Divine Command Theory: The virtue of Socrates Objection.

In “The Socrates and Euthyphro dilemma” Socrates questions the factual foundation of morality and objects its dependence upon divinity. Moreover, he pertains the notion that the “Divine Command Theory” is blemished because it doesn’t accurately state the reasoning of why virtuous deeds are moral. In this paper, I will argue the unique standpoint of William Alston and reason his view on Socrates Objections, and through a philosophical perceptive illustration I will contend and maintain that Socrates objections remain capable of prevailing over Alstons recommendations to theists and in deteriorating the footing of the Divine Command Theory.

In the midst of Socrates execution, the philosopher contemplates the essential principles of the “Divine Command Theory” with Euthyphro an ancient Athenian religious prophet. The Divine Command Theory inclines the idea that ethics have a correlation or a causation bond with God as in its either caused by Gods own view of ethicalness or is correlated to his moral understanding of it, Socrates further ponders this theory by posing the following inquiry “Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the Gods?”. The term “pious” is of Latin derivation and translates to “holy” and that which is “holy” is also good—for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to an adequate rewording of the question in a rather modern bravura which can be phrased as “Does God command a specific action due to it being morally right, or is it morally right because God commands it?” if the question is keenly observed by a theist, it would be apparent that any form of retort to the question in either way challenges the standards of the “Divine Command Theory”.

To display the extensive philosophical remonstrances of the question posed by Socrates, we will have to break the question down into two discrete ideations and ponder both critically. Considering the latter option of the question which implies us into accepting that a feat is “pious” or morally good due to God approval of it, and henceforth, it’s Gods idiosyncratic take on morality that decides which actions are holy and which are unholy, then by a similar account if God elects to alter his perspective on chaos as no longer an unholy act but a godly virtuous one and elected humanity to begin preforming senselessly chaotic deeds that includes one to start injecting atrocities into other peoples’ lives for Gods own comical motives, then that action would be morally right. Accepting such response renders all meanings of ethics as eccentric, and if the fundamentals of morality become arbitrary, it then allows for immoral and reprehensible actions to become morally obligatory. Theists would demur such rejoinders because a summary of the aforementioned statements would be that; In the Divine Command Theory, the divine commands only that which he deems holy and therefore we have no objective podium of holiness only an everlastingly changing views of one.

An alternative retort to the paradigmatic question of Socrates would be to accept the notion that God orders a certain act because it’s morally good rather than commanding it based on his own viewpoints, however, the challenging problem with opting for such response lays in that it would strip God of his sovereignty over the mortal world along with his divine position at the top of the “Great Chain of Beings”. John Arthur tackled it decently by saying “If God approves kindness because it is a virtue and hates the Nazis because they were evil, then it seems that God discovers morality rather than inventing it”. It ravages Gods of his divinity because he no longer is the inventor of morality—but rather an observer of it, learning about it just as we are and is subjected by its laws. By both accounts, one who endeavors to guard the Divine Command Theory against Socrates objection faces the risk of subjecting morality to arbitrary concepts, or striping the divine being of all his omni-statuses.

Socrates inquiry has been objected abundantly in myriad means. However, William Alston (1990) argues the notions of Socrates inquiry in a distinctive manner, he first, rewords the objection to allow it to sound more sensible and considers the question in the following way; 1. We ought to love one another because God commands us to do so, or 2. God commands us to love one another because that is what we ought to do. Alston’s argument is that if we interpret these statements appropriately, a supporter of “The Divine Command Theory” is truthfully capable of grasping both alarms of this reputed predicament.

The flaw of opting for the first retort in the aforementioned dilemma is of the struggle it would put in perceiving God as morally good, because since God sets the standards of morality and is in charge of commanding them, then an action that would provoke unsoundness and chaos is the doing of God which would render the divine being in many cases immoral, which is the contrary assertion of what theists intend in the phrase “God is morally good” Alston advises that theists are able to evade this problematic statement, by conceiving of God’s moral goodness as a distinct conceptual morality from the mortal moral goodness, and we shouldn’t elicit the assumption that they are similar. The moral views of God are different from the conformism for moral obligations, and so as something separate from conformity to divine commands.

On the other hand, Alston also thoroughly considers the circumstantial retort of the second option, which states that if something can be good independent of the command of God then, therefore morality rules over God, and by extension it would strip from his eternal dominion and renders him a helpless spectator to the perpetual evolution of morality rather than it’s acute founder. The devasting settings of electing such notion are palpable for any theist, as the major impression of deifying divinity lays on the assumption that they are holily sovereign and holily just, which renders them distinct from man, whose unholy and unjust. Henceforth, if one introduced a concept that challenges Gods founding status of morality, then it would by extension abrade him of his deific authority and by that it would be utterly and preposterously ludicrous from a rational perspective to continue worshiping a being of equal ruling to man. Alston however sought to reject such option and advises theist to follow suit, for he recalls the question to be foolish because to accept it’s circumstantial views to be accurate, would be to assume that God is also subjected to the logical and physical principles of mortal nature, which by linguistic wording is an unreasonable supposition and henceforth we are ought to view God from the former and everlasting ideation that is God is divine, and that which is divine is distinct from that which is ordinary and consequently the logics and scientific principles of the ordinary can’t be applied to Divinity. Therefore, God remains to stand as the supreme standard of good, and its founder.

While William Alston proposes a perspective that relics to be one of exceptional respectability, his view also bears a flaw that renders its philosophical acceptance inadequate. Alston overlooked other accounts of the objection, as in instead of endeavoring to devise a proper, conclusive and immaculate response to the inquiry posed by the late Greek philosopher Socrates, Alston simply rejects the question—labeling it incoherent on its assumptions of God. Which from a philosophical perception is an erroneous step to tackle the objection; in philosophy one is ought to question the existing foundations for either to find a further concreate evidences for them or to prove them wrong and replaces them with a newer but more sufficient findings. Furthermore, Socrates based his inquiry through the assumption that God is holy and ultimately sovereign, for if that was incorrect, there would be no predicament in the first place and one can easily opt for either retorts of the inquiry. The dilemma is that either The Divine Command Theory is in fact flawed on it’s suppositions of morality, and therefore should be studied further or God isn’t who we perceive him to be, since the inquiry didn’t intend to discourage our presumptions of God, it’s only rational interpretation is that the Divine Command Theory is founded upon an illogical basis, and should be disregarded.

A more sufficient approach to Socrates objection is to accept that answering the question based on our current understanding negatively influences the divine structure, but that is only palpable because one is attempting to answer it through a former acceptance of the Divine Command Theory. Therefore, if a secular response is to ever emerge, it would be only through discrediting the ancient obstacles preventing such response in the first place. The late English biologist and anthropologist Thomas Henry Huxley echoed the importance of philosophical skepticism so meticulously by saying “…Skepticism is of the highest of duties, blind faith is the one unpardonable sin” ironically, from a rational theist view, it’s a sin against the divine to not question his divinity, because that is our only way to further strengthen it. As Socrates puts it in the original dialogue with Euthyphro; “Let us begin again from the beginning, and ask what the holy is, for I shall not willingly give up until I learn. Please do not scorn me: Bend every effort of your mind and now tell me the truth. You know it if any man does, and, like Proteus, you must not be let go before you speak. For if you did not know the holy and unholy with certainty, you could not possibly undertake to prosecute your aged father for murder in behalf of a hired man. You would fear to risk the gods, lest your action be wrongful, and you would be ashamed before men. But as it is, I am confident that you think you know with certainty what is holy and what is not. So say it, friend Euthyphro. Do not conceal what it is you believe.”

Conclusively, Alstons absolute rejection to Socrates objection is grounded in two certain flaws, one being his failure to answer the inquiry rationally, as the sum of his retorts emit only from the source that the question supposes God to be limited which is the direct contrary of Socrates intention, and secondly, his irrational rejection renders his statement non-philosophical and quite radical in it’s view, therefore, based on those two errors, it loses any theoretical accountability and fails at refuting Socrates objection.


· Plato. 1981. Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. Translated by G. M. A. Grube. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Publishing Company.

· Section 3, as quoted in Austin 2019.

· Alston, William. 1990. “Some Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists.” In Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy. Edited by Michael Beaty. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press: 303-326.

· Alston, William. 1989. Divine Nature and Human Language: Essays in Philosophical Theology. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

· Thomas Huxley Quotes. BrainyQuote.com, BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/thomas_huxley_402247, accessed April 22, 2019.

· Allen, R.E. 2012. Plato's Euthyphro and the Earlier Theory of Forms (RLE: Plato): A Re-Interpretation of the Republic. Routledge Library Editions: 63-64.

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