Plato’s “Euthyphro” is a written dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro that discusses the meaning of piety as a virtue. Generally, piety is considered to be the fulfillment of duty to a higher power and humanity. Euthyphro is regarded as a highly pious man who chose to legally prosecute his own father for murder. Meanwhile, Socrates has recently been charged with impiety and attempts to explore the meaning of such accusations in society.
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At first, when Socrates asks for a definition of piety, Euthyphro gives an example of his own actions in prosecuting his father. He indicates that those who are guilty have to be charged as it is an order of divine law. If the guilty escape justice, it is a matter of impiety as the gods enforced the law, even against their kin. This leads to the first definition provided by Euthyphro that piety is that which is “dear to the gods” and impiety is the opposite (Plato 6). In order to unify his argument, Euthyphro provides a second definition that piety consists of actions that are pleasing to the gods, implying matters that unite all the deities. Overall, piety is a ministry to the gods through prayer and sacrifice. The rest is a dedication to one’s earthly duties. Piety is intimately connected to justice. The part of justice that focuses on ministry and service to the gods is inherently piety (Plato 17).
Socrates rejects the definitions of piety that are provided to him. In response to the example, he notes that it is not a definition. The definition cannot serve as an example since a specific instance does not necessarily apply to the virtue as a whole. The argument that piety is determined by what gods hold dear does not persuade Socrates as he suggests that gods of the Greek mythology, similar to humans, have different sets of beliefs and opinions. Therefore, it would be impossible for a person to achieve piety this way since gods themselves would most likely disagree on its definition. In response to Euthyphro’s thought that piety applies to values that are pleasing to all the gods, such as the condemnation of murder, Socrates argues that circumstances and motives can dramatically alter the moral ground for a certain action, even as horrible as murder.
The argument of attendance to the gods fails since it is unclear what is meant by that service. Regarding human matters, dutiful service can be defined as creating or improving something. As gods are abstract and inherently perfect, there is no logical argument on how humans can serve to improve a deity. Furthermore, the accent on sacrifice and prayer becomes a matter of trade where men offer reverence to the gods in exchange for piety. Socrates suggests that the definitions suggested by Euthyphro have come full circle since it was previously agreed that piety and gods’ love were separate, but now it is the same thing (Plato 19).
I think Socrates presents logical reasoning in his attempt to investigate the meaning of piety. Despite almost a sarcastic tone that he takes with Euthyphro, there is still a presence of respect for someone who is willing to fulfill justice in the name of piety by bringing charges against a family member. Euthyphro, like many men, attempted to comprehend piety regarding the relationship between gods and men. However, the argument is immediately wrought with logical fallacies as it is difficult to articulate the will of a higher power clearly. Socrates’ argument emphasizes the corrupted view of piety which conceptualizes religion as a mercenary process, exchanging worship for supposed virtue. Based on this, the accusation of impiety against Socrates loses its validity.