3. Philosopher vs. Fortune Teller

In the dialogue, Socrates, with his faith in ignorance, distances himself from Euthyphro’s effort to identify himself with Socrates, lumping Euthyphro with “you prophets” (3e).  That distancing may not be so clear-cut as a simple dismissal of prophecy, though.

There is a turf war being quietly played out in which Socrates distinguishes his project, begun after seeing an esteemed oracle, from that of Euthyphro, an itinerant fortuneteller.  Great generals and statesman travel far to see the oracle, whereas a mantis must travel and curry favor from those high and low.

That turf war becomes more important when you consider the aforementioned similarities in relation to public opinion.  Both Euthyphro and Socrates have been accused of being impious, though Euthyphro has not been brought to trial for his impiety.  Euthyphro, like Socrates, is an inconvenience for the ruling elite and puts into question traditional understandings of piety and justice.

We can see Plato’s authorial influence.  This is not an impartial representation of a dialogue between two people, but one more effort to distinguish Platonic philosophy from its potential rivals in the polis.  Like the Sophists, the Euthyphro’s primary concern is with distinguishing Socrates from an ostensibly false claimant to wisdom (cf. Deleuze, “The Simulacrum and Ancient Philosophy” in The Logic of Sense).

In answering Euthyphro’s efforts to comfort him, Socrates distinguishes the jesting that Euthyphro evokes and the real danger Socrates faces—“Athenians do not mind anyone they think clever, as long as does not teach his own wisdom” (3c) so “the outcome [of Socrates’ trial] is not clear” (3e).  To that, he adds a sarcastic qualifier, “except to you prophets” (3e).  Socrates, like the court he will soon enter, mocks Euthyphro, demanding proof of his skills.

Here, of course, Plato is playing to his reader’s knowledge.  They know that Socrates will be sentenced to death.  Plato suggests that while Socrates is dangerous and will be sentenced to death by Athens, Euthyphro is merely tolerated and mocked.  A man who is to be sentenced to death must be more dangerous than one who is mocked.  Since Socrates will be killed for his philosophy, his philosophy must be dangerous and powerful indeed!

The opening to the Euthyphro is propaganda at its finest.  Without explicitly placing Socrates in competition with the mantis, Plato manages to suggest that the philosophic method far exceeds the wisdom of the mantis.  Plato, by avoiding making Euthyphro a genuine rival for Socrates, makes his practice seem all the more worthless, as if it is just beneath the philosopher’s concern.


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