Week 3 – Platonic Views on Death
- “Father of Western philosophy”
- Thales first real philosopher and natural scientist, father of the Ionians
- Was a student of Socrates
- Tries to synthesize theories of Pythagoreans, Parmenides, Heraclitus, etc.
- Character of Socrates in the dialogues professes Plato’s views (that don’t necessarily reflect
Socrates’ views in real life)
- Character of Socrates uses the Socratic method
o Knowledge of the truth is already in you somewhere, you’re just having a hard time
getting it out
o If you ask the right questions, you’ll remember the knowledge
o Knowledge is not something you can “give” to your students
Theory of Recollection
- When the soul is separated from the body, it can have direct acquaintance with things called
“Forms” which are eternal truths
- The traumatic experience of being born causes your soul to forget everything that it knew
- There was a time when your soul was separated from your body, before your birth
Theory of Forms
- Unchanging, eternal truths/ideas in a perfect/pure representation
- The possibility of knowing anything at all depends on Forms
- Plato’s ideas of Forms have to do with geometry but they work for all other things too (i.e.
beautiful, justice, good, equality, etc.)
- We have conceptions of what perfect Forms are and we always strive for them
- Exist outside of space in time in the intelligible realm, are immaterial, stand in opposition to the
material and changing objects that we perceive in the sensible realm
- These are the proper objects of knowledge, the things that we really know are all Forms
Doxa – mere opinions
Episteme – knowledge
Logos – to give reason or rational account
Important for Plato: difference between doxa and episteme. You have to have a true opinion and stuff
to back it up, a reasoned account.
Context of dialogue: Socrates charged with corruption of youth in Athens (made them challenge
conventions and belief systems). Either exiled or death by poison – chooses to drink the poison.
Argument is about why Socrates isn’t really committing suicide by doing this because the soul is
immortal and even though his body dies his soul will live on.
Phaedo: Does the soul survive the death of the body?
- Philosophy as training for death (64c-67e) – when you die you have direct access to truths that
we can’t see clearly when our body is in the way of the operations of our soul. Death:
separation of soul and body. The philosopher tries more than anyone else to prepare himself for
this. The senses are bad because they’re tied to the bodily aspect and the body is imperfect –
the senses deceive us and don’t let us see a clear picture. Forgetting about the concerns of the
body will allow us full access to Forms. Knowledge of the Forms = happiness, reasoning. Death
is the only way of being able to have this clarity.
- Cebes’ first challenge (70a-b) o “…men find it hard to believe what you said about the soul. They think that after it has
left the body it no longer exists anywhere, but that it is destroyed and dissolved on the
day the man dies, as soon as it leave the body; it is dispersed like breath or smoke, has
flown away and gone and is no longer anything anywhere. If indeed it gathered itself
together and existed by itself and escaped those evils you were recently enumerating,
there would be much good hope, Socrates, that what you say is true; but to believe this
requires a good deal of faith and persuasive argument, to believe that the soul exists
after a man has died and that it still possesses some capability and intelligence.”
o Two parts to argument:
Soul exists after death
Soul that does survive death has the capacity to have intelligence
- Socrates has three arguments to prove these
o The Opposites argument (70c-72e)
“Let us examine whether those things that have an opposite must necessarily
come to be from their opposite and from nowhere else, as for example when
something comes to be larger is must necessarily become larger from having
been smaller before”
Things that have an opposite come to be out of their opposites
i.e. living dead – if something is dead it must have been living at one point. If
things come back to life, the soul must survive after death so that it can come
back to life again.