Phaedo by Plato Essay

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Phaedo, a dialogue written by the famous Plato, depicts the death of Socrates. Socrates, a great philosopher, was the center focus of Plato during Socrates' final days. It was the previous dialogue of the seven that Plato penned during this period which comprised of: Theaetetus, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Statesman and Sophist. Socrates instructed Plato. After his death, Plato went on to reconstruct his dialogues. These dialogues described the principles Socrates had in respects to immortality of the soul. Phaedo, Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito are recognized as the tetralogy as they discuss the trial and subsequent demise of Socrates. Phaedo, is the longest of the tetralogy and also deliberated to have the most in depth dialogue and has become quite significant to most philosophers. In Phaedo four arguments describe how the soul can be immortal with the fourth argument presenting what most deem the most convincing and the most sound. However, some have stated the fallacies within Phaedo and use the fourth argument to present how the soul, based on Socrates' view cannot be immortal.

Phaedo discusses the morning of Socrate's death. Its main subject matter as mentioned earlier, is immortality of the soul. The beginning of Phaedo shows Echecrates, a Pythagorean, as he asks Phaedo to communicate to him what he knows of Socrates' death. Phaedo expresses how Socrates chose hemlock poison as his way to die. His accused corruption of Athens and subsequent imprisonment for refusing to believe in the Athenian gods made it so Socrates was left with few options. Socrates exploration of the numerous philosophies of immortality of the soul during this time attempt to demonstrate that there is life after death and that the soul continues to exist even after the body is gone.

Among the four theories only one is substantial. This is because although the first three theories are appreciated by readers and referred to as affinity, cyclical and re-collective form of arguments, they do not illustrate a logically sound argument. The construction of the first three theories are not widely accepted nor considered to be well made. The four arguments explained are: the contradictory argument or the cyclical argument.

The cyclical argument attempts to elucidate that the forms humans possess are everlasting and are not subjected to change. Furthermore, the soul by no means expires, it continuously passes life. The body is thought to be earthly and therefore mortal, forced to experience a physical death with the soul intact afterwards. He makes a comparison of cold and fire to make clear his argument. The second argument known as the theory of recollection, attempts to clarify that humans possess some non-empirical knowledge such as the knowledge at birth.

This kind of argument although faulty, points to the soul existing before birth. How this is conceived is through the notion that for a person to have knowledge of birth the person's soul must have existed before the birth occurred. "Our souls existed before we were born" (Gallop, 1975, p. 16,17) Many people argue the second theory makes little sense. It almost similar to what Keyt wrote in his introduction to the "Fallacies in Phaedo." "The fallacy of composition has several distinct forms. The most common form is that in which one infers that an organization (or a whole) has a certain property because every member of the organization (or every part of the whole) has the property" (Keyt, 1963, pp. 167-172).

The third theory regarded as the affinity argument, endeavors to clarify that what is immortal and invincible are dissimilar from what is mortal and visible. The soul is immortal. The body is mortal, therefore when a body expires, the soul continues to live. The third theory's hypothesis then is if the soul is not expected to be scattered, then it will subsist death.

Soul is then considered a non-composite thing or belonging to the class of non-composite things. The soul is also considered to be divine and so it is naturally permanent. Many however object this argument and point out that just because the body survives death in terms of still existing, the soul doesn't necessarily survive death as well. "The fallacy also occurs, although most logic books do not mention this form, whenever one infers that one concept is an instance of a second because the first concept is subordinate to the second: the obscure in unintelligible so the concept of obscurity is intelligible" (Keyt, 1963, pp. 167-172).

The fourth argument of Phaedo, arguably the most logically sound of all four, is the argument deriving from the form of life. It explicates the causality of what is incorporeal and immortal is through participation of all worldly things in all forms. For instance, beauty participates in the form of beauty. Another instance would be the soul participating in the form of granting the soul the ability to never die. Socrates demonstrated the immortality of the soul by disagreeing that the reason of life, the soul, can never decease as life originates from it.

He contends that the likelihood of a dead soul is impossible therefore leading to the conclusion that the soul must be immortal. The immortality of the soul may present itself as a useable argument but it can also be examined. This is because it is founded on a premise that has not been yet proven. Socrates believed after his death he would have the chance to talk to men who have passed and received blessings from the gods in another worldly existence. "What follows is Socrates' mythical description of the soul's afterlife and, finally, the narrative od Socrates' peaceful death among his friends" (Frede, 1978, pp. 27-41). Because he tried to explain an afterlife, his arguments could also be seen as subjective. Thus the enquiry is the joining of the afterlife and the living soul after the expiry of the worldly body.

Plato and Socrates' confidence in the last argument was such that many who read the arguments now believe in the fourth the most because it shows the true opinions of the two philosophers. "Then this is most certain that the soul is immortal and imperishable and that our souls will really exist in Hades" (Gallop, 1975, p. 106e). Socrates' belief that the body was a transporter of the soul fueled his thoughts on the immortality of the soul. The arguments state the soul and the body as two distinct where in which separation of both entities is only achieved through death. Death for Socrates was welcome and although he did not believe in suicide, he did desire to die as a means of leading a fulfilled life.

When examining the context surrounding the last theory, a counter argument, to question the validity of such an argument, can be made. If Socrates believed the soul can exist and be immortal through the form of the body, then why, if the body expires and separates from the soul, is the soul immortal. In this sense it is not under any form, but rather separate of it "true, expressed form." If the soul is the cause of life, and the soul is the cause of death, because for it to exist, it must be separate from the body, then how can it be both the cause of life and death? Forms, then, are supposed to never become their opposite. If the soul is that which produces life within the body, and the opposite of life is death, it so follows that, "...the soul will never admit the opposite of what she always brings" (Plato, 2009, p. 339). That which does not acknowledge death is said to be immortal. However Plato states that the soul can only be separated from the body through death. It exists in its original form only through death. The soul then admits the opposite. Here is the fallacy.…[continue]

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