Plato’s Euthyphro leads the reader round a dizzying logical circle that seems to form a coherent reductio ad absurdum argument against the moral value of polytheistic religion with its “hard to accept” (6a) stories that “are told by the poets” (6c).
This idea has become so deeply ingrained in our culture that it operates as a sort of common sense. Monotheists direct it at polytheist and rival monotheists, polytheists against monotheists and rival polytheists, atheists against all sorts of religious belief.
Superficially, the Euthyphro does provide a model for criticizing ‘irrational’ religious discourse. Moreover, in it can be seen the outline of Plato’s subsequent inclusion of theater among ‘irrational’ discourses. However, like many Platonic dialogues, the dialogue does not disclose its truth in the patter that transpires between Socrates and his victim.
The dialogue discloses its truth when the reader uses the failures of the victim as a guide for considering the issues raised by the dialogue. As Jaspers affectionately considered Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, so we ought to consider the disputants’ failures—as shipwrecks that we can use to delineate the dangerous shoals.
The subpages below explore one element of the Euthyphro. They can be read in sequence to form a coherent paper of sorts or they can be read as snapshots, little shocks that I hope enliven the discourse.