I. At 5d and 6d, Socrates had asked Euthyphro what "the pious" is - that is, what if anything do all pious things have in common that makes them pious? What is it about pious things that makes them pious things? Euthyphro had said (5d) that in fact all pious things do share something that makes them pious, and at 9e he says that
"the pious is what all the gods love, and the opposite, what all the gods hate, is the impious."
Thus E. is proposing that what all pious things have in common is that these are the things that
are loved by all of the gods. In other words, that which is pious is the same as that which is
loved by all of the gods, according to Euthyphro.
II. At 10a, Socrates asks how this works:
Is the pious loved by the gods because it (the pious) is pious? Or is the pious pious because it (the pious) is loved by the gods?
In other words, what is the relationship between something being pious and that thing being loved by the gods? Only if one knew this could one tell what it means to say that the pious is what all the gods love, and only if one knew this could one tell whether it was really true that the pious is what all the gods love.
(You might notice that this proposal of E.'s does not really say anything about what the pious is -
that is, about exactly what kind of thing the gods would love and why they would love it.
However, E. does not notice this, and that may be one of the reasons why Socrates picks this
other way of showing that E. has not really explained what the pious is, or even shown that he
really knows what the pious is.)
A. At 10d, Euthyphro says that
1. the pious is loved by the gods because it (the pious) is pious, and for no other reason; and
2. the fact that the gods love something is not the cause of that thing's being pious (it is not because of being loved by the gods that a pious thing is pious).
In other words,
3. At 10c-d, Euthyphro had agreed that a thing that is loved is loved because someone or
something loves it - and (by application of what E. said at 10b about things that are carried) not
for any other reason.
In other words,
III. At 10d-e, Socrates says that this means that Euthyphro has contradicted himself - that Euthyphro has said that the pious and that which is loved by the gods (the "god-beloved") are exactly the same (9e), and also that they are different. Euthyphro has said that it's true that the pious and that which is loved by the gods are the same; and also that it's not true that these are the same. What is Socrates talking about?
There are several ways to show this. Here's one:
-- E. has said that the pious is loved by the gods because the pious is pious, and not for any other reason (10d). But he also said that that which the gods love (the "god-beloved") is loved by the gods because they love it (and apparently not for any other reason, 10b-c). Then the pious is loved by gods for exactly one reason (namely, the fact that it's pious) and the god-beloved is loved for a different reason (namely, the fact that the gods love it). So the pious is what it is (pious) for exactly one reason, and the god-beloved is what it is for a different reason. So they can't be identical, given what E. has said. The problem is, he said at 9e that they were identical!
Here's another way to see the same thing: If the pious and the god-beloved were the same, we could replace 'pious' with 'god-beloved' and/or 'god-beloved' with 'pious' in the charts from II.A. above:
Thus statement (1.) above would be
And statement (3.) above would be
IV. Has Socrates shown that the pious is not what the gods love? What Socrates has shown is
that Euthyphro has failed to explain what the pious is, what it is that the gods love and why they
love it. Indeed it is not clear whether E. understands why anything happens or how anything
Socrates' demonstrations that Euthyphro cannot support and does not understand his own answers have value in several ways.
First, the demonstrations suggest that Euthyphro does not have the kind of understanding of what the pious is that would warrant his invoking the pious in life-and-death situations, or in any political or legal proceeding. Euthyphro wants to bring his father up on charges that would have the death penalty if the father is convicted, and Euthyphro's reasons for doing this are that he (E.) is doing the pious thing and his father has done something impious. Therefore it is important for E. to see that he has not got as good a grasp of the nature of piety as he thinks.
Second, other people may think they have a good grasp of piety and of the nature and basis of civil right and civil goods, yet be as confused as Euthyphro. These people were directly involved in politics, war, and legal cases in Athens; and some people in positions of power have been like that through the ages. Their lack of understanding could lead to disaster and all kinds of injustice. If they realize after reading the Euthyphro that they need to reflect continually on the nature of justice, right, and piety, perhaps changing and developing their ideas over time, they will be able to avoid at least some of these mistakes. Also this investigation would be a form of devotion to what they even now claim to value: justice, right, piety. It would be more human than the mechanical repetition of poorly understood formalities, or the unthinking pursuit of whim cloaked in the language of right - two ways of acting that have not become less popular since Plato's time.
Third, Socrates' demonstrations show that there are problems with thinking about piety (or any
other quality we value cultivating) in the ways that Euthyphro employs. That is the issue to which
I will now turn.
A. Examples are not definitions or explanations. Euthyphro proposes at 5d that the pious is "to
prosecute the wrongdoer" no matter who he or she is; but as Socrates points out at 6d, this is (at
best) an example of a pious thing and not an account of what it is to be pious. It does not explain
how to recognize pious actions that might not have to do with prosecuting wrongdoers (for
example, sacrificing animals at festivals was supposed to be pious, and had nothing to do with
prosecution). It does not even explain how to recognize wrongdoing, nor why prosecution is the
right and pious response to wrongdoing.
B. Failure to understand causal relations undermines an explanation, especially when that explanation is supposed to be used as a basis for public action. Euthyphro's next proposal takes its sharpest form at 9e, "The pious is what all the gods love, and the opposite, what all the gods hate, is the impious." Note that Socrates never says that this statement of Euthyphro's is wrong (or right); he merely shows that Euthyphro does not understand it well, and that it is insufficient as an explanation of what the pious is. Certainly it is insufficient as a basis for action for most people, since most people do not have "instant messaging" from the gods. Thus most people will not know what the gods love in many situations, and therefore these people cannot be expected to be pious in everything they do. Yet Athenian law does require that one be pious, or at least not violate standards of piety. If Euthyphro is right, then, Athenian law must change, and Socrates cannot be prosecuted for impiety.
VI. Let us now consider another aspect of E.'s proposal. Socrates asks E. whether the gods love a thing because the thing is (already) pious, or whether instead the gods' love for a thing is what makes the thing pious. This question relies on the idea that people and gods love things for a reason (perhaps not an articulable reason, but a reason of some sort), and on the idea that it is worthwhile or appropriate to do what the gods love for us to do. E. accepts both of these ideas implicitly. In light of this, let us look at the implications of the choices S. has given:
1. The gods love a thing because the thing is pious. Then the gods love a given thing because of some underlying stable quality or aspect that the thing has. Then if we are to be pious we need to know what that quality is; the fact that the gods love it is not the whole story. We would need also to know whether and why the quality is worth following (Do the gods love it because it tortures humans in an amusing way? Should we seek actions that exhibit this quality just to avoid trouble with the gods, or are there other valuable features of it? If the former, are there other, different bargains we could strike with the gods?). [If you think this question does not come up in a religion that has a divine being that is supposed to be all-good, consider this version: If the good divine being wants us to do certain sorts of things, we will need to understand how to discern those things - the special quality they have - and something about why we need to do them, so that we will be able to do them consistently.] If we can't recognize the special quality, we can't hope to be pious and will need a new standard for behavior and law.
The point is, in this case of E.'s definition, the fact that the gods love something is not what we need to focus on in order to determine what is pious.
2. The fact that the gods love something is what makes the thing a pious thing. Either the gods love things for a consistent set of reasons, or the gods are capricious and inconsistent in their tastes. If the former, we are back in the situation of case #1 above. If the latter, then piety is no standard at all. It has no stable meaning, but changes constantly, so most of us will not know what it is at any given point, and there will be disagreements about how to interpret any message about it from the gods. A human society is unlikely to survive if it tries to rely on such a variable thing. Indeed, all search for truth and meaning will be futile, all learning useless, if the basic order of value changes (or can change) constantly.
The point is, this version of E.'s definition makes no sense as a standard, and perhaps that is why
E. himself chooses #1.
VII. Craft-type definitions and explanations are not adequate for the explanation of values and goals. From 13a to the end of the dialogue, E. offers accounts of the pious that rely on analogies to crafts or skills. Certainly Athenians were supposed to practice piety and learn how to make sacrifices and conduct rituals in certain manners, so the analogy would not be unusual. E. also probably thinks, as many Greeks did, that crafts were an important source of explanations of observable phenomena.
But there are important disanalogies too. E. suggests that being pious is taking care of gods in the way that horsebreeders take care of horses (13a). But horsebreeding takes care of and "improves" horses by making them better at what we humans want them to do. Does then piety make the gods better at what we humans want them to do? If so, the nature and goal of the pious are determined by us and not by the gods. Aside from the fact that this idea would normally be considered impious, we can see that if this idea were accurate we would have to explain which of our goals were appropriate to use the gods for, and why. This was what Socrates wanted to know in the first place, so E.'s answer is no answer at all. Also, it would radically change the basis for right and authority in Athens.
E. then suggests that piety is caring for the gods as skilled slaves work for their masters. But E. is unable to articulate what projects the gods have for us that piety is supposed to accomplish. Also, slaves do not do their best work for their masters, and often (especially in Greece where they were prisoners of war) try to undermine their masters' projects if they can.
The point is, craft-type ("how-to") explanations tell how to reach a certain goal given certain materials and actions. But they do not explain why this goal is appropriate. That question - "What is that for the sake of which things should be done?" - is exactly what S. was asking E. about in the first place. It is also exactly what he was asking about the whole time in Athens, which is what got him into trouble (that, and the way in which he was asking). One can see the central importance of this question in Plato's Phaedo, along with a remarkable attempt to approach the question at the most radical level.