Monday, September 30, 2013

What is Pious?

The main question that arises in Euthyphro is about what is pious.  In everyday language, being pious (having the quality of piety) means being reverent and respectful to god(s).  Euthyphro equates piety with justice.  In other words, he thinks that what is just is decided by what the gods love.  What the gods love is the first conceptual definition of pious that Euthyphro offers.  Before offering this conceptual definition, he attempted to provide an ostensive definition of pious; this kind of definition is also called a definition by example.  In other words, Euthyphro tried to define the word by providing an example of something that is pious.

Socrates dismantles the first conceptual definition offered by Euthyphro (that what is pious is what the gods love) by pointing out that the gods disagree often and that some things will be both god-loved and god-hated.  But to say that a thing is both god-loved and god-hated is a contradiction!  Clearly this definition is unacceptable.

Euthyphro then amends his definition.  He says that what is pious is whatever all gods love.  At this point, Socrates asks if being loved is like being seen, carried or led.  Euthyphro agrees that they are all alike because something is only loved, seen, carried or led if there is someone or something else that is doing the loving, seeing, carrying or leading.  Then Socrates asks if pious things are pious because they are loved or because they are pious.  They agree that pious things are pious simply because they are pious.  Pious people and pious things do not need to have any other person or thing acting upon them in order for them to be pious.  Yet now we have a circular definition.  Euthyphro first says that pious things are things that are loved by all gods.  Second, he says that the gods love pious things because they are pious.  He attempts to define piety in terms of what the gods love.  Then he says that the gods love it because it is pious.  The definition refers only to itself.  It creates a circle of reasoning.  It is the same thing as saying, "I like coffee because it's good and it's good because I like it." or "That is morally wrong because it's morally wrong".  In technical terms, circular reasoning makes the mistake of assuming the truth of the conclusion as a premise for an argument.  If we are to define piety in terms of what the gods love but also assume that the gods love it because it is pious, then we assume the truth of our claim when trying to explain it.

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