Euthyphro (1999) Informative Summary

Overview:

The dialogue “Euthyphro” by Plato, published in 1999, presents a fascinating discussion between the philosopher Socrates and Euthyphro, a self-proclaimed religious expert, about the nature of piety. Socrates, who is facing his own trial for impiety, is eager to understand the true essence of piety. Euthyphro, on the other hand, is confident in his knowledge, claiming to be the most knowledgeable person alive on matters of religion.

The dialogue unfolds as Euthyphro attempts to define piety, but Socrates skillfully challenges each definition. Euthyphro initially defines piety as doing as he does, prosecuting his father for murder, citing the example of Zeus punishing Cronos. However, Socrates questions the reliability of these mythological accounts and challenges the notion that piety can be determined by the actions of the gods. As the conversation progresses, Euthyphro provides alternative definitions, such as piety being what is dear to the gods, or a part of justice that attends to the gods. Each definition is carefully scrutinized by Socrates, leading to a deeper understanding of the complexities of religious concepts.

Key Findings:

  • The difficulty of defining religious concepts: The dialogue highlights the challenges of defining abstract concepts like piety and impiety.
  • The inadequacy of mythological accounts: Socrates exposes the limitations of relying on traditional mythology and stories about the gods as reliable sources of religious truth.
  • The importance of reason and critical thinking: The dialogue emphasizes the importance of using reason and critical thinking to explore and understand religious beliefs.
  • The distinction between act and state: Socrates introduces the concept that the act precedes the state, highlighting that piety is not simply being loved by the gods, but rather doing what is truly holy.

Facts:

  • Euthyphro is prosecuting his own father for murder: Euthyphro’s father bound and threw a murderer into a ditch, where he died before the diviner could be consulted. Euthyphro believes it is his duty to prosecute his father regardless of familial ties.
  • Socrates is accused of impiety by Meletus: Meletus, a young man, accuses Socrates of corrupting youth by introducing new gods and denying the existence of old ones.
  • Euthyphro claims to be the most knowledgeable about religion: Euthyphro believes his extensive knowledge makes him the ultimate authority on piety and impiety.
  • Socrates uses the example of Daedalus to highlight moving arguments: Socrates draws a parallel between Euthyphro’s arguments and the moving statues of Daedalus, implying they lack a firm foundation.
  • Euthyphro initially defines piety as doing as he does, prosecuting his father: He believes his actions are justified by the actions of the gods, like Zeus punishing Cronos.
  • Socrates questions the reliability of mythological accounts: He doubts the truthfulness of stories about the gods fighting and quarreling, as depicted in art and literature.
  • Euthyphro believes all gods agree that murder should be punished: He asserts that there is no difference of opinion among the gods about the justice of punishing a murderer.
  • Socrates challenges this notion by pointing out that people argue about the particulars: He states that both gods and men argue about the specifics of a crime, not whether the crime itself deserves punishment.
  • Euthyphro acknowledges that there are things people will not say or do: He admits that people will not argue that the guilty should be let off, but rather they deny their guilt.
  • Socrates emphasizes the importance of understanding the essence of piety: He insists that understanding the true nature of piety goes beyond simply identifying acts that are pleasing to the gods.
  • Socrates uses the example of even numbers to illustrate the need for a precise definition: He seeks to define piety by comparing it to the definition of even numbers as a part of the broader concept of numbers.
  • Euthyphro defines piety as the part of justice that attends to the gods: He suggests there are separate parts of justice for gods and men.
  • Socrates challenges the notion of “attention” as benefiting the gods: He argues that the concept of attending to something implies its improvement, which does not seem to apply to the gods.
  • Euthyphro redefines piety as service to the gods, like servants to their masters: He equates piety with offering ministration or service to the gods.
  • Socrates questions the nature of this service and asks what benefits the gods receive: He argues that since the gods give everything to humans, the nature of what humans give back is unclear.
  • Euthyphro claims that gifts are tributes of honour and what pleases the gods: He believes that pleasing the gods is the primary purpose of human gifts.
  • Socrates points out that this definition is circular: He reveals that this definition contradicts previous assertions by suggesting piety is simply what is dear to the gods, which is similar to the concept of being loved by them.
  • Socrates continues to search for the true definition of piety: He is persistent in his pursuit of understanding piety despite Euthyphro’s reluctance to provide a satisfactory answer.
  • Euthyphro leaves Socrates in despair without a definitive answer: Euthyphro rushes away before providing a clear and final definition of piety.

Statistics:

  • 1999: The year the eBook of “Euthyphro” was released.
  • 1642: The eBook number assigned to “Euthyphro” in Project Gutenberg.
  • 2013: The year the eBook was most recently updated.
  • 5: The number of cardinal virtues identified in Plato’s Republic.
  • 4: The number of times Euthyphro tries to define piety.

Terms:

  • Impiety: The quality of lacking piety or religious reverence.
  • Piety: The quality of being religious or reverent towards the gods.
  • Neologian: A person who introduces new terms or ideas, especially in religion.
  • Soothsayer: A person who predicts the future.
  • Anthropomorphism: The attribution of human characteristics to gods or other nonhuman entities.
  • Dialectic: A method of philosophical inquiry involving questioning and debate.
  • Irony: The use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of their literal meaning.
  • Mythology: A collection of myths or traditional stories that explain the origins of the universe, gods, and natural phenomena.
  • Ceremonial: Relating to religious rites and rituals.

Examples:

  • Euthyphro’s prosecution of his father: Euthyphro’s prosecution of his father for accidentally causing the death of a serf serves as the starting point for the dialogue.
  • Zeus’s punishment of Cronos: Euthyphro uses the story of Zeus punishing Cronos for devouring his sons as an example of piety, although Socrates questions its validity.
  • The robe of Athena: The robe of Athena, embroidered with scenes of the gods fighting, illustrates the prevalence of mythological narratives in ancient Greek society.
  • The poet Stasinus’s quote about Zeus and reverence: Socrates uses the poet’s quote to demonstrate the common misconception that fear always implies reverence.
  • The art of horsemanship: Socrates uses the example of horsemanship to explain the concept of “attention” as benefiting the object being attended to.
  • The art of medicine: Socrates compares piety to the art of medicine, highlighting the idea of ministration aimed at a specific outcome (health).
  • The art of ship-building and house-building: Socrates further uses these examples to illustrate the concept of service with a specific purpose.
  • The actions of a general: Socrates uses the actions of a general, whose primary goal is victory, to contrast with the perceived actions of the gods.
  • The work of a husbandman: Socrates highlights the importance of food production in the work of a farmer to emphasize the diverse tasks and benefits provided by the gods.
  • The example of Proteus: Socrates compares himself to the sea god Proteus, who could only be persuaded to reveal truths after being held captive.

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