The Setting
• Time: 399 BCE.
• Place: The porch of the King Archon's Court in
• Note: King Archon not the head of the state
but one of the nine highest Athenian
magistrates. Presided over cases involving
charges of impiety and homicide.
The Characters
• Prosecutor.
• Defendant.
• Filing lawsuit.
• Being indicted.
• Ridiculed for rejecting
traditional morality.
• Condemned for rejecting
traditional theology.
How would you describe the
personality of each
The Question
• “What is piety, and what is
• What is Socrates interest in this
• Does the question matter? For
Euthyphro’s 1st Attempt
• “Piety is doing as I’m doing; that is to say,
prosecuting any one who is guilty of murder,
sacrilege, or of any similar crime—whether he be
your father or mother, or whoever he may be—that
makes no difference; and not to prosecute them is
• What kinds of values are implied by this definition?
What is the problem Socrates has
with the 1st definition?
• “I did not ask you to give me two or three
examples of piety, but to explain the general
idea which makes all things pious to be pious.”
• Examples illustrate ideas but they are not
Euthyphro’s 2nd Attempt
• “Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and
impiety is that which is not dear to them.”
• What’s the problem Socrates sees with this definition?
• “Then the same things are hated by the gods and loved
by the gods, and are both hateful and dear to them?...I
certainly did not ask you to me what action is both
pious and impious: but now it would seem that what is
loved by the gods is also hated by them.”
Euthyphro’s 3rd Attempt
• “I should say that what all the gods love is pious and
holy, and the opposite which all hate, impious.”
• That which all gods love=Pious.
• That which all gods hate=Impious.
• That which some gods love and some gods hate=Indeterminate.
The Euthyphro Dilemma
• Do the gods love piety
because it is pious?
• Do the gods approve
of/like something
because it is good?
• Is it (piety) pious because • Is something good
because the gods
they love it?
approve of/like it?
Socrates’ Cumbersome Analogy
• Probably used the odd
analogies because
Socrates had no passive
voice available to him.
• "The book is being
carried" is different
from "I am carrying a
• Something “being
loved” is different from
something “loving.”
• Act vs. State of Being
The Implications of the Question
• Is piety inherent in an
act or thing—that is, an
intrinsic aspect of its
• Or are acts and things
valueless until the gods
grant them value?
• Where does value come
• Where does good come
• What makes something
1st Possibility: It is Good Because the Gods Like it
• Nothing is inherently
right/wrong or
• Without divinity there
would be no right and
• Moral values are
arbitrary—that is, they
depend on the gods’
• Humans are slaves,
gods are masters.
• Humans do good
• What, in this
framework, is the
meaning of morality?
2nd Possibility: The Gods Like It Because It Is Good
• Values of right and
wrong are absolute and
lie outside of the gods’
• Values are determined
by Natural Law of
Reason that even the
gods must conform to.
• The gods are not
• Morality is accessible to
human reason.
More Definitions
• #4: “Piety or holiness, Socrates, appears to me to be that part of
justice which attends to the gods.”
• (but if the gods have everything they need, what can people
• #5: “Let me simply say that piety or holiness is learning how to
please the gods in word and deed, by prayers and sacrifices.”
• (so we get benefits from the gods but give them nothing that
benefits them? Why would the gods give us anything then?)
• #6: “Piety, then, is please to the gods, but not beneficial to them.”
• (so we’ve come full circle: piety is what the gods like)
• Where is value located? Where does it come from?
• Why does it matter whether value is inherent or
• Is piety (and perhaps other ethical concepts) open to
• How can we build a moral framework on indeterminate
• From where can we derive moral authority?
• When we claim that something is good/bad or
right/wrong, what are we saying?
On What Basis Can We Make the Claim
• Murder is immoral.
• Giving to the poor is good.
• Incest is wrong.
• Keeping promises is good.
• It is wrong to speed on
the safety corridor.
• Being loyal to one’s
spouse is good.
• It is wrong to wish
misfortune on others.
• It is good to wish others
good fortune.

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