There are various ways to find the truth, and there are even more ways to lose one’s perception of reality and correctness of one’s actions. The best way to the confusion is a mistake of personal judgements and universal perception of a certain act. The best example of inconsistency of personal reasons and judgements with common system of moral and ethic behaviour is Ethyphro’s case. The interest to his case was not only in commonality of moral and ethical matters which were described in the indictment against Socrates, but rather in curious personal conditionality of his suite against his father. This case was interesting for Socrates mainly from the point of common goodness and exploration of truth rather than personal reasons for conversation and exploration of the case details for the personal benefits in the court (Danzig 77).
Euthyphro realised that he might be considered mad for the reason that brought him to the court. In this context, he argued that the main reason is his lawsuit against his father. He wanted to prosecute him for the murder of their family slave in their farm of Naxon. That labourer was under the influence of alcohol and having a conflict with another worker killed him. In order to seek justice Euthyphro’s father chained the slave and sent a messenger to Athens to find out what should be done with the criminal. On the other hand, since from his father perspective the slave was already a murderer, he did not pay attention to his treatment, so he died without food and water (McPherran 42).
Thus, from Euthyphro’s perspective, an impious and unjust act was conducted by his father. In this regard, he argued that it did not matter that the criminal slave died indirectly because of his father or that he deserved that for his crime (McPherran 65). In this context when Socrates asked whether Euthyphro was prosecuting his father for the death of relative, he answered that it did not matter whether someone was related to him or not and that all population was the same, what mattered for him was “if you knowingly associate with the murderer, you ought to cleanse yourself by proceeding against him, whether he is your relative or not; the question is whether the person who was killed was justly slain” (Plato 150). In other words, the main rationale for Euthyphro’s presence in court is his seeking of justice for the sake of common justice, which should not have any limits even if a family is involved.
Although, from the contemporary perspective, it may seem quite right and relatively just in terms of criminal law and lack of action resulting in one’s death, in the Ancient Greek society, the issue was of different meaning. The importance of slaves for the existence of the Athenian social order resulted in their status of common commodity in the ownership of the city and of gods. Therefore, the connection between family matters was pushed to the level of impious act against gods’ will (Danzig 63). It should not seem that brutal treatment of slaves and their death were not common in everyday life, but rather that Euthyphro’s action against his father was an exaggeration of the social order existing then. The main reason why Socrates initiated the whole conversation was that he disliked the hidden personal rationale of Euthyphro’s action which was presented as common goodness and concern. In this context, he started his ironic manner of conversation using a classic trick of exaggerating one’s merits for the sake of calming their attention and make them defenceless to the further strikes of logical arguments, proving them wrong (McPherran 135). Thus, for Socrates, Euthyphro’ true reasons were against the value he considered being the most important in life – truth. Euthyphro wanted to prosecute his father in order to be right and not for the sake of truth. This, he had to be proved wrong.
Irrespective of Socrates’ certain disapproval of Euthyphro’s action, his irony during their dialogue is used not only for the sake of humiliation or to prove his own intellectual superiority. Although Socrates is obviously more intellectually superior to his opponent, the irony is also used to calm Euthyphro’s suspicion and make him more perceptive of arguments and explanations given by Socrates. In this regard, he uses logical chain of assumptions in order to achieve a needed result or to prove a certain position wrong (McPherran 126). In this regard, while the opponent considers himself being a teacher and advisor of Socrates as he had indicated in the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates is the one who leads the dialogue in the right direction and thus proves his opponent wrong or rather he aims at showing Euthyphro that he simply knows nothing of what he considers being right and exact (Danzig 42).
The essence of Socratic ironic approach is not in proving that Socrates is right, and someone is wrong, but to make an individual think about what exactly is being said and what is the exact meaning of the words used. Particular feature of this approach is that, Socrates seldom disagrees with the posed statements of his opponent, he does not event correct a mistake immediately. Instead, he simply uses different angles from which the situation can be viewed and the best way for the opponent to understand his mistakes (Morgan 19). For instance, in the first attempt to answer Socrates question Euthyphro told him about pious acts rather than gave the notion of piety. In this regard, Socrates’ answer was mild and supporting as taking care of a child, which needs a direction to follow. He argues that he “did not ask you to give me two or three examples of piety, but to explain to me the general idea that makes all pious actions pious” (Plato 153). Furthermore, he addresses Euthyphro’s vanity and argues that his answer would give Socrates “a standard to which I may appeal and by which I can measure actions” (Plato 153).
The main significance of this approach is not in its presumably mocking nature or intentions, but rather, in fact, that a student is learning and being taught without actually realising that he is not the one in charge of the process, that he is a student and not a teacher. In this regard, Socrates acts as an intellectual midwife and a teacher at the same time. He does not simply make his opponent accept his opinion because there is no growth in simple imposing of one’s will over another individual (McPherran 108). On the other hand, he gives small hints in terms of logical way of thinking for the person to come to the needed conclusion and realise the situation the way it is – that in order to know truth one must understand that he knows nothing and should start his search of the truth from that very point (Danzig 47). This way of teaching contributes to evolution of one’s perception of reality and also development of self-criticism. In this regard, Socrates’ approach aims at evolution and progress rather than proving one’s correctness, although it, in fact, always does.
As the dialogue shows, Euthyphro went a long way from his initial definition to the final one. It can be argued that it had changed substantially, resulting in a complete change of mind. The first definition to which Socrates had brought Euthyphro was “prosecuting someone who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or any similar crime” (Plato 152). The main reason why Socrates did not like this definition was because it was a definition of piety, but the explanation of Euthyphro’s personal perception of which actions are to be pious and just and which might not be such. In this regard, this answer was the main triggering point for Socrates to start his circles of dialogues leading to the final outcome. It is due to the fact that Socrates was famous for disliking when various terms were used as substitution for other without knowing what exactly was said.
From the perspective of logic, it can be argued that Socrates considered the main reason for confusion and mistaken arguments to be based in logical mistake, particularly substitution of meaning (Restall 76). In this regard, synonymous words or similar terms are often misused due to contextual reasons or in order to send a different message than it may seem appropriate. Thus, the false meaning occurs when the essence of the term is misunderstood or misused. In this regard, the main example would be the substitution of terms like “pious” and “legal”, “just” and “correct”. Another important aspect of this logical mistake in this context is that it is not only a word can be substituted for another one, but that meaning can shift from a more general notion to a particular/ narrow one (Restall 83). For instance, when one refers to human relations as a general term and means, in fact, more intimate love or sexual connection. In this regard, contemporary popular culture creates a logical mistake when people talk about the relationship without identifying the kind of relationship discussed (Restall 89).
The importance of this logical mistake is particularly emphasised by Socrates, who argues against substitution of “justice” by “piety” or “holiness”. According to him, justice is more general term which may include piety and holiness; thus, these terms cannot be substituted by one another (Morgan 51). He compared this triangle of notions with a pair of “fear”-“reverence”. Socrates said that “where there is fear reverence is not always found, because fear is a wider notion and reverence is only a part of fear, just as the odd is a part of the idea of number, the latter being wider than the former” (Plato 160).
While the first definition was unacceptable due to a logical mistake, the final one was rejected due to the shift of the process from the initial actor to the tertiary force of gods. In this context, Euthyphro argued that piety was “learning how to please the gods in word and deed by prayers and sacrifices” (Plato 162). The main reason why Socrates rejected this definition because it was conditioned by tertiary force, which was often used as an excuse for one’s limited mind and desire to be correct in the social system (Morgan 54). In other words, irrespective of a relatively exact answer, it was far from giving an exact answer. By relying on gods’ preferences, which were vague and unclear as it was indicated in the beginning of the dialogue, Euthyphro practically avoided the answer again.
On the other hand, Socrates did not expect to get the exact answer which would satisfy him, he intended to bring his listener to the point of self-doubt and realise that he knows nothing. In this context, the final definition was actual refutation of the initial statement Euthyphro made about the connection between gods and piety. In the final definition, Euthyphro came to the conclusion that “what is loved by the gods holy or pious“, but his initial statement was that “the holy or pious was not the same with what is loved by gods” (Plato 164). So, Socrates managed to prove his opponent wrong and show him that there are various ways to view his initially self-confident position about justice and piety.
From the personal perspective, I would have been tempted to agree with Euthyphro if I considered that divine imposing of moral and ethical code of behaviour can actually work. Observing the argument from the modern perspective, I would argue that he is wrong in his definitions because they have no universality or exact source of imposing certain norms of behaviour according to the essence of piety. The main mistake of Euthyphro was that he aimed at justification of his actions rather than looking for the right answer to Socrates’ question. In other words, he was concentrated on himself and not on the truth. Another thing, which Socrates would want his audience to learn, is an ability to understand the difference between explorations of the matter, getting to its depth and simply use of various arguments for self-estimation and justification of one’s actions. Although it may seem that the described dialogue took place ages ago, the mistakes indicated in it are quite common nowadays even in the academic discourse. Therefore, it is crucial to understand that Euthyphro’s definitions are incorrect.
One of the important aspects of Euthyphro is Socrates attitude to religious beliefs. From the first glance, it may seem that he opposes gods will and that they are of little importance for him except for the fact that their presence was a foundation for his arguments in the dialogue. On the other hand, closer reading and analysis of the dialogue show his respect for the divine force with certain critical framework of an intelligent and logical man. In this regard, irrespective of his belief in gods’ existence, he does not think that they can be used as an excuse of human ignorance and mistakes people make in their lives (Restall 52). In this regard, it can be argued that he considers gods to be the source of order and justice, but that people are those who act according or against imposed moral and ethical rules. On the other hand, it can be seen that, irrespective of their divine nature gods in anthropomorphic polytheism are diverse as human beings and are ruled by relatively the same motives as human beings. In other words, there should always be a motivation for their actions (McPherran 106). In this context, he asked Euthyphro what is just for gods if they all are different and have different opinions and motivations. That is why, he asked Euthyphro what was the point for gods to listen to human praying and accept their gifts if they do not need anything.
Although it may seem that Socrates despised gods, which was not the case; he simply viewed them from the critical perspective of an intelligent man. In this regard, for gods to be divine, they should not be human by nature and character, although they are anthropomorphic, the true goodness lies within them because they are the one to give just reward in the unlawful world of human existence (Morgan 25). In this context, through and due to the respect to gods Socrates managed to refute Euthyphro’s initial position and his final definition. Since gods are divine and ideal for Socrates, Euthyphro’ definition of piety as “the art of attending to the gods” is incorrect because unlike any other human activity directed towards certain subject, human activity cannot improve or benefit gods (Plato 161). He asks Euthyphro “would you say that when you do a holy act, you make any of the gods better” (Plato 161).
Thus, it may seem that the whole dilemma with gods and piety is that the question was posed inaccurately, and the connections were to be established in a different manner. In order to find the essence of piety, its source was to be found. If the question was posed whether the gods were the source of piety or an example to follow, the whole discourse could be resolved (McPherran 47). In fact, the best example of Socrates belief in gods was his belief in the structure of the Athenian society and that since he was considered to be guilty by the Athenian law he was to follow community’s decision and accept his death as an example of obedience to the authority and to gods and the origin of that authority (Seeskin 76). In this context, the essence of the Euthyphro dialogue is not in criticising gods but rather showing inconsistency between individual self-perception and protection of personal rightness in contrast to common goodness, which was imposed and embodied by gods or divine rule (Danzig 39). On the other hand, unlike ordinary people of his time, Socrates believed that people are the ones to make decisions in their lives and that their lives are not predetermined by gods but rather guided. Intelligence was in the ability to read the guidance from above.
In this context, the rejection of the final definition was in the fact that people are not ideal like gods and considering that they can make gods better, or that human praying and ritual sacrifices can make gods pious or make gods appreciate some people over others and thus make those people pious was simply unacceptable for Socrates (Nelson 74). In this regard, it can be also argued that only limited and self-satisfied people would consider that they know everything particularly in the matter of gods and human interactions. From Socrates’ perspective, one of his aims was also to show Euthyphro his place in regard to the divine forces, and that he should pay more attention to what he has in this life rather than argue of universal piety and lose what he has – father and family in the name of dubious affair (Morgan 26).
Euthyphro dialogue is an example of the Socratic Method. The essence of the method is in posing a certain thesis in conversation with the interlocutor, which is considered to be incorrect and was to be identified in the course of the narration. Further on, Socrates uses logic, in order to secure agreement of his opponent with every premise of the argument leading him into a logical trap. In this regard, he makes sure that all further premises with which the opponent had agreed would lead to a conclusion opposite to the initial statement. In the end, he would show that the initial statement proved to be wrong, and its opposite statement was correct (Seeskin 42). In this context, in the Euthyphro, the initial question was what the piety was, and so Socrates refuted the initial statement that pious was not equal to what is loved by gods. Further on, through various premises like attribution of holiness and justice to piety that gods cannot agree on what is pleasant for them that gods do not benefit from human gifts etc. Finally, when his opponent agrees with all his arguments, he connected the initial statement with its refutation, showing that the opponent was wrong from the very beginning (Nelson 53). From the structural perspective, the dialogue consists of four circles according to the number of definitions given and their subsequent refutation.
The main aim of the Socrates method and aforementioned structure of the dialogue is not simply in the multi-facet establishment of one’s correctness, but rather securing of the interlocutors further realisation of his false assumptions, which is proved from various perspectives. Thus, Socrates intended to show that it was just a single argument that proved his opponent wrong, rather there were numerous aspects with which he agreed that proved him wrong (Seeskin 49). From the wider perspective, the diversity of arguments is intended for self-education of the opponent in a sense of understanding one’s wrong position due to the arguments posed and not simply because one’s opinion was brutally suppressed by one’s authority.
The Socratic Method was shown in various aspects of the dialogue. First of all it was based on the argument between two people with opposite views. Euthyphro considered that he knew the essence of piety, while Socrates proved that he does not. In this regard, the refutation of the statement was based on negative method of hypothesis elimination, meaning that most unlikely hypotheses were overruled by their incorrectness and subsequent proof of the opposite statement to be correct (Seeskin 62). Thus, the essence of the method is not in the instructing of the inaccuracy of opponent’s position, but in a constructive dialogue based on arguments supporting each position. Although Euthyphro dialogue was mainly led by Socrates, it does not mean that it should be always like that, in order to be considered Socratic. When an opponent has more arguments to pose, certain balance is achieved. Another feature is Socratic questioning, meaning when one question is posed as if it is an answer. For instance, Socrates argues “and what would you say of piety? Is not piety, according to your definition, loved by all the gods?” (Plato 158). When the question is posed in this way, it is quite likely to be answered by a short yes/no answer, which gives an opportunity for further building of one refutation of the posed statement.
From the strictly educational perspective, Socratic Method is of extreme value because it is based on stimulation of critical thinking and ability to defend one’ position. It contrasts with instruction, which aims at provision of a single acceptable and correct answer to the question and does not give any chance for creativity. This finally lead to indoctrination of certain concepts or ideas in the studied field, which eventually results in rigidity of one’s mind and inability of an individual or the whole branch of science to evolve further. Socratic method, on the other hand, gives an opportunity for students not only to challenge themselves, but to be shown the right way to evolve and to challenge even the most ancient postulates. Until certain extent, it can be argued that the main lesson of Socratic method is to view any kind of statement from a critical perspective and to be ready to defend one’s position from various perspectives of refutation (Nelson 51).In the long-termed perspective, this method aims at the development of self-sufficient individual that does not believe statements just because someone said so. Socrates also teaches that one should know exactly what he is saying.