He asks Euthyphro whether whatever is pious must also be just. When Euthyphro gives an affirmative answer, Socrates inquires whether piety is the same as justice, or whether piety is only part of what constitutes justice. The latter, he is told. In turn, Socrates demands to know what part of justice piety is. If he could find out, he tells Euthyphro, then he could go to his own trial and show his accusers that they should not prosecute him for impiety because he would then know what piety is and would act accordingly.
In answering the question, Euthyphro offers another definition of piety and states that righteousness and piety are that part of justice dealing with the careful attention that should be paid to the gods. The remaining portion of justice deals with the careful attention that ought to be paid to people. Socrates requests a clarification of the meaning of the phrase “careful attention.” A clarification is needed, he points out, because in most cases where careful attention is paid to some object, such as a horse or a person, the object is benefited or improved by the attention. Is this also true of the gods? Are they benefited or improved by piety? No. Therefore, it must be a different kind of attention that is involved.
To make his point clear, Euthyphro says that the kind of attention he has in mind is that which slaves pay their masters. Then, Socrates points out, piety is a type of service to the gods. Every service aims at accomplishing something. A doctor’s service produces health; a shipwright’s service produces a ship. However, what does piety, which now seems to be a service, produce? Generally speaking, Euthyphro answers, the principal result achieved through piety, by means of words and actions in prayer and sacrifice that are acceptable to the gods, is the preservation of the state and of private families. The results of impiety are the undermining and destruction of everything.
In terms of this latest answer, Socrates again asks what piety and impiety are. Euthyphro now seems to be offering the view that piety is a science of prayer and sacrifice, a science that deals with asking of the gods and giving to...