The best thing I’ve read for ages. Fabulously tight, funny, profound, and challenging. I’d never noticed how Plato sets the (in itself important) argument about holiness in the context of Socrates’ forthcoming trial, and sets up Euthyphro and his father as parallels to Meletos and Socrates – Euthyphro, prosecuting his father for homicide, and Meletos prosecuting Socrates for impiety. Socrates’ brilliant demolition of Euthyphro is consequently an early defence speech, set in the literary frame of Socrates’ seeking religious advice from Euthyphro the ‘expert’. In a powerful double-edged ending, we leave Socrates a failed victor: he’s beaten in argument the representative of conventional piety (‘Euthyphro’ means ‘straight-thinker’), yet has failed on the surface to learn what conventional piety means, and at a deeper level to convince the pious of his position’s incoherence.
E: the gods argue about right and wrong. “Holy” is what the gods approve. Therefore what is holy cannot be one thing: it must be in dispute.
E: anyway, all the gods agree that what I am doing IS holy, so that’s OK.
S: but your case is so unclear that this is unlikely
[argument then is left]
S: how about defining “holy” as what ALL gods approve of?
S: so is what is holy holy because the gods approve it, or do the gods approve what is [by another standard] holy?
E: the latter.
S: then you haven’t told me what “holy” is yet.
S: OK then. Is holiness a subset of justice, or vice versa?
E: the former: it’s the aspects of Justice which
a. look after the gods (S: but they can’t be made better)
b. serve the gods (S: but we can’t say what their task is for which one serves them)
c. transact with the gods (prayer and sacrifice, give and take, gratifying them) (S: but gratifying is doing what they approve of – see above)
But this is different, as earlier E was talking about moral acts of which the gods approve, whereas now he’s talking about acts of religous practice.
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