Euthyphro is a Plato’s dialogue dating back to 399BC leading to the court-martial of Socrates. The dialogue features Socrates, a religious leader and Plato. The dialogue takes place near King-archon’s court whereby the two gentlemen meet each other for a court hearing. Euthyphro had come to lay murder charges to his father who had let one of their workers die due to lack of proper care and attention. Socrates is astonished by this act and concludes that Euthyphro did not understand the meaning of pious and impious. The dialogue is then extended when Socrates asks Euthyphro to define piety.
Piety, according to me is a spiritual, religious or dedication feeling. It refers to doing that which pleases God or gods. It also breaks down to pious and impious. Pious refers to that which God loves while impious refers to that which is tormented and disapproved by God or gods. The bible, however, warns individuals against being over pious.
The issue of holiness comes in the dialogue when Socrates decides to question Euthyphro’s knowledge of piety and impiety. Euthyphro had brought forward murder charges against his father and, therefore, assumes that before Euthyphro undertook such a case he should be fully informed about piety and impiety because he was going to be charged with transgression himself. Socrates goes on to ask Euthyphro to define the term ‘piety’. In turn, Euthyphro keeps on giving an example of piety instead of a definition. For instance, Euthyphro defines piety as charging his father, a definition Socrates refutes.
Euthyphro’s definitions of piety
First, Euthyphro defines piety as “piety is that is dear to the gods and impiety is what is not dear to him”. Socrates refutes this definition saying that if there were different opinions among people then there were also differences in opinions among gods, particularly good and evil which does not have a secure rule. He continued to state that such opinions bring about quarrels as what is dear to one god may not be dear to the other. Therefore, one becomes pious and the other impious.
Second definition of piety by Euthyphro is what all the gods adore is pious, and what they dislike is impious. It is at this juncture that Socrates presents the “Euthyphro dilemma” which posed a critical question: “is the pious loved by gods because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by gods?” Socrates continued by stating that why an action is liked by gods is because of a reason and that the liking must follow from the acknowledgment that an act is pious, and not the other way.
Finally, Euthyphro defines piety as an art of sacrifice and prayer. He presents the idea that piety as a form of information of how to exchange gifts for favors from gods. He points out that people provide gods with gifts and receive favors in turn. Socrates presses Euthyphro and points out that the gods do not benefit from the gifts people give them and that the knowledge of exchanging goods is a species of business.
In his dialogue with Euthyphro, Socrates used a method referred to as “Socrates dialogues”, which depicts Socrates engaging in questioning plato on ethical and epistemological issues. In this case, Socrates wanted to challenge his opponent to define the piety. Socrates’ main goal was to prevent Euthyphro from prosecuting his own father before the court. This was the goal because, at the beginning, the topic of discussion was the trial of Euthyphro’s father.
I would define piety as doing right and avoiding wrong. If I were Socrates, I would say the definition is ambiguous and misleading. First, every person has their perception of what is right and wrong. Just like the proverb goes one man’s meat is another one’s poison, also in this case, what may be right to another person is wrong to the other.
Druesne, F. (2010). Euthyphro’s Definitions of Piety. New York: Pantheon.
Michael, F. (2011). Plato’s Opinions on Piety. Oxford Studies in Earliest Philosophy, 12, 123-
VandenBos, J. (2013, January 24). Socrates’ clever questions. The Daily Nation, pp. A3, A7.