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Fr. 381

August 30, 2013

One issue that could be raised here is the precise nature of the dependence, that is, the way in which “gets approved” predicates “being approved.” Socrates uses “because” to characterize the relation between the state and the treatment. The term “because” is itself quite vague; although it loosely characterizes the relation as causal, it has no precise logical bearing or orientation to offer the reader. “Because” simply does not strictly operate in the same way that a sentential connective such as “if…then” or “either…or” operates. The relation “because” cannot be presented as anything other than x precedes y and can be thought, in some way, to account for its coming to be. Although descriptively insufficient, Socrates’ simple model seems, however, more than enough to provide the general sense in which to understand the relation.

Another objection (as mentioned by Gallop) that one might raise here concerns the extent to which the examples presented by Socrates parallel one another. Gallop notes that “being approved or loved” is more similar to “being seen” than it is to the other two examples afforded (“being carried” and “being led”). Carrying or leading an object requires an alteration in its spatial relations or position; seeing or loving do not alter the object “in any way at all” (85). One might pursue this further by adding that the act of “seeing” is itself a passive or receptive process; the individual sees whether she wishes to or not. Given that the act of “loving” or “approving” involves some mental act or intention, it can thus be characterized as an active process even though it does not alter the object in any spatial manner2. This is not to say that it does not alter the object “in any way at all”, as the approved or loved object might take on new significance or importance, an alteration apparent only to the subject3. Regardless, this objection over parallels seems to lose sight of the basic issue: Socrates is elaborating a rough model for understanding the logical connectives between “state” and “treatment” rather than seeking definitional and structural cohesion in his set of examples.

The key to Socrates’ argument lies in the third section indicated above (10d). Euthyphro equivocates concerning the exact definition and structure of the holy, thereby making, in effect, the concession that his two definitions ((i) an act is holy because it is divinely approved or loved-by-the-gods; (ii) an act is divinely approved or loved-by-the-gods because it is holy) are interchangeable, that is to say, they have the same meaning. Herein lies the crux of Socrates’ entire argument. Socrates demonstrates in 10e-11a that, by substituting “divinely approved” or “loved-by-the-gods” for “holy” in the first construction and “holy” for “divinely approved” in the second, the two definitions prove to be entirely inconsistent with one another. Although, Euthyphro clearly identifies the “holy” with “divinely approved”, Socrates demonstrates with force that “holy” and “divinely approved” are, in fact, discrete terms or notions.

It is here that one can raise the most serious objection to Socrates’ method. That which enables this interchange is Euthyphro’s equivocation and identification of the “holy” and the “divinely approved.” As Gallop suggests, it is unclear whether Euthyphro’s claim to identity between the two terms guarantees their interchangeability between statements while still maintaining the statement’s truth. While Euthyphro claims that these terms possess the same meaning, the connotations bound up in the terms might significantly alter the sense of the statement. For example, “divine approval” entails a degree of judgment or taste that is lacking in the absolutist connotations of “holy.” Yet Socrates’ purpose is to underscore precisely this error in Euthyphro’s assessment, that is, that these terms are not equivalent. Considering that it is in this way that Socrates reaches the conclusion that “approval of something cannot be the reason for which one approves it” (Gallop 87), an objection of this sort seems unproblematic. With the introduction of new terms, however, it still seems plausible that any sort of comparison of truth between statements might be invalidated as the parameters and referent of the statement itself have changed. This is, however, a discussion best reserved for an in-depth examination.


2 A substitution of “looking”(with its intentional connotations) for “seeing” would likely enable a greater cohesion between the examples provided.

3 One could characterize this as the difference between the actual object and the intentional object.

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