Euthyphro Dilemma

Socrates: We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.

– Plato, Euthyphro

On Unattainability of Understanding

“It is only possible to succeed at second-rate pursuits — like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister, winning a war, seducing beautiful women, flying through the stratosphere or landing on the moon. First-rate pursuits involving, as they must, trying to understand what life is about and trying to convey that understanding — inevitably result in a sense of failure. A Napoleon, a Churchill, a Roosevelt can feel themselves to be successful, but never a Socrates, a Pascal, a Blake. Understanding is for ever unattainable. Therein lies the inevitability of failure in embarking upon its quest, which is none the less the only one worthy of serious attention.”

– Malcolm Muggeridge

What Made Socrates Think About Becoming A Philosopher?

Socrates (469-399BC) may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes’ comedy as entertaining ideas ranging from the scientifically absurd (“How do you measure a flea’s jump?”) to the socially subversive (“I can teach anyone to win any argument, even if they’re in the wrong”).

This picture is at odds with the main sources of biographical data on Socrates, the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Both the latter treat him with great respect as a moral questioner and guide, but they say almost nothing of Socrates’ earlier activities.

In fact our first description of Socrates, dating to his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served in a military campaign in northern Greece in 432BC, and during a brutal battle he saved the life of his beloved young friend Alcibiades. Subsequently he never left Athens, and spent his time trying to get his fellow Athenians to examine their own lives and thoughts.

We might speculate that Socrates had toyed with science and politics in his youth, until a life-and-death experience in battle turned him to devoting the remainder of his life to the search for wisdom and truth.

As he wrote nothing himself, our strongest image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from the dialogues of his devoted pupil Plato, whose own pupil Aristotle was tutor of Alexander, prince of Macedon.

See other: Which Greek Legends Were Really True?

Common Knowledge

There are two kinds of facts that are regarded as common knowledge. Firstly, in academic writing, as a general rule, a fact can be said to be common knowledge, as opposed to expert knowledge when:

  1. it is widely accessible – that is to say, you may not know the total population of China, but you would be able to find the answer easily from numerous sources;
  2. it is likely to be known by a lot of people and widely regarded as true or proven;
  3. it can be found in a general reference resource, such as a dictionary or encyclopaedia.

These kinds of facts require no references. For example: “Pterosaurs were the flying reptiles of the dinosaur age.” ‘Everyone’ knows this, so no citation is needed.

“The more you look at ‘common knowledge’, the more you realise that it is more likely to be common than it is to be knowledge. No real knowledge is common.” – Idries Shah, Reflections

However, “Even the largest pterosaurs may have been able to take off simply by spreading their wings whilst facing into a moderate breeze.” (Wilkinson, M.T., Unwin, D.M. and Ellington, C.P. (2005). High lift function of the pteroid bone and forewings of pterosaurs. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B.) requires a reference.

Within particular disciplines, the boundaries of what is common knowledge and what is expert knowledge can be ambiguous, especially the further you get into a particular field. However, if it is not common knowledge, you will always need to reference your source.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” – Carl Sagan

Secondly, there is knowledge which refers to common knowledge outside the academic field that is regarded to be widely known with reference to a particular community.

For someone born in the United Kingdom, it can be considered common knowledge to know that the sea which separates the Britain and Ireland, is called the Irish Sea. However, it probably true to say that this is not common knowledge for someone who has lived his entire life in Tahiti.

For someone born in the United States, it can be considered common knowledge that the US fought both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the Second World War. Whereas this may not be considered common knowledge in North Korea. Having said that, in 2012, according to HBO, four out of ten Americans did not know who the US fought in World War II.

“To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge.” – Socrates


A virago is a pejorative word for a woman of great stature, strength and courage who is also domineering, often violent, and bad-tempered.

The term was derived from the Latin virago meaning ‘warlike women’, from the Latin vir meaning ‘man’. In the Vulgate bible, the term was used by Adam to describe Eve.

Curiously, the Middle English 14th century poem Cursor Mundi retains this Latin name for ‘woman’ in its otherwise Middle English account of the creation:

‘Quen sco was broght be-for adam, Virago he gaf her to nam; þar for hight sco virago, ffor maked of the man was sco.’ – lines 631–634
(When she was brought before Adam, Virago was the name he gave to her; Therefore she is called Virago, For she was made out of the man.)

The meaning of the term virago according to Urban Dictionary is, like all definitions on UD, curious yet amusing, and therefore worthy of attention:

‘A term referring to a woman who is manly in character but not necessarily appearance. A woman who steps out of the domestic role and sometimes oversteps her boundaries as a woman. She never takes shit from a man and always holds her own. She keeps a man from walking all over her and she never, EVER, downplays her importance in order to charm a man.’

Also, according to Urban Dictionary, related terms include: shrew; amazon, after the society of female warriors in Greek mythology; harridan, perhaps a modification of the French haridelle meaning ‘old horse, nag; vixen; fishwife; harpy; and xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, who according to Antisthenes, was “the hardest to get along with of all the women there are”. It is written that she once emptied a chamber pot over Socrates’ head.


When contemplating the property truth, as with knowledge, it turns out to be very difficult to provide an uncontentious analysis. Because of its many different conceptions and dimensions, the full value of truth is surprisingly hard to capture. To that end, below is a list of quotations to help sketch a definition of the property truth.

“No persons are more frequently wrong, than those who will not admit they are wrong.”
– François de La Rochefoucauld

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
– Winston Churchill

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
– Oscar Wilde

“The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
– Gloria Steinem

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
– Socrates

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
– Mark Twain

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
– Aldous Huxley

“Art is the lie that enables us to realize the truth.”
– Pablo Picasso

“The more I see, the less I know for sure.”
– John Lennon

“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
– Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

See more: Approximations

Naturalistic Fallacy‏

There are two fundamentally different types of statement: statements of fact which describe the way that the world is, and statements of value which describe the way that the world ought to be. The naturalistic fallacy is the alleged fallacy of inferring a statement of the latter kind from a statement of the former kind.

Arguments cannot introduce completely new terms in their conclusions. The argument,

1. All men are mortal,
2. Socrates is a man, therefore
3. Socrates is a philosopher

is clearly invalid; the conclusion obviously doesn’t follow from the premises. This is because the conclusion contains an idea—that of being a philosopher—that isn’t contained in the premises; the premises say nothing about being a philosopher, and so cannot establish a conclusion about being a philosopher.

Arguments that commit the naturalistic fallacy might be flawed in the same way. An argument whose premises merely describe the way that the world is, but whose conclusion describes the way that the world ought to be, arguably also introduce a new term in the conclusion. This is known as a naturalistic fallacy; it remains to be seen whether it will be proven true.

“Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.” – Benito Mussolini