Euthyphro: “Are the acts pious because God loves them, or does God love them because the acts are pious?”

Socrates asks Euthyphro “Are the acts pious because God loves them, or does God love them because the acts are pious?”. To give some context to this quote, Socrates encounters Euthyphro outside of the court of Athens. Socrates has been charged with impiety and corrupting the youth but later that charge was changed to Atheism. Euthyphro gives Socrates four definitions of what he believed is piety. I believe this question is invalid and logically unsound because of the logical fallacy false dilemma, and I would agree with the latter question because of the very nature of God and lastly, the very fact we can never understand the essence of piety or holiness is the very definition of what we cannot grasp.

The logical fallacy that I would like to present is the false dilemma, which involves presenting two opposing views, options, or outcomes in such a way that they seem to be the only possibilities: if one is true, the other must be false, or, more typically, if you do not accept one then the other must be accepted. The Euthyphro dilemma presents only two options and we must choose one of them, while the other option is false. I believe that both of these questions can be accepted, with a deeper knowledge of who God is and his attributes. God can love the acts because they are pious but we must ask the question why he loves the acts, which are pious. The latter question addresses the second part of the dilemma, which I will be focusing on at a later point. I would like to raise a counterargument where one might say, “If something is good because God wills it, then goodness is arbitrary”. I would simply respond that this question deals with morality and not goodness or piety, therefore, morality is objective, not arbitrary, so this would not make sense. Another argument one might raise is that “if God wills something because it is good, then goodness must exist apart from God”. I would say that this is also wrong because God existence is necessary for the existence of morality.

In regards to the first dilemma, which is “Are the acts pious because God loves them”, I would say yes but we must raise another question that is why does God love pious acts? The best logical answer is that God wills something or does something because he himself is good. In other words, it is the very nature of God that is the standard of goodness. God himself is pious and holy and everything that he commands is good because he cannot command evil when he himself is not evil. With this answer, a person might counter argue and ask, “If it is not in God’s nature to do evil AND God is omnipotent, how do we account for the evil in the world? On both a moral and natural sense”. We as humans are given free will and as cliche as it sounds; this plays a big role in the society we live in. God could have easily made us robots, always following his commands that are perfect and pious, but then why create something that you have full control over and could not express themselves? Therefore, God gave humanity free will, the ability to choose between good or wrong. Therefore, it is not God’s fault for the wrong and evil we create in this world, rather it is for our greediness and selfishness, which causes us to do evil in this world. By this being said, could God prevent evil? Of course, he can, he is all-powerful, but he allows us to exercise the free will that he has given us. A classic story that has been read to question God and his morality, and whether he is moral or not, is the story of Abraham and his son Isaac. In this story, God commands Abraham to kill his son Isaac. You might be asking yourself “how can a good God order such thing?”. Yes, it is cruel that God would order a father to kill his son but the question becomes did God allow Abraham to actually kill his son Isaac? The answer is no, in fact, God did stop Abraham from killing his son. Yes, God literally prevented Abraham from killing his son by providing a ram for Abraham to kill and offer as a sacrifice to God. God cannot order something, which is contrary to his very nature or character. It is impossible for him to do so.

When Euthyphro gave Socrates five “definitions” of piety, Socrates rejected them all because it never defined the essence of piety. The word “essence” means nature or quality of something. Socrates wanted to find the nature or quality of piety and holiness. As mentioned before, I believe God himself is the nature of piety and holiness, for all goodness and holiness comes from him. The first definition that Euthyphro gave was that “piety is doing as I am doing; prosecuting anyone who is guilty of murder, sacrilege or of any similar crime…and not to prosecute them is impiety”. Socrates rejects this because it never defined the characteristics, piety, or holiness, but rather that is an example of piety. Moreover, Socrates asked again, “what is piety” and he further clarified to Euthyphro “I did not ask you to give me two or three examples of piety, but to explain the general idea which makes all pious things to be pious”. In response, Euthyphro responded, “piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them”. In this case, Socrates also rejects this by criticizing that the gods disagree among themselves as to what is ‘pleasing’. As a result, a particular action, which is disputed by the gods, would be both pious and impious at the same time – Socrates states that although many differences, if went by arithmetic, should not that settle the case for differences? In which, Euthyphro responds yes. The fact that a particular action can be both pious and impious does not make sense, in fact, Socrates said “does every man love that which he deems noble and just and good, and hate the opposite of them?” so in that sense, this attempted definition could not possibly be a definition. Moreover, the third definition that was given to Socrates by Euthyphro was that piety is “what all the gods love is pious and what they all hate is impious”. Regarding this attempted definition, this is where the Euthyphro dilemma arises. At this point, Socrates is pointing out that being in a state is not an essential characteristic the thing being done in that state. In other words, the fact that the gods like a pious action does not make the action pious. This definition is therefore flawed. Secondly, the fourth definition, which was given by Euthyphro, is that “piety is the part of justice concerned with the care of the gods” – which presents a problem because according to Socrates, to know what God wants, can be prideful. Moreover, we cannot just say something is simply because we believe in it, rather we must find proof. Lastly, the last definition was that “piety, he says, is an art of sacrifice and prayer”. As Euthyphro admits, piety is intimately intricate with what the gods like. At this point, this discussion has come full circle and no international definition to describe the essence of piety or holiness was provided.

Allow me to say this, the very fact that we cannot describe the essence or piety or holiness would be the alternative reason, which the Euthyphro dilemma does not provide. The Euthyphro dilemma provides two options, but I believe there is an option to describe piety or holiness but we cannot grasp it with our finite minds. To understand the essence of piety and holiness is equivocally the same as understanding God, if we are to take that assumption that the very nature of God and character is pious and holy. This would be the third reason that neither man nor philosopher will be able to grasp or define.

In conclusion, Euthyphro and Socrates have spent time and effort to define what pious and holy is, and with all given efforts, did not come to a satisfying definition. This question not only poses a false dilemma but also begs the question in a circular reasoning fashion. I believe that neither man nor philosopher will ever be able to understand the true essence of piety or holiness, for it is the very nature of God, which piety and holiness stems from. I conclude with this quote said by Euthyphro, which shows his struggle towards defining the essence of piety and holiness, “I really do not know, Socrates, how to express what I mean. For somehow or other our arguments, on whatever ground we rest them, seem to turn around and walk away from us.”


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