Sunday, May 18, 2008

Good = The Will of God?

This is an adaptation and extension of an argument by Plato, in the dialogue Euthyphro.

Let us say, as many do, that the definition of The Good is nothing more and nothing less than the Will of God. That would mean that whatever world God creates would be, by definition, perfectly good. Our world, then, is not the best world God could have created – any world must, by definition, be perfectly good. That means that a world far more miserable than ours, e.g., one where suffering is not justified, one in which there is no prospect of salvation, must be equally good as ours, if God were to decide to create such a world. Equally, for those who believe that all morality requires God as moral arbiter, then whatever morality God decides is objectively moral, even if it were the opposite of justice and morality in our world, even if it would promote dishonesty, selfishness, unjust privelege and liability, etc.

In such a case, though we may be beholden to God and subject to His reward and punishment, there is nothing “good” about the world or about moral behavior as dictated by the command of God. That is to say, though perhaps we would be grateful that God created us at all, we should not be grateful that He created a world for us that is good. Any world God would create is good by definition.

But the faithful believe that not only is God the creator, not only does He write the rules of the game, but that the rules are fair, just, and good.

Conclusion: There is a criterion for what counts as good independent of God and God’s will. Thus, if God is truly good, He is good according to a criterion He does not Himself create.


X said...


Or perhaps, good and just are only rationalizations that the human mind creates to cope with, or perhaps further exalt God. Maybe it is all just semantics for that which is self-evident and natural.

Or perhaps those other worlds could not exist, as they are not the will of God and are thus unnatural. If God's will is good, and this existence is God's will, then this world is the only world that ever could have been. An inevitability, as stated in the terms of the deal. If that is the case, then the adjectives 'good' and 'just' are not incorrect, per se. But they are superfluous.

Dave the Philosopher said...

1- the argument does not support or refute whether there is a real objective good, but only that if there is an objective good, than God is not responsible for it.

2- If those other worlds could not exist, if God (or identically, God's will), to be "perfect" must conform to a certain unshakable standard, then what is that standard but an objective Good that exists whether God, God's decision to create a world, or the world exist or not?

thanks for the comment

Mimi said...

If we say that by definition god is that which can do anything, can't we say that god is both resoponsible for the objective good and not responsible? "He" can create a stone that he can both lift and not be able to lift at the same time. It's only in our limited, compartmentalized human minds that such a paradox seems impossible.

Dave the Philosopher said...

no, I don't think so. I've touched upon this in my entry on time: If God can do anything, then God can do jjalkjrteic. Right? Obviously, because He can do anything. Wrong. jjalkjrteic is not a thing to be done, not because if the word had a real meaning God would not be able to do it, but because the word doesn't have any meaning at all. Similarly if we ask God to do (A + not-A), the request itself is garbage - the limitation is not in the power of God, but in the sense we ourselves are making when we expect God to be able to do it.

Dave the Philosopher said...

the same answer goes for the paradox of the stone, btw. "A rock so heavy that God cannot lift it" is a contradiction in terms, so when we ask if God can lift it, we're asking if God can oiwhricwop.

Dave the Philosopher said...

A friend on facebook responded:

"My understanding on the subject follows how I understand the Rambam (Maimonides). That G-d isn't good or evil he (or she to be PC) is just. Now their is concept of Mercy which without humans would've been wiped out a million times over"

An interesting perspective. If there is an answer to this, I think that it would have to acknowledge that God is neither good nor evil, and creates the good and evil somehow prior to the creation of the world.

But to respond to your objection, If God is "by nature" just, then God does not create justice and is not the arbiter of justice, and there would be a true standard of justice even if God were not just.

I would also have to incline to Plato in this regard, that Justice is a subset of the Good, and has no basis of existence without it. But this is not conclusive.

aaron said...

"If God can do anything, then God can do jjalkjrteic. Right?"

Incorrect. jjalkjrteic is not a thing, so it doesn't fall under the category of "any-thing". Also, why should one assume that God is the kind of God who can do anything? Furthermore, the ability to do anything does not obligate one to do all those things. There are many things I can do, but I will not do most of them for various reasons. I don't think God has the arbitrariness that Plato's did.

Dave the Philosopher said...

I say that God can do anything because the concept of God entails that. I agree that God is not required to do all that is in His ability, (as Spinoza would hold, for example), although the discussion of why is full of paradox. However, even if we agree that God CAN do anything, it's silly to insist that He can do non-things, like the conjunction of contradictory statements. "A rock so great that God can't lift it" is a self contradictory statement. Therefore it is meaningless, a non-thing.

The statement that God both is and is not the source of the Good is self-contradictory. Both sides are obviously true though (given certain assumptions about God and the world). This makes it a properly philosophical problem.

A paradox is a statement that, if you don't understand it, appears self-contradictory (false or meaningless), and if you do understand it, shows itself to not only be true, but informative about the nature of reality. This is the kind of resolution I seek.