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What Is Piety?

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An ancient yet timeless debate over the true definition of piety can be found in a critical dialogue between Euthyphro and Socrates. Throughout this commentary, Euthyphro offers several of his own interpretations, but they are quickly followed by Socrates' objections. Socrates main objection follows Euthyphro's claim that the pious is what loved by the gods and the impious is what hated by the gods. Socrates questions if gods love pious things for the sole reason that they are pious, or if things are pious because the gods love them. Socrates elaborates on his statement by relating the subject to something carrying and something being carried. Something is not being carried because it something carried, for it is being carried. Further, as Socrates alludes to, something loved is not something changed, but something affected by something. Therefore the gods love the pious because it is pious, and things are not necessarily pious because the gods love them.

Amidst all of Socrates' objections, Euthyphro's fairest response comes at the end of the dialogue in his final attempt at defining piety. He begins to explain piety as what is just in terms of caring for the gods, yet not for the purpose of making them better. He relates it to the care that slaves have to their masters or soldiers to their generals, which is, in a sense, to show respect and not do things that are unjust. However, Socrates still finds ways to find flaws in Euthyphro's proposals and causes Euthyphro to reiterate a past problem: that it is difficult to explain the subject of piety. All in all, he concludes that man has his own perception of what is pious by way of pleasing the gods through sacrifice and prayer.

Socrates' ideas and words seem to overpower Euthyphro's thoughts and conceptions on piety. However, one must take into account the roles each thinker plays throughout the discourse. In any philosophical debate, there is one who puts for claims (Euthyphro), and one who challenges them (Socrates). With a subject as delicate as defining piety, the challenger already possesses the upper hand. Although it circumvents one of Socrates' objections, Euthyphro's response about Socrates persistently turning the table is difficult to argue against. Each of Socrates' objections holds more substance than the responses of Euthyphro, mainly due to his superior position. It is fair for Socrates to argue between the difference between god-loved things and things being loved by the gods and he is correct when noting the discrepancy. Also, Euthyphro appears to come close to nailing the definition of piety in his final attempt, but is again forced to retreat. After reading and contemplating the two thinkers' arguments, I believe a plausible definition of piety can be conjured. A new possible definition is as follows: favoring and respecting the gods to the point where one does all possible to not disappoint them nor harm one's



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