, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 393-407
Date: 09 Apr 2012

Validity and Effectiveness of Ambiguity: A Famous Argument by Socrates

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Abstract

An argument can be superficially valid and rhetorically effective even if what is plausibly meant, what is derived from what, and how it is derived is not at all clear. An example of such an argument is provided by Socrates’s famous refutation of Euthyphro’s second definition of holy, which is generally regarded as clearly valid and successful. This paper provides a stricter logical analysis than the ones in the literature. In particular, it is shown that the argument contains a syntactically ambiguous expression, a passage that needs to be read charitably, and a previously unnoticed but crucial shift between two notions of unholy. Different analyses may be provided, depending on how these interpretation problems are solved. The conditions under which the refutation is valid and successful are far from obvious, and are here explicitly specified.