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In Plato’s five dialogues specifically in the Euthyphro and the Apology, Plato is using the characters in order to draw out the overarching definition of philosophy and the practice of it. In the Euthyphro, Socrates exemplifies how tough the practice of philosophy can be even to get one definition. To do this involves series of questions and trails of connection between possible answers. However, Socrates feels the main purpose of the practice is to get people, like Euthyphro, to acknowledge their own places of ignorance. Although Socrates was sometimes ineffectual, it is important to engage in such a practice in order to come closer to an understanding or realize a lack of one. In the Apology we are able to hear out Socrates’s explanation of his ways and what he believes to be the true purpose of philosophy. All of which elude to his strive for human wisdom, the key that most people are missing in their lives.
For Socrates, Euthyphro’s decision to indict his father was peculiar and so he finds fascination with picking apart his reasoning for his choice. Within their conversation the distinction between general and special moral duties seems to be the strong motive for why Euthyphro can disregard the person he is indicting is his father and instead pursue what he believes to be justice. General moral duties are duties one has to everyone at all times and places whereas special moral duties are what one has to a particular person or group in particular circumstances. For Euthyphro, he is overlooking special and focusing on general moral duties in accordance to his father’s case. In the text he states “It is ridiculous, Socrates, for you to think that it makes any difference whether the victim is a stranger or a relative. One should only watch whether the killer acted justly or not” (4c). Here Plato is using these concepts in the Euthyphro to make the point that from case to case people will relate to either special or general moral duties. This decision highlights the difficulty in truly knowing which path is the right one, the more just one or rather the more pious action.
Socrates then investigates Euthyphro’s conception of piety for Euthyphro must obviously feel he is in accordance to being pious. However, whilst talking with Socrates Plato is showing through the text that Euthyphro does not have the clear grasp on its definition as he thought he did. Piety’s ambiguity shows philosophical definitions are not about the word itself, but about the thing it is trying to describe. In order to have a satisfactory definition the expression of the essence of x, in this case piety, a few conditions must hold. The expression of the essence will tell us the feature or set of features that for one all x’s have in common and two makes x’s what they are, only showing what x’s have. Euthyphro’s first definition of piety, that what he is doing right now, is unsuccessful because it only gives an example of piety, but does not explain what piety is. “Whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else; not to prosecute is impious” (5e).
Since Euthyphro is in the mindset of general moral duties it follows that believing his action of prosecuting his father is the right way of correcting injustice. Yet Socrates tries to reveal to Euthyphro that without a form of piety it would be hard to assess other actions as such, that one would need knowledge that is agreed upon from man and ultimately by the gods. Leading into Euthyphro’s second definition, what is pious is what is loved by or dear to the gods, also shows to be problematic because it leaves room for contradiction in that unless it is known what the gods love and what they hate, some cases could be both pious and impious. “They do not dispute that the wrongdoer must be punished, but they may disagree as to who the wrongdoer is, what he did, and when” (8d). This kind of dispute either among man or the gods is an issue and has bad consequences both practically and logically. Practically within court this would be bad because Athenians do not want to do anything that is unloved by the gods and it is logically bad because if pious and impious are meant to be opposites, or contraries, something should not be able to be both pious and impious at the same time.
In attempts to refine his answer, Euthyphro then comes to his third definition and says the definition of piety is what all the gods love. This definition yet again fails because it is unknown in which way the ‘is’ is intended to be interpreted. The is can either be seen as an identity marker or a universal correlation on dependence. If the is suggests identity than piety and all the gods love would equal each other. By that definition anyone could say that their action is what is pious and therefore loved by all the gods yet there would be no way of proving what all the gods love versus what all the gods hate or are in odds about. Socrates also points “if the pious was being loved because it was pious, the god-loved would also be being loved because it was being god-loved; and if the god loved was god-loved because it was being loved by the gods, then the pious would also be pious because it is being loved by the gods” (11b).
Here he is showing that if piety and god’s love are identical the definitions cannot hold because they suggest a dependence on one another. Piety would be a relative property meaning it is only standing in relation to what to the god’s love. This gives light to the second interpretation as the is standing for a universal correlation on dependence. It would be saying if x exists, y exists so if piety exists the gods love also exists. Still this only explains one kind of dependence and does not account for others such as the case for impiety and a split. Euthyphro precedes to give a fourth definition, but without completion excuses himself, running off to court, leaving Socrates with no answer nor any true clarity of piety. Socrates however was more so engaged with the questioning than needing a straightforward answer and he too had his own indictment to go to where he was the one under judgment.
In the Apology, Socrates is before the court in his defense of why rumors have been spread about him. To Socrates philosophy, being what he does, is the unending fight against blameworthy ignorance and pursuit for human wisdom. This notion of wisdom came about in his defense since most people do not understand his practice and in attempts to explain his use of conversation, picking apart answers and questioning he explains that the oracle Delphi told him he is the wisest of all man. At first Socrates did not believe this to be true and to test what Delphi was telling him he sets out to speak with many different men in different fields such as politicians, poets and craftsmen. None of these men except the craftsmen showed any true human wisdom yet even the craftsmen had very little in one area. Socrates states “As a result of my investigation, men of Athens, I acquired much unpopularity… many slanders came from these people and a reputation for wisdom” (23b).
In proving who thought themselves to wise is actually not is why Socrates is not the most liked and his belief of this practice is his service to the gods, a job that is uncommon and not recognized by others. Since it is a job not most have and does not bring income Socrates is however gaining more human wisdom and realizing Delphi’s words were true, that he is the wisest of the men of his time. Socrates believed there were three kinds of wisdom and that majority of the time people are in ignorance. The first kind of wisdom is human wisdom, which is the most valuable and attainable one Socrates mentions people should aim for. This kind of wisdom is being able to know that one has a lack of an account for some skill. Divine wisdom, which is the hardest to obtain but possible, is being able to know that one has an account for some skill. Thirdly, the worst of them all is blameworthy ignorance where one thinks they have an account yet really lack one for some skill.
Similarly, all these types of wisdom have a skill or know how to do something. Only divine wisdom has an account for this skill whereas human wisdom and blameworthy ignorance do not and thereby lack an account of a skill. Having an account acts as an explanation that justifies or recommends one’s set of beliefs. Here the differences between the three types of wisdom in that divine wisdom knows they have an account, human wisdom knows that they lack an account whereas blameworthy ignorance thinks they have an account. This last type, blameworthy ignorance, is an imposter of wisdom and is what philosophy’s main attack should be turned onto.
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