Piety and holiness—dialogue of Socrates and Euthyphro Explicatory Essay

August 4, 2021 by Essay Writer

The dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro is focused on the definition of piety or holiness and is set up in a humorous and sarcastic tone. Socrates pretends to be unknowing of a seemingly straightforward concept of piety and asks Euthyphro to educate him on what it really means.

In the end, it is shown that neither come to a certain conclusion and Euthyphro realizes that he does not have a slightest clue what piety really means, which leads him to leave in frustration.

The dialogue is significant because it makes one think of the definition and understanding of piety, as well as the amount of knowledge a person has.

When Socrates and Euthyphro meet, they are both at court for their own trials. Euthyphro came to lay charges of manslaughter against his father for careless actions and negligence that led to a death of another man. Socrates came because he wants to charge Meletus.

The true reasons that each one has are questioned and so, Socrates asks Euthyphro how can he really know what is right and holy. Euthyphro shows that he is very knowledgeable and begins to tell Socrates what it means.

The fact that it is so hard to define, makes the man confused even more and a realization emerges that it is not as simple as one might think.

The first definition that Euthyphro gives pertains to his own actions and that it is the right thing to do. Socrates points out that his actions cannot be a definition of the concept, as actions are merely an example of the qualities that the method or definition contains.

The second definition given by Euthyphro defines piety as being “pleasing” in the eyes of the Gods and for them. But Socrates questions the definition of the word “pleasing” and asks how all Gods can agree on one explanation.

Socrates creates a doubt that Gods will disagree on the justifications of someone’s actions and it would be almost impossible to prove what was really beneficial or not.

The third definition that Euthyphro offers is centered on the sacrifices that people give to Gods, as well as prayers and respect. But Socrates responds with a question of how can sacrifices that humans make to Gods be of benefit to such high beings.

Euthyphro responds that they do not need any factual gain but must be simply in approval. This makes the argument return to the beginning where it was established that it is impossible to define what is approved by the Gods and by which standards or criteria (Plato, 2010).

In this dialogue and arguments Socrates wants to show Euthyphro that not everything is as simple as it might seem and that certain important things and definitions must be given a lot of thought and explaining before acting in accordance.

Socrates gives a type of his own definition but then questions his reasoning. This shows that his end goal was to establish the truth that there is no quick and concrete definition but one must be acquired through a lot of knowledge and comprehension.

Socrates demonstrates that this is his real point through his argumentation and own questioning. He is aware that it is extremely difficult for humans to define something so vast and complex and so, all he wants to do is contemplate, in order to come to a more specific answer.

This is seen through the fact that Socrates uses sarcasm and cyclical argumentation. He builds upon the previous reversion of Euthyphro’s argument and establishes how little information and fact it presents.

Piety or holiness, as Socrates mentions, has a lot to do with ethics, virtue and justice. The definition must be universal, as the laws of kindness and morality do not change through time. One of the most important criteria of piety is understanding and forgiveness.

Anything that is holy is based on the highest moral principles and understanding that people will make mistakes. There is somewhat of a separation between what humans define as holy and what the just principles of the universe are.

Humanity is rather young in its development and it is obvious that morals and ethics do not rule the world. Even though there are wars and misunderstandings, self-sacrifice, honor and kindness towards others stay the same through time and space.

To be truly virtuous, ethical and holy, a person must be able to look beyond the self and possess the ability to choose the greater good. Even in the case where one must sacrifice own well being and benefits, the right thing to do would be to choose over personal wants and needs.

But at the same time, it is possible to question what the greater good is and who the most correct person to define the highest moral principles is (Gardiner, 2005).

Is the greater morality important for the largest amount of people or is it an individual who is the most important entity in the definition?

Also, is it humanity that is most valuable in existence or could it be the planet, animals and other living creatures? It is evident that holiness is difficult to define and this is exactly what Socrates has established.


Gardiner, S. (2005). Virtue Ethics, Old And New. Ithaca, United States: Cornell University Press.

Plato. (2010). Euthyphro. San Francisco, United States: Cathal Woods.

Read more