Explain the problem that Socrates presents to Euthyphro in Euthyphro. How does Euthyphro define piety? What is the nature of the dilemma? What is the greatest significance for the relationship between religion and ethics?
In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates challenges Euthyphro to define piety, which proves to be more of a challenge than one would think. Euthyphro attempts to explain the concept several times, being shot down again and again, but the most accepted statement is this: Piety is what is dear to all the gods. This definition is essentially the Divine Command Theory, which is the theory that the gods define what is morally right or wrong. The thing that really relates ethics and religion is the fact that right and wrong is allegedly defined by whatever religion we follow. The Jews were told not to eat pork by God, so it became wrong – a sin – to eat pork.
Prompt 2: Give an account of Plato’s view of happiness and moral virtue from Republic – what is the nature of justice? What is a just person like?
Plato believed that moral virtue was living in moderation in all things, and that doing this would make a person truly happy. His definition of justice is perfect balance. A theoretical state that has the three parts as described in republic: The rulers, the auxiliaries and the workers, all separated and not interfering with each other will run without issue. A just person is the same way. The just person also has three parts to them: the reason, the spirit, and the appetite. The reason, Plato says, should be like the ruler, bringing the spirit and appetite into line, thus a perfectly balanced person. I found the part about the health of the soul interesting. I wanted to know more (that Plato did not elaborate on) about what a sick soul looks like. I thought that without explanation it was a rather empty claim about a reason for wanting justice. Unless having a sick soul somehow really affects people’s quality of life, I don’t think they really care how healthy they’re soul is. On top of that, in this part he seems people will want to be good to avoid the consequence of a sick soul, when he has been challenge to prove that people want to be just for the sake of being just. So he’s not helping his point by saying this. Just a thought.
Prompt 3: What does Aristotle say about the good life and the “ingredients” which can make us happy? What do his views imply about children and their ability to be happy? What is the Doctrine of the Mean? What does Aristotle use it to explain?
Aristotle believes that the good life is something that a person forms over time, through good upbringing and good habit-forming. However, a condition of this is that one cannot become fully good until they are fully grown, because as children we are not able to make the right choices all the time: we must reach full maturity first. So, even though children seem to be the happiest people in society, they are not truly happy, at least not in the sense that Aristotle is talking about. He doesn’t mean happy as in satisfied. He’s talking about Eudaimonia: living and faring well. So in the sense of Eudaimonia, children cannot be happy because they don’t know enough to be. At least, that’s what Aristotle believed…
The doctrine of the mean says that to every feeling or action there corresponds three things: an excess, a mean, and a deficiency. The goal of every person is to find the mean in everything. For example, relating to anger, the mean is being mild: knowing when the circumstances are right to get angry. The excess is being too quick to anger and the deficiency is not ever getting angry.
Prompt 4: Explore the difference between Plato and Aristotle’s account of moral failure – how does each explain human failure to act in accordance with virtue? Is it possible to know what is moral, but fail to do it? Why or why not?
Plato and Aristotle definitely differ in what they see as moral failure. Plato sees moral failure as lack of understanding. He thinks that anytime someone does something wrong it’s because they don’t understand what the good in that situation is. He thinks that all people aim to be good if they are able. I strongly disagree with this theory: humans are not naturally good. They have to work really hard to stay on the right path, and when they do wrong, a lot of times they know exactly what they are doing.
Aristotle, however, understands that humans are far from being naturally good. Most humans fall into the category he calls weak: they aim to be good, but naturally desire the bad. When we fail to do the right thing, it’s because our will to good fails. It’s like in Republic with the Ring of Gyges: If given the opportunity to do the wrong thing without consequences, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t do the wrong thing.
So yes, it is possible to know what is right, but still fail to do it. I fail to do what is right in situations all the time because I am weak. Take any Saturday afternoon. I find myself with no schoolwork to do for once. I am faced with the choice to go to the gym or play video games. Nine out of ten times I will choose the video games. It’s human nature. Fortunately, Aristotle taught me this week that the more I ditch the video games and go to the gym, the better I will become at doing it. Little by little I can form the habits to become a better person: one step at a time.
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