The primary philosophical issue
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What is the primary philosophical issue which Socrates and Euthyphro are in disagreement?
The primary philosophical issue Euthyphro and Socrates disagree on is “what is holy and what is not holy” p7, 5c11-d2. Socrates extracts Euthyphro’s thoughts on what the definition of holy verse unholy is in an attempt to use them in his own trial, and later to show Euthyphro that his ideology is flawed. Socrates takes the side of essential knowledge (the nature of something). Euthyphro takes the side of particular knowledge (the characteristics of knowledge). Euthyphro says “I’d say the holy is just what I’m doing now: prosecuting wrongdoers, whether in cases of murder or temple-robbery, or those guilty of any other such offense, be they one’s father or mother or anyone else whatever; and failing to prosecute is unholy” p7, 5d10-e3. Euthyphro believes it his duty to be a voice for the man that has died because no one else will do the morally correct action. Socrates says “Then don’t you realize that now you’re equating holy with what the gods love” p15, c7-8. Socrates unfolds a long and twisting sequence of questions to try and find out what the exact definition of holy is from Euthyphro.
Socrates questions Euthyphro because Euthyphro claims to be an expert on religion. The first logical mistake Euthyphro makes is “gods disagree on what is holy and unholy” p9, 8a5-8. Euthyphro tells Socrates that “what is agreeable to the gods is holy, and what is not agreeable to them is unholy” p8, 6e14-7a1. Euthyphro says this because this makes logical sense to him. Once Socrates delves deeper into the statement it becomes less of a straight-forward answer. Socrates says “So by this argument, Euthyphro, the same things would be both holy and unholy” p9, 8a10-12, and Euthyphro agrees. The second mistake Euthyphro makes is “The holy is what is loved by all the gods” p9, 8a5-8. This is a difficult statement to stand behind because the opinions of the god’s differ on many subjects. Euthyphro says “whatever all the gods hate is unholy, and whatever they all love is holy” p10, 9d2-5. Socrates says “is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy? Or is it holy because it is love” p11, 10a1-3. Socrates gives Euthyphro some practical examples to try and lead Euthyphro to the understanding of what he said, does not make sense. It would only take one god not agreeing to what the others agreed to make that statement false.
The third mistake Euthyphro makes is a circular argument (tautology). Euthyphro doesn’t define any of the terms, but makes one term dependent upon the other. Euthyphro says “holy is: what is loved by the gods” p15, 15b5-6. Socrates has come full circle in the quest for what is holy and unholy. Socrates says “Then we must start over again, and consider what the holy is” p15, 15c16-17. Euthyphro just got led full circle, back to the beginning of the argument. Euthyphro created this circular argument but it doesn’t answer the question of what the holy is. Socrates is looking for a concrete definition of what holy is, and Euthyphro cannot give him one. The conclusion of the argument is Euthyphro becomes frustrated and leaves before he answers Socrates questions. Euthyphro says “Some other time, Socrates: I’m hurrying somewhere just now, and it’s time for me to be off.” p16, 15e4-6. Socrates says “What a way to behave, my friend, going off like this, and dashing the high hopes I held!” p16, 15e7-16a, I agree with Socrates. I know he was being a pain in the backside, but he showed Euthypyhro how weak his argument truly was. I think Socrates could have sugar coated it a little bit, but I don’t think that was his style. Pride can lead you down an embarrassing road!