Notes On Plato’s Euthyphro

At the outset of Plato’s Euthyphro, the pious Euthyphro is astonished to find Socrates at the Archon’s judicial 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 Socrates is corrupting the youth by not believing in the gods and that he is creating new gods (Socrates regularly refers to a divine sign or daemon that guides him).

Euthyphro, on the other hand, is a religious zealot. He has come to court to prosecute his own father for bounding a servant who killed a slave. Euthyphro’s 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 this is an act of impiety, regardless of intent. He claims to have superior knowledge of piety and impiety. Thus, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the subject of piety. What is piety?

In his first definition, Euthyphro defines piety as his current activity -prosecuting wrongdoers (6d-6e). When Socrates reminds Euthyphro that he has not given an adequate definition, Euthyphro restates his position to say ‘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 each are spawned by 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: piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what the gods hate. To this Socrates asks 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 had 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 leaves a disappointed Socrates as he must part ways with Euthyphro. Euthyphro is now 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.

For this reading I used the Grube translation as featured in the Hackett Classics Edition.

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