Euthyphro Socrates Questions Euthyphro About His Proposed Term Paper

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  • Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
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Excerpt from Term Paper :

Euthyphro, Socrates questions Euthyphro about his proposed course of action concerning his father. Explain in detail the reason given by Euthyphro.

"In the Euthyphro, where Socrates and Euthyphro wrestle with the concept of holiness, the substantive part of the conversation begins with the typical Socratic question: 'Tell me then, what do you say that holiness is, and what, unholiness?'" (5c)" (Navia 102). In the dialogue, the self-proclaimed pious Euthyphro is made to stand in for unquestioned religious orthodoxy, an orthodoxy which is interrogated over the course of the dialogue in Euthyphro's guise (Navia 115). The young man Euthyphro states that he is bringing forth a case against his father for the death of a slave. The slave died of exposure after the father bound the man and threw him in a ditch after the slave himself was accused of murder. Euthyphro first defines his action of prosecution as piety itself.

However, when pressed by Socrates, Euthyphro gradually comes to a different definition, namely that what is pious is what is loved by the gods. This becomes the primary, driving question behind the dialectic. Socrates attempts to define if Euthyphro really means that what is pious is what is loved by the gods or what is loved by the gods is pious. There is a distinction between the two terms, since the gods could theoretically love non-pious things. Euthyphro seems to base his conviction that his actions are pious based upon his emotions and his vague perceptions of what is supposed to be right to do according to the will of the gods but he is unable to come up with a coherent definition of piety. For Socrates, who places an emphasis on definitions above all things as the gold standard of truth, this is unacceptable. Euthyphro's definition of piety as that what he is doing (turning in his father for murder despite his relationship with the man) is tautological and his other definitions are vague. Socrates does not say that Euthyphro is immoral, but merely tries to force the young man to defend his actions in a coherent way.

Q2. In his efforts to extract from Euthyphro an adequate definition of the concept of piety, Socrates exemplifies his ironic approach and his role as an intellectual midwife. Explain.

The Euthyphro is very significant in its history of Socratic dialogue because it takes place shortly before the Apology, in which Socrates is accused and convicted of, among other things, corrupting the youth and showing impiety to the gods. As a result of this accusation hanging over his head, Socrates asks to be 'schooled' by the young man in piety in an ironic tone. This ironic stance is in clear evidence, given that Socrates' gut reaction is horror over what Euthyphro is doing, which he quickly covers up by taking a naive stance as a questioner. This naivete is classical Socratic posturing, as Socrates uses interrogation to show the insubstantial basis of Euthyphro's belief system and the faulty logic behind the rationale of the younger man's actions.

"In Plato's dialogue, he [Socrates] often begins by examining the character of his prospective student or interlocutor, and then, through interrelated questions. In some cases, as is evident in the Euthyphro, neither Socrates nor those he questioned can reach a conclusion" (48-49). Socrates' role as an intellectual midwife is primarily to destabilize Euthyphro's initially unshaken and unwavering confidence that he knows what is right. "Neither Socrates nor those he questioned can reach a conclusion" (Navia 49). Socrates does not suggest he has 'all the answers,' but denies that Euthyphro does, either. This is likely why Socrates was considered so impious. Not only did Socrates take an irreverent attitude toward anthropomorphic depictions of the gods, he also questioned the very notion of being able to easily conceptualize and define the nature of the divine. Socrates believed that rather than operating upon a principle of certainty like Euthyphro, one should operate on a principle of uncertainty about all things.

Q3. Comment on the first and last definitions of piety given by Euthyphro. For what reasons does Socrates feel compelled to reject them? Would you support Euthyphro's definitions?

The first definition Socrates extracts from Euthyphro is a mere example, not a true definition at all of piety. Socrates does not accept this because the philosopher is fundamentally a generalist in his reasoning: he is the founder of deductive approaches to life and moral logic, rather than inductive approaches. Socrates establishes a principle and then attempts to see if that principle can be upheld in all instances. Euthyphro first says that what he is doing is pious; then he finally says that piety is looking after the gods. Socrates rejects this final definition given that these devotions (such as sacrifice and religious offices) are not necessarily the synonym for justice, and the gods have demanded many impious actions over the course of human history if we are to take mythology in a literal fashion, which Socrates clearly does not.

I too would have to reject Euthyphro's definitions both based upon his own religious context and those of my own. In ancient mythology, because of the wrath of Apollo, it was demanded of Agamemnon that the Greek general sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to garner fair winds for the Greek fleet so they could fight the Trojan War (a bloody action to generate an even bloodier action). There are also many religious strictures which are not immoral but seem to have no apparent ethical basis, such as not mixing the consumption of meat and dairy according to kosher laws or recreating the Christian sacrifice symbolically during Mass. Ethical actions can also be distanced from a basis in religion at all, as in conceptions such as utilitarianism or the Kantian categorical imperative, which are not necessarily grounded in a religious system even though they function as coherent ethical systems.

Q4. Comment on what seems to be Socrates' attitude toward religious beliefs; specifically those involved in anthropomorphic polytheism, and show how this attitude leads him to reject Euthyphro's last definition of piety.

Socrates takes a very deflationary attitude towards religious beliefs. He notes the extent to which there are many contradictions between the different narratives related about the gods, and the gods often behave in very immoral ways that would be unacceptable in modern society. This suggests that using the behavior of the gods as a moral guide is extremely questionable, and making the gods' actions a guide for religious beliefs is fundamentally in error. "We must begin at the beginning," Socrates says to Euthyphro, suggesting that the dialogue offers a kind of alternative to the myth of origins commonly articulated in most anthropomorphic mythologies (Navia 107).

Euthyphro finally suggests that what is pleasing to the gods is not necessarily beneficial to the gods, given that the gods are omnipotent and thus 'complete' without human piety but can still be pleased by right actions in accordance with their desires even though the gods do not act piously themselves. However, this merely traces back to the definition that what is pious is merely loved by the gods, although the gods are not necessarily pious themselves. There is still unresolved the question of what is pious -- how do we know the gods love particular actions and want them to be performed by humans? Implied in this is a certain subjective judgment and the implication Euthyphro is bringing about the prosecution against his father for personal, self-interested reasons or egoism rather than a true desire to please the gods. It would be equally easy to suggest that the gods love filial piety and would not want Euthyphro to do so and instead let justice take its course without the son's intervention against the father.

Q5. How does the Euthyphro provide a clear example of the Socratic Method? Explain the structure and the intended result that Socrates appears to have in mind by applying it.

"The outgoing and gregarious personality…conveys the impression of a man always willing to engage in conversation" (Navia 47). Conversation is not merely a sociable exercise for Socrates; it is also a pedagogical method. The dialogue begins with the proposition of a definition, forced out of the pupil by Socrates, and Socrates then questions the definition in detail. Socrates is obsessed with constructing universal definitions of concepts that must be applicable in all situations and all scenarios.

Over the course of the dialogue, Euthyphro offers a series of definitions which are summarily rejected by Socrates because they do not meet Socrates' criteria of truth. Neither Socrates nor Euthyphro can achieve a satisfactory definition but Socrates at very least destabilizes the confident assertion of Euthyphro that the will of the gods can be known and thus ethical human actions are cut-and-dried in terms of their definitions. However it should be noted that although Socrates takes a position of questioning and doubt, his own, initial stance regarding Euthyphro was to be taken aback when he heard of the prosecution, suggesting that at…

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