Euthyphro vs the Game …

There was a new Mr. Deity out about Euthyphro’s dilemma. You can find a link to it at Pharyngula. I don’t normally watch any of them — I haven’t found them to say anything new, and this one is no exception, and don’t find the scripts all that funny — but this one I watched a little bit of. And I want to address some of the initial comments based on Vox Day’s “computer game” analogy, which might give people a new understanding of the various sides. And so I’ll start with the horn of “Things are right because God says they’re right”.

Before getting to the game analogy, let me address the first and most obvious “rebuttal” of at least that horn: “But, if you hold that, then that means that if God said to go out and kill all those cute kittens in that box, that would be morally right!”. Is that actually a rebuttal? What happens if the proponent of “Things are right because God says they are” simply says “Yes, it would”, unvarnished by “But God never would” or something like that? I suspect that most of those raising that objection would pull a Sam Harris and storm off in a huff, swearing that that person was, in fact, simply immoral. And, in fact, that’s usually what they do (I’ve seen it happen when someone merely suggested that genocide might be moral). But, at that point, you wouldn’t be making any kind of rational argument. They are, in fact, completely allowed to accept the consequences of their beliefs and, in fact, bite the bullet. And if they do that, then you can’t just declare victory unless you’ve gotten a real refutation somewhere, by forcing them to accept a proven contradiction. So that question, in and of itself, can’t refute that horn of the dilemma.

So a better way to go is to argue that if they accept that, then their morality is, in fact arbitrary and, more importantly, can’t be objective. And if they don’t get an objective morality from God’s statements, then they don’t have the morality they want, and they can’t actually be moral in the right way. Ultimately, they’d be as relativist as anyone else, it would just be relative to God as opposed to society or to themselves. What they want, then, is to get their moral rules to be as objective as scientific ones, at the very least. And the argument would go that they don’t have it.

So, let’s introduce the computer game analogy, and our computer game designer. But let’s not start with morality. Let’s start with science. Imagine that we’re in the world of “Shadow Hearts: Covenant”. This is a world where, in fact, magic works. Where you can combine cloning with an ancient spell to speed time up for someone to revive his lost love.. Where time travel is possible. Where naturalism is false because there are supernatural things but where both magic and science work and follow set rules. All of this set-up by the game designer, who set up the rules in advance and forces the rules to work that way.

It should be clear that if we actually lived in that world that the rules of that world from our perspective would be much different from the rules we have in this world. But there’d still be rules. And we could do science and other ways of getting knowledge to get those rules, and understand them. The rules we discover, then, would be just as objective as the rules we discover here. Science and magic would have, then, objective and objectively discoverable rules, just as at least science does here. Why? Because that’s how the game designer wrote the rules; to be, for the beings in the world, objective and discoverable. To deny that these are objective is to deny that our rules are objective as well. And surely we don’t want that.

So, now, note that there is a morality in that world, with good and evil and shades in between. And it could very much be said to be created by our game designer. The game designer has determined what counts as good, what counts as evil, and what’s dubious. What’s moral is then, in fact, simply the rules that have been defined by the game designer to be moral, in precisely the same way as the laws of nature and laws of supernature have been defined. And to the people in the world, the laws of nature and supernature are as objective as they are to us (or would be, if you want to nitpick about supernature). So, then, if those laws are not arbitrary, in what sense are the laws of morality arbitrary? They’re the exact same thing, created in the exact same way. And you can’t appeal to “whim” to make it arbitrary, since there is no reason to think that the game designer — or God — change the rules once they created them.

Now, for the other horn, because the video also comments that if moral rules are moral independently of God saying it, then what do we need God for? And the answer is: Need? No. But we must presume in the analogy that if there are moral rules the game designer knows how they apply to the game. The game designer knows all the relevant considerations the characters must make, and so knows what every choice and every actual relevant moral rule to the game world is. And if that’s the case, and we thought we had a direct line to the game designer … why wouldn’t we take advantage of that to learn what the rules are, especially since we may not have it all figured out yet (as we’d be capable of learning them, but that doesn’t mean that we’d have them).

Thus, Euthyphro’s dilemma seems fairly weak. Either horn leads to not unreasonable positions. Thus, we need to figure out which — if either — is correct. The dilemma doesn’t produce an inescapable paradox, but is merely an interesting question to help us identify the two positions.

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