Early Dialogues of Plato :
Persons of the Dialogue : Socrates and Euthyphro
Scene : The Porch of the King Archon
As the dialogue begins, Socrates is on his way to court to face the charges brought on him. Euthyphro is on his way to the court to prosecute his father for murder. Socrates is very surprised at Euthyphro’s charge against his father and asks him if he is sure that what he is doing is pious or holy. He asks Euthyphro to tell him about the nature of piety and impiety. Euthyphro will not define piety or impiety, but instead says Piety is doing as I am doing… and compares it with the actions of the god Zeus when he punished his own father. Socrates asks for a definition and not an example to which Euthyphro offers that Piety is that which is dear to the gods." Socrates accepts this definition, but forces Euthyphro to admit that the gods differ, just like human beings, about what they love and hate. By this definition, the same act may be called both pious and impious. Therefore this definition leads to contradiction. Euthyphro offers a third definition and claims…What all the gods love is pious."
Socrates then asks whether an act is loved by the gods because it is pious or and act is pious because it is loved by the gods. Euthyphro responds that the gods love an act because it is pious. By this, Socrates concludes that Euthyphro’s definition is only a characteristic of piety, not its definition. At this point, Euthyphro says that he does not know how to express what he means and accuses Socrates of setting arguments in motion. Socrates is not satisfied and accuses Euthyphro of being lazy and forces the argument further by asking whether piety is a part of justice, or justice a part of piety. Here, Euthyphro offers yet another definition…Piety...is that part of justice which attends to the gods." Now Socrates wants an explanation of attention" and asks if the gods benefit from this attention" to which Euthyphro responds that the attention is like ministration to the gods. Socrates then points out that ministration usually means assisting someone in his work, and asks what ministration to the gods helps them to do. Euthyphro responds that the discussion has become tiresome, and issues his fifth definition…Piety...is learning how to please the gods by prayers and sacrifices." Socrates asks if piety is an art which gods and human beings have of doing business with one another and what benefits do the gods receive from the offerings of individuals.
Euthyphro answers that they get tributes of honour. They are pleased, not benefited. Socrates tells him that by saying that the gods are pleased, they have returned to an earlier definition. Frustrated and annoyed, Euthyphro tells Socrates that he is in a hurry to depart and ends the discussion.
This dialogue explores the meaning of Piety. As the dialogue starts, Socrates is on his way to court to defend himself against accusations of impious behavior. Euthyphro is prosecuting his own father based on his own understanding in the matter of piety. As the dialogue develops, Euthyphro seems to take on the role of Meletus, Socrates accuser. He claims to have perfect understanding in the matter of piety, so Socrates requests his help to answer Meletus charges against him. He asks Euthyphro to instruct him about the nature of piety. In his first definition, Euthyphro states that he is justified on bringing charges against his father because Zeus has done the same and therefore there is divine justification. Later, Euthyphro offers other definitions about the nature of piety, and in all of them he implies that his knowledge in the subject is indeed superior to the majority. If this is the case, then only Euthyphro is the judge as to whether an action should or should not be performed. He starts by justifying his actions through divine understanding, but Socrates is not satisfied. He then tries to make his actions right, but, again, Socrates leads him into contractions. Finally, he tries to turn his actions into a duty. Through the dialogue, Euthyphro tries to use the gods to justify his actions and interests which is exactly the same charge that will later send Socrates to his death. When asked about the relationship between the gods and human beings, Euthyphro tells us that our duty is to please the gods and, through our actions, to honor and glorify them. If this is true, then we are nothing more than servants of the gods, crated solely to take them higher and higher. I hope our mission is somewhat more substantial than this. The dialogue does not offer an answer to the question of whether something is pious because is loved by the gods or something is loved by the gods because is pious. Even if we were to assume that the gods love that which is pious, then love is only a consequence of a pious act. They both agree that piety implies justice, but justice does not imply piety. Thus, we can understand justice without bringing in the matter of the gods which seems to be the biggest problem in this dialogue. If we were to tie justice with the divine, this would imply that reason alone would not be enough to define justice, but we would need divine guidance to do so.
Through this dialogue, Euthyphro gets angry and frustrated while Socrates tone is ironic and condescending. Euthyphro accuses Socrates of creating moving arguments, but Socrates shows Euthyphro that his argument not only moves around, but comes full circle to the starting point. The dialogue shows us that if we are committed to the pursuit of knowledge and truth, we must understand that this may be a never ending process while we are in this life. Although our actions are based on our limited knowledge, justice should always be an integral part of everything we do.
The Apology is Socrates defense at his trial. As the dialogue begins, Socrates notes that his accusers have cautioned the jury against Socrates eloquence, but, according to Socrates, the difference between him and his accusers is that Socrates speaks the truth. Socrates distinguished two groups of accusers: the earlier and the later accusers. The earlier group is the hardest to defend against, since they do not appear in court. He is also accused of being a Sophist….that he is a teacher and takes money for his teaching. He attempts to explain why he has attracted such a reputation. The oracle was asked if anyone was wiser than Socrates. The answer was no, there was no man wiser. Socrates cannot believe this oracle, so he sets out to disprove it by finding someone who is wiser. He goes to a politician, who is thought wise by himself and others. Socrates does not think this man to be wise and tells him so. As a consequence, the politician hated Socrates, as did others who heard the questioning. "I am better off, because while he knows nothing but thinks that he knows, I neither know nor think that I know" (Socrates). He questioned politicians, poets and artisans. He finds that the poets do not write from wisdom, but by genius and inspiration.
Meletus charges Socrates with being "a doer of evil, and corruptor of the youth and he does not believe in the gods of the State and has other new divinities of his own." In his examination of Meletus, Socrates makes three main points…
1) Meletus has accused Socrates of being the only corruptor while everyone else improves the youth. Socrates then uses an analogy…a horse trainer is to horses as an improver is to the youth. The point is that there is only one improver, not many.
2) If Socrates corrupts the youth, either it is intentional or unintentional. No one would corrupt his neighbor intentionally, because he would harm himself in the process. If the corruption was unintentional, then the court is not the place to resolve the problem. The other possibility is that he does not corrupt them at all.
3) In frustration, Meletus accuses Socrates of being a complete atheist, at the same time he claims Socrates teaches new gods. Thus, Meletus contradicts himself.
Socrates argues that fear of death is foolish, because it is not known if death is a good or an evil, thus there is no reason to fear death...Socrates claims that his mission is in service to God. This is to condemn people’s pursuit of money, honor, and reputation, while ignoring wisdom, truth and the improvement of the soul. When talking about politicians, he states that he was a Senator once and opposed the majority when several generals were brought to trial. He points out that several of the corrupted youth and their fathers were present, but none of them were accusing him. Rather, they were there in his defense. Socrates refuses to ask for pity. He does not throw himself on the mercy of the court. Many would bring in their children to win pity. However, he does mention that he has three young children. He tells the jury about their responsibility to ignore the appeals to pity and judge the truth.
Despite Socrates’ speech, the jury finds him guilty as charged. Meletus proposes death as punishment. Instead, Socrates proposes retirement in a home for benefactors of the state. He examines possible penalties…death, imprisonment, a fine or exile. Then, he realizes that exile is not an option since he believes that The unexamined life is not worth living. He finally proposes a fine of 30 minae, guaranteed by Crito, Plato and others. The jury sentences him to death. Socrates remarks that his internal, guiding voice which at times would warn him to refrain from certain actions had not once interrupted his actions in his defense. He argues that death might be a good…either it is a dreamless sleep or he will travel to the place of the dead where he can question anyone and not be executed for it. He states…No evil can happen to a good man.
He asks the jury to punish his sons, and provide guidance. If so, then he will have received justice. "We go our ways: me to die, you to live…only God knows which is better."
Throughout the Apology, Socrates believes himself to be a teacher," though he does not say that of himself. He finds reputed wise men and questions them. If Socrates finds that they believe themselves to be wiser than they really are, he points out their mistake, thus educates them and himself. This allows Socrates to learn when he finds other people who know more about a subject than he. Socrates tells the judges that he will not be found guilty because of evidence and testimony; if he is found guilty, it will be because of the reputation that he has obtained. As Socrates deals with the charges, he is constantly talking about himself. If Socrates wanted to appease the judges so that he would not be found guilty, he could have made up or omit the parts about himself that caused so much trouble. The fact that Socrates knows that he is being persecuted for who he is and that he honestly describes himself, shows that he is staying true to himself and his beliefs through his trial. Through reason, Socrates is constantly searching for the truth of what others think. When Meletus accuses Socrates of not believing in any gods, Socrates then uses reason to refute him. Socrates tells a story about an oracle, which he states that he believes in, and says that since an oracle is a divine thing he must believe in divinities. Socrates used reason to question Meletus and led him to state inconsistent statements…
(1) Socrates corrupts the youth intentionally
(2) Nobody intentionally harms himself
(3) People who corrupt society ultimately harm themselves.
If (1) Socrates corrupts the youth intentionally and (3) people who corrupt society ultimately harm themselves, then (2) must be false. However, if (2) nobody intentionally harms themselves and (3) people who corrupt societies ultimately harm themselves are true, then (1) must be false (since Socrates cannot be corrupting the youth intentionally). If that is the case, then the court is not the proper place to discuss it.
The second section of the Apology is the speech that Socrates gives after he is found guilty. In this speech, he is to propose a penalty for his crimes. Socrates gives, at first, what he believes that he should receive for his the actions and he proposes that he should receive free room and board. This remark shows Socrates still believes in his mission. Had he proposed anything else, it would have been to indirectly admit that his beliefs were wrong. For punishment, Socrates explores the idea of exile.
However, Socrates admits that, if exiled, he would continue to question men about themselves. Socrates could have escaped death here by submitting to exile and promising to change his ways, yet again, that would undermine his beliefs. He then proposes a fine. In all the punishments that he proposes, he never admits to being wrong or promises to reconsider his ideas. Had he agreed to exile and silence, he would not have stayed true to himself and his beliefs.
Socrates philosophy of using reason to find the truth prevents him from telling the jury what they would like to hear. Each time Socrates proposes a punishment, he reasons himself out of it and into a worse punishment. The last section of the Apology deals with Socrates’ speech after he has been sentenced to death. Though Socrates becomes indignant, he does not become angry. Socrates does not do any of the weeping and wailing...[or the] many other things which [he] maintains are unworthy of [himself]. Socrates believes that if he did, it would bring shame on himself and his beliefs and that it would be much worse than death. Socrates claims that he, unlike many others who appear before the jury, will not appeal to their pity by having his family brought before them.
However, he does describe his family in some detail -- including his sons. Here, he seems to be appealing to pity in a very subtle way. Speaking about his children, he asks the jury punish them...if they seem to care about riches or anything, more than about virtue or if they...are something when they are really nothing. Once again, he seems to be instructing or teaching the jury about his beliefs. Socrates uses reason, once again, to convince himself that death is not an evil....the state of death is one of two things…either a dead man wholly ceases to be and loses all consciousness or as we are told, it is a change and a migration of the soul to another place. Socrates goes on to say that, since neither of those two states of being can be bad, death shouldn’t be feared. His philosophy of reason allows him to look at death in a way that he does not have to be afraid of it.
Socrates believes in holding on to his principle regardless of the consequences, even if they involve death. Concern for himself is not nearly as important as the pursuit of the good, the true, and the just.
As a result, it is far better to suffer injustice than, through ignorance, to cause it. Justice seems to be the prevalent theme, since this dialogue deals with the injustice against Socrates. One inconsistency is that in Crito he seemed universally opposed to violating the law, while in the Apology there seem to be exceptions to this belief. For example, he opposed the government actions (the law of the State) on two occasions.
The speech that Socrates gives reflects the indignation he feels over injustice that he has received. However, a theme of courage in the face of death seems to be emphasized. Also, the point about staying true to oneself and beliefs, and the search for truth by way of reason is a policy we should all adopt.
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