I want to defend Euthyphro's claim that he was giving his father justice by prosecuting him in court for murder. I want to defend him not because I believe the gods really do tell us about justice, or because he really gave an appropriate account of "piety," "justice," or anything else. I want to defend him because he was right that it would be just to give his father a chance to defend himself from the accusations of others that he murdered a slave. If he was not able to have his own say, so to speak, he would have been forever fighting rumors, innuendo, and resentments, from people who had accusations that he could never adequately rebut.
I want to defend him because the Teacher of Righteousness would argue his action was just. The Teacher argues justice, as well as knowledge and value, in general, is a matter of both rhetorical and logical argument.
Socrates rejects Euthyphro's claim that he is being just in taking his father to court. He opposes Euthyphro because Socrates has his own account of justice, where, for him, it is a matter of either rhetorical or logical argument, but not both.
Euthyphro tells us he is taking his father to court because the gods tell him to do so would be just. He is only being pious. Socrates argues this is a problem. Relying on what the gods say is a problem because it is not clear what the gods say about justice. The gods disagree amongst themselves, for example. Some gods say one thing, and other gods say something else. You could find contradictory recommendations. Furthermore, Socrates points out, Euthyphro thinks taking his dad to court is just either because the gods say so, or the gods say so because it is just. If we are to think justice is merely whatever the gods say, then a problem arises as it would be possible for the gods to say one thing today and something else tomorrow. We would find justice to be a worthless guide because its directions could point us one way today and a different way tomorrow. We'd be lost and never get where we wanted to go. The view that the gods endorse prosecution because it is just suggests to Socrates we shouldn't rely on what the gods say. Instead, we should figure it out on our own. So, since piety cannot justify what Euthyphro is doing, his prosecution is not justified. If it's not right, suggests Socrates, maybe he shouldn't do it.
Socrates here fails to give us a reason to doubt Euthyphro's claim. Euthyphro claims it is only just that he take his father to court. He says this is what the gods demand. Socrates responds by claiming we should give up the idea this is justice because Euthyphro has no good reason to say it is so. Appealing to the gods, on Socrates view, is not good enough.
The Teacher could argue that Socrates mischaracterizes Euthyphro's position. Socrates makes Euthyphro's position weaker than it really is so that he can more easily reject it. Basically, Socrates lied about Euthyphro and the Teacher's view. He lied that Euthyphro did not have any arguments or concerns that would support his claim that getting one's say in court would be justice. Socrates instead brought up what Euthyphro thought about the gods. In effect, Socrates committed the "genetic fallacy."
Don Levi, in his Critical Thinking and Logic, explains this mistake in thinking as a problem of rhetoric, but should be a problem for anyone making an argument, even for Socrates who argues for logical argumentation . Levi says,
Rhetoric encourages you to commit the genetic fallacy of confusing how someone came to think or speak of something with whether it is justified.
It goes wrong by encouraging you to interest yourself in such personal matters as who is giving the argument and why she is bothering to do so, instead of teaching you to think logically about an argument.
Contrary to what Rhetoric suggests, as thoughtful readers, your only interest should be in the truth. You do not care why someone is giving the argument; your only interest is in whether the argument is any good. If it is, then on the assumption of the truth of the premises, you have a very good reason for believing the conclusion is true. (page 428)
The fact that Euthyphro believes that what he is doing in taking his father to court is justice comes from the gods, that it is a matter of piety, is a personal matter about how Euthyphro came to think the way he does. Maybe Euthyphro had a long history of being told the gods endorse the courts as a way to promote justice. His schools told him. His father told him. Everyone reinforced the view. This would all go to explain how Euthyphro came to think the way he did. It would be a mistake, however, to argue that Euthyphro was not justified in his claim that he should give his father a chance to speak for himself. Criticizing Euthyphro for his piety would be to confuse personal matters with the question of whether Euthyphro was right that getting a day in court was justice.
Socrates goes on to question whether Euthyphro even understands what piety is. His argument is that if Euthyphro, or anyone else, cannot explain the meaning of the terms of their arguments, arguments used to establish that they are just or pious, then it would be impossible for them to be just or pious. That is, he couldn't be pious, if he didn't know what piety was. He couldn't be just, if he didn't know what justice was.
Socrates may seem to be asking about the meaning of the words that people use to describe their actions. When Socrates asks about piety, it may seem that he is questioning whether Euthyphro understands the words that he is using to describe what he is doing. If we were to suppose Socrates was directing our attention to the words, we may misunderstand him to think Euthyphro was having trouble with speaking Greek, or tasks like prosecution, revenge, defending, observing, and so forth. This would be to misunderstand Socrates and to ignore the fact that he sees that Euthyphro can be used to support his account of knowledge and value. He is concerned to show that his own account of justice, as a matter of either rhetorical or logical argument, has no worthy opposition.
The idea that Socrates has an argument in mind, instead of educating Euthyphro about language, can be seen in Julia Annas's Ancient Philosophy, A Very Short Introduction, where she talks about "Socratic definitions." She says,
In many of Plato's dialogues Socrates suggests that you have to be able to provide a satisfactory answer to the questioner who wants to know what virtue is, or courage, or friendship, or the like. This is obviously not provided by trivially appealing to the meaning of words; it has to express the nature of virtue, or courage, in such a way that the person to whom it is successfully conveyed will be able not only to recognize examples of virtue, or courage, but to explain why they are examples of the virtue in question, relating them to its nature. This exploration is sometimes called a search for 'Socratic definitions', although 'definition' is an unhappy term here.
One standing puzzle about these dialogues is the following. Socrates is ambitiously searching for understanding of difficult concepts like virtue and courage. But his approach is always to question others, starting only from shared premises. This kind of ad hominem arguing relies only on what the opponent accepts and what it produces, time after time, are conclusions as to what virtue, courage, friendship and so on are not. Some self-styled expert makes a claim as to what virtue, etc, are, and Socrates shows that this cannot be the right answer. This does not, however, seem to move us towards understanding what virtue, courage, and so on are. Socrates shows that others lack understanding, but not in a way that seems to be cumulative towards obtaining understanding of his own. There appears to be a mismatch between the goal and the methods. There are many ways of resolving this puzzle, and philosophers are divided over it. (pages 63-64)
The question that Socrates asks is not about the words that Euthyphro uses, a question that might arise when Socrates could be concerned that Euthyphro was mumbling, or had some strange Greek dialect from the backwoods. Instead, his question is about one of the terms of the argument that Socrates assumes Euthyphro is pushing. Socrates promotes the idea that Euthyphro is advancing an argument in defense of his response to Socrates. He assumes that Euthyphro has to respond to Socrates' argument in kind. The kind of argument, that Socrates assumes Euthyphro pushes, is either of the rhetorical or the logical sort. And, given that Euthyphro's arguments must be of one of these sorts, on Socrates' view, he should be able to ask for him to define his terms.
Socrates here misrepresents Euthyphro and the account of justice promoted by the Teacher. This misrepresentation is about whether Euthyphro or the Teacher's view of justice has to give definitions for the terms of its arguments. Yes, on Socrates' view, the terms of rhetorical or logical arguments require definitions, but to make the same requirement of arguments on the Teacher's view would be to beg the question whether the Teacher's view is different than Socrates' view and whether it also involves the same implications for argument.
The difference between the Teacher's view and Socrates, again, is not a matter of the difference between rhetoric and logic. The Teacher is not just another Sophist. On the Teacher's view, knowledge and values, including the value of justice, are a matter of both rhetorical and logical argument. Another way to describe his view is to say they are a matter of contending points of view. Knowledge and values, for Socrates, are first a matter of either rhetorical arguments or logical arguments, but not both. Secondly, Socrates ultimately opts for the view that knowledge and values are a matter of logical argument.
Socrates misrepresents the Teacher's view by failing to acknowledge that an account of knowledge and values that involves both rhetorical and logical argument may not imply that language is impossible as does the view that Socrates supports - that knowledge and values are a matter of rhetorical or logical arguments, but not both. That is, the view that Socrates offers about the nature of knowledge and value implies that the terms of either rhetorical or logical arguments could have no meanings.
I understand this is a surprising claim. I'm saying the view that Socrates takes about knowledge and values doesn't just make it difficult to figure out what the meanings of the terms of arguments might be. That is, he doesn't leave us with a question about how must we be careful to look first at examples before trying to formulate definitions, or whether definitions come before examples. These would be questions that would arise for someone who thought the terms of Socratic arguments had meanings, though they might be difficult to articulate. Nor does he challenge us to determine whether the meaning of the terms of our arguments can best be obtained through rationalist or empiricist means. On the contrary, the terms can't have meanings. There is no method whatsoever that would give them something they can't have.
This is a surprise. Philosophers have assumed that when Socrates went about asking people whether they could define their terms, that somehow there would be an answer. The surprise is that he lead us on a wild goose chase. There are no such definitions.
So, why is this? The terms of logical or rhetorical arguments can have no meanings because Socrates understands that in making distinctions, one can only understand what has been distinguished if you can refer to all parts of the distinction. So, for example, we may distinguish up from down, right from left, in from out, hot from cold, change from stillness, or the one from the many. When we then use some distinction to understand something, say our way to the store, we would understand going left by contrasting it with going right. We could not understand directions to the store if we spoke of "left" without being able to refer to "right". Socrates relies on this fact of how to make something senseless when he takes our understanding of argument and makes a distinction between rhetorical argument and logical argument and then says we can only understand the whole in terms of one of its parts.
To explain the distinction between rhetoric and logic I want to again refer to Don Levi's discussion of argument, in his Critical Thinking and Logic. He says,
An argument is given when an arguer takes a position or stand on an issue and offers support or backing for it.
An argument is given in connection with a controversy, but the controversy is not the argument. We are talking about an argument given for or against a position in the controversy: to be giving an argument, arguers must be doing more than merely taking a stand; they must offer support for it.
When you consider what is at issue, you can see what the difference is between, for example, an explanation and an argument.
I can tell you why your car is overheating. There is a leak in your radiator.
When my mechanic tells me this she is not arguing for the claim that the car is overheating. I brought the car to her because it was overheating; there is no controversy over that. When she explains to me why it is overheating; she is not giving an argument to establish that it is overheating. There may be a conflict over her explanation -- that is something we can argue about. But then an argument needs to be given for or against that explanation. However, the explanation itself is not an argument. The mechanic is not arguing that it is overheating, she is explaining why it is. (page 27)
I take it this is the understanding of argument that both the Teacher and Socrates basically accept. It is the basis for their disagreement about the nature of knowledge and values. It is what the Teacher supports in order to obtain the "Kingdom of God" on earth. It is what Socrates must undermine in order to guarantee that the self survives and is free of want and suffering.
Socrates makes a distinction in argument between logic and rhetoric. Levi also explains how we are to understand logical as opposed to rhetorical argument. In the course of his text, he tells us,
A definition is offered in this lesson that refers not to the argument as actually stated, but to a paraphrase of it:
An argument (in logic) is a statement that is given support, support that takes the form of a statement or statements.
This definition is to be used in determining whether something is an argument. (page 212)
The definition here of a logical argument can be compared with the definition of argument given previously. There is a significant difference in that our understanding of logic does not include anything about arguers or controversies. The distinction is made here between some part of arguing that concerns logic and other parts that do not. Rhetoric, one may presume, is concerned with the parts of argument that logic is not. Levi gives us an idea of how this distinction is understood. He says,
...(In rhetoric) to determine whether an argument has been given, you are told to consider whether the speaker or writer is engaged in an argument. By contrast, Logic has nothing to say about the need to consider whether any arguing is being done, whether the position taken is on a controversial issue. To properly read an argument, you need to take into account the audience being addressed, the point of view of the arguer, the issues that divide the arguer from his or her opposition. Nothing was said about the need to consider these aspects of the rhetorical context in the lessons on Logic. (page 426)
...The real issue between Logic and Rhetoric is over what is involved in appraising an argument. The rhetorical context may be important in reading an argument, but how is it important in appraising it? Take the question of the audience for the argument. For Logic, an argument is directed to someone whose only question is, "Given the premises, does the conclusion follow?" So there is no need to identify the audience. Or consider the question of point of view. For Logic, it does not matter why someone argues as he does, all that matters is whether his argument is any good. Or take the question of what is at issue between the parties to the controversy. For Logic, it does not matter whether there is any fight. All that matters is whether sufficient support is offered by the premises for the conclusion. So, rhetorical context does not seem to be relevant to the appraisal of an argument.
The problem is that Rhetoric doesn't seem to have anything to say about the question of whether the conclusion follows from the premises. (page 427)
So, one way of putting the distinction is that Logic concerns itself with the claim and its support, whereas rhetoric concerns itself with the controversy involving other arguers. The Socratic account of knowledge and values is that we understand these things in terms of either rhetorical argument or logical argument, but not both. That is, we can understand knowledge and value in terms involving claims that are made and their support, or in terms of controversies with various arguers, but not both. The Teacher would reject this distinction made in argument when it is used for the purposes that Socrates has put it to. He rejects the Socratic claim because no one could understand how to get to the store if directions could refer only to going right, or to going left, but whatever the directions - they cannot include both right and left.
The impossibility of any term in any rhetorical or logical argument having any meaning stems from the fact that, on Socrates' view, he's made a distinction in our understanding of argument and denies us the ability to understand one by referring to the other.
So, the problem of determining the meaning of justice as a term in a logical argument results from the fact that logical arguments are not about any controversy and, hence, unlike rhetorical arguments, cannot be compared. So, the strong may argue that justice is what they say it is, so that it would be just to give all of one's valuables to those more powerful when they ask for them. The weak, on the other hand, may argue it would not be just to be forced to give up what they require to live, merely because someone more powerful demanded it. In this case the meaning of justice would be impossible to determine because there would be no way to compare or contrast the logical arguments provided by the powerful and the weak. There would be no "common ground" even for the weak or powerful to start a discussion.
One might wonder whether the meaning of justice could be determined by relating the term to some aspect, property, or object in the world that both the powerful and the weak share. The presumption would be that as the word used by both the powerful and the weak is the same, the thing that they both refer to in the world they both live in must be the same. Once they both determined the thing that they both were referring to when they talked about justice, they could come to a resolution to their conflict.
The problem is that as justice is understood in terms of logical arguments, and as logical arguments are not about controversies, they therefore cannot be compared, then whatever one argument might mean by justice cannot be compared with whatever any other argument might mean by justice.
So, for the sake of argument, we might suppose the powerful articulates an explanation about what they mean by justice. This explanation might be put in terms of some account together with pictures or diagrams. However, in order for the weak to understand their explanation, they have to understand the terms of the account and its accompanying visuals. In order to have the weak understand the terms of the explanatory account, the powerful would also have to explain what they meant by those terms. So, they'd have to give a further explanations. This process would continue on ad infinitum. There is no way to compare the terms of one logical argument with the terms of another.
By this argument the terms of logical arguments cannot have meaning. The same problem arises with rhetorical arguments. Although rhetorical arguments involve controversies and many arguers, they do not speak to the fact that arguments involve support given to the claims that arguers make. We can look at the prototypical logical argument: If p, then q; p, therefore q. In considering logical arguments, there is a question whether a term that appears in the premises has the same meaning when it appears in the conclusions. In this example, the question arises whether the p or the q in the premises are the same p's and q's as in the conclusion. If the term does not have the same meaning, then the argument is flawed and cannot be valid. The problem with rhetorical arguments is that as they do not speak to the fact that the premises that support their argument's claims must address the conclusions of the arguments. Their support must be relevant and address the same things as the conclusions. In rhetorical arguments, there is no question whether the support offered for a claim is actually relevant to it. So, as we cannot tell whether any term in the claim of a rhetorical argument is the same as a term in its premises, we cannot determine the meaning of those terms.
Socrates promotes the argument that knowledge and values are a matter of either rhetorical or logical argument. This view implies that the terms of either logical or rhetorical arguments cannot have meaning. Language understood on the model of these arguments, on Socrates view, would be impossible.
That is, if we understand knowledge and value as being a matter of what's on two sides of a coin, Socrates tells us our understanding is about what's one one side or the other, but not both. I'm saying that like when we try to give directions to the store, if we can only talk about going right, or only about going left, it will be impossible to give any such directions.
The problem of definition arises when we try to give definitions to things that can(not) have them.
Philosophers have tried to deal with the problem of 'Socratic definitions' without trying to understand its origin. So, Socrates is famous for asking people whether they knew what they were doing. That is, he demanded they explain the nature of something. For example, he argued that if Euthyphro could not explain what piety was, he could not be pious. If Euthyphro could not explain what justice was, he could not be understood to be just.
Some argue that any account of the nature of something has to start with an examination of examples, particularly of things about which we speak. So, John W. Powell in his paper What's Wrong with Definitions argues that we need to start with examples in order to be able to construct Socratic definitions. That is, we cannot give any kind of helpful general account of piety or justice before we have adequately examined examples where we use those words. He says,
Another possibility: Socrates' impulse to squash examples, if we can keep our critical faculties in the face of his questions, might be a mistake. ...The idea that if we can identify examples then there must be a way we do the identifying and that way is what we want to articulate - - well, that's a toughie. It's an argument that is very difficult to deal with, especially if we insist on thinking about it at an abstract level. But the criterion argument and Meno's paradox are also toughies and lead to the claim that possibly Socrates has reversed the logical priority of definitions and examples. After the definitions in Plato's dialogues have all gone down to defeat, the examples from the beginnings remain. And what is the test when examples and definitions do not agree?
...And given cases of knowledge or cases of science or cases of fairness or cases of love, where we know the cases are good cases (and there are such cases), or we know the cases are marginal or problematic, if the definition does not agree or confirm what we know about the cases, then it's the definition that goes in the crapper, not the examples. To the extent this is so, examples are logically prior to definitions. (page 3 of 4)
John Powell is here describing one way of trying to learn about piety or justice. He thinks that Socrates was wrong to look to definitions before he spent enough time looking at examples. Powell supposes that one can only rely on some definition, or general account, once that definition has been established upon an examination of sufficient and relevant examples. However, Powell fails to see that on Socrates' account, the examples are impossible to agree upon. Descartes, for example, thought that his problems with knowledge could be solved by looking first to examples. He tried to show that a clear example of him writing in his study could clarify the nature of knowledge. However, he had one way of looking at his writing involving his being awake, and another way involving his dreaming he was writing. Given that he assumed his examples were to be understood as a matter of logical argument, he was in no position to determine which of the arguments was true. Powell is in the same position. If his examples are to be understood in terms of logic, like Descartes, he cannot understand the point of giving arguments, he cannot give an account of knowledge or value.