Euthyphro & Plato's Beliefs on Ethics

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  • 0:01 Plato's Euthyphro
  • 0:45 What Is Pious?
  • 1:45 Virtue Ethics
  • 2:34 Eudaimonia and Arete
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

Learn about virtue ethics and Plato's beliefs on how to achieve human well-being in this lesson. We'll use his text 'Euthyphro' as an example of his interest in virtue and piety.

Plato's Euthyphro

The father of a man named Euthyphro is being prosecuted in ancient Greece for causing another man's death. Who is prosecuting him? His son, Euthyphro himself. Euthyphro is convinced that since his father has committed a serious crime, it shouldn't matter whether they're related. He's willing to prosecute him and says it's just the right thing to do if his father has killed someone unjustly.

The philosopher Socrates engages in a conversation with this man who claims to have insight about what is holy and pious. In this lesson, we look at how Plato describes the conversation between the two men in his text called Euthyphro. You'll also gain insight into Plato's beliefs on ethics.

What is Pious?

In the text, Socrates says he wants to learn from Euthyphro during their conversation. In fact, Socrates is not really interested in learning ethics from this man. Instead, he'll use the conversation to question Euthyphro until it is clear that what is right and good is a matter of deeper investigation.

It's not that Socrates is taking a position that Euthyphro should or should not prosecute his father; he's actually more interested in some bigger questions. Questions like, 'What does it mean for an action to be pious?' This is another way of saying, 'How do we know what is the right thing to do?' 'How do we know how to act?'

Throughout the conversation, Socrates will continue to ask Euthyphro, 'What is the one thing that all pious acts have in common?' At the end of this lesson, you'll find out how this particular question is addressed and how the conversation comes to an end.

Virtue Ethics

In his writings on ethics, Plato could have looked at this topic from a variety of angles. He could have focused on the positive and negative consequences of a person's actions, such as what impact Euthyphro's prosecution would have on his family. Or, he could have focused on whether a particular action follows the rules or not, such as the question of whether his father violated a law. These are some approaches of other philosophers.

But, these were not Plato's main interests; Plato was eager instead to consider, what actions are most beneficial for the human soul? As a result, Plato is known for his focus on virtue ethics, an approach to ethics that places emphasis on one's moral character.

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