Imagine this. Euthyphro is not any longer a young religious trainee focused greatly on the question of piety (what is sacred), but he is a promising law student in Austin, Texas. In this case-study the moral dilemma has shifted from the religious to the secular morality.
Walking in Euthyphro’s New Shoes….
You are a son/daughter of a hard-working father who owns a big ranch in Texas, close to the Mexican border. The father is doing everything possible to help you to succeed and finish the prestige and expensive law school in Austin, Texas. There is only one semester left before you graduate and you have arrangements with the down-town law firm to begin as an apprentice so you can work towards passing the BAR exam. After your mother died two years ago, your father is doing everything possible not just to financially help you, but also to support you emotionally. He is your best friend, the person your deeply love and respect.
During Thanksgiving Holiday, you visit home, and find the father to be distant and solemn. It seems as though something is deeply bothering him. You are puzzled what’s wrong. The next day your father tells what happened a month ago, the fight that broke-out between two workers who happen to be illegal immigrants. The attacker acted fast, without warning, but was defeated fast and stabbed with the butterfly knife carried by the attacked worker secretively. The father explains that he usually avoids taking any illegal workers, but that the crops would go to waste if it would not be picked on time, so he hired four illegal immigrants just for a week. He said that he offered the same pay as legal hires. Badly wounded illegal worker, the attacker, passed away soon after the father tried to help him, another illegal worker managed to run and escape. Everything happened very fast and the father didn’t have an opportunity to call 911.
The father explained how terrible he feels about the case, but he couldn’t bring himself to call the police or report the case, so he decided to bury the man and give him the best respect. He asked the family preacher, Robert, to help him, and the preacher conducted a small ceremony.
Only Sam, one of the two his close ranch managers witnessed the case, only three men, the father, Sam, and the preacher at the burial. The father suspected that Sam told Jeff, the other manager, about the unfortunate circumstances. Jeff was away for four days visiting his sister in Huston.
You are unsettled and shaken, struggling with affectionate sympathy for your father and principles relevant to the professional ethics of the law practice.
You ask “Do you trust your managers, father?” The father responded in hesitation and reported that manager Jeff asked him twice for a pay rise since the event.
You asked your father did he know anything about a worker who passed away. The father is desperate, he collected several belongings of the deceased, but he didn’t find any identification documents and he couldn’t find any further information.
The father asked you for an advice, “I know this situation may compromise your future if anybody ever reports or discovers the body, tell me son what to do, if you want me to, I am ready to report to the police, although I am getting old and would not like to spend any time in prison, this will kill me soon. I will follow your council.”
You are facing a serious moral dilemma. You decided to talk to friends who are already practicing lawyers, and you received different responses on questions you drafted with your friends, who accepted to talk to you as a part of their right to a privileged communication with possible clients.
- Would you advise your father to report to the police?
Suggestion 1: Lawyer 1
“Don’t report anything, you can always say you never heard of what happened at the ranch. The unfortunate circumstances happened, but they shouldn’t haunt your father, I highly doubt that he would face any charges, it is less likely for your father to face any zealous prosecutor who would go so far to seek justice on this shaky case. Remember in Texas there are no bystander laws, so the worst case-scenario would be for someone to show where the body is, but it would be lots of work for the prosecutor to cut clear with this case. You are blood and your bond is strong, just let go off any further steps, advice your father to let go of worries and continue to make strong bonds with friends who support him, the manager and the preacher.”
Suggestion 2: Lawyer 2
The right thing to do is tell your father to report what happened to the authorities before the situation becomes much more dangerous and complicated. Jeff is messing around and there are a few witnesses, you don’t want for this clear case to turn into muddy waters where everybody could fish much more that it is in the case. A friend brings a point about what if there is a young and zealous prosecutor who decides to use this case as an example for future rulings and punishment.
Give reasons for accepting suggestion 1 or 2, or rejecting both. If you are rejecting both, explain what you would do
- What is more important, protecting the father or following the principles of professional ethics? Which would you stand by: blood or law?
- Does the law ever change?
- What moral dilemmas does the son/daughter face?
- If you studied Euthyphro, does the secular moral dilemma have less of the challenge than the dilemma presented in Plato’s original dialogue focusing on sacredness and piety (see Euthyphro excerpts on the sheet)?
Euthyphro, the original text:
“I am charging my father with murder, Socrates. One of my slaves in drunken fit killed a fellow slave. My father chained him to the culprit and left him in a ditch unattended for several days to wait the judgment of a priest (judge). But the cold, the hunger, and the chains killed him. So now I am charging my father with murder, against the ignorant wishes of my family who do not know what true holiness requires of a priest like me.”
Euthyphro: “Holiness is doing what I am doing: prosecuting anyone who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or of any similar crime—whether he is your father or mother, or whoever, it makes no difference—and not to prosecute them in unholiness.”
Socrates: “I was not asking you to give examples of holiness, Euthyphro, but to identify the characteristic which makes all holy thinks holy.” (Socrates wants definition of what is holiness)
Euthyphro: “Holiness is what is loved by the gods”
Socrates: “… there are many gods, and gods have disagreements.” (relativism of polytheistic culture)
Socrates: ‘…unjust should be punished, both men and gods generally agree, but disagree when comes to specific cases.” Is it just to press charges against your father who chained the slave who murdered another worker and sent for a priest and authorities to act and execute the punishment?
Socrates: “Do the gods love what is holy because it is holy or is it holy because they love it? Do all gods love holy, because is the absolute value of justice and goodness?
Euthyphro’s answer to Socrates: “…that holiness is serving the gods with acts they love.”
Socrates says that holiness is holy by achieving a good and pious deeds, not executing laws that might change from to the other place, or from one to the other point of view of gods.
Inspired by Plato’s dialogue
The traditional “Euthyphro” dilemma explained: