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Lecture 4

PHL200Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 4: Ousia, Agnosticism

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Lloyd Gerson

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015 Plato’s Phaedo Part 1
Yildiz 1
Question in Symposium: Why does the vision of the beautiful generate true virtue? The Phaedo will
explain just a bit what this is suppose to mean.
In this dialogue Socrates has a conversation with two other philosophers about the immortality of
the soul. At the beginning, Socrates talks about his life and says something similar to the Symposium and
this is the higher mysteries in which those who are ascent from one beautiful body and an upwards to the
form of beauty are meant to be philosophers, doing philosophy.
In the Phaedo at the beginning, Socrates says something extraordinary, he says Philosophers, what
you imagine someone doing in the Symposium in the last part of the dialogue, is preparation for death and
dying. It is practice for being dead.
Why would Socrates hold this view, why should we agree to this view?
Relevant here is what he says in the Apology about death; Socrates is agnostic about death it is
either a long sleep (there is nothing) or it is a transformation into another world in which you will
meet other people who are dead, but Socrates does not know which one it is.
In light of what Socrates says about philosophy being a preparation for being dead, he is going to
argue that one the human being is dead, I am still alive this is proof that the soul is immortal.
If it is true that the soul is immortal, and it is true that you are a soul, then you can understand why
philosophy could be a preparation for being dead.
o If your body (anthrōpos - ἄνθρωπος) Socrates is still alive, so philosophy is a
preparation for something after the anthrōpos is gone.
When Socrates says philosophy is a preparation for dying, this is even more extraordinary.
If our soul is immortal, what do we have to prepare for? We will get there eventually.
There is a connection between philosophy in this dialogue to which we saw Socrates doing in the
Euthyphro, Crito and Apology; we see sketched out as an activity of those who participate in the
higher mysteries in Symposium.
o The end point is when the anthrōpos is dead but your soul is still alive. There is a way in
which Socrates characterises philosophy as preparation for dying, which is in 67c this
practice of philosophy is called katharsis (κάθαρσις - Purification).
How is philosophy a katharsis? What is being purified?
o Let us assume that what you are doing when you’re reading the Phaedo, you’re talking
about these issues in tutorial and in doing this, you are doing philosophy. In what sense is
this purification?
o How can we think about this purification in light of the assumption that if I prove that the
soul is immoral, I have proven that I am immortal?
o These are two different issues.
! One might be able to show that the soul is immortal (whatever the soul is) but if it is
not you, then you’re interest in whether it is immortal or not will drop to zero. It is
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Wednesday, October 14, 2015 Plato’s Phaedo Part 1
Yildiz 2
not enough to show that the soul is immortal, one would also have to show that I am
that soul and therefore, not the body or even the combination of the body + the soul.
If you did this, then it sounds like purification would have to do with you
being purified of the body, so that you are prepared, after this practice, for
the state in which you don’t have a body death.
This is not adequate, what do you have to practice or prepare for being
separated from your body when even if you don’t practice you will be
separated from your body.
How does philosophy prepare you for separation from your body IF it is true that I am not a body,
I am not a combination of the body + soul, I am a soul and if I could show that soul is immortal, I
have shown that I am immortal.
Why do you have practice for the separate of you body from the soul when nature will do this for
What exactly do we mean by a soul, and how is the soul related to the body.
o As you will recall, when we talked about these matters in the Apology, we saw that there
were a couple of puzzling things when we begin to talk about the soul in relation to the
body, namely that, it is not so neat to say that were is a soul and a body.
The human soul (psyche) includes the subject of psychic states I am hungry, I am thinking of
philosophy right now, all the uses of I are the subjects of psychological activities.
I am not unconnected with being no not only the subject of the psychological state but of the
subject of the psychological state of something with a body.
o After all I cannot be hungry if I do not have a body, and it may be true, Plato does not
deny this that I could not think without a body especially a brain.
To talk about the soul in relation to the body is to include subjectivity in talking about the soul.
o If I talk about the soul, I have to talk about the psychological states (beliefs, imaginations,
wishes, thoughts) and the subject of these states as well as what these states are about, all of
these come into play here because we shouldn’t suppose that Socrates has some ideas about
what exactly the soul is in a way that someone who is studying the human body of what an
egg is, or what a virus is.
If you want to find, or think about the soul, well if Socrates is right and the soul is immortal and
does not posses it, you cannot measure it, it does not have a magnitude with 3 dimensions and
therefore, to talk about it you have to talk about the subject of psychological states.
In reading the Phaedo, you might have thought about something like you cannot know whether G
is pathos (property) of F unless you know what F is.
o You can know whether being loved by all the god is a pathos (property) of ousia (essence) of
piety, you cannot know whether something is a pathos unless you know what ousia is.
The question: Is the soul immortal?
o Taken from the Euthyphro, we could never know the answer to this question unless we
know what the soul is.
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