9. Truth and Belief

Socrates engages in a clever bit of rhetoric when he interrogates Euthyphro about the stories of the gods.  Socrates questions Euthyphro on two points: first, as to whether he believes in these stories “we agree that we ourselves have no knowledge of” (6b); and second, as to the extent of his belief, as to whether “there really is war among the gods, and terrible enmities and battles…as are told by the poets, and other sacred stories” (6b-c).

Euthyphro affirms that he does believe these things to be true in addition to “even more surprising things, of which the majority has no knowledge” (6b) and that he would “relate many other things about the gods which I know will amaze you” (6c).  Socrates waves off such disclosure for “some other time,” preferring instead to focus on “what the pious was” (6c-d).

Socrates does not try and determine the manner in which Euthyphro takes these stories to be true.  In leaving the dialogue incomplete on this point, Plato leaves us to presume that Euthyphro means these stories are true in the same way as we would mean the phrase “I ate dinner yesterday” to be true.

Even more importantly, though, regardless of how Euthyphro thinks them to be true, his usage of them does not depend on their inherent descriptive truth.  His use of them only requires that they illuminate a common truth that the myth and an actual situation share.

The myth of Zeus illuminates the justice at work in both the myth and the legal case, and it matters not whether the myth of Zeus refers to real events or not.  The myth, properly used, orders common conceptions of justice toward a higher conception, by way of the common conceptions themselves.  In other words, the myth uses the idea of Zeus and his association of justice to direct the court toward the justice on behalf of which Euthyphro speaks.

Euthyphro may indeed make a real error in conflating that process with believing myths to be true events, much in the same way he may make a real error in presuming that his true fortune telling vindicates his knowledge of things divine.

Both statements reflect a failure to fully think the difference between things spiritual and material.  However, Plato’s portrayal of Euthyphro suggests an equally problematic error in which the material and spiritual are not only differentiated but divorced from each other

Euthyphro’s ‘hard to accept stories’ are still capable of directing their audience to divine conceptions of piety and justice even if they are not literally true.  They provide the tools for manifesting spiritual concerns in concrete situations.


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