To be alone with you

In the Euthyphro we might take Socrates’s great delight in meeting Euthyphro at the courthouse with a grain of salt. Euthyphro is a professed expert in piety who came to the court house to prosecute his father for murder – an action, he claims, that all the gods love. Given that it is unclear that all the gods would indeed love this act, Socrates’s professed desire to learn all he can about piety from Euthyphro may seem dubious.

Yet, we also know that Socrates has come to the court house to hear charges from Meletus that he is impious and, as a result, has corrupted the youth of Athens. Socrates would know that if he is convicted he might be sentenced to death and so, regardless of the court’s decision, whether he has been pious, whether his actions are “dear to the gods,” is probably at the forefront of his mind.

A secondary, but related question is whether Socrates has been dear to the city. Meletus and Euthyphro represent the young men of Athens that Socrates has supposedly corrupted. Both of them, Socrates says, see things with astonishing clarity, such that they can confidently declare who or what is pious (4e, 5c). They each claim to  know the precise nature and desires of the gods and are willing to stake someone else’s life on the correctness of their wisdom. A quick conversation with Socrates, however, shows that Euthyphro knows very little if anything about piety. For Socrates, their assumed clarity about something that he can only describe by use of images and poetry clearly represents a corruption, and, he must worry that he has failed to care for his city, and thus its gods, as he should have.

In the course of the conversation, Socrates asks Euthyphro whether something is pious because it is made so by the gods’ love and care or do they love a pious act because it is pious in and of itself. When Euthyphro can’t answer him, he changes tactics, asking how piety might be related to justice, and Euthyphro says that piety is a part of justice wherein we care for and love the gods while the other part of justice is how we care for and love other humans.

In both instances, we are asked to consider what is the affective nature of love. Are others transformed by our loving them? Can they be corrupted or made better by our attention? If so, what would it mean if the gods loved us? How would their love transform us? And then, finally, how would we be able to reciprocate — in what way does our care or attention affect or even matter to the divine.

When answering Socrates as to what our care of the gods results in, Euthyphro responds by saying, many beautiful things (13e). Although he then moves again off track, Socrates suggests that in this answer he was on the brink of saying something important (14c). As in many dialogues, Plato repeatedly refers us to to the poets, the makers of beautiful things. In this dialogue, for instance, we learn that the poets have told us, for instance, about the many things the gods love, and Socrates’s own ancestor, Daedalus, was a sculptor or craftsman of mythic abilities.

When addressing if the gods care for or love us, Socrates suggests that the answer is obvious—after all, he notes, we owe our very existence to them. The finite world and our place in it, seems to Socrates to be the work of a divine poet or artist (15a). They demonstrate their care in our creation.

The difficulty Euthyphro realizes is that there is nothing comparable that we can do for the gods.  They need nothing from us, nor does it seem that their lives can be made any better through our love. Piety, it would seem, is useless.

Socrates then notes that when one is in love, one follows their beloved anywhere. The pious person then would follow behind the gods. While we perhaps cannot take care of the gods, we can take care of their creation. It is is instructive that Socrates suggests that piety is a part of justice.  Put anther way, piety is a different way to think about justice, wherein, caring for the gods means caring for one another.

Towards the end of the dialogue, both Socrates and Euthyphro accuse one another of being Daedalus – of creating arguments that then come alive and run away on them. Plato thereby suggests that we think of ourselves in relationship to ourselves, others and the world as akin to Daedalus. However, while Daedalus’s sculptures, like those of the gods, come to life, the material that we have to work on is already living. The role of the pious person, the just person, is encourage its ongoing beauty, and, in so doing, produce many “beautiful things” in honor of the gods.