Reading Euthyphro

I need your help!

I was in Starbucks reading Plato’s Euthyphro, as one does if one wants to fake erudition in the hope of attracting any passing intellectual women, men or goats.

Anyway, I’ve got to say it’s not an easy read – at least, I don’t find it so. I was doing okay, until I came to this section:

Soc. And a thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen; nor is a thing led because it is in the state of being led, or carried because it is in the state of being carried, but the converse of this. And now I think, Euthyphro, that my meaning will be intelligible; and my meaning is, that any state of action or passion implies previous action or passion. It does not become because it is becoming, but it is in a state of becoming because it becomes; neither does it suffer because it is in a state of suffering, but it is in a state of suffering because it suffers. Do you not agree?

Euth. Yes.

Soc. Is not that which is loved in some state either of becoming or suffering?

Euth. Yes.

I have a couple of questions here.

First: Is Plato using the word “becoming” in some special sense here?

Second: Why on earth does Euthyphro respond “Yes” to Socrates’s last question? Why would he (or Socrates, or Plato) think that that which is loved is in a state of suffering (or “becoming”, for that matter)?

Any advice gratefully and humbly received, because at the moment I’m baffled, which rather undermines the whole wishing to appear erudite thing.

Leave a comment ?


  1. martanydiatorre

    He who loves is in a state of possibly suffering because of that love

  2. I’m not a special expert on Plato, so I could be all wrong about this, but there are a couple of things you have to do in dealing with him. One is that you have to step out of your modern scientific understanding. The opening of the first paragraph is complicated to us by scientific ideas about light and the processes of perception. Plato knows nothing of this (and, elsewhere, gets elements of vision badly wrong).

    Instead, he seems to be dealing with how language tends to straightjacket our thinking. Is a thing visible if you never see it? Plato seems to play an early existentialist and say he doesn’t think so. Language is also indifferently temporal and in the word “becoming” Plato is dealing with time and the dynamism of things. Here I personally am hobbled by knowing Plato only in English. It would be very interesting to know what Greek word is rendered as “becoming”. Things “become” because they are inherently changing over time.

    As to why Euthyphro answers “yes”, perhaps he, being a good Greek, knows all living things (or at least all people) suffer. Certainly anything that could be loved would endure the dynamism of time. The really interesting idea, though, would be to extend the notion of the beginning of the first paragraph to the end of your selection. Could Plato intend that the suffering of the love he feels actually extend to the reality of the object toward which he feels the love? Suppose it is inanimate, like a work of art?
    Yes, there is a “right” answer, and I can’t give that to you, but it is also helpful sometimes to read the ancients with an eye toward following the light of the fires they set in your modern mind

  3. With Plato, there are many interpretations like how there are many interpretations to a poem; Plato’s dialogues of Socrates are very poetic. I would recommend following with your own interpretations and checking with scholarly sources like Oxford, Cambridge, or Stanford, etc.

    What I think the state of “suffering” mean is the state of “lacking”, and the state of “becoming” is the state of “change”. Being “loved” means both as in a state of change or in the state of lacking.

    Aristotle has a similar take on Plato with his cosmology with the planets being in “love” and that is how they move in the celestial rings. “Love” can be the force of attraction because an object is lacking the other object like how a planet wants to be with another planet, and this causes a change–movement of the planets.

  4. Given the line about action and passion, my conjecture would be that ‘suffer’ is the translator’s rendering of something like ‘undergo’, and that’s the passivity contrasted with the activity (of becoming/changing). So what is loved must be either acting or being acted upon. You’d need a scholar of the Greek text to get any secure answer, though.

  5. Thanks guys. I’m reading these with interest.

    @Robert – Yes! That adds up, I think.

  6. The Greek word for becoming is “γίγνομαι/γίγνεσθαι” and the word for suffer is “πάσχω”. I havent read this dialogue but I took a quick glance at the greek text. I think Plato doesnt use the “becoming” in a special sence. He is just giving an example of what a correct definitional formula should be (Socrates and Euthypro are trying to find a right definition of what is holy in this dialogue. Remember, its one of the first dialogues of Plato like Meno where Socrates wants to find a suitable definition for arete). As for the meaning of the word “suffer”, I think Robert Seddon is correct. That is the correct translation of the term. Also, the Greek word for the phrase “what is loved” is “(το) φιλούμενον which has also the meaning something that is being treated affectionately or something that is beloved. A couple of verses below Plato uses the verb “φιλείται” and the meaning is that the holy “is beloved”…etc. I think the translation is not very accurate.

    ps. Sorry for my English 🙂

  7. Dennis Sceviour

    Euthyphro is a classic in circular reasoning. Shortly after Socrates observations on becoming and suffering, Euthyphro replied:

    Euthyphro: But Socrates, I do not know how to tell you what I mean. Somehow
    everything I propose goes round in circles on us and will not stand still.

    [R.E. Allen, “The Dialogues of Plato”, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1984.]

    Euthyphro’s final obsequious response to Socrates may indicate his boredom with the protagonist.

  8. “….women, men or goats.”

    I don’t get the part about goats. Does Platonism have something to do with ‘goatism’?

  9. @Nikos – Thank you. Much appreciated. I’m not sure I’m much closer to understanding what Socrates is getting at here. I’m not sufficiently familiar with this sort of way of talking. But… I feel I’m at least in a position now where I can make steps towards understanding the argument.

  10. @Jeremy Stangroom

    np. Take a look at this translation. I think it is much better :

  11. oops, sorry. Problem with the url. You can find the text here:

  12. Nikos, That IS a vastly better translation.

    Jeremy: I get it now. Euthyphro is an expert on the gods (in the eyes of the world) and in this passage Socrates is seeking to understand what makes some things good. The real issue is whether a purely secular morality is possible, and Socrates has pinned Euthyphro into having to state whether something is good just because the gods think it good or if the gods think it good because there is some quality of goodness that precedes the assessment of the gods. Socrates seems to be driving towards the possibility of a secular morality and Euthyphro seems eager to dodge that conclusion.

    This is an astonishing situation as Socrates awaits trial for corrupting youth and impiety.

  13. This becomes much more clear in Greek.

    While English is the “lingua franca” because it is easy to learn, it is sometimes too easy to express complex ideas or to mark clear distinctions between related ideas.

    I always revert to the original version, which is why I only read Kant and none of the Ancient Greeks. 🙂

  14. it is like physics. first there is potential; through action it becomes. after it becomes, motion gets it and it enters a state of becoming where it is subject to motion, space, duality, and time. becoming continues until its motion ceases. action and choice precedes every state. to love is to have attachment and the potential for suffering. everything,even the good,is subject to becoming once it becomes.

    the ancients understood motion. because of the important role it played they knew that it had to be elemental. that is why it was assigned its own place in the eight point continuum. the infinity symbol was given at the last or eighth point as nothing elemental preceded it. motion was the sixth point or element in the continuum.

  15. We look but don’t see.We’re all suffering toward death.Were all in the process of becoming.Were into metaphysics and the capacity of the mind to
    penetrate beyond the physical realm.Object and subject ? Maybe Jung would
    be helpful just about now,”dreamlike images of the imagination” is that what
    Plato was getting at. We know nothing,we dream it all. ❓

  16. Well,
    Socrates states it clear:it is in state of suffering because it suffers.

  17. I think so Socrates wants Euthyphro to come up with correct universal definition. Euthypro claims that he know more about God and he interpret his thoughts to satisfy Socrates. Euthyphro is uing term becoming, suffering in order to show the get one definition of state.

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