What Is Piety Essay, Research Paper
What is Piety
During the Periclean age (around 400 B.C.) in Athens Greece there was a
man named Socrates. He was considered a very wise man by the Athenians. However
there were men in power who did not care for him or his teachings; Claiming that
he corrupted the Athenian youth and did not believe in the Greek gods, Socrates
was put on trail. On his way to his trial Socrates met a man named Euthyphro, a
professional priest who is respected by the “authorities” (those who want get
rid of Socrates). Euthyphro is at the court house to prosecute his father for
murder. Socrates finds this to be interesting. If Euthyphro can properly explain
why he is prosecuting his father for murder Socrates might have an understanding
of piety. This would help Socrates to defend himself, for the prosecutors know
and think highly of Euthyphro. Socrates could then draw parallels between
himself and Euthyphro, who the citizens’ highly respect, thus bringing him
respect, and freedom. This is where Socrates begins his dialogue with Euthyphro
seeking the definition of piety. Socrates wants Euthyphro to teach him the
meaning of piety since Euthyphro considers himself an authority on the subject.
In this dialogue Euthyphro gives Socrates four different definitions of what he
believes piety is, none of which prove satisfactory to Socrates, leaving the
question unanswered in the end.
The first definition that Euthyphro provides to Socrates is that “the
pious is to do what I am doing now to prosecute the wrong doer” (Plato,
Euthyphro, Grube trans., p. 9). This is merely an example of piety, and Socrates
is seeking a definition, not one or two pious actions. Socrates says “you did
not teach me adequately when I asked you what the pious was, but you told me
that what you are doing now, prosecuting your father for murder is pious (Loc.
cit., 6d, p. 10) Socrates wants to know what piety is “through one form” (Loc.
cit., 6e, p.10). He does not want to know which things or actions are pious, but
rather what piety itself is. One cannot simply define something by giving
examples so this definition does not satisfy Socrates.
Euthyphro gives Socrates the second definition. He argues “what is dear
to the gods is pious, what is not is impious (Loc. cit., 7a, p. 11). Therefore
piety is determined by the gods. According to this argument this cannot be true
because, how can all the gods find everything to be pious when what is just to
some gods is unjust to others, and what one god finds beautiful another would
not. They have differences in opinions. “The gods are in a state of discord,
that they are at odds with each other” (Loc. cit. 7b, p.11). “They [the gods]
consider different things to be just beautiful, ugly, good, and bad.” (Loc. cit.,
7e, p. 12). This is a good argument in that, the gods would not agree on piety,
therefore piety cannot be simply what is dear to the gods. It must be something
The third definition that Euthyphro states is that “The godly and the
pious is a part of the just that is the care of the gods, while that concerned
with the care of men is the remaining part of justice” (Loc. cit., 12e, p. 18).
Euthyphro believes that for man to be pious to the gods he must learn to do what
is pleasing to the gods. Taking care of the gods is doing service for the gods.
The horse breeder takes care of his horses, cattle raiser cares for his cattle,
and the slave takes care of his master. These are all pious actions intended to
pleases the gods. “If man knows how to say, and do what is pleasing to the gods
at prayer and sacrifice, those are pious actions” (Loc. cit., 14b, p. 20). This
definition seems to lead to the idea that sacrifice and prayer will get a man
what he wants from the gods, as long as it is considered pious by the gods.
Socrates ask Euthyphro “Are they [piety and pious] a knowledge of how to
sacrifice and pray” (Loc. cit., 14c, p. 20). Euthyphro “They are” (Loc. cit.,
14c, p. 20).Socrates states the fourth definition “piety would then be a
knowledge of how to give to, and beg from, the gods” (Loc. cit., 14d, p. 20).
Socrates says that if this were true than piety is a trading skill between men
and gods, and that what they get from us is “honour, reverence . . . and
gratitude” (Loc. cit., 15a, p. 21). Socrates says that Euthyphro’s arguments “go
around in a circle, . . .[and that] either we were wrong when we agreed before,
or, if we were right then, we are wrong now. The fourth definition brings us
full circle, and back to where they started leaving the question unanswered.
It seems that the dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates is arguing
about whether or not there are absolutes or if everything is just a matter of
opinion. Is piety prosecuting ones own father for murder? Is piety what is dear
to the gods? What makes it dear to the gods? If it is dear to one god, is it not
dear, to another? Can justice be split between men and gods? Is piety a sort of
trading skill between gods and men? In conclusion it seems to be that piety is
not definable in one form and that it can be judged in many different ways by
many different people. It also seems that these questions are not simply
answered, but keep asking the question.