PHIL 240A:  HANDOUT #10.  THE GENERAL EUTHYPHRO QUESTION

INCLUDES HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT #6 [35 POINTS]

(DUE IN CLASS ON TUESDAY, JULY 22)

 

            This assignment asks you to classify various moral views according to the answer that they give to the General Euthyphro Question.  The General Euthyphro Question need not be limited to moral theories.  It can be asked of any individual or community regarded as an authority on some subject.  The non-moral examples we used in class were mathematical truth and truth about meaning.  If we want to know whether Fermat's Last Theorem is true, we look to see if there is a proof generally accepted by mathematicians.  We rely on the agreement of mathematicians.  But someone could ask a version of the General Euthyphro Question concerning Fermat's Last Theorem.  Let the relevant authority A = the community of mathematicians; and let S = Fermat's Last Theorem. 

            GENERAL EUTHYPHRO QUESTION:  For a particular statement S and a relevant authority A:  Is S true [or appropriate] because the relevant authority A agrees that S is true [or appropriate]; or does the relevant authority A agree that S is true [or appropriate] because S is true [or appropriate]? 

            The two possible answers are:  TRUTH [OR APPROPRIATENESS] MAKING ANSWER:  S is true [or appropriate] because the relevant authority A agrees that S is true [or appropriate].  (Agreement of the relevant authority A makes S true [or appropriate].)

            TRUTH DETECTION ANSWER:  The relevant authority A agrees that S is true (or appropriate) because S is true.  (The relevant authority A detects (though perhaps not infallibly) that S is true.)

Most people give the TRUTH DETECTION ANSWER to the General Euthyphro Question for statements of mathematics such as Fermat's Last Theorem, and for the purposes of this course, we will assume that that is the correct answer (and not merely because most people think that it is!)  If we give the TRUTH DETECTION ANSWER, then we are leaving open the possibility that the relevant authorities might make a mistake (unless, like God, the relevant authority is presumed to be infallible).

            In contrast, consider meaning theory.  If we want to know the meaning of the English word "sister", we could ask a competent speaker of the language.  If all competent speakers of English (the relevant community) agree that "sister" means "female sibling", then it seems that "sister" must mean "female sibling".  It does not seem to make sense to suppose that all speakers of English might agree that "sister" means "female sibling", but they might all be mistaken!  Let A = the community of competent speakers of English; and let S = "sister" means "female sibling".  When we ask the General Version of the Euthyphro Question concerning questions about meaning, most people give the TRUTH MAKING ANSWER (It is true that "sister" means "female sibling" in English because the relevant authorities (competent speakers of English) agree), not the TRUTH DETECTION ANSWER (The relevant authorities (competent speakers of English) agree that "sister" means "female sibling" because it is true).  Agreement by the speakers of English makes it true that "sister" means "female sibling".  But agreement by mathematicians does not make Fermat's Last Thorem true. 

            Once you understand the non-moral examples, you are ready to do this homework assignment:

 

HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT #6 (35 Points--Due in Class on Tuesday, July 22):  Your assignment is to explain how the General Euthyphro Question applies to each of the theories below, by answering the following questions for each of those theories:  (i) According to the theory, who is the relevant authority (A) for deciding moral questions?  (ii) Which answer would the theory give to the General Euthyphro Question applied to a normative moral statement—e.g., the statement that torturing children wrong; (iii) Explain and justify your answer to (ii):

(a) Divine Command Theory

(b) Kantian Ethical Theory [Hint:  According to Kant, which faculty serves as our moral authority?]

(c) Normative Cultural Relativism (e.g., MacIntyre).

(d) Noncognitivist Communitarian Theory (e.g. Hume or Mackie)

(e) Aristotelian Virtue Theory

(f) Social Practice Utilitarian (e.g., Mill).  Consider the views of a social practice utilitarian who claims that communities that have existed for a substantial period of time have evolved practices that do a pretty good job of maximizing overall utility when generally followed.  [This is not an easy question.  Make sure you take advantage of the discussion of it in section before trying to answer it.]

(g) Existentialism (e.g., Jean-Paul Sartre)