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Euthyphro’s Piety

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Euthyphro’s Piety
Euthyphro’s famous dilemma concerning the nature of piety poses the question, is piety an act or thing that is loved by the God’s? Whether an act is right or wrong, just or unjust, the truth or a lie, and pious or impious are all sources of controversial debates that are problematic within the human race. Drawing a line between these particular contradictions is difficult because of cultural differences, values, moral, and religious beliefs within society, which is in the case with Socrates and Euthyphro. Plato 's Euthyphro is a dialogue between Socrates and young Euthyphro outside the court in Athens just before Socrates is to go to trial. Socrates has been charged by the Athenians with impiety while Euthyphro claims to understand piety perfectly. In fact, Euthyphro is at court to prosecute a case against his own father for impiety. His father allowed a laborer, who had killed a slave, to die, bound in a ditch, while he awaited word from the authorities on how he should proceed against the man. Socrates is not convinced that Euthyphro prosecuting his father for murder is the pious thing to do. He asks Euthyphro to teach him about piety and impiety, so he can see for himself whether Euthyphro’s actions against his father are pious. The two men then go into a detailed dialogue where Euthyphro tries to justify prosecuting his father by offering Socrates several different definitions of piety. However Euthyphro’s most important attempt to define piety comes with the suggestion that the pious is what all the gods love. Euthyphro states that "The godly and the pious is a part of the just that is the care of the gods, while that concerned with the care of men is the remaining part of justice" (Melchart 78). Socrates then asks, "The pious is loved by the gods because it is pious, or is something pious because it is loved by the gods" (Melchart 77). Along their debate, Socrates is slowly persuading Euthyphro that the distinction between just and unjust, piety and impiety, honorable and dishonorable is vague and depends on the person making the decision. Moreover, Socrates explains that a thing or action is not necessarily pious when loved by the Gods, because the Gods were often involved in immoral acts themselves.
As seen from Socrates’ proposition: “Is then the man your father killed one of your relatives? Or is that obvious, for you would not prosecute your father for the murder of a stranger” (Melchart 73). Euthyphro however observes this case from a different point of view. He states, “The real question is whether the murdered man has been justly slain. If justly, then your duty is to let the matter alone; but if unjustly, then even if the murderer lives under the same table, proceed against him” (Melchart 73). This statement poses the question, what particular circumstances surrounding the act of murder makes the act just or unjust? Euthyphro believes that for man to be pious to the gods he must learn to do what is pleasing to the gods. Taking care of the gods is doing service for the gods. "If man knows how to say, and do what is pleasing to the gods at prayer and sacrifice, those are pious actions" (SparkNotes Editors). This definition seems to lead to the idea that sacrifice and prayer will get a man what he wants from the gods, as long as it is considered pious by the gods. Socrates ask Euthyphro "Are they [piety and pious] a knowledge of how to sacrifice and pray" (Melchart 79). Euthyphro "They are" (Melchart 79).
This explanation indicates that either the gods recognize pious things and love them because they are pious, or else the gods simply love whatever things they do. And it is only because the gods love these things that they are pious. For why would we need the gods if things are pious and impious independently of them? Socrates wanted to know the definition of piety and was not asking for an example of it. This explanation causes Socrates to complain, "You told me an affect or quality of [the pious], that the pious has the quality of being loved by all the gods, but you have not yet told me what the pious is" (Melchart 77).
As the conversation between Euthyphro and Socrates progressed, it seems that there was no final definition of piety given. Hence, the analogy represented in the conversation can lead one to believe that it is not easy to determine whether an act is right or wrong, the truth or a lie, pious or impious, and even just or unjust. In today’s society lies a possibility that one can present actions in such a way that the act can be perceived as correct or incorrect based on the speaker’s ability to show the act in such a way. If one is faced with making a decision similar to which Euthyphro was faced with, the questions still remains - is this act pious or impious?

Works Cited
Melchert, Norman. The great conversation: a historical introduction to philosophy. 5th ed. New York,NY: Oxford University Press,
2007. 71-79. Print.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Euthyphro.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. n.d..
Web. 19 Jun. 2011.

Cited: Melchert, Norman. The great conversation: a historical introduction to philosophy. 5th ed. New York,NY: Oxford University Press, 2007. 71-79. Print. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Euthyphro.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 19 Jun. 2011.

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