“Is that which is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”(10a), is probably Socrates’ most famous question in the whole Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue. Socrates’ question was set to challenge Euthyphro’s definition of τὸ ὅσιον (pious or holy), namely pious is what all the gods love (9e).
Euthyphro’s definition could be outline as follows:
[D] Necessary: for every x, x is pious iff x is loved by all gods.
Socrates believed that [D], or in Euthyphro’s own words, “what all the gods love is holy and, on the other hand, what they all hate is unholy”(9e), is mere wind-egg. This article argued that Socrates’ challenge should be understood as a disjunction and not a dilemma.
After assenting to a revised definition that pious is that which is loved by all the gods, Euthyphro found himself cornered by Socrates with the following choices to make: (a) do all the gods love pious because pious is pious, or (b) is pious pious because all the gods loves it?
Richard Joyce correctly pointed out that,
That Socrates presents Euthyphro with a disjunctive choice is not to say that he presents him with a dilemma. An argument by dilemma would proceed as follows: “Assume the first disjunct. This leads to unacceptable consequence X. Now assume the second disjunct. This leads to unacceptable consequence Y. Therefore whatever presupposition led us to the disjunction must be false.” The so-called “Euthyphro Dilemma” is often presented in just such a way (as we will see later), but it is not how Socrates proceeds. Rather, Socrates quickly gets Euthyphro to assent to one disjunct, then reasons from there. After a few leading questions, he is satisfied that he has overthrown Euthyphro’s initial claim, and the other disjunct receives no further consideration.(Joyce 2002, 50)
Moreover Euthyphro could have hold both (a) and (b) without there being any really inconsistency. The sense to which Socrates used “because”, as Sir Antony Kenny rightly showed, in (a) is different from the sense he used it in (b). Stating that pious is loved by the gods because it is pious, shows gods’ motive while pious is pious because it is loved by the gods “recalls our stipulation about meaning”. Kenny offered a parallel example of (a) and (b), namely (c): “A judge judges because he is a judge (i.e. he does it because it is his job)” and (d): “A judge is a judge because he judges (that is why he is called a judge)” (Kenny 2004, 292) to show that like (c) and (d), (a) and (b) could both be true.
Since (a) and (b) are not mutually exclusive, Euthyphro does not have to choice either (a) or (b). He could agree with both (a) and (b) without there being any contradiction.
Further more, Euthyphro could simply rejected both (a) and (b) and present Socrates with another possible choice (e) by revising (a) to the idea that all the gods love pious because pious exemplifies their essential nature, thus bringing in another option, which he could defend, to choose from. Euthyphro’s possible revised (a), (e) could be outline as follows:
[EN] Necessary: for every x, x is pious iff x exemplifies all the gods essential nature.
These reasons led me to conclude that Socrates offered Euthyphro with a disjunction and not a dilemma. The next article in this series examined Socrates’ rebuttal of Euthyphro’s revised definition.
Joyce, Richard (2002) “Theistic Ethics and the Euthyphro Dilemma,” in Journal of Religious Ethics Vol. 30.1:49-75
Kenny, Antony (2004) Ancient Philosophy: A New History of Western Philosophy Vol.1. Oxford: Clarendon Press.