In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the nature of piety/holiness. Euthyphro attempts to define piety as that which the gods love. Socrates refutes this definition, and the two continue to discuss various possible definitions, none of which are satisfactory (Blondell, 2002). In the end, Socrates suggests that piety is what we discover by looking at what is loved (Geach, 1966). He explains that, since the gods are love, they must be the source of all true piety. We can become pious by understanding what is loved and why it is loved. Generally, piety is an essential concept in the world. It can be used to describe different things, but in this essay, I will focus on Euthyphro’s definition of piety.
Euthyphro is a character in Plato’s dialogue introduced as a young man who has recently returned from travel. He studied under Socrates and seemed to have a deep knowledge of religious doctrine (Zhu, 2014). When Socrates asks him what he has learned, Euthyphro replies that he has learned that piety is the act of honoring and respecting divine beings or things (Blondell, 2002). This definition may not be unique to Euthyphro, but it is the one he chooses to share with Socrates.
Euthyphro’s definition of piety revolves around love. He believes that the gods are the source of all true piety because they are the only thing loved perfectly. He defines love as admiration or respect (Blondell, 2002). He believes that, since we cannot admire or respect something that is not alive, the gods must be alive and perfect in order for us to love them. This definition of love is circular and does not provide insight into what is genuinely pious (Zhu, 2014). This is because love is based on admiration or respect for something we cannot see.
Euthyphro’s definition of piety does not guide how to become pious. This definition also does not account for the fact that some things may be loved more than others (Zhu, 2014). For example, a mother may love her children more than a god. This would not be considered perfect love, so Euthyphro’s definition of piety would not apply. Euthyphro’s definition is also incomplete because it does not consider the emotions involved in loving something (Alican, 2012). For example, a mother may love her children with all her heart, while a person who loves a god may only have admiration or respect for them.
Socrates does not seem to agree with Euthyphro’s definition of piety, as he believes there are other aspects to religion that should be considered (Geach, 1966). He argues that there is a sense of awe and fear associated with religious worship, which cannot be explained by simply honoring or respecting something else. Socrates believes these emotions must be innate and part of our human nature rather than something we can learn through instruction (Rabbås, 2005).
As a result of this outcome, Socrates provides a more comprehensive definition of piety in the dialogue. He argues that to be pious, we must understand what is loved. He explains that, since the gods are love, they must be the source of all true piety (Yang, 2022). We can become pious by understanding what is loved and why it is loved. This definition of piety provides insight into why we should love the gods and allows us to discover true piety within ourselves (Futter, 2019).
In conclusion, Euthyphro may have discovered that piety is the act of honoring and respecting divine beings or things or behaving in a manner that makes them happy. In any case, his discoveries provide insight into what matters to some people regarding religion. By understanding this, we can hopefully broaden our perspectives on the subject and find something that truly speaks to us. Ultimately, this is what makes Euthyphro’s work important. It shows us that there is much more to religion than simply following rules blindly. Instead, we must explore and find what truly matters to us.
Alican, N. F. (2012). EUTHYPHRO. In Rethinking Plato (pp. 207-250). Brill.
Blondell, R. (2002). The play of character in Plato’s dialogues. Cambridge University Press.
Futter, D. B. (2019). Socrates’ wisdom in definition. South African Journal of Philosophy= Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Wysbegeerte, 38(4), 383-391.
Geach, P. T. (1966). PLATO’S” EUTHYPHRO”: An Analysis and Commentary. The Monist, pp. 369–382.
Rabbås, Ø. (2005). Piety as a Virtue in the Euthyphro. Ancient Philosophy, 25(2), 291–318.
Yang, K. (2022, July). Socrates’ Piety. In 2022 3rd International Conference on Language, Art and Cultural Exchange (ICLACE 2022) (pp. 430-435). Atlantis Press.
Zhu, R. (2014). Love in the Euthyphro. Apeiron, 47(1), 1-15.