Free The Background Argumentative Essay Sample

Type of paper: Argumentative Essay

Topic: Euthyphro, Socrates, Definition, Piety, Philosophy, Plato, Conversation, Father

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/21

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The Euthyphro is one of the most important works written by Plato for showing how the Socratic reasoning works. It follows a conversation between Socrates and a character named Euthyphro as they try to define what piety is. The conversation never uncovers the meaning of piety, even though Euthyphro affirms that he knows its meaning but fails to give a satisfactory definition. This paper will uncover the argumentative flaws committed by Euthyphro and how Socrates proposed to amend them to reach at a satisfactory definition of piety.

When reading the Euthyphro it is important to have in mind who the two characters in this dialog are, and why is Socrates so interested in learning the significance of piety from this man in particular. Socrates finds himself visiting the office of the King Archon because he is being prosecuted for impiety. The philosopher was being accused of corrupting the young of Athens, inventing new gods and not worshiping the old ones. While in the hall, he encounters Euthyphros who wants to prosecute his own father for manslaughter. His case is important for establishing the expertise he has for knowing what is pious and what is impious, as he assures he accuses his father based on that knowledge.
According to Euthyphro, one of his slaves had killed another laborer. This enraged his father and caused him to lock and bond the slave while he waited for a religious authority to tell him how to proceed. But soon the slave died too from starvation and because of the bonds. Euthyphro considered this to be wrong, and is convinced that the pious thing to do is to accuse his father of having killed the slave. He knew that people would deride him and call him crazy because he found that the death of a slave was more important than the honor of his own father. Nonetheless, he said he ought to do what was right no matter what the people thought of him. Socrates then considered that he could learn about piousness from Euthyphro so he could defend himself in his own trial.

The Dialogue

During the conversation with Euthyphro, Socrates is very careful when asking about piety. He mentions the characteristics he wants in the definition, such as the kind of thing it is, and the one trait that differentiates it from the impiety. What he really does is to establish a criteria that would help him differentiate pious things from others. So the definition must identify one element that belongs to every kind of piousness. Second, it must also identify an element that does not belong to anything that is not pious . However, Euthyphro answers by just saying that what he is doing in court is pious. As his answer does not give an account to what element is contained in his action that could be found in other pious actions, and just provides with but an example, Socrates finds that it does not meet the criteria of a good definition. Euthyphro explains that his action is a dictate of the divine law and it follows Zeus´s example. This is clearly an argument from authority as Euthyphro asserts that something is right just because Zeus did it.
Instead of pointing out the methodological errors committed by his friend, Socrates tries again by reminding him what he had originally asked. Euthyphro then gives a general answer that apparently pleased Socrates as it provides a more general definition: Pious is what is loved by the gods, and what is not loved by them is impious.
However, this new answer proves to be problematic to Socrates as it begs new questions. It is known, if one follows the Greek Mythology and the writings of Homer, that the gods have quarrels. So, if the gods disagree on certain things and have quarrels over them, then some things that are loved by some gods, might be hated by others. Then one thing might be pious and impious at the same time. This would violate the second criteria of definition proposed by Socrates by not establishing an element that only exists on pious objects and never in impious ones, rendering the definition logically impossible. Euthyphro tries to amend this answer by saying that there are things that gods would not argue about such as just killings. However, it does not fix the problem because it can be seen that what seems just to some, might be regarded as unjust by others, so there is not really an element of exclusion in Euthyphro´s new argument.

The Dilemma

Euthyphro insists on defining piousness in relation to what gods love. Socrates then agrees to follow that argument further by supposing that there might be some things that all gods must love, and they are then called pious. However, here he makes a question that has been largely discussed by theists and philosophers, and has been reformulated many times in other instances. Is something pious because it is loved by the gods, or is it loved by the gods because it is pious?
It seems like a trivial question, but it is in fact an attempt to find out more about the essence of piety. If one follows Euthyphro´s definition, various problems arise. In the first place, to find out what property do the gods find lovable of pious objects, one must have insight into their minds to acquire knowledge about piety . That being an impossible feat to achieve, Socrates tries then to find this essence by using reason. In his attempt, he shows the differences between the active voice and passive voice. Being loved is not a property that belongs to the object itself, and it is certainly different from the act of loving. Being loved is actually a consequence of something loving and not the other way around. But, for Socrates, pious things must be the subject of this love because of their piousness and not because of the love. It would be impossible that both propositions be true. However, Euthyphro defends both of them, creating a circling argument: Gods love pious things because pious things are loved by the gods. This paradox is associated by Socrates to his ancestor Daedalus, a person who was known to make arguments move. Socrates, in an attempt to advance the discussion, blames himself for having moved Euthyphro´s premises and conclusions, but as they go on, it is shown that Euthyphro will go back to the same proposal again.

The Full Circle

In the next segment, Socrates tries to establish a new criteria for a good definition by showing how piousness might be a subspecies of justice. However, he later points out that there are things that are pious that are not just, so piousness could not belong entirely to the justice genus. They then must keep trying to find out precisely the essence of piousness. This way he gives a model that Euthyphro can follow in order to clearly define piety.
Euthyphro says then that the part of the just that serves the Gods is the pious. Of course, it again lacks certainty as it must be defined what kind of product that service yields. The argument goes on to give mere examples or just aggregating more elements that beg for their own definitions.
First, he asserts that the products provided by the gods, using people at their service, are those of excellence. Then he says they are those of prayer and sacrifice. Socrates equals these to mere transactions where men must know how to ask and what to give to the gods, but he insists in requiring to know what men receive from that transaction. In his last effort Euthyphro indicates that the gods receive what is acceptable, and that is the pious. As can be seen, the argument goes back to say that pious things are those who are loved by the gods.
The dialog does not finish in a satisfactory way as Socrates never gets a clear and univocal definition of piety. In fact, it just served as an exercise where it is shown how someone how believes in having certain kind of knowledge might be proven wrong if asked the right questions.


Hardwig, John. "Socrate´s Conception of Piety: Teaching the Euthypro." Teaching Philosophy (2007): 259-268. <>.
Plato. The Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. Vol. II. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1892. V vols.
Woodruff, Paul. "Plato's Shorter Ethical Works." 21 December 2014. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 19 February 2015. <>.

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