Euthyphro is a dialogue between Socrates and a traveling cleric. The two men meet at court, where the cleric, Euthyphro, claims to have a clear definition of piety. Socrates exclaims that he wishes to know the definition of piety so that he may better defend himself in his upcoming trial. Euthyphro agrees to teach Socrates, and so they begin to discuss. Early on, Socrates makes clear his desire for a universal truth, or a definition of piety that will be true in every case. Euthyphro makes several attempts to define piety in a way that satisfies Socrates.
The first attempt at a definition does not satisfy Socrates because it is merely an example. In trying to define piety, Euthyphro merely states that his current undertaking at court is pious. While Socrates does not disagree outright, he presses Euthyphro for a universal definition of piety that could be used in every situation.
Euthyphro’s second definition, “what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious,” pleases Socrates because it is a universal statement. This definition is general enough to be widely applicable, and seems to outline the defining characteristics of piety. Upon closer inspection, however, Socrates finds the definition unsatisfying. Because the gods disagree about so many things, and act in contradiction to each other, it would be foolish to assume they would all agree upon the definition of piety. Euthyphro points out in his defence that all the gods would agree that Euthyphro’s current action of bringing his father to trial is pious. Socrates dismisses this, as it is not a universal definition and is essentially just another example.
Euthyphro attempts to satisfy Socrates by amending his definition slightly. Piety, says Euthyphro, is what all the gods love, and the impious is what all the gods hate. Socrates is not satisfied by this definition, either, and so he tries a different tack to extract a definition from Euthyphro. Socrates does this by asking: “Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?” When Euthyphro seems unsure, Socrates simplifies his question with an analogy. He asks Euthyphro if something is “carried” because it is “a thing carried,” or if it is “carried” because something is carrying it. Both men agree that the action confers the state of being. That is, a thing loved is so because someone loves it, and the thing itself is not creating a state of “loving” within the people around it. Likewise, being loved is not a state inherent to the thing loved, but is the result of the love others bear for the thing. Moving from his analogy back to Euthyphro’s definition, Socrates shows the fallacy in Euthyphro’s statement. Being god-loved cannot confer piety, as it confers “god-loved-ness” instead. Therefore, in Euthyphro’s statement, all the gods loving something would make that thing universally god-loved, but in no way makes it pious. An act is loved by the gods because it is pious, and not the other way around.
Socrates, presumably tired of Euthyphro’s poor definitions, takes a stab at defining piety himself. He muses to Euthyphro that piety is a species of the genus justice, and that perhaps starting there would help the two men to agree on pious qualities. Socrates uses a poem as an example: “You do not wish to name Zeus, who had done it, and who made all things grow, for where there is fear there is shame.” While surely, says Socrates, those who feel shame also feel fear for their reputation or good name, those who feel fear do not necessarily feel shame as well. Being fearful of disease or poverty is not shameful, and is quite understandable. Shame is a smaller part of fear, covering a smaller area, just as piety covers a smaller area than justice, although the two entirely overlap.
With a newfound agreement on the properties of piety, Socrates again asks Euthyphro to define piety by what part of justice it constitutes. Euthyphro states that...
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Plato (400 BC). Apology. 17a-42a.
Plato (400 BC). Euthyphro. 2a-16a.
Plato (400 BC). Laches.178a-201a.
Plato (400 BC). Crito.43a-54e.
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