Analysis of Plato’s Euthyphro
This paper discusses the first three definitions of piety presented by Plato in his dialogue. Euthyphro conveys a debate which occurred near a law court between Euthyphroand Socrates while they were waiting for their hearings. Euthyphro has come to the court to sue his father for manslaughter because he let one of his workers die. Previously, the worker had killed another slave. He had been kept in a ditch gagged and tied while his father had been waiting for the lawmakers to understand what he should do. Eventually, that worker died due to the lack of care and attention. His father had failed to meet the basic needs of a person and contributed to his end (McPherran 31).
At that time, Athenian laws allowed only relatives of the dead to file a case. However, Euthyphro is confident about his charges. His behavior amazes Socrates. Though, he does not notice the surprise on Socrates’ face. It confirms his overconfidence in his own judgment of what is right. Socrates assumes that Euthyphro has a clear understanding of what is pious and impious. He becomes interested in Euthyphro and his ideas. He thinks that the philosopher could help him to solve his problems because Socrates has been charged with impiety. He believes that this dialogue will enable him to defend himself better. He challenges Euthyphro to give him the definition of piety, triggering a conversation.
Socrates has been accused by Meletus of corrupting the young people in Athens by teaching them what is considered false and impious. He also claims that he can see divine signs that direct his actions, preventing him from taking the wrong path. Before engaging in their main argument on the definition of piety, they briefly discuss the Greek gods. Socrates expresses doubts concerning certain Greek gods, including Uranus who was castrated by his son, Kronos. Euthyphro tries to defend the Greek view of their gods by telling him divine stories. As a result, Socrates manages to receive the definition of piety.
The First Definition
The first definition of piety relates to the prosecution of the wrongdoer. It corresponds to his actions towards his father. Thus, piety means to sue a person guilty of a crime. Euthyphro defends this definition by telling two Greek myths. The first is about Zeus who imprisoned his father Kronos. He is known to be one of the fairest Greek gods. As a result, Euthyphro is certain that this definition is right. The second myth describes Kronos who castrated his father, Uranus. Accordingly, a prosecution is piety. Socrates rejects this definition. He regards Euthyphro’s actions against his father only an example of piety. Moreover, there are several other pious acts apart from the prosecution of wrongdoers. He further adds that the definition does not contain the essential component that makes pious actions holy.
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The Second Definition
According to the second definition, piety means what the gods love most. Socrates responds that the gods disagree with each other, therefore, what is pious to one may be impious to another. However, a single act cannot be both pious and impious. It makes the definition inadequate since it has to give a basis for an agreement, not a contradiction. Socrates further mentions the fights between gods when they do not agree on a particular matter. He calls it the subject of difference. He suggests the following subjects of difference: good and bad, beautiful and ugly, just and unjust. These contradictions are the result of human and social experiences. Similarly, pious and impious can constitute a subject of difference. Therefore, piety is a controversial subject which can promote further debates.
The Third Definition
To respond to the criticisms of the second definition, he amends it saying that piety is what the gods love most. The definition is different from the second one because for an action to be pious, all the gods must love it and, for it to be impious, they must hate it. Socrates states that it is difficult to determine what all the gods love and what they detest. Euthyphro feels that the gods should agree that murder is wrong. Socrates responds that the circumstance of the killing defines the moral quality of the act. The motive may also have an impact on this. The definition gives a single quality of piety. It does not depict its essence making it inadequate.
The third definition introduces a problem in the form of a dilemma. Socrates wonders whether the pious is loved by the gods because of its nature or whether it is pious because it is loved by the gods. After some arguments, Euthyphro agrees with Socrates that the gods approve an action because it is pious. However, Socrates continues arguing that the first definition requires just approval from the gods. It is only one quality of piety which does not give any connotation. At this point, Euthyphro becomes confused and does not know what the definition of piety is.
In this dialogue with Euthyphro, Socrates wants to find how he could defend himself against the charges of impiety. However, after detailed discussion, they fail to reach a consensus on the real definition of piety. Euthyphro believes piety is a relationship between the gods and man. Socrates thinks that every presented answer is unsatisfactory (Cohen 175). Eventually, their dialogue represents two different conceptions of religion.