Weitere Kapitel dieses Buchs durch Wischen aufrufen
A chance encounter with a certain Euthyphro leads Socrates to have a conversation directly related to the charges that are about to be brought against him and on which he will soon be convicted and sentenced to die. Euthyphro claims, and persists in claiming, that he possesses a profound understanding of piety and the gods, which understanding Socrates has long tried to acquire for himself. The dialogue consists of Socrates’ effort to learn what Euthyphro knows, which includes the requirement that he test whether Euthyphro really knows what he claims. Although Socrates may also wish to deter Euthyphro from prosecuting his father for murder, which he thinks his professed knowledge requires him to do, Ambler argues that Socrates’ deeper goal is to see whether, how, and how far his merely human wisdom is entitled to assess and reject Euthyphro’s claim to divine wisdom.
Bitte loggen Sie sich ein, um Zugang zu diesem Inhalt zu erhalten
Sie möchten Zugang zu diesem Inhalt erhalten? Dann informieren Sie sich jetzt über unsere Produkte:
I am thinking especially of Leo Strauss’ studies of both historicism and the tension between “Jerusalem and Athens.” For one striking statement, see Natural Right and History (Chicago: U of Chicago, 1975), 75. Of course others have helped bring out the richness of his reflections on these issues. Some appear even to have added to them substantially.
This theme is a frequent one in the works of Strauss, who is perhaps most emphatic about it in “Reason and Revelation,” in Heinrich Meier, Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Problem (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2006), 141–179. His lecture on the Euthyphro concludes with a caution against underestimating the tension between the Bible and philosophy. “An Untitled lecture on Plato’s ‘Euthyphron,’” Interpretation Fall (1996). See also David Leibowitz, The Ironic Defense of Socrates (Cambridge: Cambridge U Press, 2010), 66–72, and Dustin Sebell, The Socratic Turn (Philadelphia: U of Penn Press, 2016), 32–40, 51, 96–105.
Consider Strauss, Philosophy and Law (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), 28–39 and Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (New York: Schocken, 1965), 28–31. See also “Progress or Return?” in Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, ed. Pangle (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1989), 265–266.
Strauss has made this a familiar point. For one succinct example, see The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1963), xv. More generally, consider his analyses of radical historicism as rooted in early modern philosophy.
The Euthyphro does not use these terms, but when Euthyphro’s wisdom or knowledge is referred to, the subject matter is generally said or implied to be “the divine things” or “piety,” as I note later in this paragraph and elsewhere. Of course I take “human wisdom” from Apology of Socrates 23a5–7, 20d8–9. (Socrates refers in the Cratylus to a certain “Euthyphro the Prospaltion,” and refers to his wisdom as “daemonic” [396d5–9].)
It is keeping with Euthyphro’s high assessment of his wisdom that he can speak as if “the human beings” are a lower species (5e5–6a3). It is a sign of Socrates’ gradual devaluation of Euthyphro’s wisdom that he later reports him as saying he knows the divine things best “among human beings” (13e7–8). Euthyphro’s acceptance of this compliment is still a boast, but it no longer represents a claim to have escaped the limits of our species.
For these subjects of Euthyphro’s knowledge, see especially 3c1, 4e5, 6c6, 13e7–9, 16a1; 4e2; 5e5–6c7, 9b4–5 and context; 15d8–e2. “Piety” here translates both to hosion and to eusebes, as well as the abstract nouns cognate with them. I do not notice an essential difference between them, though I believe Socrates uses only asebeia to characterize the charges leveled against him (5c6–8, 12e2–3).
Like my Preface, my chapter as a whole is indebted especially to both Strauss and Christopher Bruell, though their readings of the dialogue are strikingly different. I hope this will become clear below, but to start with a general point, Strauss’ essay was written to be presented orally, and it contains no precise references to the pages of Plato’s text. See Strauss, “An Untitled lecture on Plato’s ‘Euthyphron,’” and Christopher Bruell, On the Socratic Education: An Introduction to the Shorter Dialogues (Lanham, MD: Roman and Littlefield, 1999), chapter 10. Subsequent references to Bruell are primarily to the numbered paragraphs of chapter 10 of this book. References to Strauss are by page number.
For references to this amusing plan, see 5a3–c8, 12e1–4, and 15e5–16a4.
David Leibowitz sees evidence for this motive in the fact that Socrates intensifies the conversation only when Euthyphro says that he is prosecuting his father. (“Reply to Levy,” Interpretation, 39:1, p. 96, note 1.) But this is also the moment at which Euthyphro shows how confident he is of his imagined wisdom by indicating that he is perfectly willing to expose himself and his entire family to serious consequences by acting in accord with it. Previously, Socrates had downplayed the stakes involved in Euthyphro’s divine claims, when he mentioned appearing before the Assembly as a (loony) prophet (3c6–d2, 3d9–e2). Perhaps it is not only the claim that interests Socrates but also the evidence that Euthyphro believes the claim so deeply as to expose himself to real risks by acting in accord with it. Socrates later stresses these risks (15d4–e1).
I am influenced here by Bruell (paras 3, 7–8), who raises the question of whether the pious is actually prior to the divine. To note influence is not to claim full understanding.
5c8–d7 and 6d9–e9. I simplify: the second of these statements is similar but not identical to the first.
Strauss uses different evidence to establish a similar point, which he then develops at greater length and more boldly than I do here. When Euthyphro says Zeus is “most just,” Strauss observes that he tacitly accepts a stable idea in accord with which Zeus must be understood and in light of which he must act. His reading sees Euthyphro as already implying these fundamental alternatives, gods or ideas, so in accepting ideas Euthyphro hereby testifies against the gods (15–17).
Bruell’s impressive rescue of a bracketed eirētai gar (7b1) enables him to show that Euthyphro’s agreement at 9e4–9 represents an abandonment of the principle of authority (“it has been said”) in favor of the principle of investigation (“we must examine”) (para 8, 127b). This “it has been said,” along with another one three lines later, may help to suggest that important beliefs about the gods depend at least in part upon authoritative reports passed down among human beings. Recall the importance of poets, artists, and civic rituals (6b7–c4).
Note that Socrates recasts the charge against him so that it holds him to be guilty of not knowing the truth about the gods, not that he does not believe in the old gods (5a3–b2, 12e1–4, 15e5–16a2). Athens, however, requires conformity, not wisdom, and does not tolerate the degree of inquiry that Euthyphro allows here.
Socrates refers to Euthyphro’s actual or promised teaching with striking frequency: 5b2, b4, 5c5, 6d2, 6d10, 6e3, 7a4, 9a1, 9c3, 9d8, 11e3, 12e1–4, 14c1. This said, it is perhaps only at 5b8–c3 and 7a5 that Euthyphro really embraces Socrates’ description of him as a teacher. Euthyphro may be more confident of his wisdom than of his ability to transmit it to ordinary human beings, try though he does with Socrates.
10d1–4. As noted above, his first methodological agreement also implies that piety is prior to divine action. The substantive and methodological points collaborate in showing restrictions to which Euthyphro subjects his gods.
I simplify a complicated text that considers not only the just as a cause of divine quarrel but also the good and the beautiful (7b6–8b6). Whether it is especially the just that stimulates the gods’ love is a question (7e6–7), for of course they might prefer what is beautiful or beneficial to what is just. Perhaps it was with beauty in mind that Socrates added “human being” at 7a7. If so, it would fully justify my earlier reference to Ganymede and company.
5e5–6a5. Euthyphro sees himself as doing what Zeus did. This leads Strauss to characterize Euthyphro’s first definition of piety as maintaining that piety is imitating the gods, not obeying them. This is indeed an unorthodox view: it even implies that piety would no longer include prayer or sacrifice (14). Strauss’ treatment of the issue has the advantage of raising a fundamental question: should we imitate the gods or obey them? Bruell stresses instead that Zeus too conforms to a law that is prior to him, one which both he and Euthyphro obey (5e3; para 9, 129t). This difference between Bruell and Strauss is in turn closely tied to the question of how Euthyphro and Socrates are related to orthodoxy. Strauss stresses Euthyphro’s radicalism: piety as imitation is radical, and prosecuting one’s father defies filial piety. He thus sees Socrates as trying to bring Euthyphro back to orthodoxy (18b–19t). Bruell, on the other hand, stresses that Euthyphro accepts the old gods whereas Socrates does not, so he can describe Socrates as giving Euthyphro the chance to bring him back to orthodoxy (para 5, 123m).
Consider what Socrates (365–411), the Unjust Speech (esp. 900–06), and the post-conversion Pheidippides (1399–1400, 1421–29) have to say in the Clouds. As for Dawkins, nothing excites him more than attacking the God of the Old Testament on moral grounds (consider his often-quoted opening words of chapter 2 of The God Delusion [NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2006]), and he never tires of assuming, implying, or declaring the moral and intellectual superiority of modern science to religion. For but one example, see The God Delusion, chapter 8, where the presumed truth and goodness of modern science are taken to discredit its main rival, a satisfying and persuasive procedure for all who begin with the same presumption. Of course the differences between Dawkins and Aristophanes’ Socrates are also striking, especially since the former is animated by a universal political project.
Euthyphro is excited about a science of prayer and sacrifice (14b2–5, c5–6, and d1–3). 4e4–8 refers to his professed knowledge of the divine things more generally. It is also apt that the only word cognate with “nature” occurs in a poem referring to Zeus “who begat [ ephuteusen] all these things” (12a10). Science and nature are in this context subsumed into the focus on things divine. For a similar point about Euthyphro’s wisdom, see notes 5 and 6.
12e5–8. I here pass over Socrates’ unnecessarily long argument to explain to Euthyphro the very simple part/whole relationship (11e4–12d4). As for the poem that Socrates uses as one illustration of this relationship, Bruell has to be correct that it makes other contributions as well. Its subject matter is the very subject of the dialogue as a whole (for awe is a close relative of piety), and it alludes to the question of the justice of Zeus. I cannot capture fully his rich interpretation, which develops a remarkable correspondence between Socrates’ revised interpretation of the poem and his effort to weaken the connection between piety and justice in the conversation as a whole (para 10, 131–132).
I wonder whether it is some sense of these limits that guide the opening paragraph of Strauss’ “On the Euthyphron.” He stresses the incompleteness of the dialogue’s teaching and adds, “Thinking may be said to be the most satisfying activity regardless of the result.” Might it turn out, perhaps to our surprise, that the case for Socratic philosophizing does not depend entirely on its ability to defeat conclusively all possible rivals?
- Plato’s Euthyphro on Divine and Human Wisdom
- Chapter 11