Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods? (Euthyphro 10.a)
This is the question Socrates puts to Euthyphro after his now infamous definition of piety being what the gods love.(9.e) It is a question of logical priority; which is cause and which is the effect? To answer this question, Socrates then puts out a series of examples in which the reader (and Euthyphro) examine. All of these follow along the same line and can be summed up as an analysis of relationship between act and object of action, in which Socrates concludes that within that relationship, the object is defined by the act which delineates it. Euthyphro, and I assume the reader, will find this to be an uncontroversial conclusion. What follows is Socrates attempt at applying this line of reasoning to the question of piety as outlined above. He asks:
it is not being loved by those who love it because it is something loved, but it is something loved because it is being loved by them? (10.c)
This too quite easily follows from the argument that has preceded it, but what comes next is the controversial step Socrates takes to direct the flow of reasoning towards the goal he (or Plato through him) desires:
Is it being loved because it is pious, or for some other reason? (10.d)
But why is this controversial? Isn’t it simply a restatement of the initial question? One might think so if one were to judge based on the initial clause of each question, but it is the second element that demonstrates that a change has occurred. For in the initial question, the alternative was a real reversal of logical order, from L(oved) because P(ious) to P because L. In the second question, we have the first element represented, L because P, but the alternative presented is not a reversal of this, but rather L because U(ndefined). By doing so, he has transformed the discussion from being an analysis of what is pious to an analysis of what is (divinely) loved, and having already lead Euthyphro (and the reader) along the lines of considering the object in terms of the act, the way is already prepared for the listener to judge that the answer to the question must be L because P since L because L (which would have been the predicate in the initial structure of the second clause) has already been rejected as fallacious.
Another reason for this being a questionable move is that it clearly contradicts the natural force of the stated definition as provided by Euthyphro, which the obvious meaning would have been that the pious is in fact considered so because it is loved by the gods. Socrates clouds the issue by seemingly feigning a lack of comprehension and then subtly moves the dialogue into a position where the less observant will contradict this meaning without fully being aware of how it was they had reached that point.
How should Euthyphro have responded, if he had wanted to adequately defend his definition of piety? By rejecting Socrates second restatement of the question as representing a change of subject, namely a change from attempts at defining piety (which Euthyphro does in terms of love) to defining love (in terms of piety, as Socrates seemingly wishes). It is a legitimate question to ask, “what makes it god loved?”, but it is only an issue once it has been accepted that the original question, of what is the pious, can be answered in terms of divine love.
Thus Socrates (or Plato through him) demonstrates the elenctic dialogue in Euthyphro to be nothing more than a sham, a game of shells in which Socrates continues to move his interlocutor in directions he clearly desires him to go through a series of logical sleights of hand. Euthyphro’s frustration that it is Socrates that continues to move what he thought to be established(11.d) is entirely justified, for this is exactly what is happening when one assertion is substituted for another without any indication that the switch has occurred.