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Socratic Method in the Euthyphro


A. General Definition:  The question-and-answer method of philosophical inquiry (dialectic) employed by Socrates in Plato’s early dialogues (e.g. Euthyphro), typically in conjunction with professed ignorance (Socratic irony), whereby a self-proclaimed expert’s excessively confident claim to knowledge is critically cross-examined and refuted (elenchus), thereby initiating an inductive search for a satisfactory universal definition

B. Dialectic: from Greek, dialektikē: the art of conversation, discussion, logical argument or debate.

Socratic dialectic: general, inclusive characterization of Socrates’ overall method as a form of critical reasoning proceeding by means of question and answer. As such, it incorporates the following components:

            1. Socratic irony and ignorance
            2. Critical cross-examination and logical refutation (elenchus)
            3. Induction (epagōgē) and universal definition (eidos)

  C. Socratic Irony:

              1. Generally, Socrates’ declared interpretation of the Delphic pronouncement, that he was the wisest man, as merely meaning that he realized he was 
                  ignorant whereas others lacked insight into their ignorance.

             2. Specifically, his professed ignorance and pretended modesty relative to particular questions (what is X?) posed to conversation partners (interlocutors) 
                 from whom he “eagerly awaits wise instruction.”

D. Socratic cross-examination or refutation (elenchus): Euthyphro

              1. General characteristics:

                a) Model definitional dialogue: What is X?
                b) Aporetic: without resolution; no satisfactory definition
                c) Self-deluded expert and Socratic irony: correspondence

               2. Socratic definition:

                a) Real vs. nominal: types of definition
                b) Logical requirements of definition:

                           1. universality (not an example); covers all cases
                           2. self-identity (A=A): exclusion of opposite
                           3. essentiality         

             c) Essentialist metaphysical presupposition: essence (eidos) and examples (instances)

                d) One                                            Many

                    Universal                                Particulars
                    Essence                                 Examples
                    Concept                                  Instances

                 e) Aims of definition:

                        1. theoretical: define universal form, essence, or concept (eidos)
                     2. practical: utilize definition as standard for logically discriminating between examples or cases

                 f) Induction: generalization or abstraction of universal concept from particular cases or instances.

 E. Euthyphro

           1. First definition: example only (violates universality requirements)

           2. Second definition: “What is pleasing to the gods is pious.” Satisfies universality requirement yet violates self-identity requirement. Implies logical 
               contradiction: piety=impiety.

           3. Third definition: “What is pleasing to all the gods is pious.” Satisfies universality and self-identity requirement. Yet, question of essence of piety still not 
               resolved; issue of cause and effect, essence and implication. Arbitrary authority or rational justification.                                      

“Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it?”
                                        (A)                                              (B)        

1. If A, then still don’t know what piety is.
2. B rejected as arbitrary, capricious, without rational foundation, authoritarian.