The Trial and Death of Socrates

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Themes, Ideas & Arguments
Piety is the central topic of discourse in Euthyphro. Socrates and Euthyphro spend most of this dialogue debating back and forth, attempting to define what might be common to all holy acts. Despite this unified focus of their conversation, however, the two men remain unable to formulate any clear, uncontroversial definition of piety. Euthyphro makes several attempts, defining piety as prosecution of civil offenders, as that which is dear to the gods, as that which all the gods approve of or love, and finally as a science of proper transactions with the gods through rituals, reverence, and sacrifice. Socrates, however, quickly dispels each of these formulations, showing that none of them suffice to provide an adequate definition of piety. This inconclusiveness can be seen as a sort of foreshadowing on Plato's part. In terms of historical context, one of the major charges brought against Socrates—and against which he defends himself in the Apology—is impiety. Plato, by presenting us with a detailed analysis of holiness and showing how difficult it is to reach a conclusion on the nature of holiness, in a certain sense vindicates his mentor. Plato shows that Socrates' alleged guilt for impiety might not be so obvious to determine. The culpability simply cannot be clear, as the very nature of the piety Socrates supposedly lacks is indeterminable. Wisdom

Socrates expresses his famous portrait of wisdom fairly early in the Apology. Paradoxically, he believes the greatest human wisdom consists of one's perception of the utter insignificance of human knowledge. Socrates describes his gradual progression toward this conclusion, starting with a declaration by the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle previously has proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest of all men. Upon hearing these words, Socrates sets out to discover the exact substance of his superior wisdom. He interviews various people, such as poets and craftsmen, in order to learn about his...
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