Possible Logical Error in Euthyphro?


There is an argument near the beginning of Euthyphro that Socrates tries to make to Euthyphro in which I believe that Socrates makes a logical mistake. It's a pretty basic mistake, so rather than assume that Plato made such a simple error, I'd like to ask everyone here what they think. All quotations are taken from G. M. A. Grube's translation of Euthyphro in Plato's Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper.

In 7b-d, Socrates says:

"What are the subjects of difference that cause hatred and anger? ...What subject of difference would make us angry and hostile to each other if we were unable to come to a decision? Perhaps you do not have an answer ready, but examine as I tell you whether these subjects are the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad. Are these not the subjects of difference which, when we are unable to come to a satisfactory decision, you and I and other men become hostile to each other whenever we do?"

Now, if we let D be the statement, "We disagree about goodness, justice and beauty" and let H be the statement "We become hostile to/at odds with each other," Socrates seems to be saying here that D causes H.

I interpret D causes H to mean if D, then H.

Then, in 7e, Socrates goes on to say:

"Then according to your argument, my good Euthyphro, different gods consider different things to be just, beautiful, ugly, good, and bad, for they would not be at odds with one another unless they differed about these subjects, would they?" (Emphasis mine)

This statement, I interpret to mean not H, unless D, which is the same as if not D, then not H, which, by contraposition, is equivalent to if H, then D.

The first and second quotations here thus lead to the following two statements, respectively:

1) if D, then H

2) if H, then D

But 1) does not entail 2)! Nor does 2) entail 1), for that matter. They are converses of each other. So how can Socrates make the claim in 7e that 1), which was established earlier, entails 2)? Clearly, 1) does not entail 2).

This seems like a straightforward error to me, but I don't feel comfortable accusing Plato of such a basic mistake. Perhaps I am misreading or misinterpreting something here? What does everyone else think?

Ivan Lesiv

Posted 2016-08-14T05:36:21.583

Reputation: 31

I can't recall whether I've read Euthypo, but one thing which might be worth pointing out from the extract, is that the first statement appears to be a summary of Socrates views, whereas the latter appears to be Euthypos. – Mozibur Ullah – 2016-08-14T05:55:09.337

That could be a way around accusing Plato of making a logical error, but the problem with this suggestion is that after the quotation in 7b-d that I referred to, Euthyphro goes on to agree with Socrates' statement. That suggests that 7b-d represents Euthyphro's view as well. Remember also that in 7e, I quoted Socrates as saying to Euthyphro, "according to your argument". – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T05:58:16.023

ok - Another suggestion, Socrates wants to lead his 'victims' into contradicting themselves as part of his dialectical technique; so perhaps this might explain why the statements contradict each other? – Mozibur Ullah – 2016-08-14T06:31:06.920

Maybe, but it still seems bizarre and out of place to me. After saying that differences about what is good and bad, beautiful and ugly, etc. cause hostility between people and the gods, Socrates did not have to make the further claim that unless they differed about those subjects, they would not be at odds with each other. That second claim doesn't seem to be necessary for Socrates' argument, so it looks out of place to me. I think that it's at least plausible to see this as an honest mistake by Plato. Perhaps I am wrong, though. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T06:38:11.690

On the other hand, perhaps Socrates is knowingly making contradictory statements, wanting to see if Euthyphro will notice? But of course, Euthyphro does not notice. This is a possible interpretation, but the context of the passage doesn't make it appear plausible to me. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T06:39:48.637

perhaps Euthypo has other things on his mind other than parrying Socrates questions; after all he's on the way to indict his father of manslaughter ;) ? – Mozibur Ullah – 2016-08-14T06:44:05.343

That could be, but any possible contradiction or mistake could theoretically be excused or explained away by referring to a dramatic element of the story like that. Whatever the case with such things, it seems clear to me that 1) above does not entail 2), and that my interpretations of what Socrates is trying to say are accurate. So unless I am misreading Plato, a mistake is there, whether intentional or not. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T06:49:10.777

it was meant to be a joke; I take your point though. – Mozibur Ullah – 2016-08-14T06:50:36.313

2I'll probably write an answer that addresses this a bit more substantively but 7b-d is our being at odd and confusion on the definitions. 7e is the god's disagreeing and being at odds on the definitions. Ergo, you need 4 letters not two if you want to translate it sententially. – virmaior – 2016-08-14T09:42:05.547

I find it easier to understand without translating it into sententional logic; the argument at 7e, that is referred to in the OPs question misses the beginning of the argument "different gods consider different things to be just, beautiful, good" which in fact is the conclusion of this argument; but having said that, it's probably a good exercise. – Mozibur Ullah – 2016-08-14T09:57:24.127

@virmaior - In and around the passages that I'm quoting, Socrates attempts to draw analogies between men and the gods. I believe that he's tacitly assuming that both men and gods behave the same when when the disagree about goodness, beauty, etc. - i.e. they tend to become hostile to each other. And if men and gods both behave analogously in this case, then only 2 letters are necessary, not 4. I think that Pe de Leao's criticism below is probably better than taking your suggested route. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T17:38:09.683



I symbolize what happens in the passage roughly as follows (I've bracketed the subargument from 3-5):

  1. Piety = Dear to gods "what is dear to the gods is holy and what is not dear to them is unholy" (6e-7a)
  2. gods disagree about piety (7b)

  1. Some disagreements lead to discord (7b)
  2. If a disagreement is empirically resolvable, it does not lead to discord (7b)
  3. Disagreements about justice, truth, and beauty lead to discord (7d)

  1. Ergo, since the gods are in discord, they must substantive disagreements about justice, truth, piety, etc. (7e-8a)
  2. Finally, 6 & 1 are contradictory so something must be wrong in the argument (8a)

Starting from 6d-e, the argument is framed by Euthyphro's claim that what unifies the things we call holy (despite their differences) is

The latter half of 7b which you quote in part is the beginning of a subargument:

But what things is the disagreement about, which causes enmity and anger? Let us look at it in this way. If you and I were to disagree about number, for instance, which of two numbers were the greater, would the disagreement about these matters make us enemies and make us angry with each other, or should we not quickly settle it by resorting to arithmetic? (7b-c) ... Then, too, if we were to disagree about the relative size of things, we should quickly put an end to the disagreement by measuring? ... weighing? (7c)

I take this line of questioning to mean that we don't waste our time disagreeing about minor things that we can simply or empirically resolve.

Conversely, Socrates and Euthyphro accept that we can wind up with

a disagreement [that] we could not settle and which would cause us to be enemies and be angry with each other (7c)

And that this would be about questions like:

Is it not about right and wrong, and noble and disgraceful, and good and bad? (7d)

= substantive disagreements would be about things like right/wrong and notably about things that are not empirically or simply resolvable are the sort of things that can lead to discord. In other words, it's things like the Forms (which makes sense considering this dialogue is about Piety).

Note that from 7b to the middle of 7d, Socrates is not talking specifically about the gods.

At the end of 7d, he bridges it back to his main point by saying that gods would disagree about matters of import which are not resolvable by measurement or simple math. Moving to 7e, I don't think his point is the symbolization you suggest.

Specifically, I take the part at 7e to express "discord if and only if disagreement is about substantial things" -- i.e. I take it to express that the gods aren't in discord over something minor but rather they are in discord because they disagree about the nature of piety, etc. in a fundamentally irresovable way.

Why then does Plato make this argument (since he already said they were in discord)? I take it that the point is to block out the option of just saying "god A is correct for reason of knockdown argument B or reason of empirical fact C." Instead, it's point out that there's a fundamental incapacity to define piety by appeal to the gods -- since the gods are in discord and this means by definition that they do not agree for empirically and logically non-resolvable reasons about the nature of piety.


Posted 2016-08-14T05:36:21.583

Reputation: 23 970

I think that this has been the best answer so far. Thank you for taking the time to embed the argument in its full context. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-15T01:23:06.253


What are the subjects of difference that cause hatred and anger? ...What subject of difference would make us angry and hostile to each other if we were unable to come to a decision? Perhaps you do not have an answer ready, but examine as I tell you whether these subjects are the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the good and the bad. Are these not the subjects of difference which, when we are unable to come to a satisfactory decision, you and I and other men become hostile to each other whenever we do?

I take this to mean that justice, beauty, and good are the subjects, ie, the only subjects, that disagreeing about would lead to anger and hatred. Perhaps in a more precise formulation, the only subjects, that disagreeing about could reasonably lead to anger and hatred; but even then, I would suppose that both Socrates and Euthyphro would assume that the gods, if they existed, would be reasonable beings, and, so, would only get angry at each others if they disagreed about justice, beauty, or good.

In other words, I interpretate the first quote as meaning

1) only if, D, then H

in which case "if H, then D" logically follows.

Luís Henrique

Posted 2016-08-14T05:36:21.583

Reputation: 1 311

1Yes, this was a possible interpretation of Socrates' words that occurred to me as I was making this post (that goodness, beauty, etc. are the only subjects that would lead to anger and hostility), but the ambiguity in the language made me unsure. Perhaps it is clearer in the original Greek, but I do not know Greek. I suppose that I should have been more charitable and interpreted Socrates in the way that you suggest. Still, it seems conceivable that feelings of hostility could develop over something other than a disagreement about goodness, beauty, etc., even among reasonable beings. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T17:44:16.493


First, I don't believe your formulation is correct. If Socrates was claiming that D implies H, he would be excluding the possibility that H could be false when D is true. In other words, it would be interpreting him as saying that we can't help but becoming hostile with each other when such a disagreement arises. I don't believe that that's a fair interpretation of his words.

Second, even if that weren't the case, he never claimed that the assertions were equivalent or that one implied the other. Two statements may corroborate one another without being logically equivalent or involving implication, and there is no inconsistency unless you can demonstrate a contradiction. If your formulation were correct and Socrates was speaking inconsistently, then there would be no case in which the following were true:

(D → H) & (H → D)

However, both of the conditionals are compatible when both D and H are false or both are true. But again, I don't believe it's correct to interpret him as saying D → H.

Euthyphro believes that there is conflict among the gods:

"And do you believe that there really is war among the gods?"

Socrates is arguing that if that were the case, then it would be due to them disagreeing as to what is just and unjust. That argument only works if H → D. There's no reason to believe that that is inconsistent with his former statement in which he was only making a general observation about what sorts of things lead to conflict.


Posted 2016-08-14T05:36:21.583


I accept your point that my reading Socrates in such a way as to derive (if D, then H) may not be fair. "Causes" is not the same thing as "logically necessitates". However, a correction to the rest of your answer: I'm not accusing Socrates of contradiction, exactly. Rather, I am saying that (if D, then H) does not logically entail (if H, then D), but Socrates seems to be speaking as if it does. That is, if (if D, then H), then (if H, then D) is false under some interpretations (or not necessarily true). – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T14:42:10.850

If it isn't clear why I believe this, consider that Socrates uses the phrase "according to your argument" when speaking to Euthyphro, before going on to state (if H, then D). That is a phrase generally used to suggest a relation of entailment between some proposition or set of propositions and another proposition or set of propositions. Therefore, Socrates seems to be suggesting a relation of entailment between (if D, then H) and (if H, then D). But no such relation holds. These two propositions don't entail each other. That is the error that I am accusing Socrates of. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T14:52:28.957

As I said in my answer, the entailment is not between those two propositions, but between Euthyphro's argument that there is a conflict among the gods and a disagreement about those standard. Also, two statements my corroborate on another without being equivalent, so I don't believe there's any reason to expect equivalence. Such corroboration involves no inconsistency unless there's a contradiction. – None – 2016-08-14T15:08:26.867

I'm not claiming that the propositions are equivalent. I'm only saying that (if H, then D) does not follow from (if D, then H). The implication is only (falsely, as I see it, granting, for the sake of argument, that Socrates meant to assert if D, thenH ) claimed to run in one direction here, in other words. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T15:18:29.457

You did mention equivalence, but even so, there's no reason to assume implication or equivalence. Corroborating statements don't need to involve implication. I don't see any error of any sort in Socrates reasoning. – None – 2016-08-14T15:25:17.367

I updated again to address the question of implication. – None – 2016-08-14T15:28:17.383

OK. Thank you. I edited the original post to make my meaning more clear. In short, it seems like you are saying that I am interpreting Socrates' words too stringently ("logically necessitating" instead of "causing", and "entailing" instead of merely "supporting"). Fair enough. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-14T17:35:13.790

1Yes. The only way to demonstrate an error in reasoning like that is to show that the argument involves a contradiction. With a philosopher like Socrates, it's not likely that you're going to find one so easily. In fact, I think it's best to give people the benefit of the doubt and try to interpret their words under the assumption that their reasoning is sound. – None – 2016-08-14T18:22:11.047

On reflection, I've rethought this. Let's give the more liberal interpretation to both of the statements in question. Let's say that disagreement about goodness, etc. only tends to produce hostility, rather than necessitates it. This statement not only does not imply the converse (that there would be no hostility unless there was a disagreement about goodness, etc.), but it doesn't even lend very much support to the converse. Just because a disagreement about such things tends to produce hostility doesn't mean that it is the only thing that tends to produce hostility. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-15T00:57:02.323

And so, for the reason just given, I now think that the explanation offered by Luis Henrique might be best. Still, there is an ambiguity in Socrates' language that I do not like. I will accept your suggestion and interpret him as charitably as possible, though. – Ivan Lesiv – 2016-08-15T00:58:51.223


Going on the above extracts, we have Socrates saying in 7bd:

What are the subjects of difference that cause anger and hatred? ... these are the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, the bad and the good

Here Socrates is talking about men at odds amongst themselves, and he gives a reason why; Euthrypo agrees with this.

The later extract has Socrates saying:

Different gods consider different things to be just, beautiful, and good

Here he has the gods differing amongst themselves; and he offers in support of this statement the following:

For they would not be at odds with each other unless they differed about these subjects.

Which put in a conditional form is:

if they do not differ on these subjects, then they are not at odds.

Formally, taking the contrapositive, the sentence becomes:

if they are at odds then they do differ on these subjects

And since he takes the gods to be at odds, this backs up the conclusion he wants:

Different gods consider different things to be just, beautiful, and good

Mozibur Ullah

Posted 2016-08-14T05:36:21.583

Reputation: 1