Socrates, Euthyphro 10a

Socrates: Euthyphro 10a

In Euthyphro 10a, Socrates directs his inquiry to Euthyphro about whether holy deeds are considered holy because they have been approved by gods due to their holiness or simply because the gods have stated that they are holy. The discussion takes place outside a courthouse where Socrates is being prosecuted by Meletus for using his wisdom to corrupt Athenian youths. He challenges Euthyphro, who is present at the court to prosecute his father for letting a prisoner die, to state what he considers to be holy or good. Euthyphros short answer is that a deed is holy when it is agreeable to the gods as being holy and when not agreeable to the gods as holy then it is unholy.

Socrates observes that even gods sometimes disagree on various issues therefore the concept of universal agreement on what is holy among the gods is questionable. In response to Eutyphro’s claim, Socrates inquires whether holy is only holy when approved by the gods or whether a deed is holy by its nature.

Socrates illustrates his point further by demonstrating the difference between being approved and getting approved. He states that when something gets approved it does so because someone has decreed that it be approved and not the other way. By Euthyphro’s definition, a deed meets the god’s approval because it is holy. It does not become holy simply because the gods have decreed it to be so. Therefore, because of its being worth of the god’s approval, it gets approved as being holy. This means that in reality there is a difference between what is holy by itself and what is approved by the gods.

From the argument presented by Socrates we can say that there are three things associated with a particular deed and three claims maintained by Euthyphro. The three things about a deed are: it is holy, it then gets approved by the gods, and lastly it is then divinely approved. The first two aspects deal with its approval by the gods while the third part is concerned with its state as something that is being approved of by the gods. Euthyphro’s three claims are: a deed gets approved by the gods due to its holiness; it is approved of because it gets approved as being holy by the gods, and finally what is considered to be holy is what has been approved of by the gods. Euthyphro is suggesting that what is holy and what has been approved by the gods are one and the same thing which is a fact that Socrates disagrees with.

The importance of this discussion can be attributed to the idea of morality being determined solely by divine authority. This is usually the case in most mainstream religious movements. For example the Judeo-Christian practices consider what it holy or good to be solely determined by God. We consider a deed to be good or desirable on the basis that God says it is so. The Judeo-Christian tradition does not give its observers any allowance to make a sufficient distinction to the nature of the act and its holiness. Observers of this religion are not allowed to confront the question whether God approves of a deed because it is good or whether a deed is good because God has decreed it to be so.

In line with Plato’s argument one might find inconsistencies in Judeo-Christian principles which hold that what is good or holy and what is approved by God are one and the same thing. This argument has become important in modern ethical theories seeking to ground moral responsibility in people’s autonomy and rational thinking instead of divine or Godly principles. It is also important in its acceptance of diverse views regardless of whether the philosopher is a believer in God or not.

Socrates is asserting that what is holy must, at the same time, be approved by all gods. Anything that falls short of the gods’ agreement at the same time would be considered to have been disapproved of therefore unholy. He further suggests to Euthyphro that whatever that is considered as holy must be just. Euthyphro, however, lacks a concrete explanation for what is just or the concept of justice without circling back to his premise of just also being dependent on divine approval.

From a Christian point of view, the Euthyphro dilemma is important in addressing the trust believers have to place in God since He is all good and benevolent and therefore goodness can only be measured by His standards. To the non-Christians, the dilemma is important in differentiating what is good from what is not good by socially set standards. For example, one can only know what the community holds as good or holy by appealing to some idea of communal goodness or holiness. The entire argument is aimed at avoiding running into pitfalls in an attempt to justify the goodness of an action.

Works Cited

Allen, R. E. Plato’s “Euthyphro” and the Earlier Theory of Forms. London, 1970

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