What is piety?

Essay by John RooneyCollege, UndergraduateB, January 1997

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What is Piety

During the Periclean age (around 400 B.C.) in Athens Greece there was a man named Socrates. He was considered a very wise man by the Athenians. However there were men in power who did not care for him or his teachings; Claiming that he corrupted the Athenian youth and did not believe in the Greek gods, Socrates was put on trail. On his way to his trial Socrates met a man named Euthyphro, a professional priest who is respected by the 'authorities' (those who want get rid of Socrates). Euthyphro is at the court house to prosecute his father for murder. Socrates finds this to be interesting. If Euthyphro can properly explain why he is prosecuting his father for murder Socrates might have an understanding of piety. This would help Socrates to defend himself, for the prosecutors know and think highly of Euthyphro.

Socrates could then draw parallels between himself and Euthyphro, who the citizens' highly respect, thus bringing him respect, and freedom. This is where Socrates begins his dialogue with Euthyphro seeking the definition of piety. Socrates wants Euthyphro to teach him the meaning of piety since Euthyphro considers himself an authority on the subject. In this dialogue Euthyphro gives Socrates four different definitions of what he believes piety is, none of which prove satisfactory to Socrates, leaving the question unanswered in the end.

The first definition that Euthyphro provides to Socrates is that 'the pious is to do what I am doing now to prosecute the wrong doer' (Plato, Euthyphro, Grube trans., p. 9). This is merely an example of piety, and Socrates is seeking a definition, not one or two pious actions. Socrates says 'you did not teach me adequately when I asked you what the pious was, but...