One of the most interesting and influential thinkers of all time was Socrates, whose dedication to careful reasoning helped form the basis for
philosophy. Socrates applied logical tricks in the pursuit for the truth. Consequently, his willingness to call everything into question and his
determination to accept nothing less than an adequate account of the nature of things made him one of the first people to utilize critical
philosophy. Although he was well known for his philosophical ways of thinking, Socrates never wrote anything down, so we are dependant
on his students, like Plato, for any detailed knowledge of his methods or ways of thinking. One of the early dialogues in which Plato had
The Euthyphro dialogue begins with Socrates becoming involved in a touchy conversation with an over confident young man, Euthyphro.
Socrates finds Euthyphro perfectly certain of his own ethical morality even in the situation of prosecuting his own father in court. Socrates
asks him to define what piety, or moral duty really is. He asks for something more than just lists of what pious actions are. Euthyphro is
supposed to provide a general definition that captures the very basic nature of what piety is.
Euthyphro claims that he knows what it is to be pious, but every answer he offers is subjected to the full force of Socrates’ critical thinking.
Socrates systematically refutes Euthyphro’s suggestion that what makes right actions right is that the gods love, or approve of them. First,
there is the problem that since questions of right and wrong often create endless disputes, the gods are likely to disagree among themselves
about moral matters just as often as we do, making some actions both right and wrong. Socrates lets Euthyphro off the hook on this one by
agreeing with him, but only for purposes of continuing the discussion. More importantly, Socrates instigates a formal problem for Euthyphro
from a deceivingly simple question, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Neither
choice can do the justice for which Euthyphro intends his definition of piety. If right actions are pious only because the gods love them, then
moral rightness is completely optional, depending only on the impulses of the gods. But if the gods love right actions only because they are
already right, then there must be some non-divine source of values, which we might come to know separately from their love. Plato’s final
answer to the question of what makes a pious act pious is to say that there is a form, piety itself, by virtue of which a pious act is pious.
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