October 15, 2012
Analysis of Euthyphro
Socrates was put to death in Athens for subverting the youth of the city. He was indicted by Meletus and awaiting his trail on the porch of the King of Archon when he met Euthyphro. It was at this point he engaged in a debate about piety. In this paper, I will examine that debate and present my own conclusion about its purpose as well as my own definition of piety. Holiness, or piousness, is the center of the conversation between Socrates and Euthyphro. Both of the men met on the porch of the King to deal with a legal matter; Socrates the defendant and Euthyphro the plaintiff. Socrates was being charged with impiety, and Euthyphro was bringing charges against his father for murdering a servant. When Socrates heard of the nature of Euthyphro’s case, he concluded that Euthyphro must have understood the nature of impiety and piety. Since Socrates was being persecuted for a lack of piety, he began a conversation to understand the nature of piety and impiety.
In the dialogue, six different definitions of piety were given and refuted by Socrates through Socratic questioning. Socratic questioning has three main goals: to challenge assumptions and self-proclaimed experts, discover a deeper understanding, and apply rational standards critically. Each of the six definitions failed to stand up to the Socratic questioning, and in the end we are left even more confused about what piety really is.
The first definition of piety given by Euthyphro was that it was doing what he was doing, and any other similar acts (Plato & Jowett). This was easily refuted by Socrates as he had asked for a clear standard from which to judge all acts, and Euthyphro had given examples only.
Piety is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them is the next definition given by Euthyphro (Plato & Jowett). Piety and impiety are clear opposites, so one act cannot be both. However, by this definition, since there were many gods, it is possible for an act to be both pious and impious. The gods often disagreed in many old stories, so if one god held an act to be dear it was possible another would hate it. This would make an act pious and impious, which is a contradiction.
After his above point was refuted, Euthyphro modified his point to read that holiness is what all the gods love and the opposite was hated by all of them (Plato & Jowett). This definition is a bit harder to refute, but it definitely falls short of giving a clear standard from which to judge all acts. This definition fails to show the nature of piety. It says the gods love piety but it does not clearly explain why. There has to be a reason that the gods love piety, and without that reason piety seems to become relativist concept. I think this definition just gives a characteristic of piety.
The next definition given is that holiness is part of justice that is concentrated on by the gods (Plato & Jowett). Socrates uses examples of people attending to lesser beings for the sake of improving them, and shows that this is impossible with gods since they are beings above us. The word attending defeats this definition. This leads to another unclear definition that suggests that people somehow improve the gods, which we know from the concept of a god is impossible: holiness is that part of justice devoted to service or ministration to the gods; it is learning how to please them with words or deeds (Plato & Jowett).
The last definition given by Euthyphro, before he runs off leaving more questions than answers, is piety is the art or science that gods and men use to do business with each other (Plato & Jowett). This definition falls short in that it does not clearly show the benefit gained by the gods in this perceived business deal. It only seems to suggest that they find the act pleasing, which seems to lead back to...