BOOK REVIEW – PLATO EUTHYPHRO

One of Plato’s most under-rated dialogues, written late in his career, and set  shortly before the trial and execution of his hero, Socrates.

Socrates (409-399 BCE) had shaken many people out of their 'certainties' and closely held beliefs in the absolute nature of Justice, God, The State, Love, etc.

In Plato's Euthyphro for example, Socrates listens to Euthyphro argue the case for executing criminals, especially his own father. Euthyphro’s father has murdered a valued slave serving as a family servant on his estate,  He has been arrested and awaits trial. Euthyphro wishes to serve the courts as a lawyer, representing the prosecution.

 Euthyphro argues that it is the right thing to do, because of an incident in Homer's epics, where Zeus has his father, Cronos, castrated for crimes against Zeus's grandfather, Uranus. If it's good enough for the Gods, it's good enough for him, reasons Euthyphro. Socrates questions Euthyphro's simplistic, literal translation of Homer by asking if the Gods act in a certain way because they see that course of action .as pious, or if something is pious just because the Gods will it. Euthyphro is unable to find a reasonable answer, and goes on his way. We are never told whether he still prosecutes his father or not. It seems likely he will proceed with his case though.

It was this weakening of dogmatically held beliefs and ideas that led to Socrates' own trial, and execution. People have always taken exception to the idea that their beliefs are based on a complete fallacy.  Socrates offers no answers to the question he raises as to what Justice is. He merely tries to show that Euthyphro doesn’t understand the true nature of the concept of justice and therefore has no foundation for his extra-ordinary eagerness to prosecute his father in the interests of justice. 

 

Arthur Chappell 

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