Front Page Titles (by Subject) The Euthyphron - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
The Euthyphron - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XI - Essays on Philosophy and the Classics, ed. John M. Robson, Introduction by F.E. Sparshott (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
[Holograph MS, Berg Collection, New York Public Library, entitled “Notes on the Euthyphron of Plato.” Paper watermarked 1828. Not mentioned in JSM’s bibliography. For details concerning the manuscript and the transcription, see the Textual Introduction, lxxxi-lxxxii above; for a discussion of this and the other translations of Plato, see also the Introduction, xvii-xxviii above.]
the subject of this dialogue is Piety. Like the Laches & the Charmides, it belongs to the class to which the epithet πειραστικός has been added; to express that its sole object is to make an adversary expose himself, & to refute false notions, without establishing true ones.
Euthyphron, who seems to have been a prophet, or diviner, & theologian, by profession, meets Socrates returning from one of the courts of justice, and expresses his surprise at finding him in a situation so unusual with him. “Have you a suit before the Archon,” (he asks) “as I have?”—“They do not call it a suit,” replied Socrates, “but an indictment.”—“What! Has any person indicted you? for I am certain that you have not indicted any person.”—Socrates assented.—“Who is your accuser?”—Socrates answered that he was named Melitus: he did not know much about him; he seemed young & obscure; & describing his person, asked Euthyphron if he knew him. Euthyphron said he did not. “But what charge has he brought against you?”—“No mean one,” answered Socrates. “For it is no bad sign of a young man to be conversant with so great a matter. He, it seems, knows in what manner the youth are corrupted, & who they are that corrupt them. And he will prove, no doubt, to be some sage, who, perceiving my errors, by which I corrupt those who are his equals in years, comes & accuses me before the state, as our common mother. And he alone appears to me to commence politics at the right end: for the right way is to look after the young men first, as a good husbandman first takes care of the young plants, & afterwards of the others. And Melitus probably has a mind to begin by clearing away us who destroy the young shoots of society, as he says; after that it is clear that he will take care of the old men, & will be the casue of great good to the state, as may be presumed from so happy a commencement.” Euthyphron answered, that from such a commencement he should rather fear that Melitus would continue all his life to do evil to the state. “But by what means does he say that you corrupt the youth?”—“It is strange to hear. For he says that I am a fabricator of gods, & indicts me for making new gods, & not recognizing the old.”—“I understand; it is because of what you say about your supernatural warnings. He therefore indicts you as innovating in religion, knowing that such charges find a ready belief. And I too, when I speak in the assembly on religious matters, foretelling the future, am laughed at as a madman. And yet all my predictions have come true. But they envy all of us who know these matters. We must not mind them, but pursue our course.”—“It is no great matter,” answered Socrates, “to be laughed at. The Athenians, as it seems to me, do not greatly mind if they think a man clever, provided he does not propagate his wisdom: but those who they think are not only wise themselves but make others so, they are angry with, be it from envy, as you say, or from some other cause.”—“I have no great mind to try what are their sentiments of me in this respect.”—“Perhaps you are thought to hold yourself scarce, & to be unwilling to communicate your wisdom: but I am afraid that I, from philanthropy, am thought by them to say to every body without reserve whatever I have in me, not only without being paid, but being glad even to pay others for hearing me, if it were required. If, now, they were only to laugh at me, as you say they do at you, it would not be unpleasant to pass some time in laughter & fun before the court; but if they are serious, nobody knows what will be the issue, except you, who are prophets.”—“Perhaps, after all, it will come to nothing, & you will come off to your satisfaction, as I think I shall.”—Socrates hereupon asked Euthyphron what was the suit in which he was engaged. Euthyphron explained, that he was prosecuting his own father, for homicide. Socrates expressed surprise, & said, that he supposed the murdered person was a near relation of Euthyphron, since he would not have prosecuted him for the murder of a stranger.—“What difference does it make,” answered Euthryphron, “whether he was a stranger or a relation? The only question is, whether he was justly killed or not, although his slayer should be united to you by the closest ties; for the pollution, if you associate knowingly with such a person, & do not purify yourself & him by bringing him to justice, is just the same. The slain person was a bailiff of mine at Naxos, who in a fit of intoxication killed one of our slaves. My father put him in irons & in a dungeon, & sent hither to enquire of the ἐξηγητής* what he ought to do. In the meantime the man died from the effects of confinement & neglect. Now my father & my relations are indignant because I prosecute my father for the death of this homicide: saying that he did not put him to death, & that if he did it was no justification, for it is impious in a son to indict his father of murder. They do not know correctly the doctrine of religion on the subject of piety and impiety.”—“And do you, Euthyphron, in the name of Jupiter, understand religion, & piety & impiety so well, that in the circumstances you have mentioned, you are not afraid to prosecute your father, lest you should be committing an impious action?”—“I should be nobody, & should have no claim to superiority over other men, if I did not know all these things accurately.”—“It would be for my good, most excellent Euthyphron, to become a disciple of yours, & before my trial comes on, to represent to Melitus, that I have always set a high value on religious knowledge, & now, since he says that I have erred when I promulgated my own notions & attempted to innovate in religion, I have become your pupil. And I will say to him, If you admit that Euthyphron is wise & sound in these matters, think the same of me, & do not prosecute me: but if not, indict my master first, as a corrupter of the old men, viz. me, & his own father, myself by his instructions, his father by admonition & punishment. And if this does not prevail upon him to drop the prosecution or to indict you instead of me, I will say the same thing before my judges.”—“Aye,” said Euthyphron, “if he makes any attempt upon me, I will find out his weak side, & the court shall have more to say about him, than about me.”—“This is the reason,” replied Socrates, “why I wish to become your disciple, knowing that Melitus & others do not seem to take notice of you, but he sees me so clearly that he has indicted me for impiety. Now, then, pray expound to me what you said that you clearly understand: what piety & impiety consist in, both in respect to homicide & to every thing else. Is not piety one & the same thing in all the different acts which receive that name, & impiety, again, the contrary of piety, but in itself always one & the same thing? Is there not one single idea which belongs to every thing which is impious, in so far as it is impious?”* —“Certainly.”—“Tell us then, what you mean by the Pious, & the Impious.”
“The pious,” answered Euthyphron, “is what I am now doing, to prosecute those who are guilty either of homicide, or spoliation of temples, or any thing of that sort; whether the offender be your father or your mother, or any person whatever: And not to prosecute him, is impious. And see what a great proof I will give you that this is the case. It is believed by men that Jupiter, the best & justest of the Gods, put his father Saturn in confinement because he unjustly devoured his children; & that Saturn himself mutilated his own father, for a similar reason. And yet they are angry with me for prosecuting my father when he commits a crime. They are therefore inconsistent with themselves.”
“The very reason,” answered Socrates, “why I am indicted is, because when any one tells me these stories about the Gods, I find it difficult to credit them. But now, if you who know all about these matters, are of this opinion, I must of necessity assent: for what can I say, who myself admit that I know nothing of the matter? But tell me, in the name of friendship: Do you really believe that these things happened?”—“And many things still more surprising, of which the vulgar are ignorant.”—“And you really think that there are wars, & mutual enmities & battles among the Gods, as poets say & painters represent to us?”—“Not only so, but I will relate to you if you please many other things on the subject of religion, which I am sure will astonish you.”—“I should not wonder. But you will tell me all this another time. At present, try to explain more distinctly what I have already asked you. For when I asked, what Piety is, you did not give me an adequate answer, but told me that what you are now doing, prosecuting your father, is pious.”—“And I said truly.”—“Perhaps. But you say, that many other things likewise are pious.”—“True.”—“You remember, then, that I did not ask you to tell me one or two of the numerous things which are pious, but to tell me the single Idea, by which all pious things are pious. For you said, that impious things are impious, & pious things pious, by one common character of piety or impiety.”—“I did.”—“Explain to me, then, this general Idea, in order that, keeping it in mind, & using it as an archetype, I may call those things pious which agree with it & those not pious, which do not agree.”
Euthyphron, being thus pressed, made answer that what is pleasing to the Gods is pious, what is not pleasing to them, impious. Socrates commended this mode of answering, which he said, conformed to his intention in putting the question; & proposed to examine whether the answer was true.
“You say, that the things, & the men, that are pleasing to the Gods, are pious; those that are hateful to them, are impious: the pious, & the impious, not being the same thing, but directly contrary.”—“True.”—“And you said, that the Gods differ & dispute, & are at enmity among themselves.”—“I did.”—“Now, what differences are they which produce enmity & anger? For example: If you & I should differ on the subject of number, which was the greater of two numbers, would this difference make us enemies, and offended with each other? Or should we soon get rid of our difference by coming to a calculation?”—“We should.”—“And if we differed about the comparative size of two objects, we should soon settle our difference by measuring.”—“Yes.”—“And if we differed about the comparative weight of two bodies, we should come to a decision by weighing.”—“Certainly.”—“On what subject differing, & to what decision being unable to come, should we quarrel, & become enemies? Perhaps you cannot at once say. Do you not think, that the Just & Unjust, the Noble & Vile, the Good & Evil, are the subjects on which when men differ, being unable to come to a satisfactory decision of the dispute, they are apt to become enemies?”—“Agreed.”—“If the Gods, then, ever differ, it must be on these subjects.”—“It must.”—“By your account, then, some of the Gods differ from others in what they consider just, and unjust, good & evil, noble & vile: for if they did not differ on these subjects, they would never quarrel.”—“True.”—“But each of them is pleased with what he thinks just, good, & noble, and hates the contrary.”—“Yes.”—“What some of them think just, others think unjust.”—“True.”—“Then, the very same things are both loved & hated by Gods; the same things are at once pleasing to the Gods, & hateful to them.”—“So it seems.”—“By this account, then, the same things are both pious & impious.”—“It would appear so.”—“You did not, therefore, answer my question. And it would not be wonderful if, in acting as you now do, prosecuting your father, you were doing what is pleasing to Jupiter, but hateful to Saturn & Uranus, & pleasing to Vulcan, but hateful to Juno or some other.”
“But,” replied Euthyphron, “I do not think that the Gods differ from each other on this point, that he who slays another unjustly ought to be punished.”—“Did you ever hear any man contending that he who does anything unjustly ought not to be punished?”—“They contend for it incessantly, in the courts of justice & elsewhere: for committing all sorts of injustice, they say & do every thing to escape punishment.”—“Do they confess that they have committed injustice, & nevertheless declare that they ought not to suffer punishment?”—“That, it is true they do not.”—“Then they do not say & do every thing: for, it seems, they do not venture to say, that if they have committed injustice they should not be punished. They say that they have not committed injustice.”—“True.”—“Then they do not dispute whether he who commits injustice ought to be punished, but they perhaps dispute on the point, who the man is who commits injustice, & what injustice consists in.”—“True.”—“Then the Gods, likewise, if they dispute, as you say, about the just & the unjust, & accuse each other of injustice, do not, any of them, venture to affirm, that he who commits injustice ought not to be punished; but they differ & dispute respecting the justice or injustice of some particular act.”—“Certainly.”—“Teach me, then, in order that I may become wiser, by what token you know that all the Gods consider him to have died unjustly, who, being a labourer, & slaying a man, is put in confinement by the master of the murdered man, & dies in consequence of his confinement, before it can be ascertained from the ἐξηγητής what ought to be done with him? & that they think it right for a son to indict his father of murder on such grounds?”—“It would perhaps require no little time; but I could prove it to you very clearly.”—“I perceive that you think me a harder scholar than the judges; since you will of course prove to them, that the act is unjust, & odious to all the Gods.”—“Very clearly, if they will listen to me.”—“But they will listen, if you appear to speak well. It occurs to me, however, that if you were to make it ever so clear to me that all the Gods think the death of this man unjust, I should not have learnt from you the more, what Piety and Impiety are. I should only know, that this act was hateful to the Gods. But this did not appear to us an adequate definition of Impiety, for the same thing, it appeared, was at once pleasing to the Gods, & hateful to the Gods: I excuse you therefore, from this: & if you will, let all the Gods think this unjust, & let all of them abhor it. But shall we correct our definition, & say, that what all the Gods hate, is impious, what they all are pleased with, is pious, what some of them are pleased with & others hate, is neither, or both? Shall this be our definition of the pious, & the impious?”—“Why should it not?”—“I have no objection; but do you consider whether you will be most easily able to teach me what you promised, by this supposition.”—“I should say, that the Pious is that which all the gods are pleased with; & the contrary, that which they all hate, is Impious.”—“Shall we examine, then, whether this is right, or shall we take things upon our own authority or that of others, & believe whatever is asserted?”—“We should examine. But I think that what we have now said is correct.”
“Is the Pious pleasing to the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is pleasing to the Gods?”—“I do not understand you.”—“When a thing is carried, is it carried because somebody carries it, or for some other reason?”—“For this reason.”—“When a thing is driven, it is because somebody drives it, & when seen, because somebody sees it.”—“Yes.”—“It is not true that somebody sees it because it is seen; but, on the contrary, it is seen because somebody sees it. Somebody does not carry it because it is carried, but it is carried because somebody carries it. In short, that which becomes any thing, or undergoes any thing, does not become it or undergo it because it is becoming or undergoing, but it is in the state, called becoming or undergoing, because it becomes or undergoes.”—“True.”—“Now, to be loved, is either to become something or to undergo something.”—“It is.”—“Then it is with this as with the other things which we have mentioned. Somebody does not love a thing because it is loved, but it is loved because somebody loves it.”—“Yes.”—“The Pious, you say, is loved by all the Gods.”—“Yes.”—“Do they love it because it is Pious, or for some other reason?”—“For that reason.”—“Then it is not Pious because they love it but they love it because it is Pious.”—“So it seems.”—“What is pleasing to the Gods, however, is pleasing to them because they love it.”—“Certainly.”—“Then Pious, & Pleasing to the Gods, are not the same thing?”—“How?”—“Because we have admitted, that the Gods love the pious, because it is pious; it is not pious because they love it. But they do not love what is Pleasing to them because it is pleasing; on the contrary it is called pleasing to them by reason of their loving it.”—“True.”—“But if Pious, and Pleasing to the Gods, were identical, then, if the Gods loved the Pious because it is Pious, they would have loved what is Pleasing to them because it is Pleasing to them: Or if what is Pleasing to the Gods, were pleasing to them because they love it, the Pious would have been Pious because they loved it. But you see that these two things are entirely different, & oppositely affected: the one is what it is, because it is loved; the other is loved, because it is what it is. And when I asked you what the Pious is, you seem not to have been willing to explain to me its essence, but have told me one of its attributes, which is, to be loved by all the Gods: what it is, you have not told me. But by all means tell me now.”
Euthyphron complained that he could not express what he thought, since whatever they laid down, always ran away from them, & would not remain where they placed it. And after some lively conversation, in the usual Socratic strain of irony, Socrates proposed to shew him in what manner he ought to explain to him the nature of Piety. “Do you not think that whatever is Pious, must necessarily be Just?”—“Yes.”—“And is every thing which is Just, also Pious? Or is the Pious, universally Just, but the Just not universally Pious, but part of it Pious, and part of it something else?”—“I do not follow you.”—“And yet you are younger as well as wiser than I: but you are lazy from abundance of wisdom. But pray exert yourself: for it is not difficult to comprehend what I mean. I mean the contrary of what the poet means, who says, ‘You will not speak of Jove who created all things, for where there is fear, there is awe.’[*] I differ from this Poet. It does not appear to me that where there is fear, there is awe. For many persons fear diseases, & poverty, & various other things, and stand in no awe of the things which they fear. Do you not think so?”—“I do.”—“But where there is awe, there is fear. For when a man is extremely overawed & ashamed, does he not stand in fear of censure?”—“He does.”—“It is not right, then, to say, Where there is fear there is awe; but, Where there is awe, there is fear. For fear is more extensive than awe: Awe is part of fear, as Odd Numbers, of Number in general: It cannot be said where there is Number there is Odd-number, but where there is odd-number there is number.”—“Yes.”—“In the same sense, I asked you, whether, where there is justice there is piety, or whether, where there is piety, there is justice, but where there is justice, there is not always piety, but piety is a part of justice. Is it a part, think you?”—“I think it is.”—“Let us proceed then to the next step. Since the Pious is a part of the Just, we must next enquire, what part. If you asked me, what part Even-number was of Number, I should answer, that which is divisible into two equal parts. Should I not?”—“Yes.”—“Endeavour then to explain to me in a similar manner, what part of the just, the pious composes, that I may bid Melitus not to prosecute me further for impiety, as having sufficiently learned from you what is & is not pious.”
Euthyphron answered, “The Pious seems to me to be that part of the Just, which relates to the service* of the Gods. The remaining part of the Just, is that which regards the service of men.”
“You seem to me to say well,” resumed Socrates. “But I still desire something more: I do not yet understand what service you mean. For you do not mean a service with respect to the Gods, similar to the services which relate to other things. As for example, we say, it is not every one who can serve a horse properly, but only a groom.”—“True.”—“Grooming, then, is the service of horses.”—“Yes.”—“And it is not every one who can serve dogs properly, but only a dog-keeper.”—“True.”—“Dog-training, then, is the service of dogs.”—“It is.”—“And piety, of the Gods?”—“Yes.”—“But all service is for the same end, viz. the good & advantage of that which is served: Horses, for instance, are benefitted, & made better, by grooming.”—“They are.”—“And dogs, by training, & so on. Or do you think that service is for the injury of what is served?”—“Certainly not.”—“But for the benefit.”—“Yes.”—“Is piety, then, which is the service of the Gods, for the benefit of the Gods, & does it make them better? And do you grant, that when you do a pious act, you make one of the Gods better than he was before?”—“Certainly not.”—“Neither did I suppose you did. But what kind of service of the Gods is piety?”—“That which servants render to their masters.”—“I understand. It is a kind of working for them.”† —“True.”—“Now can you tell, for the accomplishment of what effect the physician’s kind of work is performed? Is it not for the accomplishment of health?”—“It is.”—“And the shipbuilder’s kind of work, for the accomplishment of what effect is it performed?”—“Of a ship.”—“And the builder’s, of a house?”—“Yes.”—“Tell me then: for the accomplishment of what effect does the kind of work which we called working for the Gods, take place? You must know, since you say that you are of all men the most versed in divine things.”—“And I say true.”—“Tell me then, what is this admirable effect which the Gods accomplish by employing us to work for them?”—“Many & excellent things.”—“So do military commanders: but yet it may all be summed up by saying that they accomplish victory in war. May it not?”—“Yes.”—“And husbandmen, too, accomplish many and excellent things: but nevertheless, the sum total of them is, the raising of food from the earth.”—“True.”—“And what is the sum total of the many & excellent things which the Gods accomplish?”—“I told you before, that it would be a long piece of business to explain all these matters accurately; but I will tell you simply, that if any person knows how to say & do things pleasing to the Gods, by prayer & sacrifice, this is pious, & is the salvation both of families & of states: the contrary is impious, & destroys them.”—“You could have told me what I asked in much fewer words if you had chosen: but you do not wish to instruct me; it is clear: & now you have turned off when you were just at the point: If you had answered perhaps by this time I should have learnt from you what piety is. But now, since the questioner must follow wherever the answerer chuses to lead, What do you define the Pious, & Piety to be? Is it not, the knowledge how to sacrifice & to pray?”—“It is.”—“To sacrifice is to make offerings to the Gods, to pray is to ask something from them.”—“True.”—“Piety, by this account, is the knowledge of Asking from the Gods, & giving to them.”—“You have understood me very well.”—“For I am desirous of your wisdom, & attend to it, so that what you say will not fall to the ground. You say that the service of the Gods, consists in asking of them, & giving to them.”—“I do.”—“To ask of them rightly, is to ask them for what we need from them.”—“Yes.”—“And to give to them rightly, is to give them in return what they need from us. For it would be an unskilful mode of bestowing gifts, to give to any one what he has no occasion for.”—“You say true.”—“Then piety is, as it were, an Art of Traffic between the Gods & men.”—“Of Traffic, if it pleases you so to call it.”—“But it does not please me, if it is not true. Tell me, then, what is the benefit arising to the Gods from the gifts which they receive from us: As respects what they give, the case is clear: for we have nothing good which we do not derive from them. But what benefit do they receive from what we give them? Or have we so much the best of this traffic, that we receive every thing that is good from them & they nothing from us?”—“Do you think, Socrates, that the Gods are benefitted by what we offer to them?”—“What do we offer it for?”—“What do you suppose it is, except marks of honour & reverence, & what I said before, things grateful to them?”—“The Pious, then, is something grateful to the Gods, but not beneficial or pleasing.”—“In the highest degree pleasing, I should think.”—“The Pious, then, is that which is pleasing to the Gods.”—“It is.”—“Are you surprised, if the argument should, as you said before, not stand still, but run away, when you yourself appear to have made it run round in a circle? Do you not see that we have returned again to the same point? Do you not remember that Pious, & Pleasing to the Gods, appeared to us to be not the same, but exceedingly different?”—“I do.”—“And now, you say again, that the Pious, is that which is pleasing to the Gods. Either, therefore, we were wrong before, or if right before, we are wrong now.”—“So it seems.”—“Let us then resume the consideration from the beginning. For I will not voluntarily give it up until I am instructed. And now by all means pay attention & tell me the truth. For if you did not clearly understand the Pious & the Impious, you certainly would not have prosecuted your old father for murder, on account of a labouring man; you would have feared to offend the Gods, & disgrace yourself before men, in case you were wrong. I am sure, therefore, that you perfectly know the Pious and Impious: Tell it to me therefore, & do not disguise it from me.”—“Another time, then: for now I am in a hurry to go away.”—“See what you are doing! You go away, having cast me down from a great hope which I had, of learning from you the nature of Piety, & getting rid of Melitus & his indictment, by convincing him that I had been made wise in divine things by Euthyphron, & that I would not any longer from ignorance promulgate crude ideas & innovate in religious matters, but would hereafter lead a better life.”
Here ends the dialogue; which, if it has any purpose, further than as a specimen of confutation, seems intended chiefly to discredit the most pernicious parts of the Greek mythology, & the corruptions which it had introduced into the moral ideas of the people.
[* ]The teacher of religious ceremonies: a public officer at Athens.
[* ]Here we see the first dawn of the Platonic doctrine of ideas, which will be more fully explained hereafter.
[[*] ]Stasinus, Fragment 20, in Epicorum Græcorum Fragmenta, ed. Godofredus Kinkel (Leipzig: Teubneri, 1877), pp. 30-1.
[* ]θεραπεία. Attendance upon; taking care of; either in an honorable or in a servile capacity.
[† ]ὑρηρετική τις ἂν εἴη θεοι̑ς. The sense of this phrase is not exactly rendered in the text, but the phrase substituted will answer the same purpose.