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Plato's Euthyphro
“Says who?!”
Topic of the dialogue
Stated objective: to define piety
Real topic: general nature of moral responsibility
Proposed definitions
Prosecuting a wrongdoer, whoever it might be
Doing what is dear to (pleases) the gods
Doing what is loved by all the gods.
Excellence in care of the gods
1st def: prosecuting a wrongdoer
An example, not a definition
Need examples to arrive at definitions
But this example not helpful
2nd def: what is dear to the gods
What is dear to some gods is not dear to
Piety is not well defined in these cases
Hence no basis for resolving disagreement
Requirement of objectivity
In stating what would justify a moral claim, we
must provide criteria that would lead
everyone to the same answer.
3rd def: what is loved by all the gods
Call an action god-beloved if it is loved by all
the gods. Then the third definition says that
piety and god-belovedness are the same.
Argument against 3rd def:
1. An action is god-beloved only because the
gods love it; they do not love it because it is
2. But an action is not pious because the gods
love it; rather, they love it because it is pious.
3. Hence, piety and god-belovedness cannot
be the same.
Divine command theory of morality
States that basic moral standards derive their
validity from the will of God. “x is wrong” means
“God forbids x,” and “x is good” means “God
approves of x.”
Implies there is no morality if God does not
Not the same as the claim that we ought to do
what God commands
Strengths of divine command theory
Explains felt contrast between morality and
Explains why morality seems similar to law
Has a chance of making morality objective
Critique of divine command theory
Counterintuitive implications
Rules out many reasons for obeying God’s
God’s knowledge of what we ought to do
God’s authority over us.
Gratitude for God’s beneficence
Seems to leave only fear of God’s power as
such a reason
4th def: care of the gods
What is involved?
• sacrifice and prayer
• giving to and begging from the gods
• trading with the gods
• doing what pleases the gods.
Thus we are in a circle
A shift in direction occurs here
Socrates’s challenge
Reflectively examine your way of life
Don’t just rely on custom or authority
Seek a justification that you and others can
reasonably accept
In the Apology Socrates accepts this
challenge for himself