Plato's Euthyphro and Crito
Prof. Bill Long 8/30/06
Plato is on everyone's list of "great authors" in Western Civilization. Yet he isn't much read anymore, except for classes in ancient philosophy or political theory. I think if you have a rudimentary understanding of what Plato was trying to do in the three dialogues assigned for this week (including the Apology), and have a sense of what the Republic is about (my 20 essays, in which I march through the text of Books IV in a very detailed fashion, are here), you are equipped to go out into the world with a good basic understanding of his thought. The purpose of class today is to present questions that probe all three dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito. We will consider them in that order.
Three preliminary points may be helpful to mention. First, part of Plato's genius, in my judgment, rests on the fact that his dialogues form a sort of "graded" educational program. Just as we learn a language by beginning with simple constructions and words, rather than plunging right into the pluperfect subjunctive (if such a beast exists), so it is helpful to learn philosophy by starting easily or, in other words, starting with hypothetical or real-life stories. His unspoken point, of course, is that "real life" poses the dilemmas which lead to important ethical and philosophical questions.
Second, Plato employs the dialogue form not only to "ease us into" difficult issues but also to suggest something about learning: it happens "conversationally." As I think about my life, I am struck by the way that my thinking changes and develops when I am in conversation with others. Sometimes something new just "dawns" on me; sometimes another person is able to provide a different "angle" on my problem or issue; sometimes others bring up factors I hadn't considered. While the earlier dialogues of Plato (of which these three are examples) use conversation as an essential feature, beginning with the Republic (a "middle" dialogue), the conversation becomes more stilted and "unreal" (after Book I, that is), with the interlocutors only saying a "yes" or "seems so" while Socrates/Plato continues to develop his thought.
Third, the dialogues I have asked you to read for today differ considerably from the laws of the Ancient Near East we have been studying so far. The Ancient Near Eastern laws were discrete enactments. We asked about their "validity," their meaning, what they assumed, how they compared to each other, etc. Plato's dialogues, on the other hand, deal not so much with laws as with the concept of law or justice or the good. What is the relationship of the citizen to the laws of the state? What is justice? How does one live well? These are questions which will occupy Plato's mind. A very late dialogue, The Laws, is his rather unsuccessful attempt to try to fashion some statutory suggestions. To the questions.
The Euthyphro explores the concept of piety which, as our editors say, refers not simply to fulfilling one's religious duties but also "doing the right thing."
1. How does Plato "ease you in" to the discussion of piety?
2. What is the "hypothetical" which forms the basis of Socrates' conversation with Euthyphro?
3. How does the dialogue "flow?" That is, there really are only about four or five definitions or statements which "move the dialogue along." I think the first is on p. 45 when Euthyphro says: "Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious." What are other points which advance the conversation?
4. Plato has Socrates drop, rather unobtrusively, the word "form" on the bottom of p. 44. This word will assume a huge significance in Plato's subsequent philosophy. What does it mean in its first usage, as far as you can tell?
5. How does Socrates try to show that Euthyphro's reasoning is, ultimately, circular?
6. At the end of the dialogue, Socrates says, 'Ok, we have to start over again.' What reactions might people have to Socrates' method of interrogation/investigation?
We will consider this dialogue after discussing the questions I raise for the Apology. The Crito assumes a time after the Apology, since the latter presents Socrates' defense speech before the Assembly while the former presents Socrates in his cell awaiting execution. The Crito is a discussion of when and if it is proper to disobey the law, even if you are able to do so without being apprehended. That is, Socrates seems to be able to escape from his confinement, but will argue in this dialogue that it would not be appropriate to do so.
1. What is the issue or problem which the dialogue explores?
2. How might Socrates be able to escape his confinement?
3. How does Socrates frame his argument regarding why he shouldn't take advantage of an opportunity to escape his capital sentence?
4. What do you think about Socrates' argument? Is it too accepting of the "status quo?" Would a legal reformer ever find Socrates' argument convincing?
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long