Friday, September 28, 2012

Yo, Euthyphro!

Preparing for a humanities lecture next week, I've been re-reading Plato's Euthyphro. Just for the heck of it, I thought it'd be fun to write a summary as it may sound in contemporary language. Here's the setup: Socrates just bumped into a theologian named Euthyphro at the courthouse. Socrates has been accused of corrupting the young, while Euthyphro has come to sue his father. Both have some time to kill, so they begin to discuss the nature of piety. Hijinks ensue.

Euthyphro: S’up?

Socrates: Getting sued.

Euthyphro: Dammmn!

Socrates: It’s cool. I annoy folks. Probably deserve it.

Euthyphro: Yeah, but you’ll be OK. I mean, hey, you’re Socrates! Me, I’m suing my father.

Socrates: Dude, your dad?

Euthyphro: I know, right? Thing is, Dad killed a laborer of mine. So he’s gotta pay. The rest of the family disagrees, of course. They say I’m being "impious." But what do they know? I’m a theologian for gods’ sakes!  

Socrates: Cool. Did I mention that I’m being accused of being impious?

Euthyphro: Did I mention that I’m suing my dad? Yeah, I know about all about stuff.

Socrates: Yeah, you’re pretty hardcore. OK, here’s the plan. Since you’re such an expert on being pious and all, I’ll say I learned from you. And since they respect you, they’ve got to respect me. So whatever you say about piety, I’ll repeat in court. From here on out, dude, I’m your pupil.

Euthyphro: OK.

Socrates: So, um, what’s piety?

Euthyphro: Well, piety is doing pretty much what I’m doing: Suing my dad. Do stuff like that.

Socrates: Yeah… I’m not suing your dad. I need a more general definition.

Euthyphro: Gotcha. OK. Let’s see… Oh, yeah. Piety is whatever pleases the gods. Cool, huh?

Socrates: Not so much. See, aren't the gods always fighting? And if they are, then they can’t share a common definition of anything, right? Certainly not piety. Heck, by the gods’ goofy standards, a thing can be both pious and impious at the same time, depending on who’s doing the measuring.

Euthyphro: Of course, if you want to get picky about it. But all the gods agree on some stuff. Like, that killing is bad. That stuff’s definitely not pious.

Socrates: Fair enough. But do the gods agree on the punishment for murder? Or do the gods sometimes punish some folks for murder and let others get away with it?

Euthyphro: Well, yeah, sure. They disagree about punishment all the time. That’s what gods do!

Socrates: Disagreeable lot, aren’t they? But here’s the thing: How can you be sure about whether you’re doing the right thing right now?

Euthyphro: I see where you’re going with this. And I can definitely answer your question. If only we had more time.

Socrates: Uh huh. Not having enough time: That's is the problem. I get it. Look, let’s approach this another way. What makes a thing “pious,” anyway? Is there some ultimate pious essence out there, like, from Planet Pious, or is “pious” just a name we apply to some things but not to others?

Euthyphro: [Derp]

Socrates: Alright, I’ll slow down. How do we define an action, like, um, the act of “carrying”? Do we say, “Yo, that guy’s carrying a dog, so clearly that dog’s being carried”? Or do we say, “See that dog? It’s being carried. That guy must be the ‘carrier’”?

Euthyphro: The second one, I think.

Socrates: You know it! Things are because they are, dude!

Euthyphro: I’m pretty sure I said that.

Socrates: So piety is a thing that gods love because it is pious. A thing isn’t “pious” because gods love it. 

Euthyphro: Yeah!

Socrates: No.

Euthyphro: Wait, what?

Socrates: Here’s the thing: All gods aren’t pleased by piety in the same way. You said that. And just because the gods may all be pleased by one thing in this one circumstance doesn’t make that thing pious. It may just happen that all the gods like that one thing and we therefore call it “pious.” Maybe we’re really talking about opinion rather than truth.

Euthyphro: But one thing leads to the other! How can you separate the two?

Socrates: Hey, this is your dilemma.

Euthyphro: No, it’s your dilemma! You’re being a real tool, Socrates.

Socrates: Yeah, I hear that a lot. Look, let me help you a bit. Let’s stick to basics: We agree that the act of being pious is really about being just, right?

Euthyphro: Sheesh! OK. Yes. It’s about being just.

Socrates: Right. Now does that mean that everything that is pious is also just?

Euthyphro: How the hell do I know? What’s your point?

Socrates: Euthyphro, chill… All I’m saying is that just because one thing, like piety, has the quality of another thing, like justice, the one thing isn’t necessarily the same as the other. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, maybe piety is a subset of a larger category that we may call “justice.”

Euthyphro: Sure, I guess that makes sense.

Socrates: See? I told you this was pretty basic stuff. Now all you need to do is explain what makes something pious. And while you’re doing that, make sure that you explain how piety contributes one aspect to justice that can't be confused with other aspects of justice.  

Euthyphro: Got it. OK, when it comes to justice, piety is that quality by which men serve the gods. Anything else is, um, not pious. Yeah, that’s it. Oh, and being pious is our way of taking care of the gods.

Socrates: “Taking care of the gods”?

Euthyphro: Yeah.

Socrates: What do you mean? Like, making them happy?

Euthyphro: Exactly. If the gods are happy, we must be doing something right. We’ll call that something “being pious.”

Socrates: Wow. Just, wow. And you say that my thinking is circular.

Euthyphro: It’s actually pretty basic when you think about it.

Socrates: Yeah. Problem is, your idea of piety sounds exactly like my idea of customer service. You know, like when you go to a restaurant: “The customer’s always right.” Right?

Euthyphro: Right.

Socrates: But what if the customer is wrong? Like, can’t the restaurant server say, “Um, you really shouldn’t order poison for dinner. It’s a stupid idea, and I won’t sell it to you”? Or, by your definition, should the server sell poison anyway because, after all, “The customer’s always right”?

Euthyphro: Yeah, that’s pretty much what I’m saying.

Socrates: Thanks. Note to self: Never eat at Euthyphro's. Oh, and by the way: You still haven’t defined what it is to be pious. So get on with it, "teacher"!

Euthyphro: Look “student,” I gotta go. I’m suing my dad, you know. Can’t be late.

Socrates: And you called me a tool?

More Pseudo Scripts

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