« Why Swim the Tiber? | Main | Political Pessimism and Optimism »

Sunday, November 26, 2023


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

An excellent essay, Bill. If you don't mind, I’ll take a seat in the Transdiscursive School of Thought as a way of resolving the dilemma. I accept as a fact that there are things “down here” that reason alone cannot solve, and that in our search for a solution humans must a turn to a higher standpoint, even if that means the philosopher’s propositions come to nothing.

I’d like to make a related point that the late Father James Schall used to make: the distinction between the philosophical voluntarism of progressive liberalism and the radical voluntarism of Islam.

The Islamic idea of unlimited divine voluntarism is dangerous, as you say, because it can provide the justification for waging jihad.

But the ideology of progressive liberalism is also a voluntarist system, not the voluntarism entailed in the conception of the deity, but in the primacy of the will over reason in human affairs. Generally, it reduces to “I want,” the idea that citizens are free to do whatever they want, provided it does not infringe on what others want to do.

The Western tradition has had “a safeguard absent in the Islamic world, namely reason,” whose role in history has been to act as a check and a balance against dogmatic faith. But it would seem that reason today is under attack from two different kinds of voluntarist forces; it is caught in a pincer between radical Islam on the one side and progressive liberalism on the other.


Thanks for your thorough and stimulating commentary on the Euthyphro Problem (EP). I appreciate the references to the Thomist solution and the DDS.

Some folks have argued that the Thomist response is the solution to the EP. But I’m not sure. As you noted, the Thomist response raises a new set of difficult questions.

Does God command morally right acts because they are morally right, or are morally right acts morally right because God commands them? Some advocates of the Thomist response claim that God commands morally right acts because they are morally right, but this fact does not make moral rightness independent of God. Rather, God’s nature is identical to the moral standard, and God’s commands accord with his nature, which is perfectly good. God commands morally right acts because his nature is perfect goodness. Hence, it seems, moral rightness is neither independent of God nor a matter of arbitrary will or legislation.

But to this response I want to ask the following question: What is God’s relation to the divine nature? Is this a relation of identity or not?

If the relation is one of identity, then God is the divine nature. As you understand well, given your work on the DDS, this view has a number of strengths and a venerable history, but there are some objections. It seems to me that the advocate of the Thomist solution should be prepared to adopt the DDS and address the objections to it. But there are some who have appealed to the Thomist solution yet reject the DDS. Such a move seems inconsistent.

If the relation is not one of identity, then the divine nature is not identical to God, which suggests that it might be independent of God. I don’t think the defender of the Thomist solution wants to go there.

In the end, it might be that the Thomist reply crosses into the unsayable, and that the EP is an aporia. Perhaps the final stopping point that we humans can manage is the Thomist reply. Consider this passage from Section 4c of the IEP:

“In response, Alston points out that there must be a stopping point for any explanation. That is, … we ultimately reach either a general principle or an individual paradigm. And Alston’s view is that it is no more arbitrary to invoke God as the supreme moral standard than it is to invoke some supreme moral principle. That is, the claim that good supervenes on God is no more arbitrary than the claim that it supervenes on some Platonic principle.”


One concern I have about the quotation from the IEP is that, if “good supervenes on God” means “good is identical to God” then it seems that God is a property (i.e., goodness), which doesn’t seem very different from being a Platonic principle or an abstract entity with no causal power and no concreteness.

Nice. This is one of my favorite philosophical problems, and I have never been satisfied with any of the solutions for reasons you expertly present.

Hi Tony,

It's been a while. You're the motorcyclist who teaches or taught philosophy at a community college in California, right? De Anza?


@12:10 you say that there are some who offer a Thomist solution to EP but don't accept DDS. Who might these be? Like you, I don't see how one could accept the Thomist sol'n without accepting DDS.

What is God's relation to the divine nature? On DDS the relation is identity. God is his nature; God is his existence; ergo, the divine nature = the divine existence. This is an affront to the discursive intellect for which, necessarily, subject, attribute, and existence are distinct across the board. DDS is a mystical doctrine that 'points' beyond the Discursive into the Transdiscursive which is real but supralogical. That how I see it.

Plantinga won't buy what I said. (See section 2 of my DDS SEP entry: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/divine-simplicity/#ConsVersNoncOnto) This leads me to ask: how does Plantinga solve EP?


Craig (and perhaps Moreland?) is a prominent example of a philosopher who offers a Thomist solution to EP but doesn't accept DDS, although he doesn’t call the solution a “Thomist solution.”

In Philosophical Foundations for Christian Worldview (2nd edition, 2017), C & M argue against the DDS, raising objections such as that it lacks biblical support, that God’s essential properties are distinct rather than identical, that the DDS entails a modal collapse and an extreme fatalism, and that the DDS is unintelligible. They conclude: “In short, we have no reason to adopt and many reasons to reject a full-blown doctrine of divine simplicity.” (p. 531) They do, however, proceed to discuss some helpful aspects of the DDS.

They also suggest a Thomist-style solution to the EP, writing that God’s nature is definitive of goodness and the standard of goodness. (p. 537) Elsewhere, Craig argues explicitly that EP is a false dilemma, and that there is a third option: God’s nature determines the Good; God is the Good. Here is a two-minute clip of Craig concisely articulating the argument:


Here is a more detailed four-minute clip (and transcript) of Craig discussing EP. See minutes 14:16 – 18:16, and note that at 17:24, Craig says that God is what Plato called “The Good.”


Craig is a very competent and conscientious philosopher (as is Moreland), and I don’t mean to suggest that he is stuck here. I suppose Craig can avoid commitment to the DDS by claiming that God is not identical to the divine nature. But then the question arises as to whether that makes the divine nature independent of God and thus makes the Good independent of God. If the divine nature is the Good, but God is not identical to the divine nature, then it seems God is not the Good.

Perhaps one can respond here that although God is not identical to the divine nature, God’s essential properties are nevertheless not independent of God. But to explain how this is so might also land one at the limit of the sayable.

>>How does Plantinga solve EP?<<

I don’t know. Has he addressed that problem? I read his Does God Have a Nature? a few years ago but I don’t recall him discussing EP, though he did address DDS in that book.

Back to Craig: he has discussed antirealism about abstract objects as a plausible position, citing a view defended by Yablo called “figuralism.” On this view, talk of abstract objects is metaphorical or figurative. Claims about abstract objects might be true, but their truth is non-literal. So when Craig talks about God’s nature or essential properties, he might be inclined to say that “nature” and “property” are metaphors for things unsayable by us. In that case, "Good" in 'God is the Good' is figurative. That would seem to make one of our fundamental moral concepts (moral goodness) a metaphor for something we know not what.

Here’s a nice outline by Craig of realism and antirealism (including figuralism) about abstract objects:


Questions about figuralism:

I understand what it means to say that a metaphorical statement is non-literally true if the metaphor is clear. For example, if I shop for Christmas on Black Friday, I might say to my wife: “This place is a zoo.” The metaphorical use of “zoo” is lucid. I’m comparing the crowd of frenzied shoppers to a zoo, and it's clear what ‘zoo’ means, which makes the comparison evident. ‘This place is a zoo’ corresponds to the relevant facts, though it does so non-literally.

But if someone says that ‘God is the good’ is metaphorical, it’s not evident what the comparison is. The metaphorical use of “the good” is obscure. What does ‘the good’ mean in ‘God is the good’? And if we can answer that question clearly and accurately, we are still left with the question: “What exactly is it about God that we are comparing to “the good”? How can we trust that that the metaphorical statement ‘God is good’ is non-literally true, that it non-literally fits the facts, if we don’t even grasp what the comparison is? Apparently, ‘the good’ is a metaphor used to refer to something about God, but what exactly is that something? We seem to have reached a blank.

In what sense does a metaphor non-literally fit the facts? If metaphorical language involves imagining reality in a make-believe way, interpreting reality as if it were a fiction to match our metaphors, then what are we to make of metaphors about God?

Moreover, is it wise to do philosophy via metaphor? Shouldn’t we be as clear as possible? (At least if we are doing analytic philosophy.) Maybe we can’t get any clearer than metaphorical language because we’ve reached the limit of the sayable?

On the other hand, figuralism is an interesting approach to speaking about the divine reality. Much of Jesus’ language (in the Gospels) about God and the Kingdom of Heaven is figurative. God is like a father with a prodigal son and a dutiful but begrudging son. The Kingdom is like a hidden treasure, a precious pearl, a mustard seed, etc.

Perhaps we must engage in some anthropomorphic language to speak about God, given that we can’t understand the divine realm as it is in itself.


Thanks for the references to Bill Craig who may well be the premier Christian apologist of our times. For him the EP is a false alternative. We don't have to choose between God arbitrarily issuing commands as to what is right and wrong and God being subject to an external standard of right and wrong. For there is a third possibility: God is the good itself so that whatever he commands is good or right.

But then God cannot command anything other than what he in fact commands: he is constrained by his nature to command only what he actually commands. His omnipotence is limited by his nature. This is perhaps no problem if God is (identical to) his nature, but then DDS follows. If, however, God is distinct from his nature, then his nature would seem to be an external constraint.

So it is not clear to me how one can navigate between the horns of the Euthyphro Dilemma except via DDS. I take it that that is your conclusion as well. I'll leave figuralism for tomorrow. Your comments are very helpful.

Do we really need the possibility of commands contrary to the nature of the creatures to accommodate omnipotence?

It seems that this view doesn't pay any respect to the fact that these creatures are, in fact, created by the one issuing commands or building them into the nature of the beings.

Putting it into Aristotelian jargon, we're demanding that obligations can be commanded that go contrary to the actuality and/or telos of the creature in question, meaning that evil, in the form of privation, is being filled by God. Since God is identical to the idea of the Good, we're heading towards a contradiction.

It seems that the problem only appears if we are affirming commands that aren't, strictly speaking, intelligible through the nature of the being it's commanded at. Or, if we want to go the deontic route, the nature of Goodness itself. Do we need anything beyond that?


I don't understand your opening question. What exactly are you asking?

You have given no indication that you understand what the Euthyphro Problem is.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



June 2024

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Blog powered by Typepad