ON encountering Euthyphro at the court house, Socrates wants to learn more about his emphatic and unfailing belief in right and wrong. Having come to court to charge his father with murder, Euthyphro remains steadfast in his belief that his father is a murderer and must be punished. He is not phased by the fact that it is his own father. He believes that this defines piety and it would be impious not to charge him. Socrates feels that this is not sufficient and does not constitute a definition as it is an example of an act of piety not a definition because a definition would make the characteristics of piety plain and obvious, such that he himself could apply them.
In an effort to clarify his definition, Euthyphro explains that pleasing the gods will then meet a more general explanation which should help Socrates in his understanding and application for his own purposes. Socrates is pleased with this definition but can only accept it if stands up to scrutiny. Socrates then questions how to recognize what pleases or displeases the gods and there is consternation regarding the subjective nature of this definition as some gods are pleased by certain actions and others are displeased. Euthyphro contends that there are certain universal standards but Socrates disagrees that measuring whether something is "just" or "unjust" renders this second definition inadequate and even an effort by Euthyphro to define the "divine" element of piety and that which pleases "all" the gods, does not stand up to Socrates scrutiny.
Socrates is aware of Euthyphro's now apparent confusion and asks about the element of justice. In his third definition, Euthyphro refers to "careful attention" being paid to the gods or to the people but this does not assist his case as Socrates wonders if the gods can benefit from this careful attention in the form of piety which is a definitive no. Piety preserves and impiety undermines and even destroys, adds Euthyphro. It seems, by this point, that Socrates has talked Euthyphro into a circle and they return to the concept of piety being loved by the gods because it is pious and not that something that the gods love is what makes it pious. Socrates has exposed the subjective elements of Euthyphro's definitions, thus rendering them unsatisfactory. Due to the decisions that are often based on these and other such definitions, Socrates reveals the potential for unwittingly but undeservedly causing the misfortune of others.