Plato's Euthyphro

UC Davis Philosophy 21

G. J. Mattey

  • Philosophy 21
  • Fall, 2004
  • G. J. Mattey
  • Born 469 BC
  • Lived in Athens
  • Married to Xanthippi
  • Clashed with the Sophists
  • Convicted of impiety and corrupting youth
  • Died 399 BC
Socrates's Contributions
  • Turned philosophy to study of virtue
  • Engaged in public philosophical debate rather than solitary contemplation
  • Demanded a clear understanding of the concepts under discussion
  • Persistently questioned every view, leading him to skepticism
  • The concept of virtue (aretē, excellence) was used extensively in Greek culture
  • Socrates was the first to examine virtue in detail
  • He equated virtue with knowledge: no one does wrong willingly
  • Piety is one of the virtues
  • Socrates prized virtue yet was accused of impiety
Piety and the Pious Act
  • Euthyphro claims to be acting piously in prosecuting his father
  • He must defend this claim, since the act appears to be impious
  • Euthyphro claims to know better than others what piety is
  • If his act falls under the correct conception of piety, then it is a pious act
The Form
  • Many acts are considered to be pious
  • Each pious act is pious because there is "something the same and alike in every [pious] action"
  • This unifying something is called a "form"
  • The form "makes all pious actions pious"
  • The correct conception of piety therefore must describe this form
The First Account of Piety
  • To be pious is to prosecute the wrongdoer, no matter who it is
  • But there are other pious acts that do not involve the prosecution of the wrongdoer
  • So this account violates the condition that there be one form unifying all pious acts
  • Socrates demands a form as a model that can be used to distinguish any pious act
The Second Account of Piety
  • To be pious is to be loved by the gods
  • This meets the requirement of a single form
  • But nothing meets this condition
  • An act is loved by the gods insofar as it is considered just (or good, or beautiful)
  • The gods disagree over whether acts are just
  • The same act would then have to be both pious and impious--loved by some and not by others
The Third Account of Piety
  • To be pious is to be loved by all the gods
  • It is questionable whether Euthyphro's act meets this condition
  • But this does not show the account to be incorrect, since there is reason to believe that prosecuting one's father is impious
  • There is a more fundamental objection
The -ing/-ed Distinction
  • A thing is carried because of the act of carrying
  • But the act of carrying is not an act of carrying simply because of the thing carried
  • A thing is not "being affected because it is something affected, but it is something affected because it is being affected"
  • This holds for love: a thing is loved because of the act of loving, and not vice-versa
Refutation of the Third Account
  • So something is loved by all the gods because of their act of loving it, and not vice-versa
  • Suppose piety = being loved by all the gods
  • But the gods love what is pious because it is pious
  • Thus, piety is not the same as being loved by all the gods
Avoiding the Refutation
  • Socrates's argument is supposed to show that piety is distinct from being loved by all the gods
  • Euthyphro could avoid the conclusion by simply refusing Socratess suggestion that the gods love what is pious because it is pious
  • He could embrace the conclusion that "the pious would be pious because it was being loved by the gods"
Form or Quality?
  • If the pious is not the same as what is loved by all the gods, what is the relation between them?
  • Being loved by all the gods is a quality of the pious
  • To give a quality of a thing does not supply the form that makes it what it is
  • But Euthyphro could say that this quality is what makes a pious act pious: piety is relative to the actions of the gods
The Fourth Account of Piety
  • Piety is that part of the just concerning the care of the gods
  • But piety does not benefit the gods, since the gods cannot be made better
  • Nor is it service to the gods, since it does not help them achieve an end
  • But Socrates overlooks Euthyphro's reply that doing what is pleasing to the gods is necessary to preserve order in private houses and public affairs
The Fifth Account of Piety
  • Piety is a knowledge of how to give to, and beg from, the gods
  • To give correctly is to satisfy needs
  • But the gods have no needs to be satisfied
  • So there is no correct giving
  • All we can do is to please the gods by honoring them, etc.
  • But this lands Euthyphro back in the third account of piety
Moving Statues
  • Euthyphro had stated that Socrates's statements did not stay put, like the statues of his ancestor Daedelus
  • Socrates responded that he could move others' statements around
  • He now notes that Euthyphro has returned to his earlier account of piety as what is dear to the gods
  • He has made his account go in a circle
  • Socrates controls the discussion, by making Euthyphro agree to statements that will get him into trouble
  • Euthyphro could have denied any of several of these and saved several of his accounts
  • His most obvious move is to allow that the pious is pious because all the gods love it
  • This position undercuts the doctrine of forms, introducing a kind of relativism
  • The conflict is re-played throughout the next 2,400 years

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