Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reading Euthyphro

"I prefer nothing, unless it is true."

I hadn't read Plato for the last couple months but I found out that my cousin is reading Euthyphro for a summer program, so I decided to reread it.
It starts with Socrates and Euthyphro waiting outside a court room. Euthyphro is going to prosecute his father who killed a murderer of one of his own slaves. Euthyphro says it is pious to do what he does, against the opinions of his relatives.
What is piety? This is the question that starts and ends the dialogue, but the consideration allows a number of topics to be considered.
1. What is favored by the gods. This response is problematic from the beginning since the gods seems to disagree about what is right and wrong, always disputing with each other. If such were truly the definition of piety, there could be only one God or at least all the gods would have to be of one mind. Which leads to the second account:
2. What is favored by all of the gods. At this point, the speakers agree that it is an axiom that "the wicked is to be punished" but find that many disagree about who is wicked. There is a comparison with sciences here. If two disagree about how many something is, the argument can be solved by counting. But if there is an argument about good and bad, beautiful and ugly, then it becomes difficult to resolve the questions. Math is easy. The question is also asked. Is something pious because gods love it, or do they love it because it is pious? This question is never wholly resolved.
3. Piety is the species of justice concerned with care for the gods. At first Euthyphro identifies justice and piety, but Socrates shows him how they must differ in account. The remainder is concerned with what care of the gods means. They come to sacrificing and praying, which Socrates says is like "trading" with them. The problem is that we are needy and they are not. So Socrates suggests other ways our care could be good for the gods, but Euthyphro becomes frustrated and he then must hurry on.

This is a wonderful place to start philosophy! The attempt to define is important in philosophy and that is precisely the project here. He shows that many examples are not the same as a definition, distinguish the caused and the cause, distinguish genus and species, test your definition. Another reason this dialogue is great is that it quickly rises from moral philosophy, which is necessary for one who desires wisdom, to theology, which is wisdom itself. Unfortunately, he does not reach a satisfactory conclusion, but the reader is more prepared for a future inquiry.
A good question: Does it belong to philosophy to consider prayer and sacrifice? Such questions are often dealt with in the context of sacred theology, and yet the topics are so universal and natural that they may belong even in natural accounts of God and the moral life. That is why thy show up here. I was always disappointed that Aristotle did not say much about worshipping God or the gods. For Moses, this is the first of all commandments. Plato and Aristotle certainly hold the divine in esteem, but the former is not explicit about what exactly is due to God and Aristotle seems to say nothing. Prayer seems close to what Aristotle means by contemplation, though Aristotle's account does not have the petition aspect. Sacrifice is even more obscure.

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