Examining Plato’s Euthyphro Dialogue

Socrates Death I

Standing in the porch of the King Archon are two friends Socrates and Euthyphro.  Prosecuted by Meletus for corrupting the minds of Meletus’ young friends, Socrates came to defend himself from these charges.  Euthyphro, on the other hand, came to prosecute his own father for murder (Plat. Euthyph. 2a-4a¹).

Although his father and family were angry with him for this, Euthyphro, contrary to his family, judged his act as τὸ ὅσιον (pious, or holy), a righteous thing to do. His family, according to Euthyphro, did know little about the divine law in regard to piety and impiety (4e). Since Socrates was under a similar charge of impiousness, namely corrupting the minds of Meletus’ young friends, this was a perfect moment for him to learn from the well-learned Athenian Euthyphro the nature of piety and impiety (5a-d). What is piety and what is impiety?

Plato’s Euthyphro explores the nature of piety and impiety. This series of articles aimed to examine the Euthyphro and Socrates dialogue, focusing on Euthyphro 9d-llb, which is often misunderstood as a dilemma. I argued that Socrates does not present a dilemma but a disjunction. On behalf of Euthyphro, I showed that Socrates’ argument is invalid. I also examined the so-called “Euthyphro dilemma” showing that (a) it does not spring forth from Plato’s dialogue and (b) none of its conclusions drawn follows.

Euthyphro Under Fire & The Nature of τὸ ὅσιον

“[P]ious is to do what I am doing now,” answered Euthyphro, “to prosecute the wrongdoer, be it about murder or temple robbery or anything else, whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else; not to prosecute is impious.” (5d-e) Though Euthyphro’s particular act is supposedly an example of pious and impious, it does not explain what pious and impious are. Socrates thus correctly remind Euthyphro that he was not asking for examples but the definition of pious and impious (6d-e).

“Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious” (7a) answered Euthyphro.  This was what Socrates was asking for. Euthyphro second attempt is indeed a definition. The problem is, according to Socrates, there could be an act X that is pious to one god and impious to another.  Example, Euthyphro’s prosecuting his own father could be pious to Zeus but impious to Cronus and Uranus pointed Socrates (7b-9b). Thus X could be, in that definition, absurdly pious and impious.

Avoiding this contradiction, Socrates assisted Euthyphro to revise his definition (9c-d) to “what all the gods love is pious and, on the other hand, what they all hate is impious”(9e). Euthyphro definition of pious is thus:

Necessary: for every x, x is pious iff x is loved by all gods.

Next article in this series examined whether Socrates’ challenge is a dilemma or a disjunction.


¹With a minor substitution of holy/unholy with piety/impiety, and holiness with pious, I followed Plato. Euthyphro in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 12 translated by Harold N. Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921

3 thoughts on “Examining Plato’s Euthyphro Dialogue

  1. Pingback: Lessons from a CheeryAtheist

  2. …..”what all the gods love is pious and, on the other hand, what they all hate is impious”.

    That narrows the definition so much that it might eliminate everything. The Greek gods were pretty fickle and there were hundreds of them. However the definition has applicability to a monotheist God.

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