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Plato’s Euthyphro versus Aristophanes’ The Clouds

January 21st, 2005 | 1 min read

By Andrew Selby

It’s nice to be blogging again! Greek and Roman philosophy are on my mind…

Plato’s Euthyphro recounts the conversation Socrates had with Euthyphro, a religious leader, just before his trial. It comes out that this man is also awaiting a trial: he is going to prosecute his very own father for letting one of his slaves die. Socrates is shocked, but Euthyphro defends himself saying that he is doing a pious deed. The rest of the dialogue concerns the nature of piety.

This topic and the situation of the dialogue show that it is probably Plato’s response to Aristophanes’ play, The Clouds. In that play, Socrates’ school of the Good and Bad Logic makes a certain man’s son rebel against him and learn to beat him. The son justifies himself using sophistical reasoning purported to come from Socrates. This play very well may have led to the condemnation of Socrates because, in a comical way, it carried the idea that Socrates’ method of teaching leads to rebellion and impiety. Indeed, impiety and corrupting the young were the very charges leveled against Plato’s teacher.

One of the Euthyphro’s main concerns, I take it, is to present a Socrates that is actually very much in defense of the religious-type bond between father and son and he implies that it is quite impious to take an action against one’s father as Euthyphro is about to do. Logic and religion are not opposed, as Aristophanes implies in his play, and it is Plato’s goal to show that. In fact, only when we are truly thinking logically will we be able to manifest piety. Aristophanes drove a wedge between the two because the “birth-pangs” of philosophical reasoning are that it is misused to gain power, e.g. Alcibiades. Aristophanes certainly goes about things the wrong way – one might call it the “ostrich with its head in the sand” way. Plato’s attempt to synthesize the two is the much nobler approach. As conservative evangelical Christians, we may be tempted to take the “Aristophanic” way out, but let us avoid that temptation, C.S. Lewis-style.