Platos Early Dialogues Essay

Plato’s Early DialoguesEUTHYPHRO
Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Euthyphro
Scene: The Porch of the King Archon
As the dialogue begins, Socrates is on his way to court to face the
charges brought on him. Euthyphro is on his way to the court to prosecute
his father for murder. Socrates is very surprised at Euthyphro’s charge
against his father and asks him if he is sure that what he is doing is pious
or holy. He asks Euthyphro to tell him about the nature of piety and
impiety. Euthyphro will not define piety or impiety, but instead says
?Piety is doing as I am doing, and compares it with the actions of the god
Zeus when he punished his own father. Socrates asks for a definition and
not an example, to which Euthyphro offers that ?Piety is that which is dear
to the gods. Socrates accepts this definition, but forces Euthyphro to
admit that the gods differ, just like human beings, about what they love
and hate. By this definition, the same act may be called both pious and
impious, therefore this definition leads to contradiction. Euthyphro offers
a third definition and claims: ?What all the gods love is pious. Socrates
then asks whether an act is loved by the gods because it is pious, or and
act is pious because it is loved by the gods. Euthyphro responds that the
gods love an act because it is pious. By this, Socrates concludes that
Euthyphro’s definition is only a characteristic of piety, not its definition.
At this point, Euthyphro says that he does not know how to express what
he means and accuses Socrates of setting arguments in motion. Socrates
is not satisfied and accuses Euthyphro of being lazy, and forces the
argument further by asking whether piety is a part of justice, or justice a
part of piety. Here, Euthyphro offers yet another definition: ?Piety…is that
part of justice which attends to the gods. Now Socrates wants an
explanation of ?attention, and asks if the gods benefit from this
?attention, to which Euthyphro responds that the attention is like
ministration to the gods. Socrates then points out that ministration usually
means assisting someone in his work, and asks what ministration to the
gods helps them to do. Euthyphro responds that the discussion has
become tiresome, and issues his fifth definition: ?Piety…is learning how to
please the gods by prayers and sacrifices. Socrates asks if piety is an art
which gods and human beings have of doing business with one another,
and what benefits do the gods receive from the offerings of individuals.
Euthyphro answers that they get ?tributes of honour?; they are pleased,
not benefited. Socrates tells him that by saying that the gods are pleased,
they have returned to an earlier definition. Frustrated and annoyed,
Euthyphro tells Socrates that he is in a hurry to depart and ends the
This dialogue explores the meaning of Piety. As the dialogue starts,
Socrates is on his way to court to defend himself against accusations of
impious behavior; Euthyphro is prosecuting his own father based on his
own understanding in the matter of piety. As the dialogue develops,
Euthyphro seems to take on the role of Meletus, Socrates’ accuser. He
claims to have perfect understanding in the matter of piety, so Socrates
requests his help to answer Meletus charges against him. He asks
Euthyphro to instruct him about the nature of piety. In his first definition,
Euthyphro states that he is justified on bringing charges against his father
because Zeus has done the same, and therefore there is divine
justification. Later, Euthyphro offers other definitions about the nature of
piety, and in all of them he implies that his knowledge in the subject is
indeed superior to the majority. If this is the case, then only Euthyphro is
the judge as to whether an action should or should not be performed. He
starts by justifying his actions through divine understanding, but Socrates
is not satisfied. He then tries to make his actions right, but, again,
Socrates leads him into contractions. Finally, he tries to turn his actions
into a duty. Through the dialogue, Euthyphro tries to use the gods to
justify his actions and interests, which is exactly the same charge that will
later send Socrates to his death. When asked about the relationship
between the gods and human beings, Euthyphro tells us that our duty is to
please the gods and, through our actions, to honor and glorify them. If
this is true, then we are nothing more than servants of the gods, crated
solely to take them higher and higher. I hope our mission is somewhat
more substantial than this. The dialogue does not offer an answer to the
question of whether something is pious because is loved by the gods, or
something is loved by the gods because is pious. Even if we were to
assume that the gods love that which is pious, then love is only a
consequence of a pious act. They both agree that piety implies justice,
but justice does not imply piety. Thus, we can understand justice without
bringing in the matter of the gods, which seems to be the biggest problem
in this dialogue. If we were to tie justice with the divine, this would imply
that reason alone would not be enough to define justice, but we would
need divine guidance to do so.
Through this dialogue, Euthyphro gets angry and frustrated; while
Socrates’ tone is ironic and condescending. Euthyphro accuses Socrates
of creating ?moving? arguments, but Socrates shows Euthyphro that his
argument not only moves around, but comes full circle to the starting
point. The dialogue shows us that if we are committed to the pursuit of
knowledge and truth, we must understand that this may be a never ending
process while we are in this life. Although our actions are based on our
limited knowledge, justice should always be an integral part of everything
we do.
The Apology is Socrates’ defense at his trial. As the dialogue begins,
Socrates notes that his accusers have cautioned the jury against Socrates’
eloquence, but, according to Socrates, the difference between him and his
accusers is that Socrates speaks the truth. Socrates distinguished two
groups of accusers: the earlier and the later accusers. The earlier group is
the hardest to defend against, since they do not appear in court. He is
also accused of being a Sophist: that he is a teacher and takes money for
his teaching. He attempts to explain why he has attracted such a
reputation. The oracle was asked if anyone was wiser than Socrates. The
answer was no, there was no man wiser. Socrates cannot believe this
oracle, so he sets out to disprove it by finding someone who is wiser. He
goes to a politician, who is thought wise by himself and others. Socrates
does not think this man to be wise and tells him so. As a consequence,
the politician hated Socrates, as did others who heard the questioning. I
am better off, because while he knows nothing but thinks that he knows, I
neither know nor think that I know (Socrates). He questioned politicians,
poets, and artisans. He finds that the poets do not write from wisdom, but
by genius and inspiration.
Meletus charges Socrates with being a doer of evil, and corruptor of the
youth, and he does not believe in the gods of the State, and has other new
divinities of his own. In his examination of Meletus, Socrates makes three
main points: 1) Meletus has accused Socrates of being the only corruptor,
while everyone else improves the youth. Socrates then uses an analogy: a
horse trainer is to horses as an improver is to the youth. The point is that
there is only one improver, not many. 2) If Socrates corrupts the youth,
either it is intentional or unintentional. No one would corrupt his neighbor
intentionally, because he would harm himself in the process. If the
corruption was unintentional, then the court is not the place to resolve the
problem. The other possibility is that he does not corrupt them at all. 3) In
frustration, Meletus accuses Socrates of being a complete atheist, at the
same time he claims Socrates teaches new gods. Thus, Meletus
contradicts himself.
Socrates argues that fear of death is foolish, because it is not known if
death is a good or an evil, thus there is no reason to fear death.. Socrates
claims that his mission is in service to God. This is to condemn people’s
pursuit of money, honor, and reputation, while ignoring wisdom, truth, and
the improvement of the soul. When talking about politicians, he states that
he was a Senator once, and opposed the majority when several generals
were brought to trial. He points out that several of the corrupted youth
and their fathers were present, but none of them were accusing him;
rather, they were there in his defense.
Socrates refuses to ask for pity. He does not throw himself on the mercy
of the court. Many would bring in their children to win pity. However, he
does mention that he has three young children. He tells the jury about their
responsibility to ignore the appeals to pity and judge the truth.
Despite Socrates’ speech, the jury finds him guilty as charged. Meletus
proposes death as punishment. Instead, Socrates proposes retirement in
a home for benefactors of the state. He examines possible penalties:
death, imprisonment, a fine, or exile. Then, he realizes that exile is not an
option since he believes that The unexamined life is not worth living. He
finally proposes a fine of 30 minae, guaranteed by Crito, Plato, and
others. The jury sentences him to death.
Socrates remarks that his internal, guiding voice, which at times would
warn him to refrain from certain actions, had not once interrupted his
actions in his defense. He argues that death might be a good: either it is a
dreamless sleep, or he will travel to the place of the dead where he can
question anyone and not be executed for it. He states: No evil can
happen to a good man.
He asks the jury to punish his sons, and provide guidance. If so, then he
will have received justice. We go our ways: me to die, you to live; only
God knows which is better.
Throughout the Apology, Socrates believes himself to be a ?teacher,
though he does not say that of himself. He finds reputed wise men and
questions them. If Socrates finds that they believe themselves to be wiser
than they really are, he points out their mistake, thus educates them and
himself. This allows Socrates to learn when he finds other people who
know more about a subject than he. Socrates tells the judges that he will
not be found guilty because of ?evidence? and testimony; if he is found
guilty, it will be because of the reputation that he has obtained. As
Socrates deals with the charges, he is constantly talking about himself. If
Socrates wanted to appease the judges so that he would not be found
guilty, he could have made up or omit the parts about himself that caused
so much trouble. The fact that Socrates knows that he is being persecuted
for who he is and that he honestly describes himself, shows that he is
staying true to himself and his beliefs through his trial. Through reason,
Socrates is constantly searching for the truth of what others think. When
Meletus accuses Socrates of not believing in any gods, Socrates then uses
reason to refute him. Socrates tells a story about an oracle, which he
states that he believes in, and says that since an oracle is a divine thing he
must believe in divinities. Socrates used reason to question Meletus and
led him to state inconsistent statements: (1) Socrates corrupts the youth
intentionally. (2) Nobody intentionally harms himself. (3) People who
corrupt society ultimately harm themselves. If (1) Socrates corrupts the
youth intentionally and (3) people who corrupt society ultimately harm
themselves, then (2) must be false. However, if (2) nobody intentionally
harms themselves and (3) people who corrupt society ultimately harm
themselves is true, then (1) must be false (since Socrates cannot be
corrupting the youth intentionally). If that is the case, then the court is not
the proper place to discuss it.
The second section of the Apology is the speech that Socrates gives after
he is found guilty. In this speech, he is to propose a penalty for his
?crimes. Socrates gives, at first, what he believes that he should receive
for his the actions, and he proposes that he should receive free room and
board. This remark shows Socrates still believes in his mission. Had he
proposed anything else, it would have been to indirectly admit that his
beliefs were wrong. For punishment, Socrates explores the idea of exile.

However, Socrates admits that, if exiled, he would continue to question
men about themselves. Socrates could have escaped death here by
submitting to exile and promising to change his ways, yet again, that
would undermine his beliefs. He then proposes a fine. In all the
punishments that he proposes, he never admits to being wrong or
promises to reconsider his ideas. Had he agreed to exile and silence, he
would not have stayed true to himself and his beliefs.
Socrates’ philosophy of using reason to find the truth prevents him from
telling the jury what they would like to hear. Each time Socrates proposes
a punishment, he reasons himself out of it and into a worse punishment.
The last section of the Apology deals with Socrates’ speech after he has
been sentenced to death. Though Socrates becomes indignant, he does
not become angry. Socrates does not do any of the ?weeping and
wailing…[or the] many other things which [he] maintains are unworthy of
[himself].? Socrates believes that if he did, it would bring shame on
himself and his beliefs and that it would be much worse than death.

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Socrates claims that he, unlike many others who appear before the jury,
will not appeal to their pity by having his family brought before them.

However, he does describe his family in some detail — including his
sons. Here, he seems to be appealing to pity in a very subtle way.

Speaking about his children, he asks the jury ?punish them…if they seem
to care about riches or anything, more than about virtue; or if they…are
something when they are really nothing.? Once again, he seems to be
instructing or teaching the jury about his beliefs. Socrates uses reason,
once again, to convince himself that death is not an evil. ?…the state of
death is one of two things: either a dead man wholly ceases to be and
loses all consciousness or, as we are told, it is a change and a migration of
the soul to another place.? Socrates goes on to say that, since neither of
those two states of being can be bad, death shouldn’t be feared. His
philosophy of reason allows him to look at death in a way that he does
not have to be afraid of it.
Socrates believes in holding on to his principle regardless of the
consequences, even if they involve death. Concern for himself is not
nearly as important as the pursuit of the good, the true, and the just. As a
result, it is far better to suffer injustice than, through ignorance, to cause it.

Justice seems to be the prevalent theme, since this dialogue deals with the
injustice against Socrates.
One inconsistency is that in Crito he seemed universally opposed to
violating the law, while in the Apology there seem to be exceptions to this
belief. For example, he opposed the government actions (the law of the
State) on two occasions.
The speech that Socrates gives reflects the indignation he feels over
injustice that he has received. However, a theme of courage in the face of
death seems to be emphasized. Also, the point about staying true to
oneself and beliefs, and the search for truth by way of reason is a policy
we should all adopt.
Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Crito
Scene: The Prison of Socrates
This dialogue takes place in the jail where Socrates awaits execution.
The dialogue is a debate between Socrates and Crito about whether
Socrates should escape. As the dialogue opens, Crito has arrived at the
prison before dawn and sits by the bedside of Socrates, still asleep.
When Socrates awakens, he tells Crito of a dream he has had. A woman
in his dream implies that Socrates will soon find his home; death is
forthcoming. Crito tells Socrates that he can use his influence and money
to help Socrates escape. Crito is afraid that other people will think he
should have done more to save Socrates’ life. Socrates admonishes
Crito no to value the opinion of the many, but of the few good men worth
considering. Crito suggests Socrates is acting out of regard for him and
other friends, and argues that Socrates is, en effect, committing suicide
and betraying his children. Crito accuses Socrates of taking the easy way
out and tells him that others will think him cowardly if he does not escape.

Socrates counters that he cannot disobey the laws of Athens after Athens
has granted him certain rights and has protected him. He cannot defy the
laws for his own convenience. He argues that he cannot put away the
reasons he has honored for 70 years, unless there is good reason to do
so. Socrates claims that one should only regard the opinions of the good,
not the evil; he uses the analogy of the student of gymnastics that is
supposed to listen to one man, and ignore the many; otherwise he will
harm his body. The just man must only listen to the understanding;
otherwise, he will harm his soul. Socrates says that first they must
determine if escape is the right thing to do. If Crito can convince him, he
will escape; otherwise, he will not. First, Socrates argues that one should
never do wrong intentionally, and return evil for evil, or wrong for wrong;
therefore, just because the sentence is unjust, if escaping is wrong, he
must remain in jail. Socrates imagines the government appearing before
him to interrogate him. They charge him with overturning them, that a
State cannot exist if the decisions of law have no power but are set aside
by an individual. They talk about an agreement between him and the
State to obey the laws, regardless of whether he receives justice or not.
Socrates then compares the laws to one’s parents. Just because a parent
strikes a child, the child does not have the right to strike the parent.
Further, he argues that the State is to be held higher and holier than
mother or father. One must do what the State commands or change the
State’s view of what is just. By remaining in the State, and existing under
its laws, one enters into an implied contract to follow these laws for three
reasons: (1) in disobeying the laws, one is disobeying one’s parents; (2)
the State is the author of one’s education; (3) one has made an
arrangement with the State to obey its commands.
Socrates could have had an agreement with the jury to fix the sentence at
banishment but he said he preferred death to exile. Socrates tells Crito
not to think of life and children first and of justice afterwards. Socrates
then asks Crito if he has any other argument to make. Crito responds
that he does not. Socrates asks Crito to let him fulfill the will of God, and
to follow wherever he leads.
This dialogue reflects Socrates’ teaching on moral obligation and duty.
Early in the dialogue, Crito expresses admiration about the fact that
Socrates is at peace about his coming execution. He accepts his fate.

When discussing the opinions of others, Socrates uses ?argument by
analogy, where he compares two things that are different on the surface
but, similar in some important areas. Socrates compares athletes who
care about improving their athletic performance with those who care
about the improvement of the soul. Socrates argues that he and Crito
must only listen to those who are knowledgeable about the issues at hand,
namely justice, fairness, and the ultimate good. Having established that
the good life is equal to a just and honorable life, the justice or injustice of
escaping the law’s judgment is the only issue to be considered, and all of
Crito’s personal arguments for escape are set aside. Socrates states that
making a conscious choice to remain under the influence of a society, is
an unconscious agreement with that society to live one’s life by its
standards and virtues. We see throughout the dialogue that Socrates
emphasizes that the law should be either followed or challenged, but
never ignored; on the other hand, his contempt for public opinion and
injustice is evident. At the end of the dialogue Socrates states that, if he
refuses to die, he will be disobeying the law; but it is not the law that is
unjust, it is the men. Socrates reinforces the importance of respecting the
laws as the foundation of society, otherwise our system of values and
justice is subject to collapse.
Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates, Phaedo, Simmias, Cebes, Crito and
Scene: The Prison of Socrates
The dialogue is narrated by Phaedo to Echecrates, some time after
Socrates’ death. The setting is early on the last morning of Socrates’ life.

Phaedo lists those present, and notes that Plato was not there. Phaedo
makes a point of describing Socrates’ attitude on this day: he appeared
calm and fearless. When they have taken off Socrates’ chains, he remarks
that pain and pleasure are two opposites that follow one another.
Cebes notes that Evenus the poet had remarked at Socrates’ composing
poetry: translating Aesop into verse, and composing a hymn to Apollo.

Socrates explains that he has had a dream all his life to ?make music?
(poetry). Before, he had assumed that this meant his practice of
philosophy, but he wanted to be safe that it did not mean actual poetry.
Cebes asks why suicide is considered wrong. The implication is that
Socrates is too willing to die. Socrates argues that we are the possession
of the gods, so to kill ourselves would be to rob them. Socrates
expresses his belief that after death he will travel to the gods who are
good and wise, and will be in the company of others who are better than
those he will leave behind. Simmias asks Socrates to convince them, and
they will no longer charge him with suicide. Socrates claims that the
philosopher pursues death–the separation of soul and body, when the
soul exists in herself, and is parted from the body. Socrates argues that
the philosopher is unconcerned with pleasures of the body, that he would
rather turn completely to the soul. The philosopher, Socrates says, seeks
to sever the soul from the body. Socrates argues that when the soul
seeks truth, the body deceives it. Truth is revealed in thought, and thought
is best when the mind is gathered into herself. Socrates then introduces a
discussion of forms: absolutes of justice, beauty, and good. These, he
says, are not perceived with the bodily senses. Rather, these are
perceived with an intellectual vision, with the mind alone. The body, he
says, is a source of trouble that creates desires in us that keeps us from
seeking the truth. To attain pure knowledge, we must part from the body.

So after death, when the soul is alone and without the body, we may be
able to attain truth. So the philosopher seeks to separate the soul from the
body and enjoy a purification, and will leave this life with joy, and with no
fear of death. Cebes agrees with what Socrates has said, but asks how
we can know that the soul does not die with the body. Socrates begins
his response by mentioning the doctrine of reincarnation, that souls depart
at death to another world, and return, and are born from the dead. The
living comes from the dead, so the soul must be in another world.

Socrates supports this by discussing opposites, such as good and evil, hot
and cold, pain and pleasure, where one is generated out of its opposite.

In this way, life and death are opposite, and the process of life becoming
death is visible, but the process of death becoming life is not. Simmias
reminds the group of one of Socrates’ favorite doctrines, the Doctrine of
Recollection: to learn something is actually remembering what has been
forgotten. This would require the pre-existence of the soul in order to
have the knowledge that is recollected in this life. Socrates supports this
with the example of equality: to judge two things as unequal, we must first
know what equality is; but we have no experience in this life of absolute
equality; therefore, this knowledge must come from some previous
existence in which the soul must have existed. This applies also to all the
other absolutes, or forms. For all individual things we call by one name,
there must be a single, essential nature which allows us to call them by the
same name. This essence is the form. This form is not visible, and is never
seen on earth. Nevertheless, we must use it as a standard by which we
judge things to be what they are. Therefore, it comes from a
pre-existence state when we were directly aware of them, and now we
recollect them when we encounter things on earth that are copies of these
Cebes repeats his objection that, even if the soul existed before birth, it
might be destroyed at death. Socrates returns to the theory of forms, and
explains that there are two sorts of existences, one seen, the other unseen.

The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging. The body
belongs to the visible and changing; the soul belongs to the invisible and
unchanging. The philosopher seeks these unchanging forms and becomes
like them. He is practicing death, or the separation of soul and body, and
is purifying the soul of bodily elements that hold it down. Socrates
discusses the souls or ghosts that linger around tombs, because they are
too attached to the body. Then, Socrates states that if a person loves the
body, he becomes more like body, and this holds on to the soul after
death; then, he will be reborn as a lower form of life. If a person loves the
soul, he becomes more like soul, and, the purified soul can escape after
death and rise to the heavens.
Simmias suggests that the soul and body are analogous to harmony and
the lyre. Harmony is invisible, without body, and divine, while the lyre is
visible, material, and earthly. But when the lyre is broken, or the strings
cut, the harmony dies. Thus, when the body is broken and dies, the soul
dies too. Cebes offers another objection: he compares the soul to a coat
made by a weaver. The weaver wears the coat until he dies, and then
someone else wears it. The coat may outlast many men who wear it, but
finally is worn out and dies. The same could apply to the soul; it may be
reborn several times and outlast several bodies, but it will finally perish.

Socrates argues that harmony is not like the soul. First, he reminds
Simmias that he has already agreed that knowledge is recollection, and
that the soul exists prior to this life. Therefore, the soul exists before the
body. However, the harmony of a lyre exists only after the existence of
the lyre. Another difference between harmony and the soul is that the lyre
causes and controls the harmony. However, the soul is not led by the
body, but the other way around. Also, Socrates argues that harmony has
degrees and can be more or less harmonious. This is not the case with the
soul. Socrates says that in order to refute Cebes’ objection, he will have
to discuss the process of generation and corruption, which involves the
natural sciences. He proceeds to scientifically explain the reason for his
sitting in jail as the contraction of muscles and positioning of bones, but
the real reason is that society has sentenced him to death, and he has
chosen not to escape. Socrates again refers to the theory of forms as the
cause of all things. Ideas exist and other things participate in them. For
example, beautiful things come from absolute beauty. This hold for all
forms: no opposites ever become mixed with each other (hot and cold,
life and death). Socrates states that the soul is the creator of life and it can
never be mixed with death, which would be its opposite. Socrates then
stresses the importance of taking good care of our soul at all times
because of its immortality.
His friends worry about the burial logistics as if the corpse they will bury
is Socrates’. Socrates’ family returns. Once Socrates dismisses them, the
jailer brings the poison. Cebes tells Socrates that there is still time to
enjoy. However, Socrates thinks that there is nothing to be gained by
delay. He drinks the poison and, following his jailer’s instructions, lies
down when he feels his legs heavy. Socrates’ last words are to repay a
debt, a sacrifice he owes to a god.
In the Phaedo, we meet Socrates on the morning of his own execution.

Socrates suggests philosophy and contemplation as a method to cast
away the fear of death. He believes that the philosophical life is a
preparation for death and that the true philosopher looks forward to
dying. It seems that if philosophers look upon death with ?good cheer,
then they would not love life enough to learn and examine life and,
therefore, death. Socrates makes a distinction between two types of
death, figurative and literal, and defines death as the release of the soul
from the body. The responsibility of the philosopher is to seek the truth
and to prepare for the afterlife. Socrates notes that the body leads us
away from the truth. The discussion about the separation of body and
soul leads to the discussion of the immortality of the soul. Socrates
presents three arguments: one from the necessary generation of opposites
from opposi


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