Euthyphro: A Dilemma or Disjunction?

Socrates Dragging Alcibiades from the Embrace of Aspasia

“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.

Bibliography:

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.

Examining Plato’s Euthyphro Dialogue

Socrates Death I

Standing in the porch of the King Archon are two friends Socrates and Euthyphro.  Prosecuted by Meletus for corrupting the minds of Meletus’ young friends, Socrates came to defend himself from these charges.  Euthyphro, on the other hand, came to prosecute his own father for murder (Plat. Euthyph. 2a-4a¹).

Although his father and family were angry with him for this, Euthyphro, contrary to his family, judged his act as τὸ ὅσιον (pious, or holy), a righteous thing to do. His family, according to Euthyphro, did know little about the divine law in regard to piety and impiety (4e). Since Socrates was under a similar charge of impiousness, namely corrupting the minds of Meletus’ young friends, this was a perfect moment for him to learn from the well-learned Athenian Euthyphro the nature of piety and impiety (5a-d). What is piety and what is impiety?

Plato’s Euthyphro explores the nature of piety and impiety. This series of articles aimed to examine the Euthyphro and Socrates dialogue, focusing on Euthyphro 9d-llb, which is often misunderstood as a dilemma. I argued that Socrates does not present a dilemma but a disjunction. On behalf of Euthyphro, I showed that Socrates’ argument is invalid. I also examined the so-called “Euthyphro dilemma” showing that (a) it does not spring forth from Plato’s dialogue and (b) none of its conclusions drawn follows.

Euthyphro Under Fire & The Nature of τὸ ὅσιον

“[P]ious is to do what I am doing now,” answered Euthyphro, “to prosecute the wrongdoer, be it about murder or temple robbery or anything else, whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else; not to prosecute is impious.” (5d-e) Though Euthyphro’s particular act is supposedly an example of pious and impious, it does not explain what pious and impious are. Socrates thus correctly remind Euthyphro that he was not asking for examples but the definition of pious and impious (6d-e).

“Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious” (7a) answered Euthyphro.  This was what Socrates was asking for. Euthyphro second attempt is indeed a definition. The problem is, according to Socrates, there could be an act X that is pious to one god and impious to another.  Example, Euthyphro’s prosecuting his own father could be pious to Zeus but impious to Cronus and Uranus pointed Socrates (7b-9b). Thus X could be, in that definition, absurdly pious and impious.

Avoiding this contradiction, Socrates assisted Euthyphro to revise his definition (9c-d) to “what all the gods love is pious and, on the other hand, what they all hate is impious”(9e). Euthyphro definition of pious is thus:

Necessary: for every x, x is pious iff x is loved by all gods.

Next article in this series examined whether Socrates’ challenge is a dilemma or a disjunction.

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¹With a minor substitution of holy/unholy with piety/impiety, and holiness with pious, I followed Plato. Euthyphro in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921

Why Relativism Won’t Do

Socrates Death IIn the dialogue between Socrates and Theaetetus, as recorded by Plato, Theaetetus is presented as holding the opinion of Protagoras. Theaetetus explained to Socrates that “he who knows anything perceives that which he knows, and, as it appears at present, knowledge is nothing else than perception.”( Plat. Theaet. 151e)

Protagoras, according to Socrates, said “that man is ‘the measure of all things, of the existence of the things that are and the non-existence of the things that are not.’”(Theaet. 152a) Socrates interpreted Protagoras to mean that “individual things are for me such as they appear to me, and for you in turn such as they appear to you – you and I being ‘man’”(ibid).  Socrates presented peritropê case against that opinion in 159a-171e.

Some doctrines of relativism hold that what we mean by saying proposition p is true is that p is true for an individual i who believes p. When I assert something like: “it is true that that grass is green”, what I mean is that, “it is true that that grass is green for me”.

Following that chain of reasoning, all truth, we are led to believe, is relative to its believer in a given context. A proposition is not “truth” in and by itself, but only “truth for” its believer.

Now, like Socrates would have said, “come now, let us examine [this] utterance together, and see whether it is a real offspring or a mere wind-egg.” (151e) I think this form of relativism is a mere wind-egg. When I say to you that p is true, I am expected to give reasons why I think p is true or why I think you should also think that p is true. But if I say to you, p is true for me, I would not be surprised if your answer is: “good on ya’ Prayson, that is good for you, so what?”

If we reduce truth to truth for an individual, including a relativist holding such view, then the proposition “all truth are relative” is also true for its believer (i.e. a relativist holding such a view). If that is true, we can simply answer that relativist with, “good on ya’ that is good for you, so what?” If she wishes us to also believe that it is true that truth is relative not only for her but also for us, then she would have peritropê her own case against herself.


Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.

Plato’s Refutation of Relativism

Plato

Plato

In Theaetetus, Plato set to give arguments against Protagoras'(c 490-c. 421 B.C) epistemological relativism namely “Man is the measure of all things” or Whatever a person believes to be true is true, or that every person’s opinion is correct. Plato records the following dialogue between Socrates’ discussion with Protagoras:

Socrates: ” So you believe that each man’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s.”

Protagoras: “That’s correct.”

Socrates: “How do you make a living?”

Protagoras: “I am a teacher”

Socrates: “I find this very puzzling. You admit you earn money teaching, but I cannot imagine what you could possibly teach anyone. After all, you admit that each person’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s. This means that what your students believe is as good as anything you could possibly teach them. Once they learn that each person is the measure of all things, what possible reason would they have to pay you for any further lessons? How can you possibly teach them anything once they learn that their opinions are as true as yours?”

In short, Plato shows how self-refuting epistemological relativism is.  The opinion P is Q and P is not-Q as “Man is the measure of all things” and ” Man is not the measure of all things” are equally correct in epistemological relativism which is absurd.

What to conclude then:  When faced with two contradicting opinions, Either one is false or both are. Both can not be true. POW! A bullet in Epistemological relativism head.

Read More: Life’s Ultimate Questions, An Introduction to Philosophy, Ronald H. Nash