PAGE 1 : THE ADVENT OF THE SHADOW :
THE SOCRATIC QUEST OF THE DIALECTIC
You are mistaken if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action, and that is whether he is acting rightly or wrongly. And I, not by word but by deed showed that death mattered nothing to me, but it mattered everything to me that I do nothing unjust or impious.( Socrates )
The form of this investigation was dialogic : reasoned arguments in a public place, in a public forum, where the only force that a free person is supposed to recognize is "the force of the unforced argument" the " peculiarly unforced force of the better argument" in a discussion among free citizens. The dialogs of Plato are built upon that kind of political life - the dialog is essential to knowledge. Sometimes the Platonic dialog may not "get anywhere definitive", and the questions asked seem to run around in circles but just the charm and pure beauty of the talk that may contain a glimmer of truth or transcendence. The power of thought for its own autonomy and its own beauty might mean something. Just asking questions like what is beauty, honor, truth, goodness, piousness, justice - to try to get at the meaning of these big words that philosophy uses to ask the most important questions about human beings, was profound then as compared to the modern use of these terms as advertising slogans as characteristics of products that you can get in a immediate way by consuming them. And now it has become difficult to reestablish their meaning. But for Socrates and Plato to even try to get at the meaning of these terms not only for its own sake but also to as they mean and apply to oneself and to their fellow citizens was a profoundly civic act. - Rick Roderick ( TTC - Philosophy and Human Values)
The pre-Socratic philosophers were mainly speculators of the physical world ( cosmos ), they wondered and made bold assertions about what they thought constitutes the world, the stars etc., that is what were things made of - an ultimate or absolute substance from which comes everything. Some speculated about ideas of motion or change (or lack of it) and even made confident assertions and claims about what they thought must be so, without even bothering about the elementary or fundamental basis of reasoning : that any reasoning and argument is based or founded upon assumptions and concepts that must be at the very least acknowledged at the outset and only then hypotheses built upon so and so assumptions and such and such concepts related to these assumptions. For example, most of the cosmologists made an assumption ( without acknowledging it ) that everything must consist of a "basic stuff" or "fundamental substance" from which all the cosmos was constituted, and made wild guesses at what it could be. Again they didn't acknowledge that this was sheer speculation on their part but went ahead and made positive assertions like "everything is air" or "everything is water" and so on. As was to be expected, these wild speculations did not lead anywhere except that it got an argument going, and thus by default, the process of reasoned argumentation started picking up momentum.
It was reason run riot, but at least reason was running. - Anthony Gottlieb -The Dream of Reason
This progressed somewhat to argumentation about ideas like change, motion and then opposing ideas like changeless or absolute. Again, one person would hold steadfast to one extreme position and argue for it, and another would come along to contradict it by arguing for its extreme opposite position. By discovering conflicting ideas through this process of argumentation, the Greeks stumbled upon the crucial intellectual idea of "paradox", but failed to develop it or realize its significance. Although Socrates had some sense about its significance, and certain meaningful paradoxes ( like Meno's paradox ) were tackled by him, the larger and more abstract significance eluded even his brilliant mind.
In this cacophony of arguments came the Sophists who cashed in on the developing Greek appetite for listening to arguments that were increasingly being used in politics, courts and commerce to sway people one way or another not by solidly reasoned arguments but by a new kind of argument ( rhetoric ) that would appeal to emotions. Arguments that would appeal to the reasoning faculty of people had fewer and fewer takers, whereas igniting emotions through oratory was the surest way to rally masses of people or jurors behind the skillful orator, who could and would eventually promote his own interests at the cost of others, even those rallying behind him.
Socrates was opposed to the
Pre-Socratic 'physicists' who had provided a materialistic, rational and
non-teleological accounts of nature, that is, without any reference to any kind
of myth and without reference to any kind of purpose. An account of nature as a
blind, irrational set of material objects constantly in flux - a theory that
could be applied across the board to all phenomena of sense perception. The sun
was to be considered not as a golden chariot of Zeus but only as a 'hot rock'.
These accounts although look more or less innocuous, but was of the greatest consequence to political and moral order for Socrates, because the earlier mythological accounts were connected to the political and moral order, and these 'physicist' accounts were not. When a materialistic, non-teleological account of nature is transposed into a social world it leads to a corrosive skepticism that undermines all our notions of right and wrong. It promotes selfishness, deviousness, untrustworthiness. It breaks the bounds of moral order. 'Physics' creates a centrifugal force in our social relations which drives us all to atomized individuality - it breaks all social bonds. When you take this to the social, political sphere all you get is sophistry - attempt to self-consciously manipulate words to ends that you desire. The Sophists then take advantage and cash in on this moral vacuum with this new techne of speech (rhetoric). The Greek word techne means art - a kind of craftmanship. This new art of rhetoric developed by the Sophists as an outgrowth of Ionian physics is Socrates'prime problem and of Plato, being the inheritor of Socratic problems.
....................TTC. M. Sugrue
In such a scenario came Socrates, and the conditions were perfectly ripe, the arena was set for him, to ask profound questions about fundamental human centered issues, rather than divine or material centered ones, as also question the very process or method of discourse and the motivations behind the methods which were in use, as well as the purpose towards which the discourse was directed. After studying all the "materialists", he came to the conclusion that useless speculations about the material world or even the absolute was an utter waste of his time and energies, and that the worthy pursuit of any genuine thinker was the special place of the human being and his relation to society in general and the developing polis in particular, the key concept in this relationship being "justice".
You don't get the sense of that heroic depth from Zenophon's treatment of Socrates that you do from Plato. In Plato we see a demon ( daemon* ) - something superior to human life - a love and passion for knowledge that exceeds what anyone can possibly hope for within the confines of human possibility. Socrates for Plato is a sort of demon of knowledge - a hero of thinking that is intended as an image of what Greek life could become.... TTC. M. Sugrue
Socrates changes the focus of investigation away from the stars, cosmos and the composition of the earth, and directs the investigation of philosophy towards human beings - towards human concerns. This was the genesis of the split between the "culture of the sciences" and the "culture of the humanities", and knowing yourself as a crucial part of knowledge. Know thyself for Socrates was the beginning of wisdom, and for him this was more than a mere motto. The most important knowledge was the knowledge of "who you are". Socrates believed that one could have all kinds of knowledge, but without the crucial knowledge of oneself, one could be totally lost. Philosophy in Socrates begins in a quest for meanings that transcend the here and now - questions that profoundly inquired into what human beings were.- Rick Roderick ( TTC - Philosophy and Human Values)
After the loss of power by Athens in the devastating Peloponnesian war, words that had become standard in the culture of the Greeks, words that had been used unproblematically with meaning attaching to definitive positions, began to be sources of irritation and so the grounds for the possibility of the Socratic inquiry was not so much his own individual genius as the appearing of conditions in which a society may well begin to question what these words really meant.
Not all kinds of inquiry can appear in just any setting - there are conditions for the possibility of certain questions being asked.- Rick Roderick ( TTC - Philosophy and Human Values)
Its not that many or even few in shell shocked Athens, after defeat in war, were openly asking questions or inquiring into the crucial terms that were in everyday use in their discourse, but Socrates was the first to do so, and this was a source of irritation to the conservative and orthodox Athenians. But not so to the younger "free thinkers" who came out to listen to Socrates. And its not that Socrates exhorted them to overthrow the established systems or institutions of Athens, but only the exhortations to them to undergo critical self-examination. Even that made most Athenians uncomfortable to say the least, and dangerous to Socrates. But Socrates was totally committed.
Philosophical inquiry of the dangerous kind as opposed to the boring, academic kind catches a society at a moment when it is insecure about what the main terms that hold it together mean, like man, woman, patriot etc., and in particular human being. That is the human edge of philosophy - is that that you catch society at a moment of danger - when the main terms or set of terms that are very important to the identity of a lot of people are in question. And inquiry for Socrates was a critical inquiry which was to go around in a passionate search for what's really important - for that itself is up for grabs, not like what you know for sure - but what's special about being human. -Rick Roderick ( TTC - Philosophy and Human Values)
In order to get a grasp of the
essential differences in the approaches, methods and motivations of pre-Socratic
philosophers and the Socratic approach of the dialectic in human
linguistic communication, a summary of the Socratic quest and its objectives is
constructed and encapsulated as follows :
1. In any discourse, Socrates sought firstly a clarity of the main concepts that were being used or to be used in the dialog by an attempt to define these. "Define your terms" was the first essential step in the Socratic quest. Without that, any dialog will either wander around aimlessly or fizzle out without any conclusion - a failure of the dialog. Unfortunately, that is what happened most of the time, simply because Socrates could not ( despite setting out everyday in this quest ) find another person that was equally talented, inspired or motivated for the same quest.
Socratic irony conceals his superiority, and is a kind of self-preservation from the unworthy people around him ( he would have been killed much earlier were it not for his irony). After reading the dialogs its hard to come away with the feeling that we are worthy of him. It's hard to think that we can live up to these high ideals. By showing us our ineptitude and incompleteness, he seems to be playing a joke on us based upon the idea ( that we get from the dialogs) that he has seen both realms ( of the absolute and of the temporal ) and that we are the poor creatures of space and time. The dialogs therefore are a test of the reader's own spiritual resources. The 'telos', the purpose of his irony which has many layers, is education. He teaches us through irony because irony is a provocation that points us in the right direction - towards the domain of our ignorance ......TTC M. Sugrue
Mostly, he had no other recourse but to challenge the professional rhetoricians - the Sophists. But since the Sophists were motivated by their profession, they had little enthusiasm for the dialog, and focused their talents towards rhetorical monologues that were oriented towards making strong emotional impressions - the objectives of rhetoric. And in rhetoric, any attempt to define terms ( a rational exercise ) defeats the purpose of rhetoric. It is no wonder then that the dialogs presented by Plato between Socrates and the Sophists seem to either end up in-conclusive and in-coherent or reveal a contradiction inherent in the key concepts of discourse that leads to a dead end rather than open up another field of inquiry. Most of the dialogs go round and round the same point on what is meant by a certain term, for example - virtue. However there are undoubtedly many valuable insights in the dialogues. It must be kept in mind that Plato's dialogues are not fully a true account of the dialogues that actually took place, but Plato's own reconstructions with many of his own ideas, even biases freely thrown in. Even the basic approach and emphasis between Socrates and Plato is different :
While Socrates saw the search for definitions as a means to an end, namely the exercise of virtue, Plato saw the search as an end in itself. To look for a definition was, for Plato, to seek the ideal, eternal, unchanging Form of whatever was under discussion ; the contemplation of such forms ( for him ) was itself the highest good. That is what he ( mistakenly ) thought Socrates' questioning really amounted to and what it ought to aim at. ( Anthony Gottlieb )
"Even if they ( the virtues listed by
Meno ) are many and varied, all of them have one and the same form that makes
them virtuous, and it is right to look for this when one is asked to make clear
what virtue is.' Socrates in 'Meno'
........ TTC.. D. Roochnik
Socrates and Plato represent a sort of intellectual drive towards unity, they want to take the multifarious many - all the various parts of some giant whole and unify them, and in this unity find some kind of conceptual coherence. This conceptual drive towards unity is what makes real ( dialectical) communication possible, for that is possible only if we share a common language - commonly (defined) meaning for our words ( non-ambiguous, non-poetic). If there are only opinions based upon relativism ( and no transcendent, common truths) then it is not possible for anyone to be mistaken, and for anyone to be wrong, and therefore no need for teachers for there is nothing to teach, for whatever they think right now is right, and if they think something else that would be right too. There would be no ( real ) change, no gain. Protagorial relativism actually ends discourse altogether. It atomizes us and tends to tear social and moral bonds apart, and also ultimately, logical bonds...... TTC. M. Sugrue
2. The Socratic quest in its approach took a major deviation from the mythological past that relied heavily upon mythical forces influencing human behavior, towards the exercise of rational thought in the control of human social and political behavior. This was one of the first steps to de-myth the mythology in which Greek civilization was deeply mired in. Socrates considered the indulgence in mythological speculation as not only a waste of time and effort, but also as a deflection from understanding one's own motivations. Mythology tended to attribute human motivations to the whims and fancies of competing deities, and human beings as pawns in the power games of gods and goddesses. This attempt to de-myth the language of discourse was essential for the dialectic since myth based linguistic expressions are valid only in poetry, not dialectic. Another highly significant implication of this was that religion ( which was based upon mythology ) also had to be kept out or could not be invoked in the quest of the dialectic. This is an issue that was articulated upon to a considerable extent, much later, by Karl Marx.
Any persistent opinion gets traced back to a personal origin, and we depend upon history to explode or inflate the myth that results.( Scott Buchanan )
Socrates is saying ( in Euthyphro) something radical and revolutionary in saying that a thing isn't good because the Gods command it, but that the Gods command it because it is good. He is saying that morality is higher than religion. That religions can be judged by moral standards. And since we know morality by reason, and religion by faith, he is saying that faith should be judged by reason, rather than reason be judged by faith. Plato's position seems to be that morality itself is the absolute and that the abstract idea of goodness is superior to all the gods. TMS.....P. Kreeft
3. The Socratic approach tried to do away with speculation and tried to concentrate upon concrete ideas that have moral, ethical implications that needed to be developed through dialog and argument. Socrates therefore can be called the first genuine philosopher in attempting to provide a sense of order in what was otherwise a chaotic and speculative trend in Greek philosophy. Most philosophers had ( and still have ) a tendency to pick up a term and gravitate all and everything around it in an exercise that ends up as mere reductionism instead of a meaningful relationship between different key terms. Once again, Socrates sought a clarity in the relationship between concepts, rather than present these as independent absolutes. Most philosophers even to this day continue to speculate on "all is this or is nothing" absolutes that cannot be meaningfully related to anything.
Socrates, by obeying the laws of Athens, even when they condemned him unfairly, emerges as the model of the ethical sphere. He did not place himself above the general rule, though doing so caused him apparent harm....Thomas Flynn
The Socratic quest was oriented towards a search for and defining of concepts that had universal, perennial and transcendental significance, that is, those concepts that had relevance in any and every time and situation or place. Those concepts or ideas (like justice) that were of the greatest human concerns in any society or culture irrespective of its myths, religion, beliefs and norms.
Socrates does not just paint an inspiring picture of the ideal life. His style of talk makes an intimate marriage between exhortation ( rhetoric ) and logic, which is why it stands as a contribution to argumentative philosophy rather than to preaching. Everything he says is presented in the context of an argument : reasons are demanded, inferences are examined, definitions are refined, consequences are deduced, hypothesis are rejected. This is the only approach serious enough to do justice to the matter of how one should live. Responsible exhortation must, for Socrates, be embedded in reasoned argument. A bare summary of his provisional conclusions, cannot convey the strength of this marriage of idealism and down-to-earth logic. ( Anthony Gottlieb )
When we look at Plato we see a
longing in his writings for that ancient archaic stability, that gesture at
permanence ( the absolute ) that Greece does not have. Greece has become a place
of constant flux. So he is looking back for that perfect stability - that
harmony between theology, politics and ethics, that unification of personal life
and private life under the aegis of some myth, and ground the myth in logos - in
logic and reason. This reflects in his ontology also - he is not interested in
tables or chairs or space and time - he wants to direct our thoughts upwards
towards things that don't change - the form of the good, the form of the
beautiful - that archaic longing for perfection in city and in soul. Thus
Plato is an improvement on the Gilgamesh epic to which is added this
characteristic logos - the emphasis on reason that don't super-seed but
reinforce certain myths. He generates a new set of ides - the idea of an
extended knowledge that goes beyond myth and poetry, beyond mere rhetoric
towards some final, real, logical knowledge. An unleashing of rational human
capacity merged with those myths that long for stability and permanence ( the
absolute). TtC M. Sugrue
Plato critiques the tragedians. Plato is often accused of hating poetry in any form of creative fictional expression. This is an odd accusation given the fact that all his works are artful dialogs. He actually says that the city they are composing, the city they are imagining is the best kind of tragedy available.
4. Socrates ( as also his counterpart in China - Confucius ) realized that a fundamental shift or change had occurred in human lifestyle into a complex city based life and this situation called for a development of law and ethics that needed a reassessment of basic concepts governing human societies in cities, and invention of new ones to fill up the inadequacies. Unfortunately, once again he found no interest in other people to engage with him in this. Plato tried to formulate these ideas and added some of his own in "The Republic", but his ideas turned out to be too idealistic and impractical and remain so to this day, although he admits to the extremely utopian nature of the Republic and states that it is an ideal model city. Furthermore, in the ideal city, he also completely misses certain key aspects of human behavior - especially in regards to human conflict.
In doing so Plato suggests that the kind of inquiry he undertakes is actually an enormously courageous inquiry. One of the most interesting things about the Republic is precisely the way that Plato takes a language in there of courage, bravery, fortitude, fear, anxiety, danger - all these are terms that are militarily organized terms - those terms originally used for combat and battle. And he continually suggests that the proper way to understand the real meaning of these words - where real courage lies is actually the kind of inquiry that he is undertaking. He is doing this not to mock soldiers, but he is saying that real courage is manifest by us not so much on the battle field but when we ask these fundamental questions about the nature and structure of our world.....TTC C. Mathews
5. The Socratic quest also epitomizes the first major struggle between ideas propagated through popular opinion influenced by rhetoric, and new, even revolutionary ideas articulated by individuals. He challenged the growing tendency in city life to propagate and rely upon popular opinions, and saw the dangers of mob psychology influenced by opinions that fuelled by rhetoric, and if unchallenged by the dialectic, could grow into un-retractable, monstrous proportions that would eventually lead that society into extremism of one kind or another. History has proven him correct on this time and again. He also brought forth the centrality of the individual in matters of virtue and virtuous behavior that was often in conflict with or contrary to popular opinions. This idea was much later expounded upon by the existentialist philosophers.
( On reading Plato) the first and most obvious symptom that it is taking effect is an incorrigible urge to question things that have always been taken for granted. The second stage of the disturbance is a feeling of shame that such questions have never been asked before. ( Scott Buchanan )
...the questions asked are not exactly subversive, but do undermine the sort of things that we take for granted. Religion is often something that you do take for granted in most traditional cultures - you grow up with a religion, you don't question it. Along comes Socrates and he teaches you to ask questions. ....TTC Philip Cary
It is said that Socrates' mother was a mid-wife - if that is true then is it a mere coincidence that Socrates plays the same role, that of a mid-wife with regard to knowledge. He insists he is not teaching anything himself but only inducing other people to bring out knowledge that is latent or innate within them. He is acting as a mid-wife in the process of bringing out knowledge inherent in others.
Socrates offers what can be called a meta-education. Rather than teach facts about the world or facts about logic, Socrates teaches us how to teach ourselves, by bringing out the right spirit of inquiry and by inquiring with other people. Socrates teaches us how to talk and how to listen. Plato teaches us how to read, and the dialog as a whole teaches us not what to think but how to think. Plato's works are loving dialogs of a human persistent effort to call things by their right names....... TTC.. M. Sugrue
6. He attacked professionalism in politics, but wanted to promote talent. The affairs of the state could not be virtuously conducted by people who had made a business or profession out of it or depended upon it for their livelihood. It was obvious to him that such people were bound to become corrupt sooner or later, and would do only those things that would bring them more wealth and power than those things that were in the interest of all people. One obvious target of this attack were the professional Sophists who prepared wealthy clients for entering into politics as a profession ( through their taught oratory skills - as it is to this day ). Socrates questioned their claims of knowing and teaching virtue when their motivation was wealth. Wealth and virtue don't go together was his maxim long before Jesus.
Socrates has come to symbolize a relentless pursuit of truth, regardless of consequences. He has become an ideal of intellectual honesty and integrity for all disciplines. (Knowledge products)
7. Socrates recognized the
centrality of knowledge in matters of virtue and morality. "Know thyself
his maxim , and he insisted that anyone does a wrong thing only in ignorance.
Knowledge, he insisted, must begin with an acknowledgement of one's ignorance,
and thus was an explorative or investigative process. Any fixed notion was
an anti-thesis to genuine knowledge. The later philosophers since then in
western culture ignored his warnings to their detriment and also to the entire
culture going to the extreme of science as the only body of valid knowledge at
one extreme and a fanatical, oppressive religion on the other extreme. The idea
of Socrates was that knowledge cannot be taken as something fixed, but something
as to be explored for its valid application - to probe its limits.
Socrates is committed first and foremost to the project of knowledge.... TTC.. D. Roochnik
Socrates response to Meno's paradox
Learning is recollection ( of innate
knowledge ), because we never are in a zero state......... TTC.. D. Roochnik
He was inadvertently pointing out that the existing known must be challenged, only then can one encounter the unknown. The concepts of "unknown" and "unknowable" thus never developed in western culture, and thus even the concept of known became perverted to mean a fixed body of statements or formulas that apply to all situations eternally. There was no conception even then, of the unknown ( potentially knowable ), let alone the unknowable ( beyond human capacity to fathom ).
8. A dialog with an emphasis on convergence of ethics was the purpose of the dialectic of Socrates. He was able to demonstrate time and again that mere rhetoric of relativistic motives and interests in public discourse was insufficient, misleading, even dangerous where moral, ethical issues were at stake. In those days, and even now for that matter, rhetoric is applied almost invariably in petty disputes, and in the modern times this has now got amplified in party politics or in the rise of nationalism.
His attitude to religion and morality can be seen as ultra-democratic . Nothing is to be taken for granted, especially not if it is handed down by an authority which puts itself above the moral reasoning of the people, be that putative authority in the form of Zeus or of a human tyrant. Every man must work out for himself what is good and right, and nobody can escape the obligation of examining himself and his life. The result of such discussions between citizens should ideally be a just society with just laws, arrived at through such collective self-examination. In the Socratic dream of democracy, individual conviction would lead to collective agreement - not about everything, presumably, but at least about the outlines of how to live. ( Anthony Gottlieb )
To be philosophical is not to stop pursuing a question when it becomes inconvenient, it is the opposite.- Rick Roderick ( TTC - Philosophy and Human Values)
Socrates was neither a dogmatist nor a skeptic. If you are a dogmatist, that is, if you think you have all the answers, why ask questions? and if you are a skeptic, that is, if you think there is no objective truth to know, you don't ask questions either. So both the dogmatic and the skeptic do not philosophize. You think about the big questions only if you believe that there are some answers, some valuable truth to be found. And that you don't have it all - it is not easy to find this truth - it takes effort, it takes thinking....TMS.... P.Kreeft
With these points as guidelines, we now take to the main task of mapping the regions of rhetoric and dialectic.
NOTE 2013: What is aporia? I would like to define aporia as a
state of impasse or ambiguity reached in the process of knowledge or inquiry or
definition of a concept that is fundamental to human concerns and purposes – and
this occurs because such fundamental knowledge is by nature riddled with
absurdity and paradox. This is to be distinguished somewhat from the proverbial
‘empty cup’ of the Zen legacy by the feature that the ‘empty cup’ is also empty
of all ‘desires’ or questions, whereas in aporia, the question or the inquiry or
the definition sought which led to the impasse or absurdity or paradox still
looms over the person who genuinely seeks knowledge fundamental to human nature
and purpose in general and specifically to that individual’s life and existence.
Aporia therefore is not a worthy end but a significant stage in the process of
knowledge that is indicative of a challenge to be taken on until that knowledge
develops into power. Even the ‘empty cup’ is not worthy of being a cup until it
is at some point of time to be tried and tested by being ‘filled’ with something
and then ‘fulfilled’ for the purpose of being a cup. Aporia or impasse itself
indicates for the seeker the need for a new approach, some new concept, some
counterpart not yet conceived, some missing piece of the puzzle, some new
strategy, some hidden element that needs to be synthesized, some art or magic
that must be tried.
Such is the state that Kierkegaard finds himself in when he writes ( here he faces the paradox of what must come first: action or knowledge?): "What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. The crucial thing is to find the truth that is true for me - to find the idea for which I am to live and die. This is what I need to live a completely human life and not merely one of knowledge - so that I could base the development of my thought not on something called objective - something which in any case is not my own, but based upon something which is bound up with the deepest roots of my existence - to which I cling fast even though the whole world may collapse. This is what I need and this is what I strive for."
In the context of the dialog Euthyphro, the central question is What is piety? Initially it is defined as that human action which is approved or loved by all gods (qualitative evaluators of human actions in the noumenal realm? )
One breakthrough is quickly achieved: Piety is not a quantitative thing that can be measured or calculated by a formula - like in the sciences, and therefore it is a ‘quality’ rather than a ‘quantity’. Quantitative evaluation can be done by an automaton – so no gods are needed for that!
So far, so good. But an impasse is indicated by the question: The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods?
In this form of the question there seems to be an impasse, but if it is framed differently it becomes more interesting because it raises more pertinent questions: is an action pious/holy in itself so that even the gods ‘HAVE’ to approve of it or does it becomes pious/holy ‘AFTER’ the gods have evaluated and approved it? Are the two possibilities which are both seemingly true to the base definition absolutely contradictory or is it a paradox that can be resolved? Is this an aporia for all or only for Euthyphro?
In trying to resolve the ‘Euthyphro paradox’, as in many other fundamental paradoxes, a relationship between the Temporal realm (in space-time mortal existence) and the Eternal realm (timeless, immortal realm of the ‘gods’) becomes the crucial focal point where ‘intangible concepts’ have to be invoked.
In the first instance the implications are that actions that are pious must have a ‘force’ or ‘power’ that ‘moves’ the gods/immortal realm, and in the second instance a qualitative evaluation in the immortal realm of the gods reflects those actions as pious.
But there is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ in the Eternal/Immortal realm! Clearly then the paradox is resolved by the realization that Eternity is not ‘separate’ from time but integral to time in the ‘present’ moment of time in this instant – Now. And therefore a pious action in time is ‘instantly’ and ‘spontaneously’ valued, reflected and integrated in the Eternal/Immortal realm by the binding force (Spirit) of that action. This synchronic binding force of a pious action ‘synthesizes’ the Temporal and the Eternal, and the locus of this synthesis is the ‘existing’ human being. This binding force of synthesis between the two realms is Spirit. This relationship is mystically intuited as Love. Kierkegaard put it quite concisely as:
“A human being is a synthesis of the Finite and the Infinite, of the Temporal and the Eternal, of Necessity and Freedom”.
Going back to the dialog there are passages that provide similar hints:-
Socrates: Then piety, Euthyphro, is an art which gods and men have of doing business with one another?.....But the word ‘business’ is so misleading here and if replaced by ‘relation’ this becomes much more meaningful…. Then piety, Euthyphro, is an art which gods and men have of relating with one another.
Socrates does provide us with answers to fundamental questions – and is reflected in how each one of us finds and develops those answers for ourselves.
1. Knowledge is first of all knowing and acknowledging the extent of our ignorance.
( The terrifying thing about knowledge hinted also by Socrates is: Our knowledge can only be finite, our ignorance must necessarily be infinite (Karl Popper))
2. That humans were even more privileged than the gods by being both mortal and immortal through the exercise of moral choice.
"You are mistaken if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action, and that is whether he is acting rightly or wrongly." (Apology)
3. Language was the metaphysical tool by which knowledge could be acquired through powerful expressions in an interactive dialog or even in the form of a rhetorical argument.
Socrates is a serious joke, he has been playing a joke on us all through. Perhaps when we achieve a Socratic sense of humor, when we start to play jokes not on ourselves but on other people, the kind of beneficial, morally improving jokes that are involved in teaching other people what they are, and showing other people how if not to gain virtue, how to move towards virtue, how to open up their minds and liberate their souls. TTC.. M. Sugrue