Reading questions for 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?

 

  • What is the subject of this dialogue?
  • What is the setting? Include the two characters, their traits, why they are talking, and so on.
  • What is Euthyphro doing when he encounters Socrates? What traits does Euthyphro display?
  • Do you think Euthyphro’s efforts to bring charges against his father are just? What do you think Socrates thinks about that question?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • What do you think Socrates’ conception of the pious is? Are there any hints of it in this dialogue?
  • What do you think is the general social purpose of piety? Are pious actions done to please God (or the gods), or do they serve some other purpose? Given this general purpose, are Euthyphro’s actions pious?
  • What do you suppose Socrates aims to show Euthyphro?
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One Response to Reading questions for Plato’s Euthyphro

  1. sedwards7 says:

    1. This dialogue, while explicitly about defining piety, is more about trying to see the difference between the implict and the explicit. For example, Socrates constantly asks Euthyphro to redefine and adjust his definitions of piety because each definition is lacking in something. They lack what I might call the implicit nature of a thing: what makes something that thing. That is the ultimate argument here.

    2. When Euthyphro meets Socrates in this dialogue, he is on his way to prosecute his own father for the murder of a hired worker. He claims that what he is doing is pious. He defends that statement with an example that shows he is copying what the gods have done in stories he assumes to be true. This shows us that he has a very in depth knowledge of the stories of the gods and some of his logic: take what the gods have done as an example for how humans should conduct their lives. This can be seen as fundamentalist thinking because he takes (almost) literally from the example of the gods. He displaces his own father’s power in the family by essentially getting rid of him, as Zeus did when the Olympians defeated the Titans.

    9. In talking with Euthyphro, I think that Socrates is trying to show him that Euthyphro’s thought process does not make sense. At the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates allows the assumption that the stories of the gods are true to exist. However, by constantly questioning the frame of reference for piety, he brings into question the existence of the gods and the truth of the stories. He is trying to tell Euthyphro that one cannot make blind assumptions on life based on stories because we do not know if the stories are true. The stories are just that, stories. Socrates just wanted Euthyphro to put his own beliefs under a microscope to see if they are even logical.

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