Socrates and the Defintion of Piety Essay

Plato’s dialog called Euthyphro is about a discussion that took place between Socrates and Euthyphro concerning the meaning of piety, or one’s duty to both gods and to humanity. Socrates has recently been charged with impiety and is about to be tried before the Athenian court while Euthyphro is on trial for murder. Because Socrates knew that the Athenian people did not understand the meaning of piety, Socrates asks Euthyphro to answer the question “What is piety?” He wants to see if Euthyphro is as wise as he claims to be, and if he is not, Socrates will debunk his claim.

Socrates is anxious to find out about the nature of piety since Meletus has accused him of the crime of impiety. Socrates addresses this question to Euthyphro, “What is piety?” Euthyphro answers that piety is bringing charges against one who has done wrong, even though that person happens to be his own father. Socrates is not satisfied with that answer and insist that a proper definition of piety must include all parts of morality.

In reply, Euthyphro says, “Piety is what is dear to the gods and impiety is that which is not dear to them” (p.420). Socrates then concludes it be no more satisfactory than the previous one. It is not clear what makes anything dear to the gods, or if what is dear to some of the gods is dear to all. Socrates then asks Euthyphro if people who are pious are also just. Euthyphro answers yes, but not all just persons are pious. Socrates then wants to know if piety is a part of justice, and if it is, what part? Euthyphro replies that piety is that part of justice that attends to the gods, just as there is another part of justice that attends to men. This, too, is unsatisfactory because we do not know what “attends” means.

At this point, Euthyphro states that there are various ways in which men can minister to the gods, but he does not point them out. Socrates still insists that he does not know what piety is since Euthyphro cannot come up with its true definition. The question is an important one, not only for Socrates, but for anyone relative to moral behavior. The dialog closes without any final answer to the question with which the discussion started. Socrates urges Euthyphro to continue the search for the meaning of piety. Until he has found it, there can be no justification for the decision he has made concerning his father.


Lawhead, William F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. Print.

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