Notes On Plato’s Euthyphro

At the outset of Plato’s Euthyphro, the pious Euthyphro is astonished to find Socrates a the King Archon’s court rather than hanging around the Lyceum where he usually spends his days. Socrates explains that he is being indicted by a young and unknown man named Meletus who claims that Socrates is corrupting the youth by not believing in the gods and instead creating new gods, as he regularly refers to a divine sign that guides him and prevents from engaging in certain activities.

Euthyphro, on the other hand, is a religious zealot. He has come to the court to prosecute his father for bounding a servant of Euthyphro’s who killed a slave. His father sent a request to the leaders to ask what should be done with the servant, but during that time the man died in the ditch. Euthyphro claims to have superior knowledge of piety and impiety.

In his first definition, Euthyphro  defines piety as his own activity -prosecuting the wrongdoer (6d-6e). When Socrates reminds him that Euthyphro has not given an adequate definition, Euthyphro restates his position to say that ‘what is dear to the gods is pious and the opposite for impiety.’

Socrates then engages Euthyphro in a discussion about the differences among the gods, such as discord, and how they are spawned by each god’s love of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Each god is different -what is loved by the gods is also hated by the gods. How, then, can one man claim knowledge of piety?

The third definition provided by Euthyphro of piety is that piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what the gods hate. To this Socrates what the cause of piety is -are the pious loved by the gods and therefore pious? Or are they loved by the gods and in so doing become pious?

The conversation leads to a question of the just and the pious, and whether they are the same thing. Eventually Euthyphro responds that they are the same but only parts are concerned with the care of the gods, and once again Socrates tries to reason about the care of the gods. Again, it is a question of agency. Piety brings gifts of goodness upon men and Euthyphro claims that it benefits the gods (human piety) even though earlier he acknowledged that piety is not god-loved. Socrates points out the contradiction but Euthyphro is willing to accept it and stay with it. The dialogue with a disappointed Socrates as he must part ways with Euthyphro who is late for prosecuting his own  father. Socrates must go to his indictment without proper knowledge of piety or impiety.

One recalls the scene at the outset of Nietzsche’s great work Thus Spake Zarathustra wherein Zarathustra encounters a priest, and they pass like old friends, with a similar project in mind for humanity. In the same way, Socrates and Euthyphro are not mortal enemies, they merely differ on the question of reason versus revelation.

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