The Euthyphro Problem


Quotes_by_Socrates (1)

Raise curtain, Socrates is sitting on the steps of a courthouse in ancient Greece, a few hundred years BC, waiting to go to be indicted by Meletus. His crime? Corrupting the youth by speaking against the gods and making his own. Enter young Euthyphro; his business at the courthouse today is of another sort. He seeks to indict his own father for murder. The victim was a servant of his who himself had taken another slave’s life in drunken anger. Socrates questions Euthyphro’s motivation. How could someone seek to bring charges against their own father for the murder of a mere servant? Especially when, on further examination, negligence rather than firsthand bloodshed is the cause of death. Euthyphro’s answer is that the only pious action is to indict the one who has committed a crime no matter who it is. This leads to a lengthy discussion to attempt to define piety. Spoiler alert: Socrates isn’t happy with the outcome and Euthyphro flakes out and rushes off.

As with much of ancient Greek philosophical thought, we are left with more questions than answers. Primarily this one:

“Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?”

Translating this into something that looks more familiar to our modern culture and way of thinking we arrive at something that looks more like this:

  1. Are right actions right because God commands them?
  2. Are actions commanded by God because they are right?

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