The Heather Dilemma

Hello! This article will be discussing how “Heathers; the Musical” demonstrates part of the Euthyphro Dilemma and how philosophers attempt to overcome this problem. This post is dedicated to my musical theater friend who introduced me to the musical.

~o~
A while back, one of my best friends introduced me to “Heathers; the Musical” which explores the problems within school culture. It is worth the watch for this exploration alone. However, the point this article is going to focus on is the idea of killing others in the name of the morally good, which the protagonists carry out in order to make their school a better place. This killing which they initially deem as morally good raises questions with concern to God as it illustrates the problems with God being used as the moral standard.
The Plot
Heathers; the Musical is set in a school and focuses on the protagonist Veronica who gets hooked into a group of mean girls. After a bust up with one of them, she accidentally on purpose poisons one with the help of her new boyfriend J.D. J. D soon gets carried away with murdering fellow students with Veronica’s help in order to make the world a better place. Veronica soon realizes this is wrong, and stops J.D from blowing up the school the night of the Prom. However, it results in J.D’s suicide. 
How does this link to God?
The reason Veronica and J.D start killing classmates is that they believe it is morally right to stop evil within the world. In order to do this, they need to stop the bullies that are causing torment within the school. They believe the only way to do this is to kill them. As a result, they believe that they are morally right, expressed by the fact that “there love is God”. This reflects how God is seen as the standard for morality and they are doing this for the purity of life. From a philosophical view, this demonstrates a criticism of God being benevolent in the form of the Euthyphro Dilemma. 
What is the Euthyphro Dilemma? 
The Euthyphro Dilemma was created by Plato in Euthyphro which is one of his earlier dialogues. Socrates is waiting for trial in an Athenian court along with Euthyphro. They begin a discussion about what is piety. Eventually, Socrates poses the question “Whether the pious is beloved by the Gods because it is holy, or holy because it is loved by the Gods”. That is to say, whether God loves what is pious or whether the action is good because  it is loved by God. 
Both of the options cause a problem for God. In the case of the first “horn”, the result means that whatever God wishes is automatically good. This means that trivial things can have moral worth. For example, if God said that eating cereal was good, then every time you were eating cereal then that would be a morally good action. This appears to us morally irrelevant and goes against what we believe to be moral. It also means that God could love us to do evil things and it would still be classed as good. For instance, he could want us to kill someone. We would be morally obliged to do it as whatever God wills would be moral. This seems nonsensical. However, it is the exact point expressed in the Heathers. It is even shown in the Bible, when Abraham is asked to kill Isaac. This goes against our belief that God is a loving God, and seems to make him unworthy of worship, causing a problem. 
However, if we go with the second “horn” then we are no better off as it undermines Gods authority. If God is having to abide by a moral standard that is higher than himself, then he is not the omnipotent being we thought him to be, nor is he the supreme being that we thought him to be. In this case, God seems to become unworthy of worship as there is a higher standard above him which is more worthy. It also means that we cannot locate benevolence within God as it is the moral standard that makes something moral, not God. Therefore, we can bypass him completely in the name of being moral and follow the independent standard instead.
How can we respond the the Euthyphro Dilemma?
 The response to the first horn is made by Kierkegaard and tells us we should accept such commands which cause us to suspend our ethical beliefs because it is a way of demonstrating faith. Therefore, for Kierkegaard, our faith in God comes above our ethical system, so when he asks us to commit acts that seem immoral we must have faith in God’s will. The suspension of ethics for some higher purpose is called “telos” or the “teleological supsension of ethics. 
However, this results in many problems. For instance, how do we know when God is asking us to suspend our ethical beliefs to carry out his will. Many suicide bombers would argue in this case, but most people would argue that this is immoral and that God probably didn’t ask them to carry out the bombing. But how can we tell. Due to the epistemic distance, we cannot tell which messages we have internally are from God. The argument above finds it difficult to deal with the consequences. 
Most philosophers tend to lean towards the second horn using Aquinas’ work which was inspired by Aristotle. Aristotle interpreted goodness as good at or for something. That is to say, it looks at function and purpose to understand what is good. Aquinas used this to argue that God made everything in the universe to have a function and it is up to these natural laws to decide what is good. Therefore goodness was created by God in the form of the laws of nature but it is the functionality of the laws which determines what is good. 
This seems to work better than Kierkegaard theory   and most philosophers tend to lean towards it more. However, it doesn’t stop it from having problems. For example, is functionality really the right definition in this case. Yes, good can be defined by fulfilling a purpose, like a car getting someone from A-Z. However, it doesn’t seem right in terms of morality. Morality isn’t a case of getting from A-Z. In fact, in some cases it stops us doing as such, because our ends are deemed immoral. So yes, this explanation is better at overcoming the problems of the Euthyphro Dilemma, but what cost is it granted at?
~o~
Thank you for reading this week. I hope you enjoyed the post. If you like what you have read, please subscribe to the blog. If you have any questions, comment them down below or email me. You can also follow me on Twitter @p_a_absurdum. I will next be posting on Friday to examine the philosophy in Nigel Warburton’s article on why we shouldn’t boil crabs and lobsters alive and the ethics behind it, mainly in the form of utilitarianism and Singer. See you Friday!

Published by Philosopher Ad Absurdum

Student studying MA Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science at the University of Birmingham; First Class BA Philosophy and History from the University of Southampton.

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