Reading questions on Plato’s “Euthyphro”

Platonic dialogues are peculiar things. Situated somewhere between what we traditionally call “literature” and philosophy, we have to evaluate them on both levels. That is, we need to examine both the text’s literary devices and the philosophical arguments presented in them. And we also need to be thinking about why Plato might have chosen to write this way: why present a philosophical position via the mechanism of a dialogue? Why not instead present it as a traditional argumentative essay?

(1)  What is the subject of this dialogue?

(2)  What is the setting? Include the two characters, their traits, why they are talking, and so on.

(3)  What is Euthyphro doing when he encounters Socrates? What traits does Euthyphro display?

(4)  Do you think Euthyphro’s efforts to bring charges against his father are just? What do you think Socrates thinks about that question?

(5)  Most of the dialogue is structured around three basic definitions that Euthyphro offers; he offers his first definition on p. 46; the second appears on p. 48 (with a modification on p. 52); and the third appears on p. 57.

  1. List each definition; it is useful to write it out.
  2. How does Socrates go about refuting each definition?

(6)  The most famous portion of the dialogue concerns Socrates’ refutation of Euthyphro’s second definition of piety (pp. 52-54). It is also a somewhat weird refutation; what is Socrates getting at in his argument?

(7)  What do you think Socrates’ conception of the pious is? Are there any hints of it in this dialogue?

(8)  What do you think is the general social purpose of piety? Given this genera purpose, are Euthyphro’s actions pious?

(9)  What do you suppose Socrates aims to show Euthyphro?



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