I was recently reading Plato's dialogue Euthyphro which contains the original of what is known as the Euthyphro dilemma. The dialogue itself is interesting in its original form but I thought it might be equally interesting to try to set out a more modern version of the dialogue and perhaps even include a nod towards some of the later philosophical attempts to deal with the dilemma.
I am of course no Plato and I have no current Socrates to guide the discourse that I will set out here. I'm not going to follow the originals slavishly rather I 'm simply going to use them as a starting point to explore some interesting ideas.
The Euthyphro dialogue is in essence an interrogation of the meaning of piety and impiety and the relation between these concepts and "the gods". In the following dialogue I will broaden this out to address the broader question of the existence of good ( and by definition evil ) and the relationship of this concept to the existence and nature of god. I enjoyed an earlier post where this type of discourse was given as a rewrite of the Monty Python sketch so, with that as broad inspiration, I give you the first of Socco's dialogues with the shopkeeper.
Persons in the dialogue: SOCCO and the SHOPKEEPER
Scene: The Shop - Monday Morning: Sometime after a man leaves with a dead parrot
SOCCO: Good Morning sir and a fine morning it is.
SHOPKEEPER: Yes sir indeed it is. Looking for a Norwegian Blue are we today sir?
SOCCO: No thank you, not today. I do have a question that has been bothering me though.. I wondered if we could have a short philosophical dialogue?
SHOPKEEPER: Let me see , yes you're in luck sir. I have two left. Would you like the 10 minute exploratory Socratic dialogue or I've got a special offer on a 2 hour turgid discourse on semantics and comparative religion?
SOCCO: I'll take the exploratory Socratic one please. Does that come with difficult to deal with responses and questions?
SHOPKEEPER: Er that really depends on you sir. I'll do my best though. Ok fire away!
SOCCO: Ok what I was wondering was this, if we assume there is a God then what relation does God have with Goodness?
SHOPKEEPER: Blimey sir you must have been up all night thinking that one up! OK let me see ... well goodness comes from god doesn't it sir? You'll need to do better than that sir or your not going to get your moneys worth here.
SOCCO: Aagh ... but by goodness coming from god you mean what exactly? That God created goodness?
SHOPKEEPER: Hmm. Well I guess .. yes of course he did. God created everything so he must have created goodness sir, stand to reason don't it?
SOCCO: I see. So if God created goodness then he must have existed before goodness if he was going to be able to create it. We see that the existence of the thing created always follows in time from the existence of the thing that does the creation do we not?
SHOPKEEPER: I see where you're going with this one sir. I'd have to say yes to that I guess.
SOCCO: Wait I'm still getting started here.
SHOPKEEPER: Sorry sir , fire away
SOCCO: OK. Now in order to recognise a thing we must distinguish that thing from some other thing or things which are different from that thing must we not? We know a dead parrot by knowing what is not a dead parrot do we not?
SHOPKEEPER: ( Shifting uncomfortably) er I knows nothing at all about dead parrots honestly gov. But I would have to say you are right with that one.
SOCCO: So to recognise goodness we must recognise that which is not good must we not? And this is the thing we call bad or evil is it not?
SHOPKEEPER: yes sir right again.
SOCCO: So if god created goodness and knew it was good then he must have known that he was also creating evil and known that it was evil?
SHOPKEEPER: Oh steady on there sir, I'm not sure about that...
SOCCO: If God created goodness who created evil?
SHOPKEEPER: well er god ... no hang on I'm not falling for that one. Wait a minute. I know! .. evil is just the absence of goodness. So god didn't actually create evil oh no, he sort of created goodness and evil was just kind of what was left behind after he done the creating.
SOCCO: But God is all knowing is he not?
SHOPKEEPER: Of course sir - he wouldn't be god now if he didnt know everything would he?!
SOCCO: He must have known then that in creating goodness he was making evil exist?
SHOPKEEPER: Not so fast sir. It's like the sculptor sir , he chisels out the statue and what's left is the dross. Evil is the dross that was left behind when God created good.
SOCCO: It is true that when the sculptor creates a statue he does not know the form the dross will take. Because of this we do not say he creates it intentionally. It is the sculpture that he creates intentionally because it is that to which he knowingly gives a form.
SHOPKEEPER: Exactly sir.
SOCCO: But if the sculptor did know exactly what form the dross would take, if he was all knowing, might we not say that he created the dross intentionally as well as the sculpture? He could as much be described as having the intention to create the dross as create the sculpture because the form of both would be known to him in advance.
SHOPKEEPER: Hmm. I see. I guess so.
SOCCO: and even if he didn't know the exact shape of the pile of dross that would result he still would know that the act of making the sculpture would create the dross would he not? He would know that in creating the sculpture he would be creating the dross, that which was left after creating the sculpture?
SHOPKEEPER: Yes I guess so.
SOCCO: So when we create one thing from parts of another thing we are also creating the thing left behind are we not?
SHOPKEEPER: OK yes that is true
SOCCO: And the more so if we are all knowing and know exactly the form of the thing that will be left behind?
SHOPKEEPER: I see were you're going again here sir.
SOCCO: Good. So when an all knowing God creates goodness he also creates evil and he knows he is bringing both things into existence by his actions.
SHOPKEEPER: Tricky today aren't we sir? yes .. well er .. I would need to think about that one. Oh look sorry but that's your ten minutes up sir.
SOCCO: but I was just getting started !
SHOPKEEPER: Strictly ten minutes for the exploratory Socratic dialogue sir. I could book you in for tomorrow though- say 2 o'clock?
SOCCO: Splendid I'll be back then.
SHOPKEEPER: Sir? sir, aren't we er forgetting something?
SOCCO: Oh yes - sorry . thank you very much I enjoyed that debate.
SHOPKEEPER: No er I mean that will be £5 sir. Strictly cash by the way . You sure you don't want a Norwegian Blue?