The euthyphro dilemma in new zealand

I recently had the opportunity to converse about tester certification with Carol Cornelius, who’s on the board of the New Zealand version of the ISTQB. The discussion went well in one respect: she did not physically run away. (Oh, and she concurred with me on the subject of Stuart Reid, which was nice to hear.)

[Considering that they misrepresent my ideas, perhaps she should have run away. To give two examples, my work on SBTM has been plagiarized in their Test Management Syllabus (page 47 of the Advanced Level Syllabus) and of course, they have taken it out of context and gotten it wrong. And my definition of exploratory testing has also been plagiarized and corrupted (page 51). It’s mischaracterized as a cute little informal test technique when in fact it is an approach, universal to good testing, that applies to any technique, and the citation they give (to a chapter I wrote in an out of date book) directly contradicts what they say about it.]

Well, Carol stood her ground, at least physically. But as the debate developed, she made an odd-sounding claim. She said words to the effect that the ISTQB Syllabus is what it is, and is not subject to her criticism. This shocked me, especially since this admission was made in a rather off-handed way – somewhat like commenting that the moon is in the sky.

The reason for my shock was the sudden realization that I was putting a lot of energy into arguing with a person who was, essentially, behaving as a puppet. Oh dear. I was doing the equivalent of yelling at my television instead of engaging the guy ON the television.

If someone defends a principle that he has not originated and is not free to change, reject, or even criticize, then he is not defending it rationally. He cannot. No rational defense can be made under those circumstances. Rationality, in fact, loses its meaning. What he is doing is simply advertising his commitment. And that has no more weight in an argument than

have the words of a baseball (or netball) fan who predicts his team will win the big game.

This triggered a niggling memory in me, and afterward it popped fully to mind: the Euthyphro Dilemma.

The dilemma occurs in the Platonic Dialogue of Euthyphro. Socrates is examining Euthyphro about the source of the notion of piety, or good behavior in humans. Euthyphro says that what is loved by the Gods (all of the Gods) is good. Then Socrates asks:

“Just consider this question: Is that which is holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?”

Now this isn’t just a question, but also an attack on the whole notion of appeal to authority. That’s why Carol’s offhanded comment triggered the memory.

Let me apply it to the case at hand: Is the ISTQB syllabus good because it’s a powerful, helpful set of ideas that define genuine testing professionalism, or is it good simply because the ISTQB organization says so?

This question is a dilemma for ISTQB supporters, because if they go with the first option, then they must:

Avoid making any claim or behaving in any way that suggests they believe the syllabus just because they are unable or unwilling to study testing for themselves. (Saying that the ISTQB Syllabus was beyond her criticism violates this one.)
Be prepared to explain and justify any aspect of the syllabus on when challenged by a colleague, just as anyone is normally expected to do for a personal opinion in a professional context. (I felt that Carol did not do this. At one point I cited my definition of coverage, and she agreed with it.

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The euthyphro dilemma in new zealand