The concept of piety in the conversation
The concept of holiness emerges in the conversation between Socrates and Euthyphro at the point where Euthyphro argues that he is prosecuting his father because failure to do so could upshot in impiety (Le Poidevin, 2011). Impiety here refers to a state of being holy and devoid of wrong. The philosopher Euthyphro finds a basis of his decision to prosecute his own father in the thinking of the gods. According to Euthyphro, it would be wrong to prosecute a stranger who committed the same crime as his father if he would not prosecute his relations. It is in this position that he asserts to be well versed with the knowledge of holiness. It is at this point that Socrates becomes interested in knowing more about holiness, hoping the knowledge will help him conduct his defense against a young man that has laid charges against him claiming that Socrates is polluting the minds of the youth through poetry. This is how the concept of religion and holiness comes in, with Euthyphro trying to explain his idea of holiness. This paper seeks to explain the concept of holiness according to Socrates and Euthyphro.
Why the concept of piety takes a prominent position in the conversation
The principal reason why the concept of holiness takes center stage in the conversation is because the two philosophers are believers of the same gods, yet they hold different ideas about holiness. Euthyphro and Socrates do not understand the concept in the same way but rather seem to be opposing one another. The concept takes center stage because Socrates wants to comprehend the idea of holiness in such a way that he can evaluate an idea or a person and judge them as being righteous or evil (Le Poidevin, 2011). The philosopher hopes to apply this knowledge in defending himself before the court. The main objective of Socrates is to find that characteristic that distinguishes holiness from impiety. The concept gains prominence as the conversation progresses and from the dialogue it seems that Socrates has the motive of challenging Euthyphro’s wisdom. He wants to take his fellow thinker to task over the same.
Euthyphro’s definitions of holiness
When Socrates asks Euthyphro to help him understand what piety was, Euthyphro gives him the first definition of piety as the act that he was engaging in at the time- prosecuting his father for murder because he had prompted the demise of his dependant (Le Poidevin, 2011). He argues that piety is prosecuting all wrongs despite the relationship between the wrongdoer and the prosecutor. However, Socrates is prompt to refute this definition on the grounds that it is just an illustration that does not give the feature that distinguishes holiness from evil, piety from impiety.
Euthyphro goes ahead to explain the second definition in which he describes piety as that which seems cherished by the gods. Again, Socrates is quick to dismiss this definition as being ambiguous citing the reason that, from their historical knowledge of the gods, they do get into conflicts and disagreements. As such, that which may seem pleasant to one god, may be unpleasant to another god. This was to say that the definition was full of ambiguity.
In his third definition, Euthyphro defines piety as that which is pleasing to all gods. This is a modification of the second description as it incorporates the idea of all gods. This one is again challenged by Socrates in what later came to be known as the Euthyphro dilemma. He challenged this definition by asking Euthyphro to tell him whether something was holy because it was liked by the gods, or it was liked by the gods because it was holy.
Socrates’ goal in the conversation
Seemingly, the Socrates objective in this dialogue is to prove that holiness does not exist and that if it exists, it is a subjective concept as the gods are not always in agreement. It is possible to establish that this is his objective judging from the way he is challenging Euthyphro. The fact that Socrates wants Euthyphro to give him one verifiable property that defines holiness and impiety, something that is not possible, is sufficient evidence that he does not believe in the existence of holiness (Le Poidevin, 2011). The features that align with this goal is the unverifiable nature of Euthyphro’s claims, the conflict among the gods, and the way in which he seeks to find a weak point in all definitions.
Le Poidevin, R. (2011). Euthyphro and the Goodness of God Incarnate. Ratio. 24 (2), p206-221