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Fr. 380

August 29, 2013

In the at once influential and somewhat suspect central argument of the Euthyphro, Socrates contends from lines 10a to 11a that Euthyphro’s definition of “the holy” employs circular logic in equating the holy with that which is “approved” or loved by the gods. Euthyphro’s equivocation enables Socrates to determine that neither the holy nor the loved-by-the-gods can serve as a derivation to ground the other. Socrates’ argument from 10a to 11a can be roughly divided into three sections: first, an agent-patient distinction (or “treatment” and “state”1) ((10a-b); second, an application of this distinction in the discussion of dependence (10c); third, Euthyphro’s equivocation and concession (10d) and Socrates’ treatment of the derivation and relationship of the holy and that which is divinely approved or loved (10e-11a). I will now examine each in some detail.

The lines from 10a-b serve to establish a distinction that Socrates will elaborate and exploit in later sections. In contrasting “carrying” with “being carried” and “seeing” with “being seen”, Socrates intends to bring out the difference between the agent of an action (that which is carrying out an action or treatment) and the patient (that unto to which the action or treatment is done). This distinction is somewhat obscured in 10b as the past participles, e.g. “carried” or “seen” are used in place of the active verb form as well as in the passive form. One might object here that the parallel no longer applies as the agent-patient distinction has been collapsed; this, however, is merely confusion, as one can determine from the way in which Socrates uses these examples that the underlying agent-patient distinction has been preserved, regardless of verb form. The essential distinction to note is that which David Gallop characterizes as the “contrast between a.) the state into which a thing is brought and b.) the treatment by an agent which gets it into the state” (Gallop 85, his emphasis).

In the second section indicated, 10c, Socrates expands upon the application of this distinction. He generalizes from the examples of “being carried” and “gets carried” to “being affected” and “get affected”: it is not the case “that it gets affected because it’s being affected, but that it’s being affected because it gets affected.” This example illustrates the way in which, to Socrates’ mind, the treatment (“it gets affected”) predicates the state (“it’s being affected”). He then applies this model to the example of “being approved” and “gets approved”, deeming that an action’s “being approved” depends upon an agent’s approving the action. This serves to illustrate more precisely the meaning of his earlier demand to Euthyphro for clarification.


1 As termed by David Gallop’s explanatory notes in his translation of Euthyphro.

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