Where Do Values Come From?
Do Values Come from Humans or God?
In the dialogue, Socrates reminds his friend Euthyphro that a crucial question is not simply whether we can know if one or another particular action is good, but on what basis we determine whether any action is good. Euthyphro answers: “Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them.” But Socrates responds: “Is that which the gods love good because they love it, or do they love it because it is good.”
If the former is true, then who says the gods are not evil, unfair, or frivolous? The gods could choose to love anything they want, regardless of whether or not human beings consider it just. Is that they type of system we want to live by? Do the gods want us to be blindly, unquestioningly obedient to them, even if they behave like murderous scoundrels? And if the gods love the good simply because it is good, then it could damn well be good on its own. We wouldn’t need god or gods to tell us what morality is – we’d be responsible for figuring it out just as they were.
In either case, Euthyphro drives home the point that mere belief in God can’t make us good, and it can’t point to “timeless values” that we humans aren’t equally capable of arriving at on our own terms. Gods don’t – can’t – create values. Humans can, and so we must do so wisely.
Football players can pray for touchdowns, but not a single amputee, no matter what the unfair circumstances surrounding her injury, has successfully ever prayed to regrow a limb. The fact is, there could be a god who hates amputees. We can neither prove it nor disprove it. Fortunately, we have much better ways of understanding moral and ethical values.
“Our morality is based on human needs and social contracts, and these things are not perfectly, eternally objective. After all, slavery was once considered morally acceptable by almost all religious people, including Christians. If values were timeless and objective, either the early Christians saints who believed in it were horribly wrong, or values change.” – Greg M. Epstein