Holy Good or Wholly Good?

Holy Good, or Wholly Good?


Academic Summary


In this talk I give a short commentary on Plato's Dialogue Euthyphro. Socrates elicits seven definitions of piety. All of which are rejected. While Plato's understanding of definition is not coherent, further analysis of the logic and grammar of love used in the dispute brings us to disagree with Plato's use of the word. His fabled Dilemma depends on this. His rejection of any connection between the love of God and human piety can be challenged as he uses a non-stative use of the word, 'love'. The stative usage is backed up by McTaggart's definition of love as being a commitment outside of any qualities in the beloved, even though those qualities are loved with the person the person is not loved in respect of them. Morality does not depend on knowing quirky law-giving  Gods ,but in understanding  that the gods (God) love(s) that which is holy in respect of being pious. In the second part of my paper I return to the misreading of this dilemma by Enlightenment Natural Philosophers. I create a Parable of the Two PR offices trying to reconcile morality as detached from God and morality as whim of God. Both fail. This affirms the view that we do not need to know God to understand morality, yet there is a piety in which doing good also can be seen to please God.


I am indebted to the work of Professor Geach througout this talk. I defend his interpretation against the linguistic critiques of Wolfsdorf and Vlastos.



I am going to read this talk as some of it is quite closely argued and those who want to ask questions shouldn’t expect me to say “I never said that” when I did, or say “I said that” when I didn’t. Reading from a text has an excellent precedent. Bishop Stillingfleet, who was a minor critic of Locke’s, used to give rousing spontaneous sermons. Once after a sermon he had given to King Charles II, the king asked why he read from a text whenever he gave a Royal sermon. The Bishop explained that as the King was the “great wise prince he couldn’t trust himself.” The King was flattered, but Stillingfleet responded by asking the King why he read from a text to parliament. The King confessed he owed parliament so much money he couldn’t look them in the eye. [1]

I owe you a debt in your coming tonight in this dreary month and I would like to thank Don Cameron for inviting me to speak, so if I don’t look you in the eye forgive me.

In this talk I am going to give an account of Plato’s elenchos, or dialogue with Euthyphro[2] a young soothsayer. I am going to concentrate on section 10a in which the famous dilemma is gulled out of Socrates’ naive interlocutor; “Just consider this question: “Is that which is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”[3] I then want to sketch how this dilemma has featured in the Philosophy of Religion since Mediaeval times up to the form that Leibniz gave it.” "It is generally agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just; in other words, whether justice and goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things."[4] My aim is to show that the initial dilemma in Plato is a false one, yet if Plato’s assumptions are repaired, then a revised dilemma emerges and hence the subsequent uses of the old dilemma in the philosophy of religion are false.


To set the scene of the Euthrypo, the year would be 399 BCE, Socrates is on his way to King Archon to answer an impeachment from Miletus that he has corrupted the youth of Athens (which will result in his trial and eventual death). Euthyphro wants to clear up a manslaughter charge he has brought against his father for having allowed a slave to die while captive under the accusation of the murder of one of his servants. The young, popular seer, wants to purify himself and his oppositional[5] family of the pollution of murder and is going to appeal to that effect. The young man is on the defensive as it was very rare to put the issue of wrongful killing before that of family loyalty. Socrates waylays him and asks him with a cold rhetorical motive;”What are you doing?” Euthyphro,[6] who does not know what he’s in for, explains his suit, but Socrates detains him and feigns to be a defendant in need of instruction on the matter of piety, as this what Euthyphro seeks and what Socrates could do with a few tips about as he is facing a charge of a kind of impiety[7].


Socrates’ foil then has to answer the question as to why he is doing this to his father. He replies that he knows what he is doing and is not himself impious[8] for bringing an action against his own father. Socrates then asks “What is piety; what is impiety?” Euthyphro answers that piety consists in what he is doing, prosecuting the impious [9]Socrates is not satisfied with what we could call definition one.


Great philosophers such as the late Karl P opper[10], Isiaiah Berlin[11] and Peter Thomas Geach [12], take Plato to task for his “essentialism,” his “Ionian,” or “Socratic Fallacy” of asking for definitions of increasing comprehensiveness as to exhaust meaningful dialogue and produce intangible absolutes instead, yet many classicists, such as Gregory Vlastos[13], and David Wolfsdorf [14] )are less dismissive of the technique. Whatever the view, Socrates will not accept a mere example when he wants to know what constitutes (to use Vlastos’[15] expression again) piety as a principle, or piety as a whole (henceforth, P). To be wholly P the definition needs to be complete in some way, wholly so, rather than a mere holy example.


Plato has a point. If on being asked to define a bird I kept on coming up with examples such as a Rea, or an Ostrich, then I am either confused about, or deliberately confusing normal usage. Yet Plato does not make sense to demand that unless I come up with a constitutive definition I cannot use “bird” or any given term meaningfully in discourse. As Geach famously put it, “I certainly could not define either ‘oak tree’ or ‘elephant’ but: but this does not destroy my right to assert that no oak tree is an elephant.”[16]) Dr Johnson’s definition of a bird helps here: “...A general term for the feathered kind; a fowl. In common talk, fowl is used for the larger, and bird for the smaller kind of feathered animals.[17]”It shows that there can logically be many kinds of definition. This nominal definition would no doubt be firmed up by later ornithologists as a real definition, but it instantiates a usage that still operates despite being both relative (Is a tiny Guinea Fowl a fowl?) and recursive. The good Doctor would ridicule a pedant who followed his definition by pointing out bird-birds and fowl-birds; yet there is no shadow of doubt that for him, birds and fowl are both kinds of birds,


Yet merely because the overall rhetoric may be at fault, to be fair to Plato we need to look at the arguments behind his dilemma. Socrates will not accept a mere example when he wants to know what constitutes (to use Vlastos’[18] expression) piety as a principle, (henceforth P). In this apparently early text, there is no developed doctrine of Forms, yet this kind of abstraction is what Plato is driving at. All Socrates seems to be looking for is a more comprehensive idea. So the young man brings out definition 2, that P is “what is dear to the Gods” (6c-8b).


Yet the Soothsayer is a man who takes his religion seriously and understands that the behaviour of Cronos towards his father Uranus was far from pious and Zeus himself prosecuted Cronos, his own father; and Hera was impious to Hephaestos because he was born ugly etc. Presumably this is the Greek version of the famous Irish curse. “You’re so ugly the midwife slapped yer mum when you were born.” This correction leads to the answer that the Gods don’t disagree about punishing injustice. To quote Geach “Thus one and the same action may be both God-loved and thus pious and god-hated and thus impious.” [19]


Socrates here accepts the mythos of the Gods, at least in Euthyphro’s grasp of it, as distinct from the logos of definition. Geach claims that Plato then makes a distinction between fact and morality by further distinguishing what is measurable from what is not, yet Plato’s argument is far from profound. I will not go into Geach’s valid defence that morality does involve questions of fact, as it is not central to the dilemma. Plato does not dwell on it and goes on to ask, “What do the Gods agree over?[20])” He is told the third definition that P is “what is loved by all the Gods.” Whereupon, Socrates comes out with his dilemma “Is that which is pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”[21]


There follows an interlude in which Euthyphro complains of confusion and Socrates darts into mythos to further his Daedalic ancestry. (Socrates’ father was a sculptor) in having his interlocutor dancing in confusion over the meaning of piety.[22] (Daedalus created a wooden mannequin ... and the labyrinth) Euthyphro rallies to come out with a fourth definition of piety that P is a kind of justice. (11e-12e) "The Pious is the part of justice concerned with the service of the gods." (13d-14a) P4 more fully expressed is P5 “The Pious is the part of justice concerned with the care of the gods." (12e-13d) yet a discussion of “care” shows humans care, but gods don’t. Yet Socrates wants to press that all Euthyphro has suggested is a sort of pious commerce between men and women and the gods which leads to the Sixth Definition: "Piety is knowledge of how to sacrifice and pray." (14a-15b) This leads to a last Seventh Definition: "Piety is what is dear to the gods." (15b-15c) Socrates in triumph points out that if the soothsayer wishes to say that then piety and what is dear to the Gods are the same thing, which Euthyphro wanted to keep distinct. The soothsayer departs in confusion, muttering excuses.(16a)


The dilemma itself is only a stage in Plato’s overall design in his early Tetralogy of the Euthyphro, the Apology, the Crito and the Phaedo which seems to be that of defining a Form of the Good whole, unknown and yet immanent in the human quest for virtue, expressed in immortality. However at this early stage in his career Plato is concerned only with piety, which leaves the larger questions unraised. He uses the dilemma merely to show that what is loved by the Gods, whatever it might be, is not the same as “the pious”. For this reason it does not have the central role in the dialogue that history was to credit it with.


Plato wants to show that there is no logical relationship between the two concepts “to be loved by the Gods” and “the pious.” Geach shows that Socrates has already sown the seeds of confusion by getting Euthyphro to assent to the truth of two propositions.


(1) What is pious is loved by the Gods because it is pious.


(2) What is God-loved is God-loved because it is loved by the Gods.[23]


                                                                                                            He then gets Euthrypho to assert the following two propositions to be false:


(3) What is God-loved is God-loved because it is God-loved


(4) What is pious is pious because it is loved by the Gods


Following Geach, we derive (3) from (1)

                                                 God-loved                                            God-loved

(5) What is pious ^ is loved by the Gods because it is pious^


and we derive (4) from (2)

                                                                       pious                pious

                                   (6) What is God-loved ^ is God –loved ^ because it is loved by the Gods.


Yet for Plato to perform this swap, (3) and (4) should really be true, if ‘God-loved’ and ‘pious’ are the same, such that they can be substituted. According to Leibniz’s Law of Identity, salva veritate[24] two identical propositions being shown not to be identical means they did not have two expressions of the same thing. E. g. the Morning star and the Evening star are identical as both are the planet Venus, for them not to be would imply the existence some as yet undiscovered heavenly body making them no longer expressions of the same thing.


What Geach has exposed is a very sophisticated form of reasoning not yet expressed in formal logic. Yet it is legitimate to appeal to Leibniz’s later logical law to analyse earlier reasoning as Plato is seeking only to confuse Euthyphro by making such a swap. Thus for Plato to reach his dilemma he has to contradict his claim that “to be loved by the Gods” and “the pious” are different concepts.


Geach also shows that identity can break down in contexts “which are not securely extensional,” or enumerative, in other words they are not exhaustive enough, such as propositions formed with ‘because’ which give no extensional context.


Two more propositions modelled on Geach can show this;


(7) I loved her because she saved my life.


(8) I loved her because she was the most beautiful woman in the world.


Both propositions could be about the same woman even though they disagree in truth value. (8) could be untrue, yet be co-extensive in terms of the woman. (The lifeguard at the swimming-pool could be suffering the Irish curse.) If that is the case then we can also conclude that pious actions and women are in the same class as God-loved actions and women. This in turn leads to the conclusion that pious actions and God-loved actions do belong to the same class. How is Plato able then to produce this contrary rabbit out of the rhetorical hat?


He does this by introducing a grammatical distinction between what it means to be “carried” as distinct from “carrying”, “to be led” from “leading,” to be “seen” as distinct from “seeing” and “to be loved” as distinct from “loving”(10b)


Geach acknowledges Plato had little grammatical technique in his time, but he nonetheless perseveres in showing the sheer strangeness of this distinction. To do this he introduces a function symbolised by the Greek letter, Phi. Phi functions as an expression of some operation on the third person singular passive and on the past participle. So “he was carried” becomes “φ Phi pass” and the past participle, “carried” becomes “φ Phi.ed.” Plato seems to imply the following;


(9) A thing φ phipass because it is φ Phied


(10) A thing is φ Phied because a thing φ Phi.pass[25]


If we get away from the use of φ Phi., then by substituting the past participle and the past tense ,we get the pair of statements;


(11) A thing is carried because carried is what it is.


(12) Because a thing is carried, carried is what it is.[26]


It is important to remember that (11) is regarded as true by Plato and (12) false. [27]


Geach does not develop this, but I think it needs further investigation. It is almost as if Plato regards the condition of “being carried” as inferior, rather than false and needs the 3rd person singular to give it some status. Plato seems to be on the borderlines between mythos and logos here. To be a participle is not enough there has to be the interaction of an agent; things merely seen, carried or led are fragmentary passivity. As such they convey only experience. Some lines in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon (written c. 458 BCE and well-known to Plato), remind us of the classic Attic πάθει μάθος (pathei-mathos)


Zeus who put men on wisdom's road,

who gave 'Suffer and learn' authority.

Misery from pain remembered drips;

instead of sleep before the heart; good sense

comes even to the unwilling." [28]


It translates as learning from adversity, from (personal) suffering; or personal experience. This ideology is one Plato wants to oppose, seeing it as an imprisonment that reason can carry us away from. Suffering is not educational in Plato, according to Rabinowicz[29]. For Aristotle of course it can be, hence the doctrine of kartharsis in the Poetics.

According to David Wolfsdorf [30]“what is going on here is that “Given the agent-patient distinction, Socrates suggests, through development of the three examples employed in the first epagoge, (or inductive argument) that patients have affections (that is, patient conditions) because they are acted upon, rather than that patients are acted upon because they have affections.” yet this linguistic interpretation does not convey the logic that Plato is trying to argue for. The distinction between agent and patient is a relative one. A mother carrying a baby thus an agent can nonetheless be carried in a wheel chair thus a patient. The Aeschylean inheritance certainly views passive experience and active wisdom as a vague boundary. Plato wants a firmer distinction. The mother has affections because she is being acted on and is also acted upon because she has affections.

Other interpretations need to be analysed, such as viewing the relationship between “the pious” and “loved by the Gods” as one of causation. To rephrase the dilemma, “Is piety caused by the loving of the gods, or is the love of the gods itself caused by the nature of piety?” To understand this you have might want to think of “the pious” as some kind of ultimate god-offspring, influenced by all of the Gods, a super-deity influencing all the Gods. Plato does not imply this kind of relationship. The dilemma Plato presents us with is that of a definition seeking to express what constitutes a thing, (its ousia) as distinct from what might happen to it, (its pathe.) A relationship of causation would require a certain sameness of nature such as a burner to a balloon both are empirical, but the relation between “the pious” and “loved by the Gods” is that of agent and patient.


For Plato that a man being carried is caused by carrying is nonsense. The relationship is more one of substance and attribute. Yet even here Plato seems anxious to show that “being loved by the Gods” is not even an attribute of “the Pious.” Length is an attribute of dimension because dimension constitutes the sense of length. What is length, but the dimension of a straight line? Yet it would not make sense to say “What is the pious but the “to be loved by the God’s” of virtue?


“God-loved” and “pious” are not two opposed forms either. “God-loved” in Plato’s view cannot be a form as to be “God-loved” is something that “the pious” has done to it. It simply isn’t an “is” to use Plato’s talk. Similarly, Geach points out that the relation between “the pious” and “loved by the Gods” is not one of connoting ideas of different meaning, or that the terms have different applications. This is hardly a distinction Plato would make.


Geach is right in his view that whatever mythology or language holiday Plato indulges in over “what things have done to them,” when it comes to knowledge, or love which are transitive verbs there is a certain finality that is very different from fragmentary experiences.


Such verbs are sometimes called stative verbs. Plato uses the word ‘love’ as if it were a dynamic word, as if love was something one has done to one. The Americanism “I am loving it” is just as absurd, despite its popularity in the lyrics written by ‘Pharrell Williams for Justin Timberlake and taken up by McDonalds.


I'm lovin' it,

I'm lovin' it

I'm lovin' it

Don't you love it too?[31]


A stative verb does not admit of the imperfect, or progressive tense. Dynamic verbs relate an action or a process. Common dynamic verbs are “to walk,” “to yell,” and “to read.” These verbs can be conjugated in progressive tenses, so when we say, “I will be walking all day” and “He was yelling at me”, we are talking about fleeting or temporary actions. Stative verbs, on the other hand, describe a state of being and are not supposed to be conjugated in progressive tenses. As Geach comments, “Verbs like “love,” ”know” and “see” are logically quite different from verbs expressing that something is shifted or altered.[32]


Geach makes the point that the Greek use of the word ‘because’ as a conjunction, ho’ti, is used peculiarly in Plato. For example for


(13) “what is pious is loved by the Gods because it is pious.”


                                                                   Geach would prefer


(13a) “What is loved by the Gods is loved by the Gods in respect of being pious.”


Love implies some kind of an attitude towards some object. Grammatically Geach seems to be right. The verb to love is also known as a phatic verb: one that can only be understood in terms of a reciprocal communication. (Malinowski 1928[33]). Mutuality is the key here. Yet such mutuality can go ignored by one party and yet be valid. Geach quotes the Cambridge metaphysician Mc Taggart in a moving passage from his posthumous account of existence, “...about love...it is more independent than any other emotion of the qualities of the substance towards which it is felt. ...while love may be of those qualities it is not “in respect” of them.”[34]


Geach quotes the same example as Mc Taggart that of admiring Cromwell for his courage, even though the Cromwell he identified in history might be someone else, or Cromwell might be shown to have been a coward. Justin Timberlake breaks with grammar precisely because he does not want to express love as phatic, but the sensation of what it is to love (no particular one) as an erotic’ selfie’ is precisely what Plato suspects the Gods of and what Geach argues is not love at all. What love really is does not have to be reciprocated either. In A La Recherche de Temps Perdu (In Remembrance of Lost Time) Swann falls in love with the unworthy Odette.


“The disorder that was the love of Swann had multiplied so much, it was so closely mingled with all Swann’s habits, all his acts, his thoughts, his health, his sleep, his life, even as what he wished for after death, was so one with him, one could not steal it without destroying him almost entirely: as they say in surgery his love was no longer operable.” [35]  


Unrequited love is valid love because it is love in respect of the qualities Swann believes in Odette; but not because of those qualities. Proust is such an incisive analyst of human nature; that to read him as if Swann were merely a man deceiving himself would not be to understand what Proust is getting at. “A person can have an attitude towards someone in respect of its being X when the thought is not X but is mistakenly regarded by him as being X.” [36]


This is what Geach means when he asserts


(14) “What is loved by the Gods in respect of being pious.”




(15) “What is loved by the Gods because it is pious”


are radically different.


The first is true and the second is false. Plato’s objection to “What is loved by the Gods because it is pious” is revealed as an objection to any concept that ignores the “phatic” nature of verbs such as “to love,” or “to fear.” As Geach puts it;” Nobody God or man can love a thing simply for in respect of being loved by himself. Similarly, nobody can fear a thing simply for its being fearful.” A man might be frightened of open spaces or heights out of psychological or physiological reasons, but not out of fear. When Rooseveldt said “The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.”[37] It was superb rhetoric but hardly true. What he meant was the cause of economic progress was so right there was no need to consider the usual fears of prudence over action. How the message was heard goes beyond my scope. Similarly no-one loves simply because he loves himself to be in love. A selfish lover may only love someone like himself, but he doesn’t love another just to be in love with himself. Suckling’s Cavalier


                             Out upon it, I have lov’d

                             Three whole days together:

                             And am like to love three more,

                             If it prove fair weather[38]

                                                          wouldn’t need fair weather of he were only in love with himself. Justin Timberlake’s “I’m loving it” is the nearest anyone has come to the position Plato wants to oppose; an illicit fusing of dynamic and stative, of transitory and absolute. It amounts to an absurd, whimsical indulgence in Divine selfishness as if it were a commodity to be turned on and off at will. As “I’m God.  I’m loving piety,” it can only be false.


Objections to Geach’s analysis take two forms; that he has misinterpreted Plato’s original language in the Euthyphro and that he does not explore Plato’s other usages of “because” in other dialogues. The classicist David Wolfdorf is the most vociferous.[39] Yet Wolfsdorf overlooks the fact that Geach did just this in pointing out that Plato uses the same argument in the Sophist (248 d-e) when the Eleatic Stranger wants to deny the Forms because knowledge of them is something that “happens to them.”

The reformulated dilemma; Geach offers well-expressed by Wolfsdorf is “a sound non-causal, psychological interpretation of

(1) as the gods love that which is holy in respect of being holy. Accordingly,

(2), interpreted as that which is god-beloved is loved by the gods in respect of being god-beloved,

is clearly false; and Geach claims that 'this shows that "god-beloved" and "pious" differ in meaning.” Yet Wolfdorf should not translate hosios [40]as Holy. The Greek vocabulary is limited and you have to look to the context for meaning. In English we have two sound words, “holy” and “pious;” The old expression Holy Ghost puts fear in no-one’s heart , but a pious ghost can only be found in a haunted church. A translator is like a double agent, he, or she has to be true to both sides and “holy” for “pious” will not do.

Rejecting (2) leaves us with

(1) The gods love that which is holy in respect of being pious. This needs to be left on the table as I take up the second aspect of my talk.


The original dilemma after Plato quickly faded. Yet a debate ensued  over a similar distinction ; in Geach’s words


'If what God commands is not right, then the fact of his commanding it is no moral reason for obedience, though it may in that case be dangerous to disobey. And if what God commands is right, even so it is not God's commanding it that makes it right; on the contrary, God as a moral being would command only what was right apart from his commanding it. So God has no essential place in the foundations of morals.'[41]


Reactions to this are divided itself into two camps. I call them the determinist (often called the Divine Command theory) and the Voluntarist positions. Those who followed the first lemma ‘If what God commands is not right, then the fact of his commanding it is no moral reason for obedience, though it may in that case be dangerous to disobey’ followed a trail through Islamic philosophers such as Nazzam and the Mu'tazilah school which professed the view of an independent moral universal for example that God is powerless to be unjust, or to lie, as did the Islamic philosopher Averroes[42]. The neo-scholastic Vásquez asserted that obligations exist prior to anyone's will, even God's[43]. Grotius and Leibniz followed on to claim morality to be prior to God's will, and to make an analogy between moral truths and unchangeable mathematical truths.[44] The Cambridge Platonists such as Benjamin Whichcote and Ralph Cudworth[45] advocated the same and this developed into the later rationalist ethics of Richard Price and Samuel Clarke. Their joint claim was that eternal moral standards, though dependent on God, stand separately from God and are precedent to his edicts.


Others followed the second lemma “And if what God commands is right, even so it is not God's commanding it that makes it right; on the contrary, God as a moral being would command only what was right apart from his commanding it.” were the Ash'arite theologian, al-Ghazali[46] who held to voluntarism: Duns Scotus[47], claimed that our duties to God in the Ten Commandments are grounded in themselves, self-defining as true, and immutable even by God, but our duties to others were capriciously willed by God, revocable and revisable.


William of Ockham believed God could command us not to love and ultimately to loathe Him. After him came Pierre D'Ailly and Jean de Gerson who held God does not "command good actions because they are good or prohibit evil ones because they are evil; but... these are therefore good because they are commanded and evil because prohibited." [48]


Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasised  the utter sovereignty of God's will, Luther asserted "for [God's] will there is no cause or reason that can be laid down as a rule or measure for it" [49] Calvin held[50] that "everything which [God] wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it." The Voluntarist ic boast was renewed by Descartes, who claimed God freely made the perpetual laws of logic and mathematics. Hence God was capable of modifying mathematical truths and making contraries and contradictions equally true, though I could do these things in my inept schooldays. Descartes supports Ockham: "why should [God] not have been able to give the command to hate God to one of his creatures?"[51] In later decades William Paley posited that “all moral obligations could be reduced to the "urge" to avoid Hell and enter Heaven by acting in accord with God's commands[52]”.


Reactions to the dilemma’s solution can be compared to an office in which God sits in Mission Control trying to reconcile two PR teams; Determinist God and Voluntarist God. (henceforth Detgod and Volgod) To placate the first He has to devolve, if not outsource, his power. To placate the second he has to emphasise: “The buck stops here.” Not only that, but messages keep coming in about the shortfalls of both. Detgod has to cope with a God who has himself to obey his outsourced laws. He faces a credibility problem if His own power reduces the definition of God as omnipotent. Rumours are afoot that God is no longer free, kidnapped by His own devolved operations. Another claims the staff aren’t working any more as they don’t see why they should respect the morality of a devolved authority. Rumours that Detgod does not exist has created a crisis of communication among the devolved services.


These are mere trifles compared to what’s going on in the Volgod office. The office-workers have gone on strike as they don’t see why they should obey God’s law unless He turns up and tells them to, or gives them some kind of bonus. The writers have forgotten how to spell words for lovingkindness, omnibenevolence, or omniscience as kind rational office talk has been banned. Rumours are afoot again that saboteurs are forging laws coming out of God’s office as no-one can tell one from the other. Memorandums can contradict each other, even though they come from God what was pious today could be an impiety tomorrow. To cope with this Volgod now operates two offices: one responsible for God’s laws and one to create laws to impose those laws. The blandishments of secretaries tell the workers what to do and the jackboots of supervisors tell them their deadlines. The sight of champagne and call-girls going into the boardroom has led to the impression that Volgod doesn’t have anything to do with the goodness of His own laws. Memos are flying about the room as every time a message comes out about what God is to be has to be countersigned by a the office of what workers ought to be. Rumours that Volgod might not exist have created a crisis in the security office as some one’s going around saying that” if the boss doesn’t exist anything goes.”


Things are no better among the shareholders. God Inc. must be protected. In a “subjective theory of value,” Shares going up are called good or going down called evil. They are totally independent of what the market bids, wants or prefers. God Inc. obviously can’t make shares go down. He can’t do evil, but he keeps on the office of omnipotence even though his hold on the market is limited. He still has “maximal powers” he cannot control all possible shares. However the hoods have put it about that that “no way can God not exist and be God” as “the block can’t  have more than one omnipotent being.” Thus God Inc rules.


In the bond market, necessary moral truths exist independently, like gold bars, but they can be issued by God as bonds which can be cashed in to buy contingent moral truths. God Inc therefore has some impact. The gold stocks are untouched whether God Inc prevails or collapses.  Very bad things are thus auto matically countered by the gold of independent goodness, irrespective of God’s bond issue.  Gold is no threat to the Boss’ power any more than the laws of logic. Yet the bond market is still busy issuing daily obligations. God also created and owns the cosmic stock exchange. God can influence public policy like a sempiternal Rupert Murdoch. God Inc can influence policy by insisting on the correct use of his product, the environment, to benefactors and co-owners.


Finally the currency exchange also depends on the necessary moral truths of the Gold bullion. There’s a rumour going round the bars that God is the gold bullion, but not his will. Just as the Swiss standard meter is kept in Berne as a criterion of length so God’s sovereignty is the currency of safety. Independent of God’s will it nonetheless guarantees His power. If other moral currencies go down in value at least there’s safety in gold. The problem here is that a misshapen old man wearing an old sheet and speaking an incomprehensible language shuffles in and says “Is God good because he has the gold, or is the gold good because God has it?


Whether philosophers juggle with power and neutrality, value and truth, or freedom and necessity we seem to end up in the same dilemma. We need to read the first lemma as nonsense and the second as ‘What is loved by God is loved by God in respect of being pious.’ Yet I will not put it into Leibniz’s terms, as what is willed by God’ because it moves away from my discussion of stative verbs. Willing is not a state of being, or more accurately it is not inert. Willing is not phatic, or relational in the way to love, believe, desire and to need are. They have a transitive urgency.


This aspect of the divine human relationship tends to be neglected. It is also left out of moral philosophy. As the late Elizabeth Anscombe [53]puts it that the vocabulary of morals such as “ought” or “should” took on a legal patina and the sense of the law as binding because of the effect of Christian ethical legalism. “Ought” implies the Beak’s verdict on a culpable action. To conform to the virtues means to obey the divine Beak. The divine Beak sits in the lap of God who must exist to give and make the law. As our times have given up God, so we should give up legalistic terms derived from the world-view of theism. Moral philosophy should not be based on theistic belief. For Anscombe, talk of morality as law, should give way to talk of morality as virtue.


Virtue ethics does not abandon rules but only sees them as part of a process involving a descriptive awareness of fact, a prescriptive awareness of rules and an ascriptive awareness of consequence. When we argue what is “loved by God is loved by God in respect of being pious” we mean it is consistent with the divine attributes that He should have created a world of reason in which ethical concepts can be used in judgements without any further reference to Him. Piety is not the knowledge of good but the desire to act on it. To love piety is a stable, relational state of being.


With Geach[54], I argue we do not need to know God to know the difference between good and evil. Geach argues that it is logically impossible that our knowledge that lying is bad should depend on revelation. He quotes Plato’s contemporary Xenophanes to the effect that we judge the Gods on such criteria as the badness of lying. The Gods are not to be trusted as they do “Theft, adultery and mutual deception.” We do not need to know the Gods to judge them. Even such an adage as “doing good that good may come.” does not depend on knowing God’s providence. We know that on occasion to kill a human being can be justified. It makes sense to say to say rather than ‘doing evil that good may come’ that it would have been a good thing for example to assassinate Hitler. We do not even have to be constrained by a so-called sense of duty which could justify fanaticism, which Bradley calls “empty self-will.”[55] It is the goodness or badness of an action makes the human agent want to do it or not.


However accepting God does make a difference. It means we do not need two offices one for rules and one, such as the duty office, or the pragmatic bureau, for getting them done. Such bureaucracies of morality break down when it seems people are given a choice between forbidden acts. Tosca’s choice to save her lover and accept Scarpia’s sexual advances, or let him die in the Puccini opera , assumes the Christian view that she was right to do the bad man in[56]. Secular morality would not be able to judge the action. The power that makes someone obey a parking regulation even though it might be thought an income maximiser for the local authority is not one that comes from operant conditioning , or duty, but from something stronger even though it might not be identified. Believers in God take a different view as to what people are doing. Everything they do is either conforming to, indifference to, or opposition to the will of God.[57]


In the end we can agree with poor Euthyphro. He acted correctly for a helpless victim of manslaughter, a crime which nowadays would be a regarded as very serious, because he feared the outcome of letting the fault go unpardoned. Plato, conversely had only contempt for his father’s “wretched peasant” .To fear an ultimate moral authority is not some godly ‘selfie’. It is never abject, if the love with which we respect it is stable, stative and stands in trust before it.













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[1] Richardson. 89-90

[2] Tredennick, translation. 29-41

[3] Plato. Euthyph. 10a; Greek (“takh', ōgathe, beltion eisometha. ennoēson gar to toionde: ara to hosion hoti hosion estin phileitai hupo tōn theōn, ē hoti phileitai hosion estin” ed. Burnet 1903)

[4] Leibniz; 561– 73..

[5] Athenian Law allowed only relatives of the victim to sue for murder (Demosthenes,. 43 § 57)

[6] Tredennick 10a p19

[7] Tredennick 2 a-4a, pp. 20-22

[8] Pronounced in the American form

[9] Tredennick 10a Op.Cit. p19

[10] Popper,.9-21

[11] Berlin, 171 & 260

[12].Geach, (1966) 369-82.

 [13]Vlastos,. 407-.10

[14] Wolfsdorf, 7

[15] Vlastos .411

[16] Geach.( 1976) 34

[17] Johnson.:”Bird” 3596

[18] Vlastos 411

[19] Geach  373 )

[20] Tredennick, 9a -9b, p31

[21] Tredennick 10a p 19.

[22] Tredennick 10b-11d p

[23] Geach 376

[24] See Ishiguro 21.I find her interpretation is closest to the use Geach makes of this’

[25] Geach  378

[26] Geach  378

[27] Geach  378

[28] Aeschylus 174-181 My translation

[29].Rabinowicz, 17

[30] Wolfsdorf  2

[31] Williams,Pharrell/Justin Timberlake

[32] Geach  p.397

[33] Malinowski 296-336.

[34]  McTaggart, 151

[35] .Proust 496

[36] Geach  379

[37] “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” First Inaugural Roosevelt Saturday, March 4, 1933

[38] Gardner,180

[39]Wolfsdorf,.  p11 footnote 26

[40] Wolfsdorf . 4

[41] Geach.(1969), .117

[42] Ivry, sect 4

[43] Pink, in Kraye & Saarinen 31

[44] Leibniz (1993)





[45] Koffman  314

[46] Griffel, sect 7 

[47] Pink, in Kraye & Saarinen 31

[48] Pink in Kraye & Saarinen . p 45

[49] Saainen in  Kraye & Saarinen , 195-215

[50] Strohm, in Kraye & Saarinen  255-281

[51] Descartes 343

[52] Paley 29

[53] Anscombe, 1–19

[54] Geach .(1969)  141

[55] Bradley 386

[56] O Scarpia, avanti a Dio!– O Scarpia, we’ll meet before God! – God is our judge before whom we are all equal. Tosca’s and the opera’s last words are directed to Him.” Forsling 12 August, 2005

[57] Geach, .(1969) 124