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Dialogues of Plato | Euthyphro | Summary

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Plato does not break up his dialogues into sections. They are, rather, continuous discussions. Artificial breaks, which generally follow R.E. Allen's translation (Yale University Press) have been generated here for ease of use.

Summary

Euthyphro and Socrates run into each other outside the King's Porch. Euthyphro, surprised to see Socrates away from his usual haunt at the lyceum, a place for public lectures, says he can't believe Socrates is at the court to pursue a case, as he is. Instead, Socrates must be there to defend himself against an indictment.

Socrates agrees that he would not indict anyone, and that he is the subject of an indictment from a young man named Meletus. He relates to Euthyphro that Meletus must be a knowledgeable man to bring the charge, including corruption of youth, against him. He goes on to say that Meletus is surely doing the right thing by starting his political career by protecting the "young men of the City first so that they will be as good as possible."

Euthyphro expresses dismay at the news. Far from thinking Socrates could do any harm, Euthyphro declares Meletus is "injuring the City at its very hearth in undertaking to wrong you." After Socrates lists the other charges—not worshipping the city gods and introducing new divinities—Euthyphro asks if Socrates's "divine sign" is the root of one of the charges of impiety.

When Euthyphro tells Socrates that he is the plaintiff in his case, and that the defendant is his father, Socrates is shocked. He asks Euthyphro why he would bring a suit against his own father. He speculates that Euthyphro's father must have killed a family member, since Euthyphro would not take an action "in behalf of a stranger."

Euthyphro tells Socrates that wrong is wrong, whoever does it, and whoever is wronged. He proceeds to tell Socrates the story that brought him to the courthouse. One of his day laborers was working on the family farm, got drunk, and killed one of the family slaves. Euthyphro's father had the man bound and threw him into a ditch while he sent someone to Athens to get religious advice about what to do. Euthyphro's father didn't think it mattered if the man died or not because he was already a murderer. Before the messenger returned, the man died of exposure and hunger.

Euthyphro's family is upset with him for prosecuting his father, but, he says, they don't know anything about "religious matters regarding the holy and the unholy." Socrates expresses surprise at Euthyphro's declaration of knowledge, particularly as the consequences of his action will be profound. However, Euthyphro is undeterred. He is supremely confident that he has the requisite knowledge to pursue his case.

Socrates proposes that he become Euthyphro's student. If he can tell Meletus that he is receiving religious education from Euthyphro, then Meletus might drop the charges against him. If Meletus won't drop the charges, then, Socrates says, he can indict Euthyphro in Socrates's place.

Euthyphro agrees with the plan. He says Meletus wouldn't get very far with an indictment against him.

Analysis

The dialogue's setting determines its contents. Because the speakers are on the steps to the King's Court, they will talk about justice.

The opening of the Euthyphro reveals much about both characters. Euthyphro seems to fancy himself a religious expert, and he also sees a kinship between Socrates and himself. In his mind, both are unconventional individuals who seem to invite public scorn. Of philosophical note is Euthyphro's declaration that morality is objective and universal. In this regard, he certainly swims against the social tide, and on the face of it, seems to hold a view of morality that is very similar to Socrates's. However, what becomes apparent is that his professed view does not comport with his reasoning in the dialogue.

Socrates appears skeptical, not only of the knowledge Meletus "must" have in order to bring serious charges against Socrates, but also the knowledge Euthyphro claims on behalf of his action. In addition, the reader learns about Socrates's "divine sign" (daimon), which Socrates himself discusses in the Apology. There, he talks about an "inner voice" that stops him from doing what is wrong.

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