The Spicy Lotus

July 10, 2010

Phaedo, Socrates/Plato

Filed under: Classic,Greek — pha9 @ 3:54 pm

Plato’s Phaedo (pronounced /ˈfiːdoʊ/, Greek: Φαίδων, Phaidon) is one of the great dialogues of his middle period, along with theRepublic and the Symposium. The Phaedo, which depicts the death of Socrates, is also Plato’s seventh and last dialogue to detail the philosopher’s final days (the first six being TheaetetusEuthyphroSophistStatesmanApology, and Crito).

In the dialogue, Socrates discusses the nature of the afterlife on his last day before being executed by drinking Hemlock poison. Socrates has been imprisoned and sentenced to death by Athenian political leaders for not believing in Athenian gods and for corrupting the youth of the city. The dialogue is told from the perspective of one of Socrates’ students, Phaedo of Elis. Having been present at Socrates’ death bed, Phaedo relates the dialogue from that day to Echecrates, a fellow philosopher. By engaging in dialecticwith a group of Socrates’ friends, including the Thebans Cebes and Simmias, Socrates explores various arguments for the soul’s immortality in order to show that there is an afterlife in which the soul will dwell following death. Phaedo tells the story that following the discussion, he and the others were there to witness the death of Socrates.



  1. Here we see the beginning of the Christian answer to committing suicide. The argument goes like this: If you are so certain that there is an afterlife and that you will live in paradise after your death because of your upright and moral way of living, then why don’t you just kill yourself and deliver yourself to heaven as soon as you can. The answer, of course, is that God does not want people to kill themselves because they are God’s creation and this would make him angry. Not much of an argument if you ask me. Doesn’t he want us to be happy?

    Here Plato takes a similar stance towards philosophers and Socrates explains that he welcomes death, but that ending your life early is wrong.

    Comment by pha9 — July 10, 2010 @ 4:52 pm | Reply

  2. I am going to detail exactly the point at which I stop following Plato. So far, so good. I agree that we should prepare for death, not for the same reason that we will go to an interesting and enjoyable afterlife, but for other reasons. I also follow him when he says that the philosopher, or really all people for that matter, should not overly concern themselves with material things like food, clothing, money, etc. So, up to this point, I am pretty much in agreement.

    Comment by pha9 — July 10, 2010 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  3. So our senses cannot be trusted because they are flawed. Therefore, we cannot derive any truth from observation or empirical means. We must rationalize or think to arrive at the truth. But isn’t thinking a kind of sense as well? How do we know when our thinking is flawed?

    Comment by pha9 — July 10, 2010 @ 5:01 pm | Reply

  4. Ok, the soul is sort of taken as a given here. We start the dialogue with everyone in agreement that the soul is distinct from the body and the soul separates from the body at death. But there is no discussion of how we know this soul is real. We cannot see it, but as Socrates already explained, we cannot trust our senses anyway, so we need to rationalize it. But as I have already explained, doesn’t thinking also rely on biological functions that could be flawed? What about someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Don’t they think all kinds of things that aren’t real? What is the difference in being skeptical of observations through sight or hearing and observations through thinking.

    I am still not convinced that a soul exists, so the rest of the dialogue will be have to be seen in that light.

    Comment by pha — July 17, 2010 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  5. I think the problem with the argument of opposites is that Socrates takes bigger and smaller and tries to explain that they generate each other. However, I believe they may define each other, in a relative sense, without generating one an other. Something is small in relation to another thing that is big, this is true. For example, a cat is small compared to a human, and so the cat is defined as small through the lens of the comparison. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the human made the cat small. It would be just the same to say that an ant made the cat big in comparison. Socrates wants to apply this theory of generation to the concepts of living and dead to say that the dead create the living and therefore life and death is just a normal cycle. But I still maintain that the absence of life only defines life in comparison.

    Comment by pha — July 17, 2010 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

  6. Yes Socrates, but our ideal equality, the form of equality that you claim we all know inherently and therefore proves that we had this knowledge before birth. Isn’t that concept of equality also slightly different depending on who you ask? For example, a child might see two things that they assume are equal even though an adult can easily tell the difference between the two. Clearly the child’s concept of the form of equality is different. Moreover, a scientist who studies molecular biology will conceive of equality on a much smaller scale than the average person. To this scientist, true equality would include the concept of sub atomic particles where the average person would have a much looser definition. But the key is that everyone thinks they can conceive of the form of equal although there are many levels of accuracy. There might even be levels of accuracy that don’t exist yet because we haven’t invented the advanced technology to observe them. Therefore, I am of the opinion that we created the concept of equality during our lives and it is constantly evolving.

    Comment by pha — July 17, 2010 @ 3:45 pm | Reply

  7. So Socrates believes in re-incarnation? He’s really starting to stretch it at this point, claiming that we might come back as a wolf or a bee depending on how we lived our life. Still, he offers no explanation as to why this might be, or how this might come about. Who makes the decision about what we will be re-incarnated as? The answer of course is God, but Socrates doesn’t really claim that yet.

    Comment by pha — July 17, 2010 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  8. On causation: So Socrates rejects both the natural science explanation of the world and Anaxagoras’s explanation of intelligence. It is difficult to pin down the idea of causation. But my question is, why doesn’t Socrates follow his own advice and admit that he simply doesn’t know what cause these things?

    Comment by pha — July 24, 2010 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  9. I understand the basics of the theory of forms, but I am confused by the last argument about the opposites. I understand that the form of beauty is the ideal, the most beautiful, and the form is the idea of this beauty. However, I cannot understand how Plato wants to apply this idea to people. You are beautiful because you participate in the form of beauty. First of all, I cannot accept that beautiful can have an objective form. I still think beauty can mean different things to different people, and can also depend on time. But Plato wants to believe that there is an ideal beauty that is unchanging.

    I also don’t understand how Plato argues that the form of one thing, will not admit the form of another. When faced with shortness, tallness will withdraw or disappear. But he brings up the conflict in his earlier assertion that opposites generate each other. I don’t get how this is reconciled.

    Comment by pha — July 25, 2010 @ 3:18 pm | Reply

  10. Now we conclude with the story of the afterlife. I don’t get how Socrates can be so critical and skeptical of arguments and then come up with something like this which is very far fetched. Here we see the beginning of being judged when you die. Socrates says that the good will go one place and the bad to another. This is the beginning of everything right here.

    Comment by pha — July 25, 2010 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

  11. And Socrates is dead….

    Comment by pha — July 25, 2010 @ 3:31 pm | Reply

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