Euthyphro, by Plato
his is a setup too good to be true. Socrates is on the courthouse steps, about to be be tried for impiety (a felony in ancient Athens) when along comes Euthyphro, an "expert" on religion to pursue a case of his own before the same court. Socrates is, like, hey, this could help me a lot! Plato could not have designed the scene better. Oh, wait.
Perhaps Plato did design the scene. (And did he invent the dialogue also?) If so, we are getting Socrates at second hand-- it is Plato's Socrates, not Socrates' Socrates. Could Plato be so interested in the logical Socrates that he misses the compassionate Socrates altogether? I think that really great teachers are sometimes misunderstood by their students because they don't know how to look for the real message behind the line of talk.
Anyway the two men (its always men, never does Plato's Socrates engage women in conversation -- not even in Pheado when his wife is present and he is about to die) work together to find definitions of piety and impiety that Socrates can use in his defense. The results are inconclusive, disappointing. Neither Socrates nor i ever learn what piety is.
While i think i understand Ion, i have not a clue about Euthyphro. Is he simply overcome with awe in the presence of Socrates, or is he, as Socrates suggests, a lazy thinker. He contributes nothing to the dialogue except an initial, unsatisfactory definition of piety, from then on he might as well have been a hand puppet. It occurred to me that he might have gotten away with the second definition: that piety is what is pleasing to the gods. in a monotheistic culture. Even in Euthypro's shoes, i might have argued that piety is what is pleasing to Zeus.
Even though i am looking for, and not finding, signs of Socrates' compassion and gentleness, i cannot leave without remarking on a great line that shows up in the dialogue. Socrates asks whether piety is piety because it is valued by the gods or valued by the gods because it is pious. I think this is a great question which was reargued nearly 2000 years later during the Protestant Reformation. Is God good because he is God or is He God because He is good?