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Socrates' Concept of Piety DANIEL E. ANDERSON THE PURPOSEOF THIS ESSAYis to suggest, at least as a possibility, that in three of Plato's early dialogues, the Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, the philosophy expressed is at its foundation a process philosophy. By this I mean that it gives fundamental importance to process, rather than to anything static or absolute such as the "eternal forms" that appear in Plato's later thought. It will be argued that absolutes are in fact consistently denied throughout these three dialogues. The view presented is far enough removed from the usual interpretation of these dialogues that any analysis of other works on the subject would add to the length, but not to the illumination. The discussion, therefore, will be limited to what is actually said in the dialogues themselves and to an examination of some of the possible ramifications of what is said? I The specific charge against Socrates at his trial was that "Socrates is a wrongdoer because he corrupts the youth and does not believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other new divine powers (daimonia)" (Apology, 24B). Inasmuch as the central concern of the Euthyphro is the nature of piety (hosia) it is reasonable to suppose, as is suggested by the setting of the dialogue, that the Euthyphro is not to be taken in isolation from the Apology. Whether by chance or intent, the two dialogues are in fact closely parallel, and when studied together they seem to be mutually illuminating. As Socrates points out early in the Euthyphro, the nature of the charge says something about Meletus, the accuser. If the charge of corrupting the youth is to be meaningful, then Meletus must have the care of the youth at heart. If the means of corrupting the youth is the creation of new divine powers and the abandonment of the old, then Meletus must have some reason for believing the old gods to be genuine and the new ones false. This, of course, is a preview of the dialogue with Meletus in the Apology, but it also furnishes the background here for a dramatic, rather than a logical maneuver whereby Euthyphro, as the seer who professes to know all about the gods, becomes the analogue of Meletus. The analogy is an interesting one. Euthyphro is prosecuting his father--i.e., the person directly responsible for his own upbringing. The fact that he would prosecute his father at all is in the eyes of the populace evidence that Euthyphro is an extremely corrupt young man. This suggests that, regardless of the justice of the 1Such questions as are concerned with the historical accuracy of these dialogues, their place in the development of Plato's later thought, the problem of distinguishing Socrates from Plato, etc., while important and relevant, must also be considered beyond the scope of this essay. [1] 2 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY specific charge against his father, the fact that Euthyphro is prosecuting him, ironically enough, is just. Moreover, the justice of it lies precisely in the fact that the father, by raising Euthyphro improperly, has corrupted him--the charge that has been brought against Socrates. Socrates, in fact, is to use just this argument in his defense against the charge: that it would be foolish for him knowingly to corrupt the youth because he would thereby endanger himself. At this point the analogy between Euthyphro and Meletus becomes important by way of contrast, for in the case of Socrates the deeper irony does not hold. Meletus was not a member of Socrates' circle, and Socrates, therefore, is not responsible for any injustice arising out of the corruption of Meletus' character. Almost immediately, however, Euthyphro makes it clear that he views the nature of justice and injustice from an angle that is, at least philosophically, unusual . "The only thing to consider," he says, "is whether the action of the slayer was justified or not, and that if it was justified one ought to let him alone, and if not, one ought to proceed against him, even if he share one's hearth and eat at one's table" (4B-C). His reason for giving justice this high status...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 1-13
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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