I'm taking a Philosophy class, and they've given me an assignment. I'm worried about what standards they want in my answers, because they haven't really gone over carefully what kind of reasoning they want us to use, or whether any specific kind is required. So, can you tell me if these answers seem plausible? Thanks.
1. What is Plato's "Theory of Forms or Ideas?"
It is the idea that qualities of perceived objects are imitations of the archetypal forms they represent. For instance, a cup, a doorknob, and a clock are all representations of the circular form. However, none of them has this quality only, or manifests it perfectly. If you examine any object closely enough, you will see particular aberrations that prevent it from being a perfect example of its form. But we are only aware of this aberration because we have an idea of a perfect form, despite that such a form doesn't exist in observable reality. Thus, Plato suggested that reason gives us access to an independently existing world of forms that exists outside of time and space as we know them.
2. What is the importance of Socrates trying to become Euthyphro's student?
It provides us with a glimpse of Socrates's attitude of humility towards his own knowledge, and his awareness of knowing nothing for certain. Due to this awareness, he was always open to the possibility that anyone or anything he encountered might have something to teach him. In addition to this, Socrates likely genuinely hoped to learn exactly what piety was so that he could prove in his case that he did not lack it, although he knew it was unlikely that anyone could define it sufficiently for him to do so while remaining true to his intellectual principles. He may have wanted to use this encounter as an opportunity to reveal the inconsistency of what was commonly accepted regarding piety, and how easily this lack of true understanding of its nature could be manipulated by a skillful person to make its nature appear howsoever they wished it to.
3. What is the importance of Plato writing dialogs?
It means that Socrates didn't write his own dialogs, but that Plato wrote his interpretation of what Socrates said or possibly even what he thinks he might have said in a given situation. It means we have no first-hand accounts of Socrates words, but only attributions to him from Plato. The significance of the dialogs themselves is that they give us a uniquely direct glimpse into the thought process of the author, and that their lack of a conclusion leaves them open to speculation and interpretation of the original issue, teaching what it means to think for oneself.
4. What is the importance of Euthyphro's "madness"?
I presume that by "madness" you mean Euthyphro's wish to have his father punished for the accidental murder of a worker of his. The importance of this aspect was the insight it gave us into Euthyphro's character, and its contribution to developing the dialog. It showed us that Euthyphro was arrogant and self-assured about his understanding of things, in sharp contrast to Socrates. So much so that he was willing to argue it in court, against tradition and at the risk of his reputation. This was also the trigger for Socrates's question regarding the pious. On one hand, Socrates probably knew that Euthyphro didn't really know what the pious was so well as he thought he did, and wished to demonstrate this to him. On the other, Socrates was being accused of impiety, so he was likely half-hoping Euthyphro's arrogance was justified, and that he really knew and could justify what he claimed to know regarding piety, especially since he believed Socrates's accusers were unjust in their accusations.
Euthyphro's first definition of piety: "Do what I'm doing now."
Socrates rejected this definition because it did not explain what caused the action to be pious, but merely asserted that it was, which is indeed its main flaw. However, this is probably one of the most revealing answers Euthyphro gave regarding his own level of awareness. His reasoning was probably that he thought he already knew what actions were pious and which weren't based on definitions of specific actions as pious or impious, and that thus his actions must be pious. He was probably influenced by the stories of the Gods punishing their fathers for wrongdoing, and having also reasoned that actions similar to those defined as pious must also be pious, made the inference that the action he now planned to take must be pious without inquiring deeply enough as to what it was that made the pious things pious in the first place.
Euthyphro's third definition of piety: "Piety concerns the tendance of the gods."
Socrates rejected this definition because it seemed to him to imply that one improved one of the Gods by behaving piously. If it is interpreted literally, that seems to be correct. However, I think that Euthyphro might have meant something else by this definition. He may have meant to say that piety was simply respecting the wishes of the Gods, but this would simply be another way of stating what he previously said about piety being what was dear to the gods, except with the emphasis placed on the worshiper's actions rather than the God's will. Thus, this still doesn't quite answer the question in a manner that does not lead to a recursive definition of piety.
Essay question: Explain why piety is important. Once you do this examine the Euthyphro to find examples that support and/or conflict with why you think piety is important. Conclude then with what you have learned thus far this semester from reading the Euthyphro.
I believe that piety is important because it is a way of improving oneself. This seems to be hinted at but missed several times, especially with Euthyphro's third definition above. But rather than saying that it is humans tending the Gods, it could be said that the Gods offer piety to tend human beings simply because of their wisdom and goodwill towards humanity. So that by becoming more pious, one improves oneself because the Gods are wiser than human beings. It could be said to be similar to a student choosing to obey a teacher because they know them to be wiser, except that in this case, the teachers are truly perfect in character, and do this out of agape rather than for a material reward or glory. From reading the Euthyphro, I have learned that seemingly simple issues can actually be more complex than they would seem to be at first. The more you pick away at the small things, the more you realize just how superficial most knowledge we claim to have actually is, and just how few things can be known without placing faith in some kind of authority.