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Euthyphro's Failure ROSLYN WEISS THE EvTHYPnRO FAXLSto reach a definition of holiness. It considers several possibilities; it appears at one point to be on the verge of discovering the elusive definition,' yet it dissolves ultimately into the familiar aporia. The question is: why? Although the dialogue's failure to define holiness is attributable in large measure to Euthyphro's conceit, to his lack of prior philosophical reflection in an area in which he claims to be an expert, and to his general dullness, surely this is not the whole story. It is the contention of this paper that the philosophic failure of the dialogue is due not simply to the personal flaws of a man named Euthyphro, but to a view he holds and shares with many others. The view in question is that the gods quarrel and differ (7b2-4) about the just and unjust, noble and shameful, good and bad (7el-4). I shall argue that the belief that the gods are not ethically omniscient unifies the dialogue dramatically, philosophically, and practically. 1. The Euthyphro is carefully crafted. Plato binds his characters, scene, and plot, as well as the philosophical discussion, to the core concept of holiness. His characters, Euthyphro and Socrates, the one a self-proclaimed expert on holiness, the other on trial for impiety, meet at the king's stoa where their ' Eu. 14b-c. J. Adam, PlatonisEuthyphro (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 189o), xii, argues, according to "Bonitz'sprinciple," i.e., the principle that whatever remains unrefuted in a Platonic dialogue contains the key to its positiveteaching, that holinessin the Euthyphrois service to the gods in producing noble products. Cf. C. C. W. Taylor, "The End of the Eu~yphro ," Phronesis 27 0982): 1o9--18' who claims that the Socratic view on holiness that the Euthyphro very nearly discovers is that it is the assistance that men givethe gods in producing good human souls. Cf. also Mark L. McPherran, "Socratic Pietyin the Euthyphro,"Journal of the Histo~ of Ph//osophyz3 (1985): 283-3o9, who reasonably contends that though the Etahyphro defines piety as a service of men to the gods assisting them in their work, it failsto provide a complete and infallibleunderstanding of piety; such an understanding is impossiblefor humans since it requires what only the gods can have: a complete and infallible understanding of the divine ergon. [437] 438 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY e4:4 OCTOBER 1986 cases will be heard. The cases themselves concern holiness. Euthyphro's suit against his father, though not manifestly a religious matter, is so regarded by the Athenians for whom homicide creates a religious pollution (agos, ra/asma). It is for this reason that the case is being heard before the king rather than before the Archon within whose jurisdiction family matters fall.' Socrates' case clearly concerns holiness, but Plato makes a special effort in this dialogue to have holiness form the whole of the charge against him. Whereas in the Apo/ogy (2468-Cl)and in Xenophon's Memorabilia (I.z) there are two charges brought against Socrates, the charge, as here, of not believing in the gods, and also the charge of corrupting the young, the Euthyphro collapses the two charges into one, the former. Euthyphro asks Socrates what Meletus claims that Socrates does to corrupt the young _(3a9), and Socrates replies that the claim is that he makes new gods and does not believe in the old ones (3bu-3). Plato thus has Euthyphro's and Socrates' cases converge neatly on the single concept of holiness. Furthermore, Euthyphro 's alleged expertise in holiness can now presumably suffice to save Socrates whose sole crime is unholiness, as well as to insure his own victory (5ab ). The stage is now set for the protagonists' interaction, if Euthyphro has expertise in an area that is crucial to Socrates' very survival, what could be more appropriate than for Socrates to seek Euthyphro's instruction? Socrates flatters Euthyphro with regard to his wisdom in holiness at 5ag-bi, 5c8-9, I5d2- 3, I5d4- 5, and I5d8-el. Euthyphro concurs with Socrates' assessment of him at 4b3 and 4e9-5a2, and Socrates deprecates himself for his own lack of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 437-452
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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