Shooing the Euthyphro Gadfly in Theistic Ethics: Rethinking the “Arbitrary” Objection Presented to Theological Voluntarism

Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Jon McGinnis


Wiland, Eric

Brogaard, Berit


There is a common belief in modern analytic philosophy that Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma ushers a decisive victory against even current versions of theistic ethics. Particularly, one might say, the dilemma damages those theories resting on a “monotheistic” god and employing some form of theological voluntarism. I argue against this conclusion, however. First, I cast doubt on the general interpretation of what Plato intended and accomplished in the ancient dialogue. Second, I provide a new route for the theist to take as a means to overcoming the modern formulation of the dilemma. In doing so, I contend that the “horn” of the dilemma typically associated with an arbitrariness objection, whereby a deity may approve of any action (including the most immoral actions one may imagine), is in fact defensible when considering a difference in kind that exists between humanity and the divine. If it is the case that the deity in question stands in relation to humanity as infinite to finite, necessary to contingent, and uncreated to created, there is good reason to reconsider some of the intuitions often used against this side of the dilemma. I go on to say that if this is right it accompanies a number of other rational defenses of theistic ethics worth considering, and we have ample reason to include such contributions in the best anthologies and journals pertaining to ethics.

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