On the Euthyphron

"On the Euthyphron," The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction to the Thought of Leo Strauss, Thomas L. Pangle, ed., University of Chicago Press, 1989. Complete, unedited version published as "An Untitled Lecture on Plato's Euthyphron," Interpretation, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Fall 1996).


The subject matter of the Euthyphron is piety. For more than one reason the Euthyphron does not tell us what Plato thought about piety. It certainly does not transmit to us Plato’s final or complete view of piety. Still the work transmits to us an important part of Plato’s analysis of piety. Thus, by studying the Euthyphron we shall not learn more than part of the truth, as Plato saw it, a partial truth, which is necessarily also a partial untruth. Yet we can be certain that we shall never find the truth about piety as Plato saw it except after having understood and digested the half-truth that is presented to us not so much in the Euthyphron as through the Euthyphron. The half-truth presented to us through the Euthyphron does not belong to the common1 type of half-truth. The most common type of half-truth tells us the2 commonly-accepted opinions. The halftruth presented through the Euthyphron is not a generally-accepted half-truth. It is unpopular. Since it is unpopular it is irritating. An irritating half-truth is in one respect superior to the popular half-truth. In order to arrive at the irritating half-truth we must make some effort. We must think. Now it is most unsatisfactory if we are first forced to think and then receive no other reward than an irritating provisional result. Plato gives us two kinds of comfort: first, thinking itself may be said to be the most satisfying3 activity regardless of the character of the result. Secondly, if we should believe that the result is more important than the way to the result, Plato’s moral character is the guarantee that the final result, or what he regarded as the complete account of piety, would be absolutely satisfactory and in no way irritating.

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