Plato's Phaedo

UC Davis Philosophy 21

G. J. Mattey

  • Philosophy 21
  • Fall, 2004
  • G. J. Mattey
  • Born 427 BC
  • Lived in Athens
  • Follower of Socrates
  • Founded the Academy
  • Tried and failed to influence politics in Syracuse
  • Died 347 BC
The Dialogues
  • Plato wrote a number of dialogues between Socrates and his contemporaries
    • They are usually divided into three periods
    • Early: concerning Socrates and his unsuccessful quest for an account of virtue (Euthyphro)
    • Middle: developing Plato's own positions (Phaedo, Republic)
    • Late: examining problems with Plato's views
Philosophy and Death
  • Socrates's imminent execution sets the stage for the dialogue
  • He maintains that one aim of practicing philosophy is to prepare for death
  • Philosophy frees the soul from the body as much as possible in life
  • So the philosopher is thought by the many as being close to death
The Body
  • The body is a hindrance to knowledge
  • There is no truth in sight, hearing, etc.
  • Reasoning comes closest to revealing reality
  • We reason best when the body is not troubling the soul
  • The body gives rise to needs and desire, which in turn produce disruptive conflict
Imperceptible Reality
  • There are such things as:
    • The Just itself
    • The Beautiful itself
    • The Good itself
  • Each of these is the reality which other things essentially are
  • They should be tracked down using pure reason
  • The philosopher, the lover of wisdom, is contrasted with the lover of the body
  • To face death "courageously" through fear of greater evil is inconsistent
  • To be moderate in order to enhance pleasure is to be mastered by pleasure
  • Only the philosopher can behave truly virtuously, by despising the body
  • The soul can attain true knowledge only if it is separated from the body
  • True knowledge can be attained after death only if the soul continues to exist
  • How can it be shown that the soul is immortal?
  • This requires "a good deal of faith and persuasive argument"
Argument From Opposites
  1. Opposites come to be only from opposites
  2. Life is the opposite of death
  3. So, life comes to be through death
  4. Life can come from death only if the soul already exists without the body
  5. The soul exists without the body only due to the death of a previous body
  6. So, the soul exists after death
Recollection and Immortality
  • The example of Meno's slave supports the theory that all learning is recollection
  • If the theory is true, then what the soul knows when in its present body it must have recollected from a time before it was in that body
  • If the soul existed outside the body, then it is probably immortal
Perceptible Objects and the Forms
  • Equal objects are considerably deficient with respect to the Equal itself
    • They strive to be the Equal itself but fall short
  • We cannot know of this deficiency unless we alreadly know the Equal itself
  • If we already know the Equal itself, then we recall it when we say that preceptible things are equal
The Nature of the Forms
  • The Equal itself is the standard by which things are equal to each other
  • It is one of the Forms, like the Beautiful, the Just, the Good, the Pious
  • These things certainly exist
  • Each one is simple
  • Because they are simple, the Forms are not subject to change
Knowledge of the Forms
  • The soul can know the Forms, but not through bodily experience
  • So it either knew the Forms from birth, it acquired the knowledge at birth, or else it recollected them
  • If the Forms were known from birth or were acquired at birth, we would always know them
  • But many people do not know the Forms
  • So, the Forms are known through recollection
Argument from Recollection
  1. The soul can only know the Equal itself by recollection
  2. Recollection requires existence before birth
  3. So, the soul existed before birth
  4. If the soul existed before birth, then it existed after death [from prior argument]
  5. So, the soul exists after death
Argument from Simplicity
  1. If the soul ceases to exist, it must be because it it has decomposed
  2. The Forms are simple and incapable of decomposition
  3. The soul resembles the Forms in its simplicity
  4. So, the soul is incapable of decomposition
  5. So, the soul cannot cease to exist
  • The life one leads determines ones condition after death
  • Polluted souls will be unhappy
  • Eventually they will be reincarnated into an animal suited to their vices
  • Only the completely pure can join the gods and attain true knowledge
  • This is why philosophy is training for death
The Harmony Objection
  • The Pythagoreans conceived of the soul as a harmony and the body like a lyre
  • The harmony ceases to exist when the lyre is destroyed, so the soul would cease to exist upon the death of the body
  • But a harmony is formed after the lyre, so if the soul were the harmony of the body, recollection would be impossible
  • And we could not explain virtue and vice in terms of harmony and disharmony
  • So the harmony account of the soul is rejected
The "Cloak" Objection
  • The soul is said to outlast many bodies because it existed before those bodies
  • Similarly, a man exists before many cloaks he wears out, and yet the last cloak of a person survives after the person's death
  • So the soul might be wearing its "last body" (which survives as a corpse after death)
The Forms as Causes
  • Answering the cloak objection requires an investigation into causes
  • Physical explanations of causes are inadequate
  • The Beautiful itself exists, and is beautiful
  • E.g., the Odd can never be the Even
  • The cause of something's being beautiful is explained by the thing's sharing in the Beautiful itself
Admitting the Opposite
  • Socrates must make a digression about the causes of generation to answer the cloak objection
  • He explains change through the Forms
  • Forms do not admit of their opposites
  • E.g., the Odd can never be the Even
  • What necessarily brings along a property does not admit the opposite of that property
  • The triad is odd, and so it cannot be even
The Final Argument
  1. The soul can only bring life to the body into which it enters
  2. So, the soul does not admit the opposite of life
  3. The opposite of life is death
  4. So, the soul never admits death
  5. So, the soul is deathless
  6. What is deathless is indestructible
  7. So, the soul is indestructible
The Underworld
  • When the soul leaves the body at the body's death, it journeys to the underworld
  • Socrates gives a detailed description (which he admits is not certain) of the underworld
  • The wicked receive repeated punishment until they repent
  • The virtuous are freed to live in the sunshine in beautiful dwelling places on the surface of the earth, and he hopes to join them soon

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