Socrates meets Euthyphro outside a public building (I presume it is a court) in Athens, Greece. Euthyphro is surprised to see Socrates here and asks if he has a lawsuit here just as Euthyphro himself has. Socrates explains that someone from a political subdivision of Athens named Meletus has brought an indictment (charge) against Socrates for impiety. Meletus has accused Socrates of corrupting youth such as himself. Meletus is trying to get rid of the older people who are ‘ruining’ the youths before they can become the best possible. Socrates suspects that Meletus is doing this so that he can be recognized for being the cause of the greatest things in the city. Euthyphro however disagrees and says that Meletus is rather doing the opposite by causing harm to those like Socrates. He asks what exactly Meletus thinks Socrates is doing to ‘corrupt’ the youth. Socrates replies that Meletus accuses him of being a “poet of the gods” and that he makes “novel” (fantasy) gods instead of believing in the ancient ones. Euthyphro states that this is because Socrates speaks about how the divine comes to him occasionally. Euthyphro says that Meletus is taking Socrates to court to falsely accuse him of things because the talk of the divine is easy to slander. He mentions that even when he had mentioned the divine people would laugh at him as if he was crazy. He said that instead of paying attention to the false things said against him, Socrates should confront them instead. Socrates asks Euthyphro about his lawsuit and if he is defending or prosecuting, to which Euthyphro replies that he is prosecuting his own father on a charge of murder. Socrates asks who Euthyphro’s father murdered and if it was another family member of theirs since he would not likely file an indictment against his father for the murder of a stranger. Euthyphro replies that it is funny that Socrates thinks there is a difference in whether the man his father killed was a family member or not. He says that what matters is whether or not the victim was killed as a means to achieve justice and that if it was not then he must be prosecuted. Euthyphro reveals that his father killed one of his ‘laborers” who had also murdered someone during a drunk fight. Euthyphro mentions that his father unintentionally killed the man by being reckless with him after having tied him up while waiting for a messenger to return with legal advice regarding what to do with the murderous man. Socrates suggests that Euthyphro must be very knowledgeable in the field of the divine and their view on the holy and unholy since he is able to prosecute his father without the fear that he is in fact doing something unholy. Euthyphro admits that he does know a lot about the divine, the holy, and the unholy. Socrates asks Euthyphro to let him be a student to Euthyphro and to let him learn from Euthyphro what he knows about the holy and the unholy in hopes that this will help Socrates in his upcoming trial against Meletus. He believes that by learning from Euthyphro, he could convince Meletus that they have the same view on the divine and that therefore his view cannot be wrong, and this would force Meletus to have to drop the lawsuit. Euthyphro agrees to teach Socrates and begins by answering Socrates’ question what is holy and unholy. Initially, Euthyphro states that holiness means to persecute anyone that acts in ways which offend religious beliefs and/or those who have strong religious beliefs. However, Socrates does not accept this definition and says that there is a lot more to holiness than persecuting religious offenders. He asks Euthyphro to give him a more general definition of holiness, one that would apply to all holy deeds. Euthyphro then says that what is holy is acceptable to the gods. Socrates however is unhappy with this definition again as he states that even the gods cannot always come to an agreement on things. Euthyphro then suggests that holiness isn’t rather acceptable to the gods but that something holy would be approved to be holy by all the gods. Socrates replies that this cannot work that way because the gods will accept the holy because it is holy, so what the gods will accept is determined by what is holy. He explains that holiness cannot be what is accepted by the gods because they are dependent. One of these two things, one decides what is accepted by the gods while the other is decided by what is accepted by the gods. Euthyphro then offers the explanation that what is holy is what looks after/takes care of the gods. Socrates however refuses this definition again, stating that the gods are all-powerful and supreme and that they do not need us to take care of them or look out for them. The last definition that Euthyphro suggests to Socrates is that holiness is like the relationship of an exchange. Euthyphro says that we make sacrifices for the gods’ satisfaction and that in return they answer our prayers. Socrates’ final attempt to rebut what Euthyphro had said is him stating that us making sacrifices to satisfy the gods is not much different from when he said that what is holy is what is accepted by the gods. Euthyphro eventually gets tired of Socrates’ questioning and complaints about his explanations, so he leaves.
I really enjoyed this reading. I found it very interesting as well as amusing. I am familiar with Socratic questioning and I have always found it fascinating how easily people get frustrated by it. Frankly, I agree with everything that Socrates said to all of Euthyphro’s definitions of holiness. Each explanation was problematic in the sense that it was so easy to poke holes in. I believe that Euthyphro did not in fact know the divine and holiness as well as he believed he did. The Socratic method is often used to show people that they do not really know what they think they know, and this was very clearly demonstrated in this situation as Euthyphro kept changing his answers as to what it meant to be holy. The discussion of what is holy and what is not is a matter of ethics and morality and I personally disagree with the entire approach that ethics is dependent on the divine and a higher power. I was very confused yet interested by Socrates’ statement that holiness cannot be what is accepted by the gods because they are dependent. One of these two things, one decides what is accepted by the gods while the other is decided by what is accepted by the gods. This was difficult to understand as it made sense as a concept but the phrasing around it was difficult to narrow down to a meaning. This dialogue had many interesting parts some of which I understood but that still shocked me. For instance, I was shocked at the idea that Euthyphro could ever prosecute his own father. Yet, I agreed with his idea that what matters is whether or not the victim was killed as a means to achieve justice and that if it was not then he must be prosecuted. The reading over all was very intense and had lots of new terms and words that I did not know but it was overall a very interesting read. I particularly enjoyed the aspect of it that it was a dialogue as opposed to a chapter reading as this made it easier to stay engaged and interested enough to read through the text without a problem.
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