our self to moral philosophers, the varieties of interpretations is confirmed. Zagzebsky uses the ED as an objection to DCT:

As applied to DC theory, this question produces an important dilemma: If God wills the good because it is good, the goodness is independent of God’s will and the latter does not explain the former. On the other hand, if something is good because God wills it, then it looks as if the divine will is arbitrary.33

She proposes the Divine Motivation Theory, which is a divine virtue theory, just to answer the ED (p. 270). Hare, with the same aim, underlines that already Aristotle tells us that Plato presupposes that what makes something holy is the pure form of the Holy and then he distinguishes a mere divine command from a real divine will in what gods loves.34 Among scholars that paid carefully attention to the platonic text we can mention Geach, Anscombe, Kretzmann and Wainwright. In his carefully and logic analysis, Geach evaluates the dialogue to be quite vague and supposes a certain Plato’s indulgence with Euthyphro.35 Using it to discuss the relationship between the moral law and the law of God, Geach reject the view that all our appraisals of good and bad logically depend on knowledge of God. For him, the knowledge of God is not a prerequisite to our having any moral knowledge: however we do need it in order to see that we must not do evil that good may come. Only in this case the law of God becomes relevant, but, in any case, it is not a question of God’s knowledge and power, but of people’s. Geach concludes:

If God and Man are voluntary agents, it is reasonable to believe that God will not only direct men to his own ends willy-nilly like the irrational creatures, but will govern them by command and counsel. The question is the weather God has given laws to man which forbid whole classes or actions, as human laws do.36

He pays attention to the theme of fear, considered a part of the question about the piety: “The fear of God is such fear as restrains even the wish to disobey him; not merely servile fear, which restrains the outward act, but leaves behind the wish If only I could do it and get away with it! ”.37 Anscombe’s exegesis is from an undated typescript of which there are two variously corrected copies among her papers. Each copy extends to only three parts, though the text clearly envisages a further part. Despite its uncompleted state it has been recently published.38 Her effort lies to distinguish piety from obedience and pious from just. She appeals to the concept of intention to solve the problems that emerge from the platonic argumentations, but she admits that this is an aphoretic dialogue. The reference to intentionality is relevant because allows to link this essay with Anscombe’s moral philosophy project expounded in Modern Moral Philosophy.39 Kretzmann provides us a theory of religious morality taken for granted the stories of Abraham and his son and of Euthyphro and his father. He expresses it so: “God’s goodness (together with his knowledge) entails that the actions he approves of are morally right and the action he disapproves of are morally wrong”.40

In this perspective, Plato’s aphoria at the end of the dialogue is due to an inadeguate conception of deity and of his attribute: God could provide a foundation of morality only if his nature is conceived perfectly good and simply, better when he is considered identical with perfect goodness.

According to Wainwright, the Euthyphro Problem, so he names the ED, is a discussion about the nature of piety which becomes historically problematic because the dialogue ends inconclusively. A brief summary of the platonic text is considered enough to show that Socrates’position has dominated Christian philosophical theology, but that some important Christian thinkers have embraced the alternative possibility giving rise to the DCT. Wainwright outlines this current starting from Pierre d’Ailly and, through de Gerson, Luther and Descartes, he identifies the origin of modern theological voluntarism with Cudworth’s works: at this point he neglects the platonic text and starts to expound the advantages and the critics to the DCT in order to propose his own view.41

4. A Wittgensteinian Approach to the Euthyphro Dilemma

Wittgenstein does not refer himself to the ED explicitly. Nonetheless, his high consideration of this Greek thinker and of his way of philosophizing is well known;42 moreover the platonic spirit thanks to which he speaks of moral themes is well attested.43 He takes the ED into consideration discussing Schlick’s Fragen der Ethik on the 17th of December 1930 at Neuwaldegg, a suburb of Vienna where the Wittgenstein family owned two mid-season houses. After having read this book44 and have annoted it at page 9, Wittgenstein debated its thesis with some of Vienna Circle’s members. Let’s note this remark:

Schlick says that in theological ethics there used to be two conceptions of the essence of the good: according to the shallower interpretation the good is good because it is what God wants; according to the profounder interpretation God wants the good because it is good. I think that the first interpretation is the profounder one: what God commands, that is good. For it cuts off the way to any explanation why it is good, while the second interpretation is the shallow, rationalistic one, which proceeds as if you could give reasons for what is good. The first conception says clearly that the essence of the good has nothing to do with facts and hence cannot be explained by any proposition. If there is any proposition expressing precisely what I think, it is the proposition What God commands, that is good.45

Wittgenstein started his lecture on ethics on the 5th of January at Schlick’s home saying that an ethical proposition never occurs in the complete description of the word and that what is ethical is not a state of affaire.46 In others occasions he underlined that ethics cannot be taught because if I could explain the essence of the ethical only by means of a theory, then what is ethical would be of no value whatsoever47 an that the word ought in itself is nonsensical: it makes sense only if there is something lending support and force to it, a power that punishes and rewards.48 His idea is explained in a passage of his notebook, where he affirms that the most relevant example of groundlessness (Grundlosigkeit) is to say that what is good is so because God orders it.49 In the same context, Wittgenstein links ethics and religion using significantly a Christian language. Answered to a Waismann’s solicitation he says:

Men have felt that there is a connection and they have expressed it thus: God the Father created the world, the Son of God (or the Word that comes from God) is that which is ethical. That the Godhead is thought of as divided and, again, as one being indicates that there is a connection here.50

Wittgenstein’s views on ethics are subject to wildly different interpretations.51 At the end of his Tractatus he says that is clear that ethics cannot be put into words because ethics is transcendental.52 Perhaps he means that the world we occupy is good or bad (and happy or unhappy) as a whole, and not piece-by-piece. Wittgenstein was strongly influenced by Schopenhauer’s notion of will, and by his disdain for ethical theories that purport to be able to tell one what to do and what not to do.53 Following this way of thought, Wittgenstein wishes to live in accordance with God’s will in order to live a good life and he recognizes (in Newman’s terminology) that the consciousness is the voice of God.54 Probably another Wittgenstein’s source was American pragmatism55 and in particular James, who dismisses the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma and stays clear of the second. He writes:

Our ordinary attitude of regarding ourselves as subject to an overarching system of moral relations, true ‘in themselves, ‘is […] either an out-and-out superstition, or else it must be treated as a merely provisional abstraction from that real Thinker […] to whom the existence of the universe is due.56

It follows that ethics have as genuine a foothold in a universe where the highest consciousness is human, as in a universe where there is a God as well. For James, the deepest practical difference in the moral life is between what he calls the easy-going and the strenuous mood.57 In a purely human moral system, it is hard to rise above the easy-going mood, since the thinker’s various ideals, known to him to be mere preferences of his own, are too nearly of the same denominational value:

God inspires us to lead the morally strenuous life in virtue of our conceiving of him as unsurpassably good. This supplies James with an adequate answer to the underlying question of the Euthyphro.58

5. A Tradition Beyond the Tradition

The role of Plato in contemporary epistemology is well known: the references to the Meno and to the Thaetetus are relevant, but they are really useful only if they are used not to solve the problem of contemporary epistemologists or to interpret Plato, but to take the distances to the analytic paradigm and to contribute to its progress observing it from outside.59 I have shown that the same is true also for the ED.60 Its original formulation (2) is too different to its reformulation (1) and so Plato’s proposal is not spendable in the actual context for the reasons provided and, above all, because the different religion paradigms to which (1) and (2) belong. All the same Plato’s Euthyphro suggest a way of philosophizing that favour DCT to go beyond some dichotomies that have led it to the actual impasse: naturalism VS antinaturalism, normativity VS descritivity, foundationalism VS relativism and autonomy VS eteronomy. To take the linguistic turn seriously means not only to analyse in depth moral language, but also to appreciate the Wittgensteinian anthropology that teach us the linguistic constitution of human persons requires that their freedom is the result of a relation.61 From the side of moral philosophy, the virtue ethics is the most relevant attempt to furnish a new paradigm able to avoid these problems.62 As I have suggested a re-consideration of the ED and a return to its medieval reception through Wittgenstein63 could be contribute in a decisive way to change the received tradition of DCT referring to a more ancient one.


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  • Adams, R.M. (1999), Finite and Infinite Goods, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Alston, W.P. (1990), “Some Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists”, in M.Beaty, ed., Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy, Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, pp. 303–326.
  • Anscombe, G.E.M. (1981), “Modern Moral Philosophy”, in Id., Ethics, Religion and Politics. Collected Philosophical Papers vol. III, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, pp. 26-42.
  • Anscombe, G.E.M. (2011), “On Piety, or: Plato’s Euthyphro”, in M.Geach & L.Gormally, eds., From Plato to Wittgenstein. Essays by G.E.M. Anscombe, Imprint Academic: Charlottesville, pp. 11-24.
  • Bambrough, R. (1965), New Essays on Plato and Aristotle, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Carson, T. L. (2000), Value and the Good Life, Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press.
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  1. See Plato (2007). ↩︎

  2. See Hare (2014). ↩︎

  3. See Moore (1903). ↩︎

  4. In a more synthetic form: Does the gods’ command determine morality, or vice versa? ↩︎

  5. See Taliaferro (1998). ↩︎

  6. Taliaferro (1998), p. 201. ↩︎

  7. See Quinn (1978). ↩︎

  8. See Adams (1999). ↩︎

  9. See Hare (2006) and (2015). ↩︎

  10. See Carson (2000). ↩︎

  11. See Murphy (2002) and (2011). ↩︎

  12. See Wainwright (2005). ↩︎

  13. See Evans (2004) and (2013). ↩︎

  14. See Zagzebski’s (2004). ↩︎

  15. Bambrough (1965), VII. ↩︎

  16. See Damonte (2011). ↩︎

  17. Plato (1892), Euthyphro, 5-7, pp. 386-9. This passage is quoted in Stich (1993): 216 and it is the more long Euthyphro’s quotation that can be found in the books about the DCT. ↩︎

  18. See Matthews (1995), p. 253. ↩︎

  19. Sometimes τò όσιον is traslated with holy↩︎

  20. See Hare (1985). ↩︎

  21. See, for this debate, Micheletti’s essay in this volume. ↩︎

  22. See Swinburne (1993), pp 209-216 and Swinburne (2008). ↩︎

  23. See Mawson (2008). ↩︎

  24. See Adams (1979) and (1999). ↩︎

  25. See Quinn (2007). ↩︎

  26. See Alston (1990). ↩︎

  27. For a criticism see Morrison (2001) and (2009). ↩︎

  28. See Rogers (2008) and Kerr (2002), pp. 117-9. ↩︎

  29. See Sacks (2005). ↩︎

  30. See Stich (1993) and Goldman (1993). ↩︎

  31. See Lipman (2003), p. 101. ↩︎

  32. See Mavrodes (1986). ↩︎

  33. Zagzebski (2004), p. 259. ↩︎

  34. See Hare (2006), pp. 10-1, 63 and 263-9 respectively. ↩︎

  35. See Geach (1972). ↩︎

  36. Geach (1969), p. 124. ↩︎

  37. Geach (1969), p. 128. ↩︎

  38. See Anscombe (2011). ↩︎

  39. See Anscombe (1981). On the relationship between Anscombe’s proposal and Wittgenstein’s suggestions, see MacIntyre (2009), pp. 161-2. ↩︎

  40. Kretzmann (1999), p. 419. ↩︎

  41. See Wainwright (2005). ↩︎

  42. See Perissinotto & Cámara (2013). ↩︎

  43. See Rhees (1965). ↩︎

  44. See Schlick (1962). This book was first published in German in 1930. His author makes no reference to Plato. ↩︎

  45. McGuinness (1979), p. 115. ↩︎

  46. McGuinness (1979), p. 93. ↩︎

  47. McGuinness (1979), p. 117. ↩︎

  48. McGuinness (1979), p. 118. ↩︎

  49. See Wittgenstein (1997), p. 43 commented in Perissinotto (2010). See also Wittgenstein (2003), pp. 221-3 dated 15 March 1937. ↩︎

  50. McGuinness (1979), p. 118. ↩︎

  51. See Christensen (2011). ↩︎

  52. See Tractatus, 6.421. ↩︎

  53. See Tomasi (2006). ↩︎

  54. See Wittgenstein (1961), 8.7.16, pp. 218-9. ↩︎

  55. See Maddalena (2006). ↩︎

  56. James (1891), § II. ↩︎

  57. James (1891), § V. ↩︎

  58. Gale (1999), p. 44. ↩︎

  59. See Damonte (2014). ↩︎

  60. As Taliaferro already noted, Plato’s epistemology can be presented the same form of ED: Is X evidence for Y because God wills that it be so, or does God will that X is evidence for Y because such a relation is binding? (Taliaferro (1998), p. 291). ↩︎

  61. See Grillo (1997). ↩︎

  62. See Micheletti (2010) and (2011). Notable that Pragmatism, Wittgenstein, and the Virtue is the title of a congress held in the University College Dublin on the 14 and 15 of September 2015 which proceedings are expected. ↩︎

  63. See Taliaferro (1998), pp. 203-4. ↩︎