Ethics and Moral Choices
by Dr. Parviz Dehghani
ETHICS AND MORAL CHOICES
ETHICS, MORALITY AND RELIGION, SOCRATES VERSUS ABRAHAMIC RELIGIONS
BY PARVIZ DEHGHANI
The dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates has captured the imagination of many Western philosophers since Plato wrote it more than two thousand years ago. Socrates meets young Euthyphro on the steps of the same court where he would be sentenced to death. The false allegations were he had been involved in corrupting the youth, turning his back to the gods of Athens and secretly admiring the Persian monarchical system as opposed to the democracy of his day and Spartans’ firm belief in their gods and causes.
After all, Athens had been invaded by both armies in the past and were considered the enemies by the Athenians. Apparently Socrates wanted to keep his friends close and his enemies closer. Because for him the truth was more important than patriotism. He never desired to be politically correct. He asked Euthyphro as to why he was sitting on the steps? Euthyphro answered Socrates by saying that he was about to go to the court and indict his father. Why, Socrates asked? Because my father captured a murderer and left him in a ditch with his hands tied up behind him and ran to bring in authorities. But by the time he was back, the murderer was dead due to excessive heat and hunger. Socrates being a man of discernment could not let such an opportunity slip. So he began engaging Euthyphro in a dialogue in order to let the truth emerge. Do you realize what you’re doing, Socrates asked? After all he is your father. I agree with you Socrates but blood is not thicker than water for me. Truth is always above the blood. Justice ought to be served here. However, your father had no intention of murdering the murderer. There was no intent involved. He must have done the best he could have given the circumstances. Think for yourself my friend. Socrates I believe in gods and as you know one of them even castrated his own father. These gods are my role models.
Euthyphro, do these gods argue among themselves like the way we do? Yes, Socrates they do. Let us say some approve of what you’re doing and some do not. That is right Socrates. Is it possible that one god, for instance, would say you’re right and another god would say you’re not right? Euthyphro, can you be right and not right at the same time and in the same relationship? I do not think I can. Because either I’m right or I’m not right. I just cannot be both. Therefore, you admit that you would be contradicting yourself. Yes, I do.
Let us shift gears and ask you another question. Given the fact that there is only one God, does He dictate what is right or what is wrong? In other words, can God change the nature of an act? Are things in general and our actions in particular good or bad in and of themselves or when God commands for something to be right or wrong, then they are as he dictates? Is beauty in the eyes of the beholder, which makes it a subjective truth or it is what it is objectively regardless? In other words, is Cinderella beautiful to the Prince (subjective) or she is beautiful whether the Prince ever saw her or not (objective)? Euthyphro is baffled and frustrated by Socrates’ perplexing question. If murdering is wrong, is it because God says so or it is wrong in and of itself? Let us not forget that even though murdering is a form of killing, not every killing is murdering. Your father committed neither of them, Euthyphro. Remember my dear friend, the difference between Religion and philosophy is that for the former, namely, Religion truth is that which is possessed. For the latter, that is, philosophy truth is that which is pursued. With all due respect for Religion, I have pursued the truth all my life and I do not believe that gods or God determine what is right or wrong.
Think for yourself and make up your own mind as to which position is the right one. I want to remind you Euthyphro that we’re all knowingly or unknowingly following what is called “Anthropomorphism”. In other words, we give human characteristics to animals, plants, or even inanimate objects and on top of that to deities. Put it in another way, we want the gods to be like us and behave the way we do. Perhaps even a bird might think God could also have two wings. In the final
analysis, we create our own gods or God. All of us human beings form our own opinions of God and gods. Our ideas are, by and large, subjective. In other words, we read into what God really is. One might argue that God’s revelation is the source of morality. I could not agree more. However, what guarantee do we have that what we read in the Scriptures are revealed by God or other sources? Euthyphro, I’m not rejecting the gods of Athens. What I’m against is what people think about them which are but their opinions. First of all, we cannot have many gods for reasons I mentioned before. Once we’re convinced that there is only one Ultimate Reality, then we begin creating our own fictions around it. Eventually we built our morality on these fictions and being subjective by nature, they become the cause of your judgment on your father’s actions. Now do you understand why I would rather seek and pursue the truth than jump on the bandwagon and accuse people falsely based on my Religion and gods? My dear student, perhaps the person who has been out of the cave and has seen the sun can tell the difference between darkness and light. As long as we’re locked up inside of the cave we have no choice but believe in the images we have called gods. Euthyphro, we need to ascend and move up in order to get out of this cave of ignorance. Once we’re freed from the realm of opinions, we’re bound to reach the level of discernment through which we can then see the difference between right and wrong. When your spiritual awareness has reached its pick, then you will be able to get back into the cave to teach others so that they in turn could become enlightened. However, Euthyphro, you may end up where I’m today. Because there is a price to pay for real freedom. I have accepted to pay that, though I never claimed to be the wisest man in Athens. However, I know this much that I do not know. Perhaps that is why I’m still pursuing the truth.
Given the argument Socrates has presented us with, we would like to ask him questions in regard to the God of Abrahamic Religions. Socrates, do you think God is right in commanding Adam and Eve not to eat the fruits of that particular tree? I do not think so. There is no doubt that He tells them not to touch the tree. He also says to them not eat from the fruits of that tree. This reminds us of the Decalogue or Ten Commandments revealed later on to Muses. Eve seems to demand for such a reason as to why they should do what God wants them to do. To her disappointment, she never received one. However, God tells them that If they do, then they will either die or be punished or they’ll be punished by death depending on the interpretation of the Scripture. As we know, they both did eat from the fruits of that tree and to their surprise death was not the outcome. Perhaps they took the word “death” literally and God meant something else by the term He used, namely, He punished all three of them, namely, Adam, Eve, and the serpent by dismissing them from the Garden of Eden. In the language of Kant (1724-1804), a German philosopher, God here begins with categorical imperative and then uses hypothetical imperative. As we know, the latter cannot always predict the future. After all, Adam and Eve did not die they were simply punished.
Nevertheless, when it comes to Abraham and his son, we see a different show in the history of the Bible. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son for Him. In other words, he is demanding that Abraham murder his son for God. One of the commandments revealed to Moses, forbade murder. It seems that God’s commandment has the ability to alter the nature of an act and change at will, if the act is right or wrong. This is where I would have problem with the gods you believe in Euthyphro. Why should the nature of murder change? If one murders because they were instructed to do so by God, does murder now become right? As in the case of Moses and his son? Justice, for example, is objectively good not because God says so. Now Euthyphro, do you realize that we expect too much of our gods and we give them too much credit for things they have nothing to do with? Let me ask you another question, if you do not mind: ” Do you think God is to blame for the evil of this world? Of course, there are evils whose authors are us and there are those that are by product of nature, which are often confused with the ones we have been responsible for, such as underground or under sea nuclear testing. We lose our faith in our God when our prayers are not answered. Perhaps this is a God we have created for ourselves, a god who can be rightly done away with. I guess one irregularity justifies another.
How can we hold the Ultimate Reality responsible for the evils of the world? The Ultimate Reality which cannot be named. Nor can it be defined lest it might become limited in our mind. It is beyond being and non-being, rest and motion, and even our imagination. Perhaps it is even beyond being a necessary existence (it cannot not be, thus it must be). We are told God has created us in His Image. However, we often return the favor by creating Him in our image. Euthyphro, this is the God that is also accused of all the evils of the world. Perhaps the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster was right when he said there are two forces in the Universe: one is God or Ahura Mazda or Ormazed and the other is evil spirit, Ahriman or Angra Mainyu. These two have been at war with each other and finally the former, that is, God will triumph. However, later Persian philosopher by the name Mani, argued that these two realities have been fighting with one another without any break and will be doing so forever. These two powers represent good and evil and one cannot have any meaning without the other, very much like day and night, or light and darkness. Euthyphro, we need to reach the light like the prisoner in the cave. We should become enlightened. We must never give up and we should never lose hope to win this battle. This is the real victory my friend. Indicting the innocent people like your father and claiming you’re fighting for justice is not something to be proud of. The choice is ours brother, to either fight on the side of Good or on the side of evil. Look around you and tell me If you see justice in its perfection in this world. Perfect Justice exists in another realm, where all other forms exist, such as Humanity, Beauty, and Good in itself which is the highest form of all. Euthyphro, do you think I will be treated with justice and fairness in the court? I think you agree with me that since those judges have not been out of the cave to experience the form of Justice and smell the perfume of objective Realities, which are nothing but those forms, they will not be able to judge me fairly.
For thousands of years, humanity has suffered from the ignorance of those who think they know but in reality they do not even know that they do not know. I, for one, know this much that I do not know. At least I’m aware of my ignorance. Do not forget that I’m a philosopher and I’m always in pursuit of the truth. I do not possess the truth. You see, I’m not settled when it comes to the reality hidden beyond the appearances. I’m not happy with the shadowy figures on the wall of this life. Euthyphro, I’m tired of dishonest people around me. Those who lie, not only to themselves but to others. These are the great pretenders of our times. Whatever they do is conditional. What do you mean Socrates by that? I mean when they do something for you, they demand something in return. Of course, we expect this when we are in a marketplace in which people do business with each other. There we use ‘If ‘and ‘then’ letters to make our sentences. The world is very much like a bazaar. People think about the consequences in their daily affaires. They make predictions about the future. This is based on cause and effect principle. For example, if you work hard, then you will be rewarded. There is a risk involved here. What if you worked hard at your job but you were not fairly compensated at the end? What if you made a sacrifice to the gods so there would be rain but it did not rain? What if you prayed that your sick mother would recover from her illness, but to your surprise she did not make it and she passed away? Would you be angry at gods? Why should not you? If gods or God were in charge of our lives, then they would be responsible for the death of your mother. Would not they? But the question is: ” Is God the cause of your mother’s death? Not directly Socrates. But even if God were indirectly the cause, He still would have something to do with it. Is not that so? I think you’re right Socrates. But who is this power that has the right to take the life of your mother and on top of that, is trusted and praised more for His own act? Why do we look down upon Robin Hood who rubbed the rich to feed the poor? After all the goal does not justify the means. Does it? Then why when it comes to gods or God we make exception? When things go well, we give the credit to gods or God. But when things do not go well, we blame ourselves as religious people. Perhaps non-religious folks do otherwise, namely, when things go bad, then they blame gods or God for it, and when things go well, then they try to get credits for themselves.
Let us go back to your mom’s case. Why your mother had to go through such a suffering and not your friend’s mom? Euthyphro, once we consider God or gods as beings like ourselves, the outcome is obvious. Remember, we’re the ones who bring about these gods and goddesses to act like us. As much as
they are incapable commanding things to be right or wrong, they are also unable to take the life of our loved ones. My dear son, this world is like a masquerade. It is a big party and we are all engaged in a game of pretense. We’re all actors wearing our personas or masks. We think we’re these masks through which we see the world around us. As much as we cover who we really are by disguising our identity, we make our own gods and worship them. Euthyphro, the Truth is way above the masks of gods. Be with me son. Remember, I do not have much to live. It is hard to be judged unjustly for what you have not done. It feels like a stigma. It is a mark of disgrace which resembles a bleeding spot on your skin. You’re branded and punished as if you’re a criminal. You’re treated like one. They burn you and label you out of ignorance for what they are. Instead of being honest with themselves and admit their mistakes, you’re second-guessed to even suspect yourself, as if you were the guilty one. This is a heavy burden to carry but they want you to do that so they feel lighter. They see themselves in the mirror you have been to them and they hate themselves. However, instead of reforming themselves, they break you. Because they do not have the courage to break themselves. They cherish their egos out of ignorance. Since they are sitting on the thrown of power, even if it is for a short time, they downgrade you while you deserve nothing but a reward. Not only do they not offer you a token of appreciation, they’re ready to brand you for what you have not done, as if they have mistaken you for someone else.
For example, they punish me for what I have been doing to you on these steps, which is nothing but teaching you about justice and fairness. They think I have been corrupting you. Have I done that my son? Of course, you have not committed such an act. How can they accuse you for such an act? Let us the youth of this society decide that. After all, are not we a democracy? That is exactly what I have been fighting for. In other words, democracy in Athens is not working. We’re a democracy only by name. That is exactly why we need a philosopher king to rule Athens. We Athenians deserve to have a monarch who rules with wisdom. I’m alleged to have been admiring the Persian kings who have been our enemies in the past. I do not praise them for destroying our country. However, we can always learn from, even our own enemies. Euthyphro, I much rather keep my friends close and my enemies closer. I have also learned a lot from Spartans who, even though had helped us defeat the Persian army, they attacked Athens and left us nothing but the ruin of a once glorious city on the hill of humanity. Do you know why? Because our beloved general Pericles lacked the wisdom to rule our nation with wisdom which led to the destruction our country. My dear student Athens needs to be ruled by a man or woman of wisdom. Otherwise, there will not be anything left of our glory days.
They want to make you feel guilty for what you have not done. Who are they Socrates? You mean the judges? Not necessarily. Then who? The juries? We’re talking about the court. Are not we? My dear son, please remember that our judgments of each other precede what the judges do in the court. Since they do not see the whole picture, they quickly judge you and make a decision as to who you are and what you have done to deserve their punishment. However, the difference between us and the court is that people are not in a position of authority to put to action the results of their judgments. Therefore, they appeal to the power of the court so the defendant will receive the due justice and they will get what they felt they were denied before. My dear Euthyphro, the history of mankind has been the scene of those who were falsely accused of the crimes they had never committed. Do not worry, your father and I are the best examples. But who are we compared to the prophets who were tortured and eventually put to death for the crimes against humanity.
Of course, when I speak of people, I do not mean all people. I try not to make generalization here. We ought to ascend from the level of opinion to true knowledge. We’re suffering because we’re surrounded by those who do not know what they do. They think their opinions are the truth. They think they know but they do not. We should constantly examine ourselves in pursuing the truth. We’re philosophers and do not claim we possess the truth. We die before we biologically die. We do not want to be only alive. We want to live authentically. We do not want to jump on the bandwagon and judge others based on our own opinions. Euthyphro, being an educator, I would like to be left alone so I can have a
dialogue with you and others about justice, fairness, beauty, humanity, Truth, and Good. I want to have a dialogue with all of you as to how we should detach ourselves from this world of becoming and reach for Being and if possible go even beyond it to where there is no duality, to the absolute Oneness, to the Ultimate Reality. But what can I do when I’m stopped by those who have no idea about justice? How can I have a dialogue about justice while I’m being treated unjustly by those who lack knowledge. I’m fighting for honesty and I’m judged by those who are dishonest. Euthyphro, you ought to go against these so called respectable folks. you instead are about subjecting your innocent father to their judgments! These sophists…”far from teaching what is most likely to be true, instructed the youth in what is most likely to bear political fruit. Thus, eloquent public appeal and the art of pure rhetoric soon took the place of pure science and philosophy.” They teach their students how to persuade and refute, how to defend and oppose. However, there is hardly anything of permanent value in everything they instructed which could up lift us to reach real knowledge. (Dictionary of philosophy, D.D. Runes, p.295). These judges are also sophists and for them truth has no meaning or this is the way I understand. This is fine as long as their moral compass is directed towards the north pole of the Truth. They can argue on either side of a case and still win regardless of which side is wrong or which side is right. But you do not have to worry about them. If you carefully look around you, you’ll see many who are like them. They lie on a regular basis to achieve their goals. While they are lying, they call others liars. They use your honesty against you for their own profits. They expect you to be frank when they ask you questions, whereas they are not sincere themselves. You feel you’re used and abused. They know you cannot lie. On the other hand, when you ask them questions, they do not hesitate to cover the truth and keep it away from you. Then you ‘re tempted to do the same thing. After all, they ‘re the ones who have stepped out of the moral sphere, therefore they’re not worthy of respect, but we hear,” two wrongs do not make it right.” On the other hand, we’re told ” retribution” is good. We should let the aggressor pay for what he or she has done.
Euthyphro, let me ask you a hypothetical question: Imagine that a robber enters your house while you’re there with your wife and your three children. Being armed, he asked you to give him all the money you have or else he would kill all of you. You tell him that you do not have the amount of money he was asking for. He then says that it is alright. But now that I’m here, let us play a game. If you lose, I’ll murder one of your kids. However, if you win, I’ll go away and never come back again. Do we have a deal? you say, “yes”. You’re very good at this game, to the extent that you could easily cheat him to win the life your loved one. What would you do? On the one hand, the intruder has stepped out of the moral domain and therefore, does not deserve any respect. If you treat him with honesty, he’ll murder your child. What would you do then? Socrates you’re asking me a difficult question. If I cheat, then I’ll be just as wrong as he is. Perhaps that is what he deserves. But the problem is that you have been reduced to his level. What do you say now? I’ll do my best to save the life of my family. And if the life of one of them is in jeopardy, I’ll go out of my way to keep him or her out of harm’s way. So Euthyphro, do you think moral laws are absolute? They may be so but we’re not absolute. Those gods whom we think are absolute are nothing but the product of our own imaginations. We have faith in them. We believe in their existence. However, they only exist in our mind. These are the ones who command for things to be right or wrong which in reality it is us who make things right or wrong. These are the gods we’re happy with when things are good and unhappy when things go wrong.
The Ultimate Reality, or the One is not the cause of evil in this world. The gods who create the evil in this world are our own by products. Things are good or bad not because the gods want them to be so. Justice, for instance, is not good because God commands it to be so. Justice is good in and of itself regardless. The gods, who castrate their fathers were created by those who had not reached the Truth or enlightenment. Once they were unable to do so, they invented those gods for the mass. As time went by, people began their own fictions and they believed them. This is very much like idolatry. We create our own gods and make statues of them to worship. Euthyphro, we lost the war to the Persians and Spartans not because we were not militarily strong. But for the simple reason that we had lost our faith in the true God, the One, the Ultimate Reality. We forgot how the ancient Greeks, who had existed long before
Thales, had been so close to nature. Man and nature were one. There was no separation between “is” and “ought”. People did what they ought to do morally just like nature. In nature things are the way they ought to be. They knew there was a hierarchy of values in nature among animals. Therefore, they tried to emulate the natural law. They drew their values from it. People did not just believe in the Ultimate Reality but they smell the perfume of the Spirit in their lives. Their cosmos had been sacred and was not tainted by Thales and whole host of other thinkers after him who called themselves scientists. I have tried to resurrect and restore the ancient wisdom in order to preserve what has been lost and forgotten. My son, look around you and see the moral chaos we live in. The hierarchy of respect has collapsed on every level. Sophists are praised and elevated to higher status while enlightened teachers, who managed to escape the cave of ignorance, are put on trial.
Violence among people has threatened the foundation of our nation. People are not secure in their homes and streets. People are violating each other’s rights. Glaucon, our beloved friend, has been suggesting that we should have some kind of social contract among individuals so we would not step on one another out of self-interest just like crabs in a barrel. When it comes to justice, he thinks people do not show their real colors. However, I still believe we need to renew our faith and continue to search for the Reality which is not what we have made in our own mind. My dear Euthyphro, you were just about to have your own father indicted while you and I know there was no intent involved in what your father did. I understand that you’re seeking justice in this case and nothing else. I also did not mean to corrupt the youth of Athens. Because my intention has always been to educate the young or old folks to think for themselves rather than just follow everything blindly. However, if one of my students committed suicide, I should not be indicted. If some of my students did not understand my teachings and misinterpreted my lessons, do I have to be punished for their acts? Because they could have asked for clarification of the subject matter and they did not. This is against natural law. If we have good intentions and act the right way but the results turn out bad it is not our fault. This is acting in accordance with natural law. Euthyphro your father did exactly that but the consequence was disastrous.
Euthyphro, I taught you about justice which is way above nepotism or favoritism towards relatives. But it seems you totally misunderstood the essence of my dialogue on justice. True justice manifests itself when it embodies the Form of Justice. This worldly justice only participates in the Form of Justice. It is as much fallible as you’re. We need to rise above this relative justice, which is based on opinion, and soar to the true knowledge of Justice. Glaucon’s social contract idea is signed in abstract to stop individuals like Gyges. Once he knew he could become invisible, he did not hesitate to kill the king and take his wife. Gyges was only one person but there ‘re millions like him all around us. Our society is full of great pretenders. As soon as we’re given an opportunity, we’ll show our true colors. A frog that has been drifted away from a swamp, will display what a good swimmer it is once it is back in there. We all try to be politically correct, while there is hardly anyone who has in fact actualized and has become the perfect Forms which are transcendent.
Who is the embodiment of Justice, Beauty, Transparency, Generosity, and Love? We only participate in one or two of them and contradict ourselves by failing to take part in the rest of them. For example, pleasure is better than pain. But what is the highest form of pleasure? There’re pleasures that are in the mud like the roots of the lotus flower. However, we need to move up and pass through the water, which is subtle form of matter compared with water and reach its surface to see the sun. Once we begin breathing the subtler form of matter, we lay our dislike of wide leaves around to keep our balance while ascending to the sun where all the Forms are. From the lowest we have reached the highest. Once you have smell the perfume of that pure pleasure, you’ll know how suffocating the pleasures of this world are. you’ll comprehend how hard it would be to breath the air of the cave. My dear Euthyphro, before pointing at others, look at your own faults. Once you become busy doing that, you’ll have no time to look for them in others. Before removing the stinking object or getting rid of it by burning incense, make sure your
nostrils are completely clean. We put the blames for our bad actions on others or the whole world, even the stars and the cosmos. Perhaps because we’re scared to introspect and dig into ourselves.
While lying, we accuse others for not being transparent. While being hypocrites ourselves, we expect others to be sincere. We ought to correct ourselves first and then worry about others. We need to examine ourselves at every moment without a break. We should not let powers and positions blind us, especially when it comes to judging people like those who are waiting for me in the court. I forgive them for their lack of knowledge. Because they do not know what they’re doing. They’re about to indict me for what has never been my intention. Now that they are in the position of power, they want to get even with me. Because I have tried to direct them towards the Truth, while they have been teaching the youth of Athens that they can argue on both sides of any case regardless of the real truth. Now they think they have cornered me in a trap where they can get rid of me by either murdering me or exile me in faraway places. No matter how hard they have tried in the past, they have not been able to make me doubt myself as far as what I have done for Athens and the rest of humanity.
Euthyphro, I have never expected anything in return for what I have done. I have acted selflessly. People out of the goodness of their hearts help me with whatever they can. I would work to make a living, if I could and I would never charge them for my dialogues and conversations with them. Why should I? After all I’m learning from them. They assist me in finding the truth. They ought to charge me for giving me their precious time. The Oracle’s message is that Socrates is the wisest man in Athens. You know, I have a great respect for the revelation of the medium or the priest at the Oracle. I do not mean to contradict him. But I myself know that I’m not the wisest among my people. Perhaps God is putting me through a test for me to see, if I might think of myself this way. Only God or the Ultimate Reality is the greatest in wisdom. Who am I to claim that? Nevertheless, I’m aware of my ignorance. I worry about those who do not know that they do not know. At least I’m not among them. I know this much that I do not know and this is the only wisdom I have. It is fine if people do not know me as long as I know them. It does not matter if they do not know my name as long as I know theirs.
It is my job to get to know my students who happen to be my teachers too. Am I nosy? Fine, let them call me that. Am I inquisitive? Do I ask many questions? The questions I ask are not unnecessary. Am I prying unnecessarily? Inquisitiveness is essential to a dialogue. A dialogue is quintessential to searching for the truth. Socrates, let us have a dialogue on death. It is perfectly alright with me. What is death? Do I know the answer? No, I do not. Do you worry about it? Not really. Why should I worry about what I do not know? I do not know what to expect. That is for sure. How could you say that you do not worry about it? Well, I do not have any particular definition for it. However, I can tell you that philosophy itself is the practice of death. We die before we biologically die. We live with death at every moment of our lives. If by death we mean the absence or vacuum, we experience it as we walk. What? As we walk? Yes, Euthyphro. When we move from A to B, with every step we take, we’re going from nonbeing to being. When I’m standing, I’m where I ‘m. But as soon as I move, I’m leaving a vacuum behind. That very vacuum is like death. Logically speaking of course, Parmenides (6th-5th century B.C.E.) argues that because of this fact there is no becoming. This is due to the fact that being cannot come from non-being. Only nothing comes from nothing or something comes from something. However, due to the fact we are in the realm of becoming, we have no choice but go through death. Long before we’re conceived in our mothers’ wombs, sperms and eggs are in motion. So there is nothing that is not in the process of change and becoming as Heraclitus argued. Being is being, as our beloved Parmenides reminded us. what is…is. Heraclitus, on the other hand, maintains that we can never step into the same river twice, which means the whole world is moving. However, someone like Cratylus could have argued that either something is or is not. If it is, then it is. If it is not, then it is becoming. If it is becoming, then it is not, which means there is no river to step in. Remember, our friend Heraclitus told us that there is nothing which is not subject to change and becoming except the law of motion(logos). This is the only constant reality in his ideas. In other words, everything changes except change itself. This sounds like the opposite of what Parmenides
had argued. On the other hand, Cratylus, who happened to be a Heraclitean, believed in the doctrine of irreconcilability of opposites, namely, he denied that being and non-being could be reconciled. Thus, he concluded that there is nothing that moves which puts him and Parmendes in the same camp [A Mahayana Buddhist philosopher by the name of Nagarjuna also said the same thing in second century C.E.].
To put it in another way, as we mentioned before, there is no river to cross. However, regardless of what Cratylus said, we cannot deny the common sense that this world of becoming is the realm of life and death, being and non- being. Euthyphro, do not forget we still do not know what life itself is. But we know that life without death has no meaning, just as being without non- being makes no sense. Sometimes I wonder if Cratylus was right after all. May be life itself is nothing. Perhaps this is nothing but a dream or an illusion (Maya) as held by the Hindus. Apparently they believe that we have to go through the cycle of birth and death till we reach freedom and libration from this world of becoming. Therefore, we must go through so many reincarnations in order to achieve our goal. We’re supposed to better ourselves first morally. Having done that, we’ll then go through certain kind of meditation (Ashtanga yoga) to ascend towards liberation (moksha). Otherwise, we’ll descend to a lower level or lowest by being reincarnated. One could go to a much lower level, even lower than human’s in this world or to an existence different from this universe. However, unless we experience death, as you and I know it, we’ll not be able to know what it is. The problem is that we cannot come back to explain it to those who are still alive. Socrates, what is life? I have no answer for you. Is it possible that life is a mystery? It is possible, of course. What is the meaning of life? You ask such a question as if life has a meaning. What if life is absurd? But I want to know where I came from and where I’m going. I would like to know the purpose of being. As beautiful as life may be, it is still the abode of suffering. We suffer physically and mentally all the time. We get old and sick and one day it will be the time to say good bye to everything and everybody. What is the meaning of this narrative? What is the story here? Who is in charge of this show? Am I paying for what I have done in my past life?
Socrates, when I do not have answers to these questions, then why should I be moral after all? What if there is nothing after we die? Let us say, I tried to be pious, virtuous, and a good human being throughout my life hoping to be rewarded after I passed away. What if this was all a game? Of course, if there is something, then I’m a winner. And if I was not any of those and there is something, then I’m a loser. Is not that a risk I’m taking? You have a good point Euthyphro. But you’re acting like a consequentialist. What do you mean by that? I mean you’re trying to get paid for your honesty. My son we do not become virtuous to be compensated either in this world or after we die. Some people do not lie because it is bad for business. These are those that Glaucon was talking about. Once they have an opportunity though, they will show their true colors. We ought to be like non-consequentialists. They do not lie regardless. They do not rely on results or consequences. Because they are time bound and involved “if” and “then”. Consequentialism is based on causality. For instance, if you want your son to be an excellent politician, let him study with the Sophists. This could either end up with a good result or a bad result. Another example would be, if you teach the youngsters of Athens how to think for themselves, then there will be a philosopher king in the future among them. You and I know that this might or might not happen. Therefore, our morality should not be teleological to deal with telos or end. Because, it involves the future.
On the ordinary level, moral choices seem to be hypothetical by nature. They’re conditional, that is, they deal with “if” and “then” in statements. Now we would like to see how Socrates could ethically analyze the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in terms of what he just instructed Euthyphro. Socrates, when God says to Adam and Eve not to touch the tree, nor eat its fruits, is this a non-consequentialist statement? The answer is “yes” by Socrates. How about when God says that if you do, then you’ll die? What kind of statement is this? Socrates would have to say it is a consequentialist statement. Because it fits the conditional formula of “if” and “then”. One might say at first there is a commandment like one in
the Ten Commandments. But immediately is followed by the fact that you’ll die, if you do. The problem with the second part is the unpredictability of this kind of statement. As we know, the Biblical account informs us that Adam and Eve touched and ate the fruits of the tree and they did not die. Was God trying to teach us something here? But did not God predict the future and it did not come through? Perhaps God was teaching us not to rely on this kind of language in our daily life. May be He already knew Eve was about to ask Him why they were not supposed to get near that tree. Nevertheless, we need to use this kind of language in order to communicate with the people around us. No wonder, in the Ten Commandments, God just commands and uses non-consequentialist language like:” Thou shall not commit adultery” or “Thou shall honor your father and your mother…”. Socrates asks Euthyphro at this time if it is God who makes adultery a wrong thing to commit or adultery is already an evil act, thus God commands us to stay away from it? Euthyphro, responds by saying that God is not the cause of adultery to be bad. Adultery seems to be wrong in and of itself. It is inherently evil so God warns us to avoid it. “But is it?”, asked Socrates.
Euthyphro is anything in itself evil in this world? For example, is lying in itself wrong? You know there are times when we have absolutely no choice but lie to save a life or the life of many. Lying, being a non-consequentialist, according to the Bible, could very easily fall into a consequentialist camp and becomes conditional. Well, after all God Himself fell into it when it came to Adam and Eve, but perhaps for reasons. Did He not? My dear son, God is not even the cause of evil in this world. I do not put the blame on the gods for my predicament. However, I can go to Him for comfort and support in the face of disaster in my life and the life others. Do not forget unlike animals, we’re rational beings. We can discern while they cannot. For instance, dogs are even faithful to those who have committed great crimes. They are so loyal to their owners that they are ready to lead the police to where they have been hiding by their strong sense of smell. On the one hand, their faithfulness is legendary. On the other hand, they are more than happy to be used by the authorities in their search for their whereabouts. My beloved student, is there anything in this world that is absolute? If your answer is “No”, then neither is the code of morality. God may be absolute, but we’re not. In the Divine command theory, we’re to obey God’s orders by faith without questioning them. But often times, we forget we’re also granted the gift of intelligence. That is how we can discern between right and wrong. We share a lot with animals. However, we’re different from them when it comes to our intellect. They seem to have some reasoning ability called instinct which are unlearned. Intellect, however, is an unlimited reason, if we can call it that.
Euthyphro, we ought to purify our mind from contamination. We should detoxify ourselves. We must make an effort to be an example of virtue, piety, and transparency in spite of the world we live in. No matter how frustrated we may be, we ought to make the best moral judgments. We should think correctly, speak properly, and behave morally. And we can always ask God to help us in this process. Remember, there is only one God and not many. If there were many gods, there would be arguments among them, for instance, over what justice is. Therefore, there must be one Reality. This is not numerical. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing can be subtracted from it. If you add, there will be duality in its nature. If you were to subtract from it, it would mean a loss. It may have created us in His image, according to some Religions, but we cannot create Him in ours. Because if we create our own gods or God, by worshipping them, we will be worshipping ourselves. This Reality is unique and is not like us. It is non-dualistic. It is beyond being and non-being. It is beyond rest and motion. We cannot define or name it, lest we might limit it in our mind. We cannot even use the verb “to be” for such a Reality for fear that we might limit it. Because, as we just mentioned, it is beyond being and non-being. You probably like to say this Reality is nothing. Unfortunately, we cannot say that either. Because the opposite of nothing is something which would give us duality again. Can we deal with this problem through silence? No, even silence has its own opposite, namely, noise. So we must be very careful when we emulate the gods for our moral judgments. I hope I have been able to help you concerning what you were about to do. Now if you do not mind, we have to depart so I can go to the court for my crimes against humanity. Bye, bye Socrates, my best teacher.