Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoThird Definition Fourth Definition And Conclusion Summary 12e 16a Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Third Definition, Fourth Definition, and Conclusion Summary (12e–16a) | Summary



Socrates proceeds to inquire into exactly which part of the just holiness is. Euthyphro makes two proposals, both of which fail. The first is that holiness is the sort of ministering to the gods that benefits them. However, because the gods can't be benefitted or improved by men, holiness must be a different part of justice. The second proposal is that holiness is a sort of service to the gods. However, this implies that the gods find such service acceptable. As Euthyphro asserts, "I certainly think [prayers and sacrifices are] loved by the gods." But that brings the two back to Euthyphro's first definition, that holiness is what the gods love.

Although Euthyphro agrees they've gone wrong somewhere in their investigation, he announces that he does not have time to continue with the inquiry. He is already late for his court date. Socrates decries Euthyphro's abandonment of the project to convince Meletus to drop the charges of impiety.


Euthyphro is a paradigmatic instance of Socratic method at work, and it foreshadows for the reader Socrates's reference in the Apology to the confusion and frustration felt by his interlocutors. Euthyphro thinks he knows what holiness is. He is so convinced that he's willing to leverage it in a court case against his own father. However, Socrates's questioning and analyses reveal that Euthyphro does not even have a tenuous grasp of what the nature of holiness is. The last two definitions make clear that Euthyphro cannot divest holiness from the gods' approval, even while he maintains that holiness is a morality of the highest order and has inherent value. In some interpretations of the order of Plato's dialogues, this dialogue also sets the stage for Socrates's trial and raises important questions about the efficacy of his teaching.

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