Saturday, April 20, 2013

Plato's Euthyphro, Summary and Explanation

When asked for a third account of piety, Euthyphro states, “the pious is what all the gods love, and its opposite, what all the gods hate, is the impious.”

Euthyphro 9e

Socrates begins the elenchus by asking Euthyphro if piety is loved by the gods simply because it is piety or if something is pious because it is loved by the gods. The resulting conversation ends up in Euthyphro’s agreement to a contradiction in his beliefs.

To help Euthyphro understand his pertinent question, Socrates gets Euthyphro to agree that an affected thing is an affected thing because it has been affected, and that it is not the case that an affected thing is affected because of its being an affected thing.

Euthyphro 10c2

In other words, a thing becomes an affected thing only after it has been affected. An affected thing cannot exist prior to its being affected because the nature of language will not allow it. The word “affected” is past tense, and in being past tense, it is implying that some event has taken place which has left a thing with a new mark, or an affect. Were time not flowing forward, as it seems to, perhaps the affected thing could exist prior to the event which made it an affected thing, but such is not currently the case, at least to my knowledge.

Socrates then helps Euthyphro apply his new understanding of affected things to the topic of love. Euthyphro agrees that a loved thing has been affected by something or another, the action of which has made it a loved thing.

Euthyphro 10c7

At this point it is established that the nature of love is such that it adds a property to the thing it affects, making it a loved thing.

Next Socrates gets Euthyphro to agree to the proposition that the pious is loved by the gods because of its being pious, and that the pious is not pious because it is loved by the gods.

Euthyphro 10d5 

When Euthyphro agrees to this proposition, he presupposes the pious possess two properties which were also inherent to the examples of affected things Socrates has already given him. These implied properties of piety are that the pious must exist before it can be loved by the gods and that the form of piety would be the same whether or not the gods love it. That is to say, the love of the gods does not make the pious pious.

At this point in the conversation, a contradiction is exposed between Euthyphro's beliefs about piety and the account he has given Socrates. The basis of piety cannot necessarily include the property of being that which all the gods love if it is, at the same time, true that the nature of the pious exists independently of the love of all the gods.

In order to maintain his account of piety, namely, that “the pious is what all the gods love, and its opposite, what all the gods hate, is the impious,”

Euthyphro 9e 

Euthyphro could choose to reject Socrates' proposition which assumes the pious is a kind of thing which must be affected into an object. Euthyphro could argue that the definition of the nature of the pious is intertwined with love of all the gods, and as such an action or thing does not become the form of piety as a result of affect. This argument would stop Socrates dead in his tracks.

Euthyphro could then help Socrates understand that piety is not the kind of thing which always produces the same actions. That is to say, the piousness of an action is judged from the point of view of an individual god or a group of godly observers. Because being pious is being loved by the gods, and the gods are fickle, the pious person must be dynamic. At this point, the conversation may shift to whether pious is actually a desirable way to be.

Euthyphro’s deeper issue is that he gives up every time Socrates finds a contraction. Euthyphro may be on to something, but because he is either poorly equipped with logic, uninterested, or perhaps less motivated than Socrates, so he eventually gets so agitated he must leave before the conversation is finished. Perhaps if Euthyphro not so intent on appearing wise, they may have uncovered the true form of piety.

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