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Analysis of Socrates’ Objections to Euthyphro

Plato’s Euthyphro can be described as a vivid example of a Socratic definitional dialogue. In this dialogue, the concept to be defined is piety or holiness. Socrates encounters Euthyphro as he is about to prosecute his father on a murder charge for the unintentional killing of his mother. Socrates expresses concern at Euthyphro’s actions, but he defends himself by saying that the prosecution of his father is a holy act and not prosecuting him would be tantamount to unholy. Based on this answer, Socrates wonders whether Euthyphro’s knowledge of holy and unholy is sufficient to guarantee that Euthyphro’s act of prosecuting his father is not in itself unholy. It is at this point that Euthyphro embarks on providing discordant definitions of holiness and justifications while Socrates provides simultaneous objections and counterarguments.

From the perspective of Euthyphro, the question is whether or not his decision to prosecute his father is supposed to be settled by ascertaining whether or not it would be holy for him to do so. Based on his argument, the holiness angle of his action can only be determined by finding out whether all gods love the action or approve of it. Thus, moral questions should be settled through appeal to moral authorities, that is, the gods. This perspective resonates well with the authoritarian normative ethical theory. Nonetheless, Euthyphro’s definition and determination of what is holy is also contingent on an authoritarian meta-ethical theory given that holy according to him is defined in terms of the approval of an authority. In addition, he believes that the rationality and wisdom of gods is what validates their position as moral authorities capable of perceiving what mere mortals cannot perceive. Socrates’ main argument is that if holiness is to be defined from the perspective of gods’ approval, then the holiness of a particular action cannot be that upon which the gods base their approval of it. This means that if the god’s approval of a holy act possesses any rational basis, then, it must lie in their understanding of other aspects of the act. Socrates argues that it is from these aspects that holiness should be defined. Therefore, if a person’s normative ethics are authoritarian and the authorities are rational and utilize their rationality in formulating moral judgments, then his or her meta-ethics cannot be authoritarian. In order to discern this interpretation of Euthyphro comprehensively, it is vital to decipher each definition of holiness that Euthyphro provides and the objections presented by Socrates.Analysis of Socrates’ Objections to Euthyphro

Euthyphro’s first definition of holiness concerns what he is doing when Socrates encounters him, that is, prosecuting religious wrongdoers or offenders. Socrates contemplates this definition to be unsatisfactory and asserts that it is merely an example of holiness and not a general definition of holiness. When Socrates asks Euthyphro to give a general definition instead, the latter suggests that what is holy is that which is agreeable to the gods. As such, an unholy act is what is hated by the gods. Nonetheless, Socrates refutes Euthyphro’s second definition of holiness by stating that the gods sometimes disagree among themselves regarding issues of justice. This means that some gods may love a certain act, but certain gods may hate the same act. Based on this argument, an action will be rendered both holy and unholy by the gods which makes no sense.

Euthyphro’s most prominent attempt to define holiness comes is his third definition of piety which dictates that what is holy is that which is approved or loved by all the gods and unholy actions are those that all the gods hate. Upon hearing this definition, Socrates sets up an elaborate argument to evince that the two cannot be equivalent. First, he poses the question, do the gods love holiness because it is holy or is it holy because the gods love it? This question can be framed in a discordant context so as to bring it into clearer perspective, for instance, is a movie funny because people laugh at it when they watch it or do people laugh at the movie because it is funny. Saying that the movie is funny because people laugh at it would be bizarre. In other words, what we are saying is that the funny aspect of the movie is attributed to the attitude that people have towards it. The same argument is presented by Socrates who argues that considering an act to be holy because the gods reckon it is holy is looking at things the wrong way. In the same manner that people laugh at a movie because it possesses that intrinsic property of being funny, the gods ought to love an action because it is holy. As such, an act cannot be determined as holy just because all the gods love it. This means that the gods love holy actions such as helping a stranger in need of help because such actions have the intrinsic feature of being holy.Analysis of Socrates’ Objections to Euthyphro

Euthyphro responds by stating that holiness is a kind of justice that is specifically concerned with caring for or looking after the gods. Since Euthyphro considers the gods to be the epitome of moral authority, the justice accorded to them means that all that is just is holy. Socrates immediately expresses wonder at the statement “looking after the gods” as he contemplates it to be unclear. This expression is attributed to Socrates’ belief that the gods are omnipotent and as such, they do not need any person to look after them or accord them care as people cannot improve them. In response to Socrates’ argument, Euthyphro espouses his point of view by stating that holiness is a form of trading with the gods whereby people give them sacrifices and the gods answer their prayers. In other words, people’s sacrifices do not help the gods in any way, but simply satisfy them. However, Socrates counter-argues that saying that holiness is satisfying the gods relates to the definition that holiness is what is approved by the gods which redirects the dialogue back to the previous conundrum. At this point, Euthyphro abandons the dialogue and leaves in haste in vivid display of frustration.

Socrates objections of Euthyphro’s definitions of holiness respond to core the dialogue between the two, that is, the matter concerning whether holiness can be determined by what all the gods love. However, what does Socrates’ argument prove? It does not prove that holiness cannot be something that is loved by all the gods or “god-loved.” Instead, it only proves that holiness cannot be defined as that which is loved by all gods even if the reason for loving what is holy is because it holy. Nonetheless, this point of view is not sufficient to prove that holiness cannot be defined as that which is loved by all the gods. This is because the gods might have other reasons for loving what is holy. Notwithstanding, this implication is vivid at any rate, in that, if the gods have certain reasons for loving what is holy, it is these reasons that people need to focus on in their attempts at defining holiness.Analysis of Socrates’ Objections to Euthyphro

If the gods have a reason for loving holy acts, it can be argued that it is because these acts have or are thought by the gods to possess certain features that render them holy. Based on this understanding, it is these features that Socrates believes should serve to define holiness. The fact that the gods possess a rational love for what is holy may be pertinent to the problem of defining holiness. Nonetheless, it is in the rationality of the situation and not in the love that the solution to this problem lies.

It is imperative to note that the question regarding whether the gods love holiness because it is holy or an act is holy because the gods love it transcends the confines of the dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro. This is because it suggests a distinction between a conventionalist perspective and an essentialist perspective. The conventionalist perspective suggests that how individuals regard things determines what these things are. On the other hand, the essentialist perspective applies labels to things due to the fact they possess certain critical qualities that make them what they are. A good example of a practical question is: Are works of art placed in archives and museums because they are works of art or do people define them as works of art due to the fact that they are in the archives and museums?  An essentialist would take the first position, while a conventionalist would take the second. This analysis from different perspectives brings to light the discordant application of rationality when it comes to opinions about things, including holiness.Analysis of Socrates’ Objections to Euthyphro

The main point from the dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates is that if a moral concept is such that there is an authority whose judgment about whether or not something falls under the moral concept is rationally grounded and decisive, then the moral concept cannot be defined with regard to the authority’s judgment.