Socrates’ IronyThe Euthyphro, written by Plato, demonstrates several accounts of Socrates’ irony. Despite the deceiving initial layer of irony we perceive to be ignorance, we find that Socrates’ utilizes his presumed ignorance to reveal the truth of each situation. In the end, both Euthyphro and the reader are forced to question the term “holiness,” looking to see if a legitimate definition even exists. The first encounter with Socrates’ irony is the very reason he is put on trial–corrupting the youth of Athens. In explaining the motive behind his conviction, Socrates begins to praise Meletus: “Of all our political men, he is the only one who seems to me to begin in the right way, with the cultivation of virtue in youth” (Marino, 7). The irony in what Socrates is saying is that he believes the Meletus to be the true offender of corrupting the Athen’s youth.
Because knowledge is of utmost importance to Socrates, he believes that bestowing knowledge upon others is a form of cultivating virtue (Hughes, 2015). In contrast, those who prevent this process from taking place–like Meletus–are the ones who are the true root of corruption. Furthermore, the irony in this is that Meletus’ genuine motive is to prevent Socrates’ influence–not to protect the youth. After Socrates shares his reason for prosecution, Euthyphro makes a prediction about the trial, “But I rather fear, Socrates, that the reverse will turn out to be the truth” (Marino, 7). Knowing the outcome of Socrates’ trial, this prediction reveals a small bit of irony in Euthyphro’s overall character; as someone who claims to be “divine” and foresee the future, making such a miscalculation depreciates the validity of the claim that he is ma holy individual.
This incident, alone, sets the tone for the rest of the dialogue. Throughout the Euthyphro, the primary irony that sets up Euthyphro’s dilemma is Socrates’ request to be a “disciple” of his, eventually forcing Euthyphro to question his expertise on what it means to be pious. Of course, Socrates does not expect to learn anything from Euthyphro but, instead, wishes to prove to him that he does not truly understand what it means to be holy.
Socrates’ method is simple but infuriating, asking Euthyphro to give a general definition of piety and impiety. “For if you had not certainly known the nature of piety and impiety, I am confident that you would never… have charged your aged father with murder” (Marino, 23). The dialogue ends with Euthyphro leaving frustrated and puzzled, as him and Socrates had not come to legitimate definition of “holiness.” Not only is the dialogue left with no real conclusion but so is the reader. One can only assume that this be intentional in an effort for each reader to question their own definition of holiness and whether or not this quality truly exists.
The irony of Socrates’ initially acting like Euthyphro’s student is Through Socrates’ repeated irony in the Euthyphro, we are able to question our own definition of holiness and whether or not one even exists. As Euthyphro experiences Socrates’ method