My Karma ran over your Dogma

The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato‘s dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?

This has had major implications from a morality standpoint since this question posted by Plato can be reworded as follows – Is a deed a good deed because the deed itself is good or is it good because an external agency (i.e. GOD) says it is good. As stated by Plato,  this dilemma gives rise to TWO HORNS

a) FIRST HORN – A good deed is good because the deed ITSELF is good. In this case, God is NOT needed for morality since the deed’s goodness stands by itself. It does NOT need an external Agency. So this means limited Omnipotence i.e. Morality is possible WITHOUT God.

b) SECOND HORN – A good deed is good because GOD (external Agency) deemed it as good. In this case, Morality is arbitrary since any deed can be deemed as good by God. God can very well claim something like murder is a good deed. Omnibenevolence is compromised here.

Now I realize that there have been responses by Apologists like Dr. William Lane Craig to this which can be best described as weak. His claim is  – ” God simply is the ultimate Good and it is God’s nature to be the Ultimate Good”. This is weak since now we have pushed the problem from “good” to “nature”. Thanks to Dr. Craig’s line of argument we can restate this as:

  1. Does God have control over his Nature or
  2. Does He not have control over his Nature

If 1. it is Arbitrariness and if 2. it is Impotence! We are essentially back to where we started.

Having been brought up in the Hindu tradition I wondered if the Euthyphro Dilemma can also be applied to Karma? Karma is an important religious and philosophical concept in Hinduism. The Bhagavad Gita cites Karma Yoga or the Yoga of Action as one of the paths to Salvation. There are also other accounts of how “karmic balance” is used as the basis to explain the concept of Reincarnation i.e. Karmic Deeds from a prior life shape your current life. The explanation is if you are a child born into suffering and/or poverty it is because of your negative karmic action balance from a prior life.

Here is how I would like to pose the Euthyphro Argument:

a) Is a Karmic deed a good/ moral deed because the DEED ITSELF is good/moral?  OR

b) Is a Karmic deed a good/moral deed because an EXTERNAL Agent (i.e. GOD) deems so.

If a) then the Law of Karma does not have the necessity for an External Agent. If b) then the External Agent is arbitrary (like the Second Horn above).

While acting in a “selfless” manner and performing actions to improve the well being of others, as a concept is great, it can hardly constitute as a basis for religious morality and as a sufficient explanation for Reincarnation (in Hinduism). Here are my issues:

  • What is the standard for Karmic Actions? How does one determine selfless actions?
  • Who is keeping the “tally” or score for these actions? Remember if a Karmic Deed is good by itself then there is no GOD who is keeping this score. So how does this all work?
  • Where is the proof that performing Karmic Actions (by whichever definition) results in Salvation? What is the defined as Salvation here?
  • Where is the proof of Reincarnation? If negative Karmic balance from a prior life is a determinant for your experiences of your current life where is the proof?
  • And how do you explain force majeure events such as tsunamis; earthquakes etc.  from a karmic balance standpoint? Is there is different approach to “community karma”

You can see the issues are self-evident. At the risk of repeating myself  – living a life of good actions and altruistic deeds is a noble endeavor.

However one must be very careful not to conflate this with the promise of SALVATION!


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