Week 2 Notes:
The following notes are highlights from the above chapter. They are neither intended to replace the lectures and text, nor to substitute for a reading of the text. Lectures will add to and supplement material given here. In order to do well in this class, it is recommended that you review these notes to identify main ideas after having attended class.
Reading philosophical essays is more challenging in that you often have to scan once, read once, and review once before you can adequately explain the author's position. In order to be sure that you are receiving maximum benefit from your time spent studying, try to answer the guide questions posed below. If you cannot answer them, it is time to read or review to be sure you understand the main arguments presented.
The Socratic Dialectic
Reading Plato's dialogues is one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences in Western philosophy. Understanding the structure of the dialogues will enhance your ability to follow Socrates' line of questioning. All of Plato's dialogues are named for the interlocutors that are with Socrates during the dialogue.
For another introduction to the Socratic elenchus, visit A Commentary on Plato's Writings by D. Anthony Storm. Looking for another Euthyphro lecture, then read Dr. G.J. Mattey's Euthyphro lecture notes from the University of California, Davis.
More Russell essays and links: this site provides a good overview of Russell's work.
The Russell site from ErracticImpact: this site has resources to satisfy even the most devout analytic philosopher.
The following comments are designed to fine tune your understanding of the reading. Although I will not collect or check to see if you've read them, the subject matter forms the basis of what you will be required to know for exams.
2d-3a: Is it necessary to "take care of the young plants first and of the others later"? or, Is Euthyphro correct when he charges Meletus (Socrates' accuser) with "harming the very heart of the city" by accusing Socrates of corrupting the young?
3c-e: Socrates tells Euthyphro that he would not be concerned with Meletus' charges if his life was not at stake: "for the Athenians do not mind anyone they think clever, as long as he does not teach his own wisdoms." What is at stake for Socrates, for Athens?
Public opinion can be a dangerous thing. If the citizens of Athens can be persuaded that Socrates is "dangerous" and a corrupter of the young, then both Athens and Socrates are in danger.
4e: Euthyphro states that "their ideas of the divine attitude toward piety and impiety are wrong." Who are "they"? Where do ideas of piety and impiety come from?
5c-d: Socrates asks "what is piety?" for the first time. This is the beginning of the dialectic.
5e: Euthyphro's first answer: to prosecute the wrongdoer, no matter who it may be is pious and not to prosecute is impious.
6e: Socrates rephrases the initial question: "what is pious action?"
7a: Euthyphro's second answer: "what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious."
7c-8a: Socrates points out that since the gods often disagree as to what they love and don't love, there is no universal action/thing that is loved/dear to all gods. Thus the same action could be both pious (loved by some gods) and impious (hated by other gods), and therefore, god-love can be no standard for piety.
10a: Is a thing pious because it is loved by the gods or do the gods love a thing because it is pious? Socrates makes this move so that he can further show Euthyphro that piousness is not a quality that be defined by referring to god-love/mystical standards.
11a-b: Socrates again tells Euthyphro that god-love is just an attribute of the pious, an effect of being pious and not piousness itself.
11b-e: Euthyphro accuses Socrates of making arguments move in circles, but in the next few paragraphs Socrates will show Euthyphro that it is his own imprecise definitions of piety that are problematic, making the argument move in circles.
12d-14b: Socrates helps Euthyphro think through a definition of piety, but still the interlocutor insists that piety is a service of/for the gods. Men are pious in their transactions with gods, yet this provides no benefit to the gods, so Euthyphro is again forced to return to his original god-love definition of piety.
15b: Once again, Socrates and Euthyphro are no nearer to learning about piety than at the beginning of the dialogue. What does their predicament say about defining piety/impiety?
1. Are there actions/beliefs that are clearly either pious or impious? Is there universal human agreement on these matters?
2. Since life demands that we make moral choices, regardless of whether or not we absolutely define piety, how can we examine our actions to decide their moral content?
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