I'm current reading one of the first of plato's dialogues, Euthyphro, concerning piety. At one point in their conversation, Euthyphro proposes to Socrates the following definition,

I) What all of the gods love/admire is pious; what all of the gods hate is not pious;

my understanding is that in other for the argument that socrates develops, to show Eutyphro that this definition cannot be correct, to make sense, (I) has to be equivalent to saying,

II) All of the gods love/admire something, because it is pious;

but i cannot see yet how (I) = (II), i dont see how definition (I) implies a specific form of causality... can someone help me understanding this passage?

Note: I know there are somewhat similar questions but they aren't really identical to what i'm asking, plus they are very confusingly written...

2 Answers 2


Ultimately, Socrates's argument does not rely on (I) = (II). Rather, it relies on the difference between (II) and what I'm going to call (III):

III) Something is pious, because all of the gods love/admire it.

We cannot have both (II) and (III), because that would be circular (the pious is defined as that which the gods love, and the gods love it because it is pious). So if (I) is a coherent position at all, it can only mean one or the other of (II) or (III), not both. Socrates then goes on to criticize both (II) and (III) as problematic in their own right. (III) is a poor definition, in Socrates's reckoning, because Socrates holds that a proper definition should be in terms of a thing's "essence" (or essential properties) rather than its accidental relationships with other things (such as the gods). (II) is problematic because it does not actually define what "piety" is, and that was the point of the whole exercise in the first place. Socrates argues that we can't complete the definition without eventually appealing to the gods and their values, and then we're back to (III) again.

The emphasis on "essence" will sound strange in the context of modern philosophy, but it was considered very important at the time. By modern standards, the problem with (III) is that it is arbitrary - the god(s) may love whatever they wish, and who is to say that the gods are right about that? If we appeal to some external notion of "rightness," then we're back to (II) again.

It should of course be noted that this is just Socrates's position. Other philosophers would later go on to dispute the argument that (II) and (III) are incompatible, and/or that they are the only valid interpretations of (I). Aquinas in particular had a rather elaborate response to the dilemma (in the context of Christianity, so "all of the gods" is replaced with the monotheistic "God," but it's the same argument in either case). Depending on your views of religion, you may or may not find Aquinas's argument reasonable (in short, he argues that "good" and "God's will" are synonymous rather than one causing the other).

  • oh i see, thank you for the answer, see... it didn't occur to me, maybe because of the translation i'm reading (I don't really know) that Socrates put (II) in the argument as a possibility, rather than an inevitable consequence of the argument they were constructing together, in this case i dont see why plato did this hole exercise if he could just say that (III) is a poor definition... since it is derived directly from the definition and all that explanation Socrates gives about actions and states of existing
    – ArielK
    Feb 13 at 22:02
  • 1
    @ArielK: I think Socrates may have anticipated some version of Aquinas's argument, but it's debatable whether Socrates actually preempts Aquinas effectively or not.
    – Kevin
    Feb 14 at 0:08

Plato himself in his theory of forms, which he develops from Pythagoreanism, eventually sides with the notion that The Good itself is an aspect of Divinity and hence Good-in-Itself. This is also the view that both Christianity and Islam takes of it.

  • The problem for Plato and Aquinas, is that it is logically possible that a very powerful spiritual entity.(a God) might not be purely Good. And per the Problem of Evil in the universe, this appears not only to be a theoretic possibility, but also very plausibly the case for our universe. One can legitimately POSTULATE that an omnipotent God is all Beneficent too, but whether that is the case for our world, is an empirical question, between any number of contingent possibilities.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 14 at 19:48
  • @Dcleve: It's not a problem for Platonism, Christianity & Islam as this is not what they believe. Feb 15 at 0:13

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