PHL 103
Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjic



An Outline

The Euthyphro is an early Plato's dialogue. It primarily reflects Socratic views on the problem of how to properly define piety and justice. The "form" (in Greek: eidos), which is throughout the work referred to as the sole basis for a good definition of piety, denotes a general characteristic of a thing rather than its subsistent separate reality, as in later Platonic dialogues. Similarly, substance (ousia), the second notorious Platonic term, still does not have its later technical meaning of "essential existence" being used here simply in the sense of "essential character".

Both interlocutors espouse a combination of the old and new views. Euthyphro defends at once the popular Homeric religion (the gods set practical standards for humans even when they act immorally) and the civil values of the new democratic order (universal justice regardless of family ties and social rank of the victim or perpetrator). While Socrates almost conservatively accepts the old morality of filial justice (family ties restricting the application of law), he on the other hand clearly endorses piety as a universal, unitary and univocal concept. Consequently, despite his moral allegiance to the old kinship tradition, in the ensuing conversation he is looking for a logical standard that would be at the same time sensitive to concrete differences and still applicable to all pious actions.

The Stage

Time: 399 BC.
Place: The porch of the King Archon's Court in Athens (Stoa Basilike = Royal Stoa).

Note: The King Archon (archon basileus) was not the head of the state, as his title may suggest, but only one of the nine highest Athenian magistrates. His position was a relic of much older times when Athens was really ruled by the kings (there were three: eponimos, polemarchos and archon). However, their power waned gradually so that as early as in the 8th century BC, the King Archon was entrusted only with some quasi-religious duties. Apart from supervising the Eleusinian Mysteries and making official sacrifices, the King Archon was presiding hearings involving the cases of impiety and homicide. The position eventually ceased to be outright hereditary -
at the time of Socrates the King used to be annually elected from several priestly families.


Socrates (470-399 BC), Plato's teacher and the "gadfly" of the Athenian society. He was renown both for his penetrating self-examination and his relentless questioning of others. This dialogue attests that he was very well versed in the "circle thinking" which reflexively bends upon the thinker himself and thus from all sides 'encircles' both him and his topic.
Euthyphro, a diviner and self-proclaimed "expert in piety". (We do not know whether he was a historical person or an invention of Plato's literary imagination.) His name suggests a person prone to "quick reasoning" in the sense of "straight (linear) thinking" that clearly goes counter Socrates' reflective and resuming method of examination.
Quick Thinker
Circling Thinker
Straight Talker
Ironic Talker


What brings Socrates and Euthyphro to the King's Hall? Socrates wants to learn more about the charges brought against him while Euthyphro pursues his own lawsuit. Socrates was probably summoned for a preliminary hearing regarding the charges leveled by his co-citizens: Anytus, Lycon and Meletus. Euthyphro, in his turn, appeared in the capacity of a prosecutor who was intent to file a lawsuit against his father.

Note: Euthyphro was initiating an oral lawsuit (dike phonou) that should result in a private (civil) case typically raised by the relatives of a victim (though he was not one). In contrast, Socrates was facing a written impeachment (graphe), that is to say a public indictment brought up in writing by another citizen(s). Unlike our current practice, every Athenian citizen was entitled to assume prosecutorial role in a public case like the one involving Socrates.

Filing Lawsuit
Being Indicted

Charges: The opening conversation indicates what was the content of the written indictment against Socrates. Independent sources (Xenophon) confirm that it indeed included the following three charges: (1) corrupting the youth, (2) inventing "new gods" and (3) not believing in the old ones. Socrates suggests that the corruption charge was based on the accusation for religious offenses (not abiding to the religious creeds of the city). In other dialogues the corruption of the youth is presented more as a secular offense: By engaging youngsters in endless arguments Socrates was allegedly diverting the youth from their regular duties. Whatever the case, the idea of corruption implies a kind of passivity on the part of the corrupted as well as a lack of maturity - two points that Socrates does not accept without qualification. He regarded his activity as beneficial for his audience and the city, but his political opponents viewed it as detrimental for the new democratic order. Socrates himself intimates that the main reason for the animosity against him was his unlimited "availability" for discussion and readiness to "teach his own wisdom" (as opposed to the accepted beliefs of the multitude). The most salient aspect of that new wisdom was Socrates' practice of invoking an inner voice (daemon) allegedly preventing/protecting him from any wrongdoing - a habit that might have been perceived as an irreverent deviation from the usual reliance on external signs (omen, prophecies, etc.).
Note: The whole case is not easy to reconcile with the conventional view about the non-dogmatic spirit of Athenian religiousness. Socrates himself gives us a clue for this puzzle when he says that the Athenians do not mind different views as long as their proponents, through their respective teaching, do not make other citizens 'similar' to themselves. If we bear in mind his stance on democracy this could be a hint that the real reason for the trial is to be sought in the practical (political) rather than theoretical (religious) implications of Socrates' teaching - he really made a strong social impact on the young.


Differences between Socrates and Euthyphro:

Euthyphro draws a parallel between his dealings with divine issues and the alleged Socrates' innovations in "religious matters": The implicit suggestion is that the whole thing was not to be taken too seriously as his own experience attests. But Socrates retorts that the parallel does not hold because, unlike Euthyphro, (a) he was preaching his own wisdom, and (b) he was trying to mold the character of his audience accordingly.
Note: We do not know whether Euthyphro wanted just to cheer up Socrates or was downplaying the gravity of the situation because he sincerely believed that the indictment would yield nothing (?). The fact is that he not only showed sympathy for Socrates but also expressed his conviction that Meletus' lawsuit was without merit and even detrimental to the 'very heart of the city'. In other words, he asserted that by harming Socrates it would harm an institution of Athenian culture and life. Socrates did not reciprocate in the same manner to him, obviously because he did not wish Euthyphro to succeed in his lawsuit against the old customs of the city.
The contrast between the two characters could be summarized as follows:

Activity Euthyphro Socrates
Accessibility Rare Appearances Unlimited Availability
Teaching Inherited Wisdom Personal Wisdom
Condition Charging Fees Paying Rewards
Effect Entertaining Influencing

Premonition of Tragic End: The conversation about the piousness of Euthyphro's lawsuit was not an innocent intellectual game or just an excuse to engage in a logical exercise about the art of definition. Socrates was aware that his own life was at stake as he was approaching the trial. Euthyphro's interpretation of the divine justice may have aroused public laughter, but Socrates' teachings stirred public commotion that would turn into something more sinister - death penalty. Socrates had a premonition that his case would not be just a common litigation without consequences if for no other reason then just because he knew that the verdict of a huge jury was always unpredictable.

Care of Citizens:
Socrates praises Meletus, his accuser, for being a very "wise" and "caring" person (interestingly enough, Meletus means in Greek: "Care"). Socrates even says that Meletus was starting his career the way every responsible citizen should - by taking care of the young. Superficially looking this praise from Socrates sounds utterly odd and even masochistic, but it is both a serious allusion to the common notion of "taking care" of the state and an ironic remark on Meletus' account based on the underlying idea that his care was in fact misguided.

Irony: Ironizing is the favorite conversational device of Socrates by means of which he manages to say exactly the opposite in saying something excessively laudatory. There are at least two instances of this powerful technique at the beginning of the dialogue:
(1) Socrates praises Meletus for dealing first with those who corrupt the youth (self-reference to Socrates' tireless questioning of young people). Of course, he could not have seriously meant that Meletus, by suppressing questioning and self-reflection, would ever become "a very great public benefactor".
(2) Socrates ironically wishes to present himself as Euthyphro's pupil although he disapproves his action and does not believe he can learn anything from Euthyphro. The explanation for this pretended wish is that he wants to disclose a discrepancy between the public reaction to his "subversive" teachings and to Euthyphro's "reformist" views about the obligations of children toward their parents. He intimates that the innovation charges should be raised equally against Euthyphro, who in the spirit of the new order readily violates the old precept of unconditional respect for parents. However, despite the "corruptive" impact of Euthyphro's action on the self-proclaimed pupil (Socrates) and Euthyphro's father it obviously did not entail any serious liability for the perpetrator whereas Socrates had to pay the ultimate penalty for his corruptive actions.

New Religion (Demon = Inner Voice). Corrupting the Young Being tried
New Morality (Disregard for Family Ties) Corrupting the Old Being ridiculed

While Socrates corrupts the young, Euthyphro corrupts him and his own father, that is to say he corrupts the old. In this hypothetical aprenticeship Socrates is being corrupted by being taught "innovations" while the father of Euthyphro was going to be disciplined in accord with the new rules espoused by Euthyphro. By reversing the corruption charge Socrates both ridicules his own indictement and Euthyphro's case.

The Issue

What is the suit of Euthyphro about? A murder (Euthyphro's designation).
Note: Killing somebody (homicide) in ancient Athens was not regarded as a public crime, but rather as a private wrongdoing that was sanctioned by the religious authority of the King Archon. The family and the friends of the victim were expected to sue the murderer or to settle the matter. Socrates would understand that Euthyphro was suing his father only if the victim was another relative of his - in that case the justice could have been administered solely by an objective outsider (the King Archon), but in all other cases the family was supposed to stand behind its members.

Speaking in current legal terms, the case was about two homicides: a voluntary manslaughter, committed by one of Euthyphro's servants, and an involuntary manslaughter over that servant for which Euthyphro held his father accountable.
First and second degree murder include certain malice whereas manslaughter does not presuppose a malice aforethought. For its part, manslaughter could be totally unintentional (as was the case with Euthyphro's father's) or caused by some other wrongdoing (as was the one committed by the servant).

Why is Euthyphro prosecuting his father?
Because such a prosecution is an act of piety or because it is the right thing to do?
Euthyphro himself explicitly mentions two reasons:
(a) Because he wants to cleanse himself and his family from the religious pollution caused by the murder: "the pollution is the same if you associate with such a man, knowing what he has done, without purifying yourself, and him too". Though not a public crime, murder was a breach of divine law and a lawsuit served as a remedy;
(b) Because it is just to prosecute any wrongdoer, be that person a relative (sharing "our hearth and table") or not. This insistence on punishing the perpetrator regradless of the kinship indicates Euthyphro's devotion to impartial justice.
Note: Euthyphro's personal motive may have been twofold: (a) the father didn't ask for his opinion on the matter and requested instead an authoritative interpretation from the experts; (b) the deceased laborer was Euthyphro's hire whereas the slave belonged to the whole family. In addition, (c) Euthyphro's act, although very unusual, could have upfront counted on the public approval without seriously endangering his father, who would have been acquitted anyway because he had no intention to murder the servant. As a public display of principled action, the whole suit was mostly a "nice gesture" that did not pose any risk for Euthyphro or his family, but in Socrates' view it was a moral abomination that set a bad example for the youth.

Why the family opposed Euthyphro on this matter?
(a) The hired laborer committed a murder and proven murderers should be punished - not commiserated.
(b) It was inappropriate and impious for a son to bring forward an indictment against his own father no matter what was the reason.
(c) The father did not kill the laborer after all (the latter died of exhaustion).

The opposition between these two moralities (of Euthyphro and of the family/Socrates) could be summarized as follows:

Family / Socrates

Socrates' Ground-rules:
Socrates agrees with the family of Euthyphro. He ironically says that anyone who prosecutes their parent must be wise beyond normal comprehension. But he does not believe in such an abnormal wisdom. In order to denounce Euthyphro's wisdom as folly he has prepared a trap for Euthyphro by committing him to some necessary rules of sound discourse. Euthyphro accepts these rules readily as a description of his own practice without noticing that Socrates wants to rebut him by proving that he, pricesely in this paragon case, violates what he preaches.
Seemingly Socrates praises Euthyphro but in fact he wants to make sure that Euthyphro accepts the rules that will make him hang. Specifically he binds Euthyphro to the statements that will ultimately undermine his own position.
Socrates starts in a very general way by asserting that anyone invoking piety as justification for their action must possess great deal of wisdom. The "wisdom" in question denotes a profound knowledge of piety.

This knowledge has to meet the following requirements:
a - to be very accurate
b - to be explanatory of what is piety*
c - to accept that piety is the same in all actions
d - to recognize one character (form) in all instances of piety
e - to distinguish piety and impiety as opposites

* Terminological Note: The Greek term Plato uses throughout the dialogue means literally "the pious" (hosios). As an adjective-substantive, "the pious" manifestly attests to the abstraction process leading from particular pious things and actions to the very idea (common characteristic) of piousness (being pious). The 'pious' is the penultimate stage in the development of the general idea of 'piety' (hosiotes) or 'godliness' (eusebeia). Although the hosios could be rendered as "the holly" as well, it was not conceived as an attribute of divinity (hieros), but rather as something in accord with divine law in the realm allotted to humans by the gods. Therefore, "piety" should not be understood as an attribute of the gods nor as a personal state of mind of somebody who is regarded as pious. Both expressions for being pious that occur in the text (hosion and eusebes) point to a way of conduct or action that is in accord with the divine order. Since murder and the suit against own father infringe on religious norms (divine order), Plato raises the question of justification for such actions in terms of 'what is piety' (that is to say, what is the pious way of proceeding after a murder was committed a lawsuit filed).

Pious Things
(multiplicity of instances)
The Pious
(common characteristic)
(abstract concept)

If Euthyphro really meets requirements a - e, then he must be able to answer properly and fully the crucial (but a very novel) question: What is piety? The question is novel because it addresses the meaning of an abstract concept. In asking 'what is piety?' Socrates in fact asked the question 'what is the character (form) of the pious?' As such it points to a firm and stable standard for distinguishing all instances of piety from other (similar or different) cases. Socrates wants to find out that standard of piety through a dialectical exchange of questions and answers.


What is a Definition?
Every 'what is X' question aims at a definition. Every definition includes two parts: the word that ought to be defined (definiendum) and the defining words (definiens):

  What ought to be defined
That what defines
Definiendum =>

An adequate definition must include either (1) a relation of extensional equivalence between the definiendum and the definiens, or/and (2) an intensional elucidation of the concept that is being defined by means of other concepts. The latter condition is in keeping with the logical rule that intensional meaning determines the range of instances that share some common attributes. While Socrates seeks an intensional definition that would enable him to identify all particular instances of piety Euthyphro tries to define piety based on his own particular case and similar instances.

Extensional Definition
Intensional Definition

Note: In his Metaphysics Aristotle credits Socrates with the invention of definitions giving so a historical corroboration for this aspect of the dialogue. Socrates' ambition to define concepts could be also described as an effort to ascertain the conditions under which a concept applies. Only if we can determine the necessary and sufficient conditions for applying a concept do we possess a true grasp of it. Socrates was the first to realize that we need to identify both kinds of conditions. The necessary condition is an essential requirement but it alone does not guarantee that the concept applies in a particular case. On the other hand, the sufficient condition ensures that the concept really applies specifically although, if taken alone, it does not provide any guarantee that it does not apply in any other particular case. Hence the two notions need to be combined in order to reach a good definition of piety.

Philosophical Lexicon

Form, Character = English renderings of the Greek terms eidos and idea. These Platonic words (variants of the same root) denote the "look" of a thing, its outward appearance, consequently, its specific shape or form. All instances of the same form possess the same character, thus being what they are.

(from the Latin definire = set boundaries): the elucidation of the meaning or the conceptual content of an expression by means of other expressions. For example: "Fortnight is a period of 14 days." The elucidated concept (fortnight) is definiendum = that which ought to be defined. The elucidating concepts (a period of 14 days) are definiens = that which is defining.

Necessary Condition:
the condition in the absence of which a specific thing cannot exist (for instance, one needs to be unmarried in order to be a bachelor, but this requirement is not sufficient because there are children and unmarried female persons who meet the same condition).

Sufficient Condition:
the condition in the presence of which a thing exists (for instance, if one is both unmarried and adult male the sufficient condition is met to call that person a bachelor).

Irony (from the Greek eironeia): a way of speech by means of which we say something by saying something else. It presupposes two audiences: one which receives only the literal meaning of the phrase and the other one which captures the intended (usually negative) meaning as well.

(from the Greek dialektike techne = art of dispute): originally, any conversation, but in Plato it acquires a more technical meaning of methodical discussion by means of questions and answers which reveal more complex (often opposite) aspects of the thing under scrutiny.

Elenchus (from the Greek elenchos = proof, refutation): a prolonged argument used by Socrates to refute the opponent by eliciting self-contradictions in his position.

What is Piety?

D1 (1st Definition):
"Piety means prosecuting the unjust individual who has committed murder or sacrilege, or any other such crime, as I am doing now, whether he is your father or mother or whoever he is."
Evidence: (1) The testimony of Euthyphro himself about the alleged wrongdoing of his father. Not disputed by any party as the factual rendering of what really happened on the family estate (see the story at 4c).
(2) The myths cited by Euthyphro purporting to support his action.
Argument: The rulers of the Greek Pantheon were overturning and punishing their own parents over the course of several generations. Therefore, Euthyphro reasons, in prosecuting my father I am just following the example of the gods, and particularly of Zeus, the most just of all gods.
Euthyphro's Principles: (a) Divine law requires to prosecute the wrongdoer no matter who s/he is.
(b) What befits the gods should befit humans as well.
Response Socrates does not question evidence 1, but challenges the precedence in 2. As to the principle of Euthyphro's reasoning he does not attack Euthyphro's first principle (a) directly although he does not accept it. Instead he focuses on principle b and the mythical backing (evidence 2).
Argument: The evidence of mythology is dubious. The gods could not have done anything close to those horrible stories as recounted by Hesiod and Homer. Therefore Euthyphro is not justified in calling the examples of the gods. Euthyphro's interpretation of mythology is literalist and inappropriate. He blindly follows the inconsistencies of the great (lying) poets without being able to apply divine laws with a necessary discriminatory faculty for what is befitting and what unbecoming.
Therefore what Euthyphro is saying is misguided and his action is impious.
Socrates' Principles: (a) The ultimate command of divine law is unconditional respect for parents.
(b) What does not befit the gods must not befit humans.

Both Euthyphro and Socrates accept the same principle of analogy between the gods and humans and both take the former as role models. But they formulate it differently with regard to the content of the popular tales: affirmatively (Euthyphro) and negatively (Socrates). This explains why Euthyphro repudiates double standards of the multitude ("they say one thing in the case of the gods and quite another in mine") and why Socrates claims that he is the victim of the same inconsistency in the popular beliefs of common people ("Is not that why I am being prosecuted, Euthyphro? I mean, because I find it hard to accept such stories people tell about the gods."). The fact that common people would not endorse the example of the gods does not help Socrates in his upcoming trial.

Popular Inconsistency
People Accept Reject
Euthyphro Accepts Accepts
Socrates Rejects Rejects

People condemn Euthyphro for accepting the moral of the stories and Socrates for rejecting the stories (this is an indirect confession that the third charge may have had some religious merit).
Different Concepts of Religion: Admittedly, Euthyphro and Socrates are more consistent than common people. But they disagree on the moral character of the reported acts (whether they are really pious and compatible with the right idea of divinity). Euthyphro believes "that these things (quarrels, disagreements, hatreds and even murders among the gods) have actually happened" and thus made a precedent for his case, whilst Socrates finds it "hard to accept such stories people tell about the gods". He was convinced that these stories were not true, and even if they were true, they should not be followed.
Note: That this is the logic behind Socrates' refusal to accept the reasoning of Euthyphro is clear from the passage in the Republic that reads: "the young man should not be told that ... even if he chastises his father when he does wrong, in whatever manner, he will be only following the example of the first and greatest among the gods" (378).
Critique: Beyond this, Socrates and Euthyphro disagree on the formal validity of the given definition. For Socrates,
(1) D1 is not an adequate answer to the question "what is piety"? It does not address the character ("form") of piety.
(2) D1 does not provide an explanation of the definiendum ("you have not explained it to me"). D 1 leaves unclear what is piety - ground rule b.
(3) D1 is not a universal definition of all pious things; it does not take into account the unity of all pious things stemming from one essential characteristic ("one characteristic which makes all pious actions pious") - ground rule d.
(4) D1 states an individual action token ("you only tell me what you are doing now") indicating merely some other action types that may be pious as well (prosecuting not only a "murder or sacrilege", but "any other such crime").
(5) Since piety is an abstract concept, the question "what is the pious?" cannot be answered by offering examples of those things that are pious. ("I did not ask you to tell me one or two of all the many pious actions.")
(6) D1 is not comprehensive enough; its definiens is too narrow: it omits "many other actions (that) are pious". Therefore its usefulness is very limited - it does not give the tools to recognize other instances of piety.
Form, Character Essence, Nature, Quality
Model Standard

The listed defects are of logical nature. They invalidate Euthyphro's attempt to ground a definition of piety on his own conduct. In terms of practical concerns it is religiously presumptuous to take one's own actions as the standard for all commendable actions. But the main shortcoming of the proposed method is that the standard given by Euthyphro is no effective standard at all as it does not enable others to tell whether a particular instance is an instance of piety or not. To give only one example is thus a preposterous method of proceeding in a serious discussion.
Hence Euthyphro has to improve his first spontaneous proposal how to understand piety. In response to Socrates' urging to provide one "common (not private) standard" to identify all pious actions he takes another shot in the effort to define piety.

D2 (2nd Definition):
"What is pleasing to the gods is pious."
In other words the second definition states that piety is what is dear to the gods. Consequently men and actions dear to the gods would be pious and those contrary to them impious.

This is certainly a better definition and hence cannot be dismissed off hand. Socrates' response therefore takes the form of a complex elenchus (refutation) consisting of three parts.

(I) Ironical Part:
Socrates pretends to be satisfied with this new definition: "Now you have given the answer that I wanted." D 2 seemingly provides a distinguishing mark (model) for all pious things ("being pleasing/dear to the gods") that should enable everyone to recognize the instances of piety. But Socrates has issues with it as well.

Stating Suppositions:
First Socrates reminds Euthyphro on the already accepted rules, beliefs and explanations:
S1: Piety and impiety are opposites. ("But piety and impiety are not the same; they are as opposite as possible.")
S2: The gods are in a permanent state of discord. ("There are quarrels and disagreements and hatreds among the gods.")
S3: They disagree on normative, not empirical questions. (Of "the question of the just and unjust, of the honorable and dishonorable, of the good and the bad", not of "the relative size of two things" or "the relative weight".)

Thus there are two kinds of disputes/disagreeements:

Different Quantities (numbers, size, weight)
Different Values
(the just, the good, the beautiful)

Now, based on II Socrates draws mutually refuting consequences.
(III) Eliciting Contradictions:
(C1) "Some of the gods think one thing just, the others another."
(C2) "The same thing is hated by the gods and loved by them; and the same thing will be displeasing and pleasing to them."
(C3) "Then, according to your account, the same thing would be pious and impious."
Different gods will make different evaluations. For instance, punishing will be received differently by different gods:

Cronus Uranus
Zeus Cronus
Hephaestus Hera
Pious Impious

This leads to the following outcomes:

Everything that is loved by the gods is assigned to the range of piety.
Different gods have different preferences and likes.
These differences blur the distinction between piety and impiety.
Since the same things will be loved by some gods and hated by others this makes the class of all pleasing things self-contradictory. It includes both pious and impious things.



The above contradictions prove fatal for the 2nd definition.
The logical defects of the second definition could be summarized as follows:
(1) D2 still proceeds by examples - it defines piety by stating a relation ("being dear/pleasing") all pious things must enter into in order to be what they are. But in this manner they are placed into a very heterogeneous group of objects (those that are "pleasing" at least to some gods).
(2) D2 is not discriminating enough. The definiens in D2 appears to be so broad that this precludes a clear cut demarcation between the pious and the impious.
(3) D2 is at best ambiguous. By equating 'pious things' with 'pleasing things' D2 includes some non-pious things into the category of piety and thus indirectly asserts only "what action is both pious and impious".
(4) If the gods disagree on what is pleasing D2 appears to be inherently self-contradictory. It either arbitrarily omits some gods from the pool or mixes their opposing views. The looming propositional contradiction is the consequence of a basic contradiction resting with the popular religious views of perpetual discord among the gods. If so, D2 becomes inconsistent with S1 (ground rules c and e).
(5) Therefore, D2 is not satisfactory. It does not define what is the character (form) of the pious and does not provide the required standard to judge all actions as to their piety. Being pleasing is neither necessary nor sufficient condition of piety.
(6) The failure of D2 is caused by the oversight that both kinds of disagreements (factual and moral) can be resolved by invoking universal standards; in moral matters "essential characters" (ground rule d) are the measuring counterparts for scales and yardsticks in factual disagreements (cf. John Burnet).
In other words, we must realize that normative disputes are also amenable to rational resolution provided that we apply the appropriate standards.

Factual Disputes Measurements
Normative Disputes Evaluations
Tactical Rescue: In order to avoid the self-defeating thrust of a definition based on the idea of pleasing the gods Euthyphro now invokes the universal substrate in what the gods approve amidst their perpetual discord. The gods may disagree on what they love, but "they all hold that if one man kills another unjustly, he must be punished".
This is Euthyphro's ad hoc attempt to eliminate the ambiguity of 'being pleasing' and thus exempt D2 from the implications derived from S2 and S3. The principle Euthyphro is now referring to is indeed universally accepted. No one "dares to say that a person who has done something unjust must not be punished".
Abstractness However, the principle is too general to secure a discriminating standard. What is "just" is a matter of evaluation, not of measurement. The gods "disagree over each separate act" as to its character. For instance, they judge differently who was the wrongdoer and what was really wrong.
Thus, the difficulty with Euthyphro's face saving effort does not lie in the invoked principle but in its application: not even the gods can agree when actual perpetrators have acted unjustly and when not. And they do not agree on this not only because their notions of what is right and wrong are disparate but also because the realm of possible interpretations is very vast. We need a middle term that would convincingly connect (subsume) the particular action with (under) the undisputable principle. This means that Euthyphro has to produce not only a universally acceptable principle of acting piously but also a valid demonstration that his father has committed injustice by violating that principle. But for that purpose he needs a definition that will enable anybody to identify a particular case as an instance of injustice or a counter-instance of justice. In this case he needs a full consensus of all the gods on that particular matter.

Socrates: "What proof have you that all the gods think that a laborer who has been imprisoned for murder by the master of the man he has murdered, and who dies from his imprisonment before the master has had time to learn from the religious authorities what he should do, dies unjustly?"
Euthyphro does not have that proof for the assessment of the action is precisely the contentious point.

Change of Strategy Socrates disregards the mythological substrate of Euthyphro's case and the vacuous principle of pious action it suggests (following the example of the gods). Instead he asks for a principled justification of the particular action and a demonstration of its conformity to divine law. "You will make it clear that your father has committed an unjust action, and that all the gods agree in hating such actions."
In order to be able to proceed Euthyphro needs to show that all the gods would disapprove his father's action as unjust while approving his own lawsuit as just. Admittedly, a very difficult task.
  Note: Even if Euthyphro managed to establish such a consensus among the gods, it will not help much in defining piety. Why? Obviously because even then they may disagree in their attitude: while recognizing that Euthyphro was right they may still say that they like the action of Euthyphro's father and hate Euthyphro's lawsuit.
Problem Needed
A general statement Subsumption A proof of consensus
Every wrongdoer should be punished Denial that action was wrong Particular action was wrong
  Note: Isidor Stone takes the above statement as an example of how Socrates sorely lacks compassion for the "poor landless laborer" whose position on Naxos was not better than that of a slave. This lack of sympathy for the servant allegedly blinded Socrates to a flaw in the whole argumentation which ends up in a deadlock. But this criticism, however well-minded, misses the point. First, the dilemma raised here was not whether compassion is in order for the slave or for the servant (why not for both?), but whether the action taken against the servant, given his crime, was just/pious or not and how much is Euthyphro's father responsible for unintended consequences of his acts. Second, a possible personal lack of compassion for the murderer (the servant) does not account for the objective logical difficulties in Euthyphro's and Socrates' search for a valid definition of piety. Socrates' supposed failure to abide by the principles of universal justice is not just a consequence of his personal and political biases but is largely due to his high respect for the principle that law should be applied according to the immense variety of circumstances and not in abstraction of them. Justice in the realm of human affairs requires sensitivity for the complexity of human relations, not an unreflected imitation of a mythological event that serves as the main proof for the pious character of Euthyphro's stance.
Coextensivity Correction (D2a):

By extracting the universal core in Euthyphro's principle and by building it into a prospective definition Socrates points to a possible solution: let us ground our definition on the supposed divine consensus. Let us "assume", says Socrates, that the action of Euthyphro's father will be considered unjust by all the gods and that they would all approve Euthyphro's lawsuit. Euthyphro readily agrees with this correction. With Euthyphro accepting this Danaian gift from Socrates we arrive at an amended definition of piety.
D3 (3rd Definition):
"Piety is what all the gods love."

By supplanting this new definition Socrates is extracting a viable moment from Euthyphro's previous rescue effort: the aspect of universal consent among the gods. Only those things are to be considered pious that are loved by all the gods. What all the gods hate will be considered impious.
All Love =
= The Pious
All Hate =
= The Impious
  The immediate gain from this demarcation is that Euthyphro can now avoid the inner contradictions that have brought down the previous definition: "what is hated by the gods has also been shown to be loved by them". The more important achievement of D3 is that it establishes an extensional equivalence between piety (the definiendum) and "what all the gods love" (the definiens).

The things that are loved only by some gods are undetermined as to their piousness. They could be pious, impious or neutral. "Whatever some of them love and others hate is either both (pious and impious) or neither."
The Realms of Agreement and Disagreement

Some Love = Both Pious and Impious or Neither Pious nor Impious
Some Hate = Both Pious and Impious or Neither Pious nor Impious
Equation Only the domain of universal consensus ("all love") provides the ground for the proper definiens thus avoiding the shortcomings of the two previous definitions (too narrow, too broad). Finally, with regard to the universally shared divine "love", the definiendum and the definiens could coincide in extension. It seems that what all the gods approve represents the necessary condition of piety which is thus delineated from all non-pious things.
Euthyphro seems to have all reasons to be pleased with D3.
Examination: But the search for the proper definition is not over yet. Socrates reminds his interlocutor that no statement, however good it my appear at first sight, should be left unexamined (unexamined propositions are logically as worthless in terms of intellectual satisfaction as unexamined life is in terms of practical reflection). Consequently Socrates now introduces the following test that should check the viability of D3:
Crucial Question:
"(x) Do the gods love piety because it is pious,
 (y) Is it (piety) pious because they love it?"
Argumentation: How to resolve this dilemma? How to find out what is the case? Socrates suggests to get a better grasp of the problem by taking a look at some analogous actions (carrying, leading, seeing). All the examples ultimately purport to display the differences between x and y (here shown on the verb "carrying"):

(1) The statement "The book is being carried (by me)" is different from the statement "I am carrying a book". (This is obvious at least as much as the difference between active and passive voice.) By the same token, it is one thing to say that something is 'being loved' and that something is 'loving'.

Dependence: (2) Next, we need to realize that a book should be said to be "a carried book" because it is being carried. It is not being carried because it is a carried book. By the same token, something is loved because it is being loved, not the other way round. It is not being loved because it is loved.
Subject based The above example reveals a hidden condition for a "carried book", namely that it must be carried by someone or something. It is not carried because it is being carried but because somebody is carrying it. This allows us to consider the role of the agent in the notion of a "carried book".  Obviously, all the concepts like "being carried", "being loved", etc., are subject/agent dependent. (This finding seems to parallel y and consequently D3 - pious things are pious because the gods love them, or something is loved because somebody loves it.) At first this seems to support the reasoning of Euthyphro as he defines a state of piety through a relation the gods have to the object in question. But this is not the end.
Cause (3) One question is left unadvised though: why I am carrying the book in the first place, or to put it differently, why the gods love the pious. This question points to the insufficiency of Euthyphro's statement on piety. A gap is now being unraveled in the reasoning which explains the nature of something by pointing to the action caused by that entity without addressing the ultimate reasons for action. As one can see from the previous examples, it is possible to ask for the driving reason of the action in question: Why it is performed? What causes the action (attraction)?
Rationale: I am not carrying the book because it is carried by me, but for some other reason(s) stemming from my purposes or needs - for instance, to read something interesting from it. In the same manner we can say that the gods love piety for some good reasons that needs to be revealed, not because it is being loved by them.
Application of the Analogy:

Now if we transfer the above analysis to the action of loving (the pious) we realize that we must reason along the following lines:
L1: "And we talk of a thing being loved, of a thing loving, and the two are different."
L2: "A thing is not loved by those who love it because it is in a state of being loved, but because somebody loves it." - But somebody loves it for some reasons to be sure.
L3: "It (= piety) is being loved then because it is pious, but it is not pious because it is being loved." Although the pious is something loved and pleasing to the gods (a fact), the gods do not love the pious (just) because it is pleasing to them. They love it because of something inhering piety and characterizing it as piety.
L4: The pious is not pious because it is loved by the gods. (That the gods love piety is an undeniable fact, but it does not itself represent the reason.)
D3 contradicts L 3-4. D3 states that the pious is what all the gods love, while from L 1-4 follows that pious is not simply what all the gods love but something else and above it.

Conclusion: (x) The pious is loved by the gods because it is pious.
(This is the true reason of divine love. But this reason is not explicated in D3. As a result we do not know not only why the gods love it but even more what it is as such.)

Apparently, there must be something in the source/stimulus that determines their reaction/response in the said manner.
If so, "piety and what is pleasing to the gods are different things." The god-loved and the pious are not the same even though the pious is god-loved and god-loved is god-loved because it is being loved by the gods.

If the pious and the god-loved were identical then the following equalities would follow:

The Pious = The God-loved
The god-loved is being loved because it is god-loved. = The god-loved is god-loved because it is being loved by the gods.
The pious is being loved because it is pious. = The pious is pious because it is being loved by the gods.

"But now you see that they are opposite things, and wholly different from each other."

(A) The Pious
(B) The God-loved
Being loved because it is pious.
Being loved because it is god-loved.

Seemingly both A and B are circular. In fact, this is true only of B. A points to the need to explicate what is that feature in piety that makes is lovable, while B closes the circle in a sheer tautology.
A Contrario: (A) "If the gods had loved piety because it is pious, they would also have loved what is pleasing to them because it is pleasing to them."
(B) "But if what is pleasing to them had been pleasing to them because they loved it, then piety, too would have been piety because they loved it."
Dependent vs. Independent Property Or, in the most riveting formulation:
"(B) The one is of a sort to be loved because it is loved, (relation)
(A) the other is loved because it is of a sort to be loved." (quality)
The former is the agent dependent property, the latter an independent property which may determine the conduct of the agents.
(B) The Gods love
(A) Piety attracts
the Gods
Distinction: The explanatory force is lacking because the definiens does not state the essential character or nature of the pious. Instead it mentions only one affect or quality. "But it turns out that you have not explained to me the essential character of piety; you have been content to mention an effect which belongs to it."
If we define something based on the fact that it is accepted or favored by somebody we still need to explain what makes it such.
Dependent Effect Relation Property
Intrinsic Character Nature Essence
If D3 were true, then y and the opposite of L and L3 would be true as well (the pious is loved by the gods because the gods love it). If the pious is only a special case of what is loved by the gods (as D3 and L1 indicate), then the pious would be loved simply because it is loved.
So, if x and A are true, then we cannot define piety properly by simply stating D 3 or y for that matter. D3 is not satisfactory in terms of the required intensional equation between the definiendum and the definiens that is entirely left out of consideration. D3 may have established an extensional equivalence between piety and what all the gods love, but this extensional equivalence within D3 has not rendered the intensional content of "being pious" (ground rule b). D3 and y are not explanatory; they mention only an extrinsic effect (pathos) - being loved by the gods - not what is logically and ontologically prior to that relation - the character of piety (ground rule d). This character explains why the gods love it. It may be that "loved by the gods" is an ever-present property of pious actions, but it is a property produced by the action of loving, not something explanatory of the fact that the pious is loved by the gods. Consequently, being loved by the gods does not explain the essential property  of the pious (ground rule d).
  Accomplishment Defect
1st Definition Action Token Definiens Narrow Inadequacy
2nd Definition Relation / Effect Definiens Broad Non-discriminative
3rd Definition Extensional Equivalence Intension not addressed (Nature)

Philosophical Lexicon

Essential Character = ousia in Greek; the existing essence or essential existence (also: Being, Substance), which represents the nominalization of 'what is X' question. As the content of definition it states what the thing essentially is.

Socrates' Thesis: A good definition of piety must elucidate its intrinsic nature as the reason which makes it worthy of love. The gods are subordinated to an objective value they recognize as valuable. But they can as easily fail to appreciate the value of piety and this is the reason why the definition of piety must be dissociated from their actions. Instead we should specify the very character in virtue of which all pious things are pious independent from what the gods think or do.
Two reasons make a strong case for this strategy:
(1) Practical: If we accept the norms simply because the gods love and approve them we may end up in morally reprehensible practices. "Doing the right thing" does not necessarily coincide with "doing what the gods love". In other words, ethics is not necessarily tied to religion. Socrates initiates a long standing philosophic tradition that opposes giving approval to religious precepts without subjecting them to a rational scrutiny.
(2) Logical: 'What is X' - questions can be answered fully only if the definition elucidates the essence of X (what X truly is) and explains of the properties of X. Since neither D2 nor D3 meet this requirement Socrates feels justified in his reproach that Euthyphro's judgments are not based on a good understanding of piety. Associating piety with the appeal it has to the gods does not explain what is piety and does not illuminate its nature. "Suppose that Euthyphro were to prove to me as clearly as possible that all the gods think such a death unjust, how has he brought me any nearer to understanding what piety and impiety are?"
Logical Problem: If the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious, D3a is circular. (Parallel: People freeze from cold because cold cause freezing in people.) If it is loved by the gods because the gods love it, D3b is tautological  and non-informative. (Example: "I like 'Jaegermeister' because it is my favorite drink.")
The Daedalus of Argumentation: Acknowledging the collapse of D3 Euthyphro blames Socrates for the outcome - whatever proposition he puts forward it cannot stand Socrates' examination. Instead it moves from one status to another. "You are the Daedalus."
Euthyphro accuses Socrates of being the Daedalus of argumentation because his objections make definitions move around like Daedalus' kinetic statues. Socrates rejects the Daedalus title despite his purported lineage (his deme was linked to the Daedalus ancestry) and ironically remarks he would be in that case more than a Daedalus as his ancestor was capable to move only his own products, not the statements of other people. Anyway, the result is not only that the definition of piety proves to be elusive but that the whole inquiry must start from the beginning.
Contriving Devices
Moving own artifacts around
Striving to create automata
Intentionally moving things with satisfaction
Literal Application
Opposing moving / changing own statements
Seeking stable propositions
Witnessing with frustration his definitions move
Dialectical Examination
Intentionally moving other people's statements
Seeking unchangeable truth
Enjoying moving unsatisfactory statements
If Socrates is the Daedalus then Euthyphro is the impetuous Icarus (J. Howland). Does Socrates intentionally cause the revolving of the statements? He certainly does not find it bad - especially if they do not meet rational standards.

Philosophical Lexicon

Circular = a definition moving in a circle because its definiens includes reference to definiendum.

= involving tautology (Greek: the same saying), a proposition that is repetitive or redundant.

= the meaning of a concept (what it says); semantically, this comes down to connotation which is potentially unlimited; logically, intension includes only the attributes shared by all the members of the class to which a general term applies.

Extension = the range of a concept, the application of the meaning, or semantically speaking, denotation; logically, extension is defined precisely as the collection of objects to which a general term is correctly applied.

Recourse to Justice

Change of Strategy:

Socrates now suggests to give up examples, illustrations and references to potential effects of piety. Instead, he points to justice as the concept by means of which piety can be more properly defined.
This strategy appears as the most promising so far because adducing another notion, no matter whether used synonymously or per specified genus, can better explain the mutual connotations of the terms in question than any particular example or supposed effect. Socrates now abandons the goal of achieving the co-extensivity of piety with something else and instead seeks to place piety within a proper intensional net of concepts.

Relation: This method, if it is to bring about the expected result, requires to determine the exact relation between justice and piety. Justice is obviously a kindred abstract concept and it makes sense to try to capture the meaning of piety by relating it to justice. All the more so as piety and justice are not identical. But the question is which one of the two can serve as the umbrella notion:
All P is J. (Q) Are all pious things just?
All J is P. (W) Are all just things pious?

The easiest way to explain the problem would be perhaps to resort to the following reasoning. Since there are three possible relationships between any two classes of objects denoted by two common terms this means that the relations of piety and justice must be one of the following:

(1) Piety and justice have nothing in common (no intersection between the two classes).

  (2) Piety and justice can overlap partly (partial intersection).
Partail Overlap
  (3) Piety is included in the notion of justice: "Do you not think that all piety must be just?" In this case piety would be a class contained in the class of justice (thus narrower or equal to it).
Inclusion a
Inclusion b (4) Justice is included in the notion of piety. "Is there always piety where there is justice?" If this description renders correctly the relation between the two justice would be included in the class of pious objects (thus it will be a narrower or at best an equal concept).
Summary (1) and (2) are possible; however, if it holds piety cannot be defined via justice; but Socrates shows that these notions overlap at least partly (thus 1 cannot be the case).
(3) and (4) together would establish the coextensivity of piety and justice; if the two concepts are equal they could be used for mutual synonymous definitions. But Socrates demonstrates that this scenario does not apply either.
(4) alone would not do the work because a narrower concept cannot define a wider concept;
(3) alone is promising provided that all that is pious is just but not all that is just is pious. In other words, this situation could solve the problem provided that the two classes are not equal; piety covers only a portion of justice which stretches way over the range of piety.
Result In this case we would be dealing with an inclusion that would require only to demarcate the range of the included class in order to get a glimpse into its intension.
Class inclusion: The relation between a part = piety and the whole = justice.

Socrates starts with the remark that all that is pious seems to be just of necessity. All what is pious is just but Socrates adds that the relation does not hold the other way round: "though there is always justice where there is piety, yet there is not always piety where there is justice, because piety is only a part of justice." Therefore justice and piety are not coextensive. They are asymmetric concepts. Although all pious things are just there are just acts that are not pious. In other words, justice is a broader concept.

Where there is piety there is also justice.
Where there is justice there is not always piety.

Euthyphro is confused with these statements because he does not understand the logic of these relations.
Comparison: In order to explain the class inclusion in question, Socrates makes a comparison with the relation between fear and reverence (shame). Contrary to the poet Stasinus, who wrote "Where there is a fear there is also shame", he contends: "Where there is reverence (shame) there also is fear." But reverence (shame) does not always accompany fear, for fear is wider than reverence (shame).
Note: For instance, we fear both HIV and Alzheimer's, but our attitude is not the same if we get diagnosed with any of them. We do not think that there is any room for self-reproach (or shame) if we start suffering from the latter.
This creates the following parallel:
  Shame : Fear = Piety : Justice
Analogy Another analogy illuminates the relation between the pious and the just further by invoking the example of odd numbers in their relation to numbers in general. The odd stands to number as reverence (shame) stands to fear. While both odd and even number share some essential properties of numbers oddness belongs only to discrete units that are opposed to continuous divisible magnitudes.

Note: Plato does not say that the class of all numbers is bigger than the class of even numbers (that would be an incorrect mathematical statement in view of the famous Cantor's paradox) but only that where there is the odd there is always a number, while it does not work the other way round because some numbers are even.
Triangles In some other dialogues Socrates likens the odd to the scalene triangle while linking the even to the isosceles. According to this analogy the isosceles could be divided into two eqal halves, but not the scalene, which illustrates another distinctive feature of the two kinds of number.
Mutatis Mutandis Similarly the even is the part of number that is divisible into two equal parts whereas the odd makes up the rest of numbers. However, no matter which of the two kinds of number we take they maintain the same relation to the whole class of numbers.
Two Halves Now the suggestion made by Socrates is not only that the relation between piety and justice is the one of inclusion but also that the position of piety within justice resembles the position of odd numbers within the class of all numbers. Piety has its counterpart within justice the way the odd shares the realm of all numbers with the even. The question is only what part of justice does the pious assume.

(a) odd
(b) even
(a) divine
(b) human
Division: Socrates now reveals that the counterpart of piety within general justice is human justice. Thus justice consists of:
(a) divine justice (piety) = acts of godliness or acts in accord with divine law, and
(b) human secular justice (fairness) = acts directed toward other men according to the rational principles of what is just and fair.
Supposition: We are obligated to perform acts of respect to our earthly and heavenly ancestors (that is, to be just in both sense a and b). In keeping with the above considerations Euthyphro advances his fourth definition:
D4 (4th Definition):
"Piety is that part of justice which has to do with the careful attention which ought to be paid to the gods."

Specifying the Genus: This definition is given according to the classical pattern of analytical (or connotative) definitions. Socrates is now mapping the genus of justice in order to identify its subclasses (= species). The species of justice share some common characteristics with each other which make them the species of the same genus. But they are mutually different and this difference between piety and the other part (= species) of justice is what needs to be ascertained. This could be done by analyzing piety both into a higher (genus referring) and lower (species delineating) attributes.
Technical Form Technically, the definition proceeds by a higher genus and a specific difference (definitio per genus proximum et differentiam specificam).

Genus Justice
Difference Care of the gods
Result The care (therapeia) of the gods is the pious part of justice.
Assumption: The care for the gods would be the same as any other care humans provide:
Object of Care
Objective of Care
Horses Horse Breeding
Dogs Dog Training
Cattle Cattle Raising
God ?

Care aims at the good and benefit for the object cared for. It improves the recipient of care.
Thus D4 implies that the gods lack both excellence and self-sufficiency. But the gods cannot be benefited or improved in any way (Socrates assumes that they are perfect and consequently cannot be made better - cf. The Republic, bk. 2). This necessitates a further refinement of D4 in the search for the true essence of piety.

D5 (5th Definition):
"Piety is that part of justice that is a service of humans to the gods."
Correction The term "care" which may suggest a paternalist position of the care providers with regard to the gods is replaced with the less pretentious expression "service".
Providers of Service
Beneficiaries of Service
Slaves Masters
Humans Gods

We can easily imagine what would be the goal in using servants in many different areas (healing, shipbuilding, house building). The service (hyperoche) does not imply the possession of anything that would diminish the stature of the gods including a controlling knowledge that supposedly contributes to the good condition of the gods.
Defect: Still it is not clear what is the purpose of this service: "What result will the art which serves the gods serve to produce?"
Euthyphro indicates that there are many nice things the gods can achieve with this service. He contends the gods are pleased with that assistance provided through pious actions and in consequence they are willing and capable of preserving "both private houses and public affairs of state". If true, this would make the gods dependent on human assistance in doing their job.
  Euthyphro realizes that this is a potential problem and therefore makes the workings of divine will contingent only on human actions of submissiveness and devotion.

D6 (6th Definition):

Piety is "a science of prayer and sacrifice".

Practically this means piety is the knowledge "how to say and do what is pleasing to the gods at prayer and sacrifices".

Further Correction This definition states an even more humble service as the defining moment of piety: the knowledge how to address the gods in prayers and offerings. While it includes pleasing as directed toward the gods, the stress rests on human needs.
Sacrifice Make a gift.
Pray Beg for something.

In prayers we ask of the gods while in sacrifices we give something to them. The latter is still problematic because it comes down to a presupposition that the gods are in need of something (our gifts).
D7 (7th Definition):
Piety is "a knowledge how to give to, and beg from, the gods".
Final Correction The gods have their needs and the art of serving them requires knowledge how to give them what they need. And the other way round, since we depend on the gods we have to learn how to get what we need from them. We must offer something in return.
Divine needs How to give
Human needs How to beg
Result If we accept the previous reasoning then the relation between the gods and humans becomes a kind of trade. The term "trade" should recognize that transactions between humans and the gods occur. Piety would be then only the right way of conducting this exchange from the position of man. In other words, it would be "the art of carrying on business between gods and men".
Defect: This definition raises too many questions to be a viable one: How can the gods strive to accomplish any outstanding aims in engaging themselves in transactions with humans? How can they in any way benefit from these transactions? They cannot receive anything profitable, only what deems acceptable. But "acceptable" comes down to what they love.
Thus we are back where we were at the beginning.
D8 (8th Definition):
The pious is pleasing to the gods although not beneficial to them.
Circle: With this definition (D8), are we not returning to the definition we have already rejected (D2)? It seems that Socrates and Euthyphro are going "round in a circle" (has the hybrid Socrates-Daedalus finally become a Proteus?).
The interlocutors have again to start from the beginning.
Mistake: Socrates must admit that they were wrong either when they agreed that piety and god-loved were not identical (D3) or that they are wrong now when they assert that identity (D8).
Implicit Lesson: Seemingly the dialogue ends with a logically self-refuting result. In fact it offers two very profound practical lessons (not necessarily intended by Socrates).
(1) Since we do not know exactly what is piety, we should not rush our judgment in prosecuting people for alleged impiety.
Even if we believe that the gods are on our side what they may approve is not necessarily the right thing to do.
Pleasing to the gods does not necessarily coincide with justice and divine order.
(2) Although Euthyphro may be doing the right thing in prosecuting his father, he is not able to justify his action and that matters both in practical life and theoretical discussion.
Political correctness, however much valued as a social virtue, has a very limited value in philosophy if it is not backed by correct argumentation.
Socratic Fallacy (?): "If you had no clear knowledge of piety and impiety you would never have ventured to prosecute your old father."
In saying this, does Socrates assume the following?
(a) If you know you are correctly predicating "being pious" you must know "what it is to be pious".
(b) It is of no use to try to discern the meaning of the pious by giving examples of things that are pious.
Hermeneutic Problem: If piety is the same in every action (Socrates' claim), how can we discover the element common to all pious acts, unless we already know what piety is? On the other hand, how can we know what piety is if we do not know the element common to all pious acts?
Ethical Problem: If the pious is pious because the gods love it, then piety excludes moral excellence in the sense of ancient virtue ethics. Piety would be then something like a blind obedience to the capricious dictates of the gods, whereas morality requires autonomous decision making and free use of critical intelligence. By contrast, if there is any room for moral excellence, then the gods themselves must conform to the pious, that is to say, they would have to love it because it is pious. In keeping with this Socrates intimates that the authority of the gods in these matters is derived from their allegiance to universal standards and the authority of reason.
But Socrates also asserts that "there is for us no good that we do not receive from them".
If so and if the favor of the gods decides what is good and bad, do we not have to regard ability to live morally as a gift of the gods too? But how can we be moral if we simply have to obey the will of the gods? So we are in a circle: if we are pious we are not moral, and if we are not moral we are not pious and if we are not pious we are again not moral. Thus the dialogue, instead of failing miserably, raises a very important practical issue: How one can reconcile the new rational autonomous morality and religious respect for the gods (traditional piety, theological voluntarism)?

Me trying to give Socrates a hair-cut.

Top of the Page