One solution to the Euthyphro dilemma is to assume that God’s ontology or ultimate nature is goodness. Therefore, all that is good can ultimately be traced back to God. This concept of transcendental goodness, however, is too abstract and somewhat detached from any empirical or practical experience. It posits an idea of good that is absolute and beyond human understanding.
One of the most common explanations – actually it is a non-explanation – for many absurdly bad things that happen to innocent people (e.g., death of a child due to cancer)is to say that ‘God has a plan.’ This means that despite of all the obvious tragedies in the world, these are all allowed by God because he has an ultimate purpose that is unknowable to us at the moment.
This is somewhat sensible if you assume that God is omniscient and omnibenevolent but this would require a great leap of faith. It would force us to either become agnostic of what is good or make us redefine many of our basic concepts. For instance, most Christians consider suffering to be good or even godly if offered to God. Voluntary suffering such as self-flagellation during Holy Week is considered by a few to be saintly and necessary in atoning for their sins. Well, Christianity is hinged upon the idea of salvation through the suffering and death of the Son of God – a morally pure and innocent sacrifice. Humanity was vicariously tortured and killed in the person of Jesus in order for humanity to be worthy of God’s forgiveness and gift of eternal life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]
The religious idea of good is too vague, self-contradictory and absurd in several respects that it does not readily lend itself to rational analysis.
How then can we rationally define good or evil? One way of defining the supposed dichotomy between good and evil is to put it in context. Rather than having a rigid absolute division between the two concepts, we could see it as something dynamic and interactive. It must be seen not only as black and white or just a continuum of shades of gray. It must also be seen as a spectrum of complex colors.
Primarily, it must be put in the context of interactions among beings endowed with senses, consciousness, intelligence and emotions. These beings could be humans or any other sentient and sapient organisms capable of suffering and making conscious choices. The context could be extended to the way these beings interact with their environment and with other organisms.
The bottom line here is contextual interaction. This may sound like moral relativism but morality is only sensible within the context of interaction. Even if you view it using religious lenses, contextual interaction is still present, i.e., the interaction between the divine creator and the created.
The moral good or evil is only meaningful if there are moral agents acting interacting given a particular context or situation.
The Trolley Problem
Let’s examine this popular thought experiment in ethics known as the Trolley Problem:
“There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track.”
You have two options:
1. Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track.
2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.
Which is the most ethical choice? Why?
(To be concluded…)