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Euthyphro Dialogue

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In the Euthyphro by Plato, Socrates and Euthyphro debate the concept of piety and how it relates to the common man. Piety, or justice, is a topic that has challenged men since the beginning of time, as it is subjective to many outside forces including personal beliefs, culture and ethics. In this paper I will discuss how Socrates provoked Euthyphro in a debate to challenge Euthphyro’s views on piety as well as explain my own views on the subject and offer a counter debate using a Socratic response.

The story finds the two men meeting on the steps of the courthouse, and stopping to engage in a discussion about the suits they are involved in. Euthyphro is a plaintiff in an action for murder, a suit that he has brought against his father for the neglect and death of a dependent that was a murderer. Socrates is a defendant in a suit for impiety. Socrates, being a great philosopher, engages Euthyphro in a discussion about the concept of piety, where Socrates questions Euthyphro on what piety is and what is impiety. Euthyphro offers three definitions for what he believes piety truly is, however Socrates is dissatisfied in Euthyphro’s effort to explain his definitions.

In the first definition Euthyphro states that “Piety is doing as I do” (Gutenberg). Euthyphro considers himself to be a noble and virtuous man for his actions in prosecuting his father, and a fine example of piety. Socrates implores him to look further and find a definition for piety, not just examples. He explains to Euthyphro “Remember that I did not ask you to give me two or three examples of piety, but to explain the general idea which makes all pious things to be pious” (Gutenberg). Socrates is looking for a standard for one to consult to determine if an act is pious or not.

The next definition Euthyphro gives Socrates is “Piety is that which is loved of the gods” (Gutenberg). That which is loved by one God is not always loved by another, and therefore there is no standard among the Gods as to what is acceptable or pious behavior. Socrates questions the agreeableness of the Gods and whether they are all pious in their behaviors and requests. He then goes on to say that what is not pious to the Gods, or what is hated, is impious. Even the Gods have quarrels with themselves and mortals, and “they have differences of opinion, as you say, about good and evil just and unjust, honorable and dishonorable” (Gutenberg). Socrates again pleads to Euthyphro to provide a definition for what piety is, and to abstain from laziness and giving further examples, which is not what he is looking for.

Finally as Socrates pleads with Euthyphro to instruct him in piety Euthyphro, working with Socrates instruction comes to a conclusion that “Piety is a part of justice” (Gutenberg). Socrates must go round and round with Euthyphro before they reach this conclusion, but at last Socrates seems satisfied with his answer as he is providing a definition that does not hinge solely on the Gods and their like and dislikes, but on common man and what is expected of him. Socrates does not believe that the Gods can be used as amoral compass as they are as corrupt as mankind, and have made their share of mistakes that can not be repaired.

Socrates implores Euthyphro to base his definition of piety not on what the Gods expect or request, but on what benefits man as a whole. Socrates was not a firm believer in the concept of the Gods. He was actually a unique character, and there are many different versions of who he was and what he believed in his stories (Nails, 2010). He was by many accounts a social misfit, not engaging in many of the typical Greek recreations, and preferred to live life as a pauper. Socrates was not attractive by the Greek standards at the time, and did not embody the Gods nor did he attempt to (Nails, 2010). His lack of interest in keeping up with trends, believing in and modeling himself after the Gods, or fitting in with his peers shows his disinterest in the ways of society and eventually led to his death. When looking at the Gods of ancient Greece, we find that they are not all an honest, loyal and pious bunch. Zeus was known for changing his appearance in order to have relations with mortal women (Greek, 2001). For Euthyphro to suggest that piety and impiety was based off of the Gods likes and dislikes demoralizes the concept of piety. Socrates point to Euthyphro is that piety and impiety should be based off of mans interactions and obligations toward each other, not to a potentially mythical sky full of Gods that lived life in occasional immoral leisure.

If piety were based on the Gods whims then anything could become good and anything could become bad at the drop of a coin, there would be no consistency. In modern society it is more difficult to determine a universal definition for piety. Differences in cultures, religions and societies prevent the word from having a single meaning, and even in its definition small allowances must be made for different viewpoints. Webster’s defines piety as “the quality or state of being pious”, “fidelity to natural obligations”, “dutifulness in religion” and finally “a conventional belief of standard” (Miriam n.d.). Due to the differences in societies today, piety would more appropriately be described as a moral obligation to mankind. Many people do not have a commitment to religion, so piety can not be described in religious terms alone. Due to Socrates distance from religion in his era, I believe that he would agree that we are more obligated to treat each other respectfully, use a general moral standard to determine what is right and wrong and treat every man with it.

Piety is a concept that many people struggle with today. Many people do see it as an obligation to their God or Gods to act in a certain way and uphold an agreed upon moral standing. However, many people have moved away from religion as a way of life and are no longer satisfied basing their life’s decisions of what a higher being has dictated should be. If we embrace each other, and act with kindness and respect as well as hold ourselves to the highest moral standards that we can, then we are each, in our own right, acting piously.


“Greek Mythology.” Myths and Legends of the World. 2001. Retrieved February 18, 2013 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3490900221.html

Nails, Debra, “Socrates”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2010 Edition). Retrieved from:http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2010/entries/socrates/>.

Piety [Def. 1].(n.d). In Miriam Webster Online. Retrieved February 17, 2013 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piety

The project Gutenberg ebook of euthyphro. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print

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