In the reading Euthyphro: Defining Philosophical Terms we come across two main characters, Socrates and Euthyphro. The reading begins with Socrates encountering Euthyphro outside the court of Athens. Socrates has been called to court on charges of impiety by a young man names Meletus. The reason for his indictment of impiety is the act of corrupting the young. Euthyphro has come to the court to prosecute his own father for having unintentionally killing a murderous man. Socrates impressed with Euthyphro because he must be a great expert in religious matters if he is so willing to prosecute his very own father on such a questionable charge. Euthyphro answers that he does know all there is to know about religious matters. Socrates urges Euthyphro to teach him what piety is because this teaching might just help Socrates in his trial against Meletus.
The first definition to piety that Euthyphro suggests to Socrates is that piety is persecuting religious offenders. This accounts even for your relatives; he claims that you have to ask the question if the person killed unjustly or not? Euthyphro tells the story why he is prosecuting his father for killing a man that killed someone before his own death. The murderous man was a labourer of Euthyphro that worked on his farm in Naxos. The labourer was drinking, while drunk he got angry and killed a slave. Of course his father got angry at the labourer for such an act that he bounded his hands and feet and through him in a ditch. His father sent messenger to Athens to ask a priest what he should do with this murderous man. The murderous labourer was neglected in the ditch until the messenger was to return and there was no care for him at all considering he was a murderer and they had no care if he was to meet his death because of such actions. And he did just that, and died in the ditch from being hungry, cold, and the bonds killed him before the decision of his future arrived. Therefore Euthyphro believes that his father killed unjustly and should be punished. Although his family claim that he did not kill the man at all; and even if they did, the man was a murderer.
Socrates questions Euthyphro by stating that if he understood divine things and piety and impiety, he can bring his father to justice without fear that he himself may be doing something impious. Euthyphro is so certain that he understands these matters accurately. Euthyphro again states piety is prosecuting unjust and impiety is not prosecuting unjust. Socrates finds this definition unsatisfying, since there are many pious deeds aside from that of persecuting offenders. He asks Euthyphro instead to give him a general definition that identifies that one feature that all pious deeds share in common. Euthyphro suggests that what is piety is what is agreeable to the gods. He then tells the story, similar to the story of prosecuting his father, about Zeus and Cronos. Socrates asks Euthyphro if he truly believes in the gods and the stories that are told about them; even the war among the gods, and bitter hatreds, and battles. Euthyphro agrees to ever such story. Unsatisfied, Socrates argues that Euthyphro has not defined what piety is to his pleasure and all he has explained was the situation in which he is doing now.
Euthyphro then states that what is pleasing to the gods is pious and what is not pleasing to them is impious. Socrates pleased that he has received an answer that can be examined. Socrates restates how there are hatred among some of the gods, making some good and other gods evil. Socrates points out that the gods often do not agree with one another. Therefore you cannot be so certain that one god’s action is correct considering not all gods agree with that god’s action. He then reveals that an action can be both pious and impious; but it seems that whatever is pleasing to the gods is also displeasing to them. In conclusion something cannot be both pious and impious because they are complete opposites. In the case of prosecuting his father, it will be pleasing to Zeus but displeasing to Cronos. Unsatisfied again because he did not ask what is both pleasing and displeasing to the gods but simply what was piety.
Defending his argument Euthyphro argues that there should not be an opinion with the gods: they all hold that if one man kills another unjustly he should be punished for that action. Socrates then states that someone would not say or argue that they must not be punished if they have done something unjust for they would argue that they have not done anything unjust. Therefore the argument is not over the punishment of the unjust but who the unjust actually are. Socrates then establishes that even the gods have a hard time figuring out what is justice and what is injustice. Therefore if the gods disagree about what is just and what is unjust how can Euthyphro determine that the murderous labourer died in his imprisonment before the master had time to learn from a religious authorities about what to do, died unjustly? Or whether or not that prosecuting your father for the murder of such a man is unjust? Socrates then asks for him to explain piety further.
Euthyphro then states that piety is what the gods love and impiety is what they all hate. Socrates argues this statement with his strongest argument yet by asking if the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because they love it? According to Euthyphro piety is not loved by all the gods. Therefore it is said that piety is loved by the gods because it is pious; it not pious because it is loved by them. Socrates then adds in that piety is not what is pleasing to the gods, and what is pleasing to the gods is not pious because it was agreed that the gods love piety because it is pious, and that it is not pious because they love it. And what is pleasing to the gods because they love it, is pleasing to them by the reason of this same love; they do not love it because it is pleasing to them. This determines that piety and what is pleasing to the gods are different things. If the gods loved piety because it is pious, they would also have loved what is pleasing to them because it is pleasing to them. This also results to what is pleasing to them had been pleasing to them because they loved it, then piety would have been piety because they love it; determining that they are different things. One must be loved because it is loved while the other is loved because it is of a sort to be loved. Euthyphro did not answer Socrates’ question of “what is piety?”All Euthyphro could answer was the character of piety; the effect which belongs to it and that all the gods love it.
Socrates now asks for the last time what piety and impiety are. Euthyphro frustrated states that no matter what way he describes it somehow does not explain piety at all. Therefore rather than to try and find a better definition to explain to Socrates, Euthyphro leaves frustrated with Socrates questioning him.
There are two ways of looking at someone perspective and opinion and they are called ethical absolutism and ethical relativism. Ethical absolutism is the view that truth is independent of human opinion and has a common or universal application. In other words believes in an absolute truth. Ethical relativism is the denial of absolute or objective truth and the affirmation of the individual as the source of truth. In this reading Socrates is shown as an absolutist and Euthyphro is shown as a relativist.
Socrates is an absolutist because of the way he challenges Euthyphro when he tries to explain to him what piety is. When he first approaches Euthyphro in the court yard and hears his story about Euthyphro prosecuting his father for unjust acts, Socrates knew what Euthyphro was doing was quite odd. Euthyphro was so certain that he was being piety when prosecuting his father for killing someone unjustly and because of his certainty Socrates had to examine Euthyphro. Socrates main goal was to prove to Euthyphro that he really did not know what exactly he was talking about and to get him to second guess himself. In the reading the Apology, Phaedo, and Crito: The trial, Immortality, and Death of Socrates, Socrates states that he knows he is not a wise man. He did an experiment where he went up to random people that believed that they were wise men and examined them by asking them questions about how wise they were. And proving that they were not as wise as they once thought they were after talking to Socrates made Socrates wiser than them to begin with. This was because Socrates knew he was not wise and a wise man is a man that knows he is not wise at all. Where as a man that believes he is wise then gets proven he is not as wise as he once thought, makes him look not wise at all. Therefore Socrates knowing he is not a wise man made him wiser than those who thought they were.
While examining Euthyphro he asked questions that would doubt his answer. In the end Euthyphro could be comparable to the wise men that were not actually wise. In reason to that he could never answer Socrates question which lead him frustrated in the end, probably rethinking his whole analyzes. This proves Socrates being an absolutist because he did not just trust Euthypro’s first answer when he asked the question. Socrates thought through it and made sure that he was correct and was giving the correct information out. A relativist would have believed Euthyphro from the first answer. This can be proven because the gods were brought up as an answer of the question of what is piety. A normal relativist would agree on their religion and not question the gods at all and leave it as that. Socrates put everything aside, including religion and laws and concentrated on the question itself and stuck to his gut feeling without the influence of Euthyphro.
Euthyphro was clearly a relativist because Socrates made him rethink his answers. If Euthyphro was an absolutist he would just tell Socrates that he was right because he knew he was right. Euthyphro at the end of the conversation showed a slight feeling that maybe he was wrong and needed to leave and possibly think about what piety actually is. This could be the process between double ignorance to single ignorance. This process can be explained through the conversation of Euthyphro and Socrates. At the beginning of the conversation when Euthyphro starts to explain to Socrates that he knows what piety means, Euthyphro is so sure he knows exactly what piety is and that he would be capable to explain it to Socrates. When Socrates began to question Euthyphro’s technique of explaining what piety means, Euthyphro begins to get frustrated and starts to realize that perhaps he does not know exactly what he thinks he knows. When he realizes that he may not know exactly what he is talking about is the process of double ignorance (thinking he knows exactly what is talking about) to single ignorance (realizing that he might know everything he thought he knew). When being in the double ignorance state you are giving a false opinion.
I personally believe that Socrates would create better good in the society. For the reason that even though he may cause people to get frustrated with him or even themselves, he allows people to seek the honest truth. For instance when Socrates heard Euthyphro’s first response of what piety is he depicted his response and allowed Euthyphro to find the actual answer. Although Socrates’ way of depicting a person’s response might be questionable, he is still willing to make sure he fully understands as well as the person attempting to teach him.
Euthyphro would not be the best for the society compared to Socrates because he gives false opinion. Personally I would rather have someone frustrate me to find the correct answer then to have someone give me false information. Although Euthyphro seems a little easy going then Socrates in the reading because Socrates constantly pushing for the truth, in the end you want the person teaching you to be correct.
Socrates shows that he is persistent and wants everyone to be truthful and to know their actual knowledge. In the readings the other people in the trial that are prosecuting Socrates, see him as almost terrorizing the people on the street to examine everyone’s minds. When simply if they thought that this was so, they could easily just leave the conversation with Socrates and walk away (like Euthyphro). Socrates is not holding them down at all, they are able to leave. He is just simply asking them questions to see if they actually know what they think they know. The reason I think that they do not ever think to leave is because they are interested in proving Socrates wrong and teach a known wise man within the society something new. Socrates likes to help people get their minds running but this is not a job of his. He does not get money for talking to people on the streets and examining them. Therefore he is not asking for money and not holding you down to talk to him, but yet everyone stops to talk to him when Socrates approaches them. Why is that? This is for the reason that people like to get tested. People like to prove other people wrong and get that satisfaction feeling once it is done.
Euthyphro is faithful to his religion and does do the right thing. This can be shown when Socrates asks him to explain to him what piety means and the first way he starts to explain it was through religion. He told a story relating to the explanation of piety and knew all about his faith. He could answer the questions Socrates had about his faith. Euthyphro also was going to trial to prosecute his father for killing a murderous man, which is technically is the right thing to do. Although no one would probably do it only because they would not want to see someone they love be punished because of them. Even though Eurhyphro is doing the right thing by prosecuting his father for murder, he is doing it for the wrong reason. He is prosecuting his father for the reason of piety. Although he does not even know what piety is, therefore his prosecution is inaccurate. For the reason that he does know exactly what piety means and that is the reason he is prosecuting his father. Therefore is Euthyphro actually doing something good if he does not even know the meaning of the reason for his good deed? That is why I think Socrates is good for the society because he does not give false information and knows exactly what is talking about and doing.
Mulvaney,Robert J. Classic Philosophical Questions. 13 ed. Robert J. Mulvaney. New Jersey: Pearson Education
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