Moral Relativism and Plato’s Euthyphro
The Truth is Relative
What is relativism in philosophy? I guess, the simplest answer to this question would be, “in what way they exist to me is true for me, in what way they exist to you, is true for you”. It is not strange that everyone has their own beliefs. However in relativism, beliefs of everyone are the truth. Say, every person has their own truth which may differ from that of others, but none of them can be said to be right or wrong, good or bad, since it is the view of the judgement about right and wrong, good or bad, etc., and is relative about the culture or the individual person. Therefore, in relativism, there will be neither absolute truth nor universal standard. In the other words, relativism denies that there can be any objectivity in matters of truth or morality.
Problems With This View
The idea of relativism may seem so great at first, as if the truth is really relative, everything we think is true, and no one will be able to judge us. Thus, there will be no war, and the world will be peaceful. However, if we look deeper into it, we may soon find some problems. First, as people in relativism believe their beliefs are the basis of the truth, they would never discover they are false. As I mentioned, in relativism, there will be no one judging or telling them when they are having some false beliefs. It would harm people, and would soon bring the second problem. That is, when people can never discover their beliefs are false, they would have no motivation to learn. And if no one is learning, it does not just stop people’s personal progress, but also that of the world. Third, since everyone’s beliefs would not be judged, they would think that they are the wealthiest. Say, they can not even notice what wisdom or ignorance is. Moreover, people are not able to judge others’ beliefs or knowledge, thus there will be no comparison between everything, nobody would be called as “better” or “worse”. And this again leads to another problem, I.e. no one would be treated as the one who has more or better knowledge of certain subject, since every person has their own truth on it. Thus, there will be no experts. Apart from all the problems above, the biggest problem of relativism is that it is self-refuting. As if I think the truth is not relative, it is still true, since the truth is relative, then we cannot define whether truth is relative or not.
The idea of Moral Relativism
Morality is the standard of defining someone or some actions to be good or bad. But what is when morality is relative? Moral relativism, is a view which says moral statement varies, from country to country, person to person. Plus, morality changes in different situation, culture, condition, etc. In moral relativism, everyone has their own sense of right and wrong, every culture has their own society code to define right and wrong too. They have different definition of good and bad, as all are based on their own conscience. No statement can be treated as absolutely good or bad, correct or wrong, as everyone or every culture has their own standard of morality. So, moral relativism tolerates all morality, and there will be no actual universal standard of morality which suits all people and culture, as it is everyone’s own preference.
Problems with this view
Like relativism, moral relativism sounds great at first since it makes no way for others to bother people’s own behavior. However as there is no actual standard of morality, which tells people what is good or bad, they can actually say a bad action to be a good one, or to say something wrong to be right. This would make us live in a state of chaos. In fact, although the morality is relative, we still have our own sense of justice. We would know if one is behaving wrong and badly, even one thinks himself is doing right, but still, we cannot criticize this in moral relativism.
Furthermore, when it comes to different societies, this situation goes even worse. The standard of our society, the society code actually depends of the majority. But what if the minority knows the majority is wrong, by their sense of justice? In this case, it would be very hard for us to define what is wrong and right.
Plus, with no cross-cultural standard of morality, we can not make comparison, thus no society code will be better than any other. But how could we account for the apparent differences we see in various cultures? The culture of a society is in fact produced by many factors, such as religious, environment, resources, etc. So, it would be fine if we are careful enough not to confuse religious peoples and pragmatic considerations with moral values. For example, when a chinese is traveling to India, she still uses chopsticks as her eating tools, she has breakdowns in etiquette, but has no moral breakdowns.
Besides, as moral is also relative in time, we cannot say a society which keeps changing is getting better or worse, normally we think ourselves progressing morally though. And we cannot criticize something happened in the past too, such as slavery, and the lack of rights of women. Lastly, it is obvious that moral relativism tolerates all views. However, normally, all evil views should not be tolerated, as this would harm the society, by bringing it into chaos.
The Form or Model of The Good?
Form of The Good means the way things really are. It is an eternal unchanging essence, which no god can make or create it, destroy or ruin it, as it has always been there, like the truth. Form of The Good is like the sun of our real world. The sun gives out light, then the things in the world can be visible to us. Similarly, the form of The Good is an idea, or knowledge of how knowable objects exist in the world, without it, we will not be able to understand how things really are in the material world. For example, we have an idea, which is the form of the book, of how a book is a book, in virtue, i.e. a pack of paper, with a cover protecting it. And these characteristics must be common to all books, if the word “book” is to have definite meaning. Then, when we see something that have these characteristic, we recognize that to be a “book”. In another words, form of The Good is an idea that is abstract, and does exist independently of the sensible world whereas those knowable objects do really exist in the world. Either time, space or human, does have the ability to destroy all the “books” in the material world, as they exist, but none of us can destroy the idea of how a book is a book, which is, the form of the book.
Form of the Moral
Form of the moral, would be the idea, or the standard of how to be moral. It can help us to define what is good and bad or , right and wrong, so that we can avoid doing bad or wrong behavior. And as we do more good and right things, this would allow us to live a happier, more fulfilling life.
Knowledge of God or the gods
In fact, people usually think that the God has the knowledge of everything of the world, but “knowledge of the God” in Euthyphro means the knowledge of being pious, moral and good. According to Plato and Socrates, it seems that we can have the knowledge of God or the gods in few ways. The possible ways are, experiencing, through the process of learning and thinking, or by some philosophical conversation. If we have ever experienced some pain because of not being pious, we would start to think the way to avoid the pain, which is, to be pious. If thinking does not help much, we may try to have some philosophical conversations with wise people, like Socrates. After all these, we would have learnt the way to be pious, so as to avoid the pain that we have ever experienced. i.e. We would have gained some wisdom.
Ground the Moral by Saying it is God or gods loved
If there are multiple gods, we cannot ground the moral by just saying it is what the gods love. As Socrates said that different gods considered different things to be just, beautiful, ugly, good, and bad, for they would not be at odds, there will be different standards to judge certain thing. It is going to be very confusing, if an action is at the same time, hated by this god, and loved by another god, as we can say it is moral, or it is not too.
On the other hand, if we view only a single God as the ground of the moral, several problems would be arisen. First, what if there are any other gods exist? There is no reason or excuses for us to pick certain god from the and view it as the ground of the moral, as they are all gods. Second, if we do something moral because the God says it is moral, it is more likely to be we are pleasing the God then we really want to do something moral. Furthermore, if the God grounds the moral, it would be hard to define whether certain action is moral itself, or it is moral because the God says it is so. The morality then lose its force.
Piety is the Care of the God?
Socrates stated that piety was part of justice, but then Euthyphro said that piety was part of justice concerned with care of the gods whereas the rest are concerned with humans. However, Socrates thought that the word “care” which Euthyphro has used, did not like the meaning of the “care” from the horse breeders to the horses. If both “care” had the same meaning, the idea that piety is a certain kind of care of the gods, which Euthyphro stated, would be saying human piety could benefit gods. Later on, Euthyphro found that it was not true that human piety could benefit gods, so he changed, said it should be the kind of care that slaves take of their masters. Therefore, it is actually like a kind of service of the gods, which obedience to and service to the god are involved.
Nevertheless, no surprisingly, there is again something wrong with this idea. If piety is really service of the gods, we still do not know what aim it does tend and what the gods are actually trying to accomplish with it. This is because, it is not helping god to achieve something like how shipbuilders achieve to the building of a trip.
Piety is to Please the Gods ?
“Piety is what is pleasing to the gods at prayer and sacrifice, those are pious actions such as preserve both private houses and public affairs of state. The opposite of these pleasing actions are impious and overturn and destroy everything.”(P.18) In fact, when Euthyphro was saying this, he was not giving response to the last question of Socrates, “How would you sum up the many fine things that the god achieve?”. Through the answer, we can guess, he was saying that gods are pleased with such trading of pious actions, and they will be willing to “preserve the private both private houses and public affairs of state” in return. On the other hand, if humans are impious, and the gods are pleased, everything will be destroyed, including the “private houses and the public affairs of state”. However, if this was true, this would make god count on mankind assistance in doing their job. Besides, Euthyphro said piety is science of “prayer and sacrifice”, it leads to another problematic statement, which is, gods need our gift, the “sacrifice”, to do their job. Nevertheless, still, this makes us question, what the gift for gods is. We still do not know what gods can benefit from us, or what we can help gods to do, excepts the things they love. That is, god-loved, so, Socrates and Euthyphro were like thinking in a circle, they finally went back where they were at the beginning, questioning: What is god-loved is pious, if not, what is pious?