Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Euthyphro: they will listen if they think you show them well

Several versions of Euthyphro are available online, including translations by Benjamin Jowett and Cathal Woods and Ryan Pack.

LibriVox has an audio version of the dialogue.

Online guides to the dialogue can be found by Dale E. Burrington or the summary at Wikipedia.

My first post on Euthyphro can be found here and my online resources post for Plato can is located here.

This post follows some of the flow on the discussion about the meaning of piety. I'll have at least one more post with some final thoughts and maybe look further into the discussion in section 10. All quotes in this post are from the translation by G.M.A. Grube.

While at the court for his hearing on impiety charges, Socrates begins a conversation with Euthyphro. Euthyphro is at the court to bring charges against his father for the murder of a servant. While Socrates’ charges are no laughing matter, the conversation takes on an ironic tone as Socrates asks Euthyphro to teach him the definitions of piety and impiety. Euthyphro takes the bait and says that piety is what he is doing—prosecuting a wrongdoer. Socrates reminds Euthyphro that he did not ask for examples but “that form itself that makes all pious actions pious, for you agreed that all impious actions are impious and all pious actions pious through one form... . … Tell me then what this form itself is… .” (6d,e)

Euthyphro replies that “what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious.” (7a) Socrates praises Euthyphro for providing him with a definition that answers his requirements, then tears it apart by pointing out that the gods often fail to agree on matters, so something dear to one god but not to another god could be both pious and impious under this definition. In addition, Socrates challenges Euthyphro to prove to him that all the gods think it proper that he bring charges against his father for murder. Euthyphro says he can do so though it will be “no light task” and that he hopes to do so in the court if only the jury will listen. In what sounds like a reproach, more toward Euthyphro but also toward Athenians (in general, Athenians of the jury in particular), Socrates assures Euthyphro “They will listen if they think you show them well.” (9c) Not if he does show them well, which seems increasingly unlikely as Euthyphro struggles, but if they *think* he shows them well, whether he actually does or not.

After more discussion, Euthyphro (with Socrates’ prompting) refines the definition, saying that “the pious is what all the gods love, and the opposite, what all the gods hate, is the impious.” (9e) Socrates changes his approach in reply to this definition, raising what is commonly called the Euthyphro dilemma: “Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?” (10a) Euthyphro claims not to understand the question so Socrates goes into detail with examples examining the difference between essential characteristics and states of being. For example, something carried is “being carried”, regardless of any other attribute, because it is being carried. Likewise, something is “loved [by the gods] then because it is pious, but it is not pious because it is being loved”. (10d) Socrates lays out the difference in another way, saying “the one is such as to be loved because it is being loved, the other is being loved because it is such as to be loved”, emphasizing yet again this is a quality of piety and not a true definition of it. (11b) Euthyphro acknowledges he has been turned around but the confusing answer by Socrates makes it clear that he wants to make sure that the qualities of piety are inherent in a stated definition of piety and no dependent on outside whims (such as that of the gods).

Socrates, supposedly trying to help Euthyphro out of his quandary, proposes that “all that is pious is of necessity just.” (11e) Euthyphro agrees but then gets easily turned around, saying he does not follow the argument, when Socrates turns the question around and asks if all that is just is pious. Socrates makes fun of Euthyphro’s “wealth of wisdom” which makes him wiser than Socrates, while Socrates makes his arguments simple because they are “not difficult to grasp.” (12a) Socrates quotes a poet (which cannot be attributed) that people do not always give the gods their due because of fear and shame, saying he posits the opposite.

Socrates attempts to show his reasoning why the quote isn’t true, speculating that “fear covers a larger area than shame.” (12c) With this example, Socrates suggests that “the pious is part of the justice” (12d), meaning justice covers a larger area than piety (and also the opposite of that—justice does not always mean things are pious). Euthyphro attempts to define the pious that “is the part of the just … is concerned with the care of the gods, while that concerned with the care of men is the remaining part of justice.” (12e) An extended discourse follows on what “the care of” means. If “care” is meant by the relationship between gods and men, Euthyphro suggesting that the relationship is the same as between master and slave. While acknowledging the difficulty in knowing for sure in such matters, Euthyphro that “pious actions” would “preserve both private houses and public affairs of state. The opposite of these pleasing actions are impious and overturn and destroy everything.” (14b)

Socrates chides Euthyphro for coming close to teaching him the meaning and nature of piety but that he “turned away.” (14c) If “knowledge of how to sacrifice and pray” represents what it is to be pious, then we are looking at a commercial transaction between men and gods since sacrifice is a gift while prayer is begging (at least posited by Socrates and agreed to by Euthyphro). Men receive what they ask for, but what benefits do the gods receive? Euthyphro says honor, reverence, and pleasure. Socrates burrows in further—piety pleases the gods but isn’t beneficial to them? Euthyphro agrees that piety pleases the gods, proving to be what is dear to them. We are now in a circular loop, where “what is dear to the gods is the pious”. (15c) Socrates says they need to start again in looking into what piety is, which is where Euthyphro takes his leave (in a hurry).

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