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Study Questions

What is Socratic irony, and how does it function in the Euthyphro? Provide several specific examples where Socratic irony is evident.

The standard form of the Socratic dialogue, which the Euthyphro follows, has Socrates interrogating someone who claims to be an expert on a certain subject--in this case, holiness. Rather than doubt his interlocutor and present direct objections, Socrates goes along with him, asking his interlocutor to teach him what he knows. Socrates then asks his interlocutor to clarify certain points on which he, Socrates, is uncertain, and his interlocutor's attempts to make himself clear lead him to realize his position is faulty. The irony lies in Socrates' stated belief that his interlocutor is very wise, when both we and Socrates know that the man is ignorant and will shortly be proven so. At the beginning of the dialogue, Socrates flatters Euthyphro into teaching him about holiness, saying that it will help Socrates in his case against Meletus. Again, at the end of the dialogue, Socrates complains that Euthyphro is not teaching him what he needs to know. It is philosophically important that Socrates should structure his discussion thus: Euthyphro as teacher then becomes responsible for the direction of the argument. Also, it is important that Socrates not simply tell Euthyphro that he is mistaken if Euthyphro is to learn anything. Instead, he must lead Euthyphro to recognize this himself by leading Euthyphro to acknowledge his own mistakes.

What evidence is there for and against reading Plato's Theory of Forms into the Euthyphro? How would such a reading affect our understanding of the dialogue?

Socrates continually insists that Euthyphro provide that one feature which all holy deeds have in common, by which they can all be defined. This insistence is similar to that which underlies the Theory of Forms, and Plato even employs much of the vocabulary that he would later use in discussing his famous theory. However, everything about the structure of the Euthyphro suggests that it is an early dialogue, which would make the presence of the Theory an impossibility. The ideas expressed in the dialogue can make perfect sense without being framed in terms of a more complex theory. If we were to read the Theory of Forms into this dialogue, however, we could identify Euthyphro's ultimate failure in defining holiness as being a failure to recognize the Theory of Forms. The feature that all holy deeds have in common is the Form of Holiness, according to the theory, and any other definition of holiness will be unsatisfactory.

What is the distinction between the definition of holiness as what is agreeable to the gods and the definition as what is approved of by all the gods? Why does Euthyphro shift from the former to the latter?

The main difference is that the second definition refers to "all the gods," whereas the first refers to "the gods." Euthyphro initially thinks holiness a simple matter of being what the gods like, but then Socrates points out that the gods often disagree. Some things that are agreeable to one god may be disagreeable to another. Thus, Euthyphro is forced to retreat to the position that only those things that all the gods agree upon and approve of can count as holy.

Evaluate Plato's argument that what is holy and what is approved of by the gods are not the same thing. Is it convincing? Can you think of any arguments Euthyphro could have given in reply?

What is the most charitable way of reading Euthyphro's suggestion that holiness is a kind of service to the gods? What different ways are there of reading this suggestion and which do you think it the most defensible?

What is the final lesson that we are to draw from the Euthyphro? Why did Plato write it?

Is there a satisfactory definition of holiness? Do either Plato or Socrates think there is? What might this definition be?

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by misshunter2012, September 09, 2013

Socrates is treating Euthyphro as the teacher when in fact Socrates is teaching Euthyphro


by misshunter2012, September 09, 2013

Plato suggesting that there is no such thing as a definition of holiness, that there is no one feature that all holy deeds have in common?

Our conception of...

by wwatso10, January 27, 2014

What Plato/Socrates is challenging is Euthyphro's/everyone's knowledge or assumed knowledge of anything, not the can we know anything idea, but have we challenged our beliefs? Are we sure that the conclusion we hold is conclusion enough? Peirce and James pick this up again a few years later.


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