The Meaning Of Piety And It Use in Plato's Euthyphro

Categories: Plato

What does Piety Mean in Plato’s Euthyphro?

Growing up, Plato’s teacher and mentor was none other than Socrates, the Father of Philosophy. For approximately twenty years, Socrates has relayed many wise words and ideas concerning life, love, and philosophy in general to Plato. Because Socrates was a marvelous teacher but never wrote, Plato wrote numerous dialogues with Socrates discussing ideas with other people, including First Alcibiades, Charmides, and especially Euthyphro. In the dialogue of Euthyphro, Socrates and Euthyphro share their thoughts concerning what piety really is and what it means.

The dialogue begins at a courthouse, where the famous Socrates is being accused of two major crimes: corrupting the youth with his knowledge and inventing brand new gods. The prosecutor is Meletus, known for having a beak (symbolizing he constant talking and blabbering) and a beard (symbolizing his lack of wisdom/knowledge). Later during the trial, Socrates makes everyone in the courtroom believe him and not Meletus, helping him win.

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We later see that Euthyphro is also there, attempting to put his father on trial for a murder. Dialogue later initiates between both Socrates and Euthyphro.

Out of the four main definitions we are given of piety, the first concerns itself with, “doing as I [(Euthyphro)] am doing.” Euthyphro explains that it is pious for one to prosecute someone for a wrongdoing, such as he is doing for his father. He also states that even though Zeus is highly regarded, he should have been prosecuted for devouring his sons.

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Although he may not realize it, Euthyphro is not thinking this through at all, and does not know about piety nearly as much as Socrates does. Socrates is obviously flabbergasted by this “definition,” and later claims that prosecuting someone for his or her crime(s) is simply an example or act of piety, not an actual definition of it.

After much discussion about the Euthyphro’s first definition, he forms a second definition, different from the first in that it is an actual definition. He states, “Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them.” After finally making some sense, Socrates is pleased and confirms what he said by giving a general example. Although Socrates agrees, he bring up a clever point, claiming that what seems pious for one god may be impious for another, and vice versa. Each have varying opinions on different acts, therefore it is impossible to be pious to each and every one of them. Socrates further proves his argument by using Euthyphro and his father as an example: “…in thus chastising your father you may very likely be doing what is agreeable to Zeus but disagreeable to Cronos or Uranus.” For the most part, Euthyphro agrees with what Socrates is explaining to him.

Deeper into their discussion, Socrates wishes to change the definition once again. Arising from Euthyphro’s previous definition and Socrates counterargument, Socrates states that piety is simply what all of the gods want and love, and impiety is what all of the gods do not like and hate. This new definition aims to please each and every one of the gods, since they all love and hate different things. Like before, Euthyphro totally agrees with Socrates on his amendment.

This time however, Socrates is further questioning his own definition, something only he would do. Socrates wants to now get a better understanding of, “…whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is loved by the gods.” Euthyphro is puzzled at first, like most would be, and yet eventually understands what Socrates is trying to get across. Euthyphro believes that the gods love some things and some people because they are pious, and that whatever is loved is in a state of being loved, since it is loved by the gods, yet Socrates convinces Euthyphro that this statement cannot be true , because that is an effect of piety, not actual piety. Both Euthyphro and Socrates eventually move into deeper conversation about this new “definition,” and we are able to infer that Euthyphro demonstrates ignorance while speaking with Socrates and is very self-centered. Socrates later compares Euthyphro’s words to the words of his (Socrates) ancestor, Daedalus , and tells the story of his, which is a foreshadowing for the rest of the dialogue.

After speaking about whether reverence is part of fear, or if fear is a notion, Socrates questions if piety is simply just a part of justice. Stemming from this, a fourth definition of piety is established, stating that piety is a part of justice. Euthyphro agrees with Socrates, but states that piety and holiness are in fact part of the justice that attends to the gods, not the justice that attends to regular people. Euthyphro agrees that he views piety as, “the art of attending to the gods.” Socrates presents examples in the text using animals to help make Euthyphro’s opinion clearer. Socrates mentions that attending to and caring for horses would be considered horsemanship, and attending to dogs would be huntsman. We are able to conclude that even though we are being just by being pious to the gods, they do not benefit from it. Although we give them our sacrifices, prayers, caring, etc., they do not benefit from it; it is simply our job to do these things.

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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The Meaning Of Piety And It Use in Plato's Euthyphro. (2024, Feb 21). Retrieved from

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