Plato/Euthyphro

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This is a short dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro and is a very good introduction to typical aspects of Plato's thought and the Socratic method. The Greek language of Euthyphro is less difficult than that in longer works such the Symposium or the Republic. This dialogue is placed first in the Oxford Classical Texts 'Platonis Opera'. In general this is a good place to start with Plato if you have at least a year's worth of classical Greek.

Overall the piece is an interesting introduction to Greek theology and has an exact parallel in modern Christian theology, still being commented on in the twentieth century by writers such as C.S. Lewis as a live question. In essence the question put is, 'Does God command that we do or not do things because they are good or bad in themselves, or because God is good? And if the right commands are 'good' in themselves, does God obey these laws or does he make them?' Socrates has himself been summonsed to court by his political enemies and while waiting meets Euthyphro there, who is bringing a charge of manslaughter (of a slave) against his father. Socrates finds this remarkable, but Euthyphro maintains that 'a crime is a crime', and as family relations do not come into it, he is merely doing the right and proper thing. Socrates enquires how he is so sure of himself, and Euthyphro replies that he is an expert on morality as he understand piety toward the gods so well.

Socrates proceeds to tie poor Euthyphro up in knots with his gentle questions, which however amount to the typical Socratic skewering and dissection of self-proclaimed experts. He asks, 'are the gods themselves good and righteous and holy?' The religious and pious Euthyphro thinks so. He asks, 'are the gods to be emulated because they are good?'. The religious and pious Euthyphro thinks so. But, Socrates asks, 'why then, accoding to the poets, do the gods do so many things that we humans disapprove of - such as, stealing, making war, and adultery?' Euthyphro is at a loss to talk his way out of this fuzzy thinking and self-contradictions: he is left defeated but still defiant. The answers may not have been presented 'on a plate', but the clarity of the right question is now indisputable. This first dialogue strongly presages the 'Apology' of Socrates in which he defends himself against the charges brought in his famous court defence speech.