Socratic dialogue treating piety and justice

Euthyphro, one of Plato's early dialogues, has been variously dated from 399 to 395 BCE, shortly after the death of Socrates in 399 BCE.


  • Euthyphro: 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; if he acted justly, let him go, but if not, one should prosecute, if, that is to say, the killer shares your hearth and table. The pollution is the same if you knowingly keep company with such a man and do not cleanse yourself and him by bringing him to justice. The victim was a dependent of mine, and when we were farming in Naxos he was a servant of ours. He killed one of our household slaves in drunken anger, so my father bound him hand and foot and threw him in a ditch, then sent a man here to inquire from the priest what should be done. During that time he gave no thought or care to the bound man, as being a killer, and it was no matter if he died, which he did. Hunger and cold and his bonds caused his death before the messenger came back from the seer. Both my father and my other relatives are angry that I am prosecuting my father for murder on behalf of a murderer when he hadn’t even killed him, they say, and even if he had, the dead man does not deserve a thought, since he was a killer. For, they say, it is impious for a son to prosecute his father for murder. But their ideas of the divine attitude to piety and impiety are wrong, Socrates.
    • 4a-e, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Euthyphro: Not only these, Socrates, but, as I was saying just now, I will, if you wish, relate many other things about the gods which I know will amaze you.
    Socrates: I should not be surprised, but you will tell me these at leisure some other time. For now, try to tell me more clearly what I was asking just now, for, my friend, you did not teach me adequately when I asked you what the pious was, but you told me that what you are doing now, in prosecuting your father for murder, is pious.
    • 6d-e, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Euthyphro: Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious.
    Socrates: Splendid, Euthyphro! You have now answered in the way I wanted. Whether your answer is true I do not know yet, but you will obviously show me that what you say is true.
    • 7a, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Socrates: So you did not answer my question, you surprising man. I did not ask you what same thing is both pious and impious, and it appears that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. So it is in no way surprising if your present action, namely punishing your father, may be pleasing to Zeus but displeasing to Cronus and Uranus, pleasing to Hephaestus but displeasing to Hera, and so with any other gods who differ from each other on this subject.
    • 8a-b, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Socrates: …Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?
    • 10a, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Socrates: But if the god-loved and the pious were the same, my dear Euthyphro, then if the pious was being loved because it was pious, the god-loved would also be being loved because it was 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 was being loved by the gods. But now you see that they are in opposite cases as being altogether different from each other: the one is such as to be loved because it is being loved, the other is being loved because it is such as to be loved. I’m afraid, Euthyphro, that when you were asked what piety is, you did not wish to make its nature clear to me, but you told me an affect or quality of it, that the pious has the quality of being loved by all the gods, but you have not yet told me what the pious is. Now, if you will, do not hide things from me but tell me again from the beginning what piety is, whether being loved by the gods or having some other quality—we shall not quarrel about that—but be keen to tell me what the pious and the impious are.
    • 10e-11b, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Socrates: Piety would then be a sort of trading skill between gods and men?
    Euthyphro: Trading yes, if you prefer to call it that.
    Socrates: I prefer nothing, unless it is true.
    • 14e, translated by G.M.A. Grube
  • Socrates: So we must investigate again from the beginning what piety is, as I shall not willingly give up before I learn this. Do not think me unworthy, but concentrate your attention and tell the truth. For you know it, if any man does, and I must not let you go, like Proteus, before you tell me. If you had no clear knowledge of piety and impiety you would never have ventured to prosecute your old father for murder on behalf of a servant. For fear of the gods you would have been afraid to take the risk lest you should not be acting rightly, and would have been ashamed before men, but now I know well that you believe you have clear knowledge of piety and impiety. So tell me, my good Euthyphro, and do not hide what you think it is.
    Euthyphro: Some other time, Socrates, for I am in a hurry now, and it is time for me to go.
    Socrates: What a thing to do, my friend! By going you have cast me down from a great hope I had, that I would learn from you the nature of the pious and the impious and so escape Meletus’ indictment by showing him that I had acquired wisdom in divine matters from Euthyphro, and my ignorance would no longer cause me to be careless and inventive about such things, and that I would be better for the rest of my life.
    • 15c-16a, translated by G.M.A. Grube

Quotes about Euthypro

  • Some think the way out of the [Euthyphro] dilemma is to say that God just is good, so the question the dilemma poses is ill-formed. If God and good are the same thing then we cannot ask whether God chooses good because it is good – the very question separates what must come together. But the Euthyphro dilemma can be restated in another way to challenge this reply. We can ask, is God good because to be good just is to be whatever God is; or is God good because God has all the properties of goodness? If we choose the former answer we again find that goodness is arbitrary, since it would be whatever God happened to be, even if God were a sadist. So we must choose the second option: God is good because he has all the properties of goodness. But this means the properties of goodness can be specified independently of God and so the idea of goodness does not in any way depend upon the existence of God. Hence there is no reason why a denial of God's existence would necessarily entail a denial of the existence of goodness.

See also

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