The piety dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro takes place in a king’s court, where the two men encounter each other. According to Allen (1970), Socrates becomes astonished by Euthyphro’s action of taking his own father to court on murder charges. This is where the piety dialogue between the two emerges. Because Socrates himself is facing trial on charges of impiety, he aims to scrutinize whether Euthyphro understand the meaning of holiness by asking him to define what holiness is. The piety dialogue takes a prominent position in this conversation because it is clear that Euthyphro is not sure and consistent in his beliefs on what piety is and hence keeps on changing his definitions. Socrates keeps the piety dialogue going, as he aims to stage it as a way of defending himself because he is facing charges on impiety.
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According to Hardwig (2007), the first definition on piety as provided by Euthyphro is prosecuting people for their wrong doings just as he is prosecuting his father for murder and on the other hand, not prosecuting them is unholy. However, Socrates who argues that it is not an adequate definition rejects this first definition because it is based on an example, which cannot be generalized and does not contain basic characteristics, which makes pious things pious. Therefore, Euthyphro goes on to give his second definition of holiness. Euthyphro’s second definition of holiness is what is pleasing before gods. Again, Socrates refutes this definition by pointing out that even the gods disagree amongst themselves as to what is pleasing. This means that a particular action can be pleasing and at the same time displeasing before the gods, which in logical terms is an impossible situation.
Therefore, the dialogue continues as Euthyphro strives to provide an adequate definition of piety to Socrates. As Grube (1975) points out, to formulate his third definition, Euthyphro slightly amends his second definition. Therefore, his third definition of piety becomes, “what all gods love is pious, and on the other hand, all that they hate is therefore impious.” At this point, Socrates gets a chance of introducing the problematic question “is pious loved by god because it is pious? Or is it pious because it is loved by gods?” (Hardwig, 2007 p. 263). The two agree that pious is loved by gods because it is holy and not just the essence of being loved by gods that makes things pious. However, Socrates goes ahead and points out that love is not a necessary characteristics of holiness. At this point, Euthyphro is at loss of how to proceed with his definition of piety.
From this dialogue, it is clear that Socrates’ main goal in this dialogue is to show that there is no succinct definition of holiness as people define it differently based on their beliefs on what it is, and hence, individuals should not be prosecuted on impiety charges. Socrates aims to teach people that an impious thing to one person may be a highly pious thing to another person. He aims to show that people are not consistent in their beliefs and hence are not sure of what holiness is all about. This is evident in this dialogue as he keeps introducing a contradiction in Euthyphro’s definition so that he can shift in his beliefs on what holiness is. In the first definition of holiness by Euthyphro, Socrates introduces a contradiction by pointing that it is just an example and does not contain all the essential characteristics of holiness. Because Of this contradiction, Euthyphro is forced to change his beliefs and hence his definition. In the second definition, Socrates introduces the contradiction that an action can be pious and at the same time impious before the gods because they disagree among themselves on what is pleasing before them. Again the contradiction forces Euthyphro to formulate his third definition, which again is refuted by Pious by introducing the contradiction that love is not an essential characteristic of holiness. Socrates achieves his goal of showing that there can be no succinct definition of holiness after Euthyphro gives up on defining what holiness is. He is able to achieve the goal using contradiction that makes Euthyphro keep on changing his beliefs on what holiness is.
I would define holiness as any action that does not go against gods’ commands. In this definition, it means that any action is pious because it does not break any gods’ commands. On the other hand, any action that goes against gods’ commands is impious. However, Socrates would refute this definition of piety because an action might align with gods’ commands and at the same time go against them, which is an impossible situation logically. This is because Socrates may argue that gods may disagree among themselves on what is right and wrong before their eyes.
The argument can be endless because each of the two sides has grounds for basing their points. My definition of holiness may also be refuted by the two sides or have one supporting it. However, a conclusion must be based on the strong positions from the debate and the stronger one should illustrate if the proposed definition of holiness is correct particularly because Socrates refutes it and my point of view is different. Therefore, from a Socratic point of argument, the definition of holiness as actions that align with gods’ commands is not adequate.