Plato's Phaedo makes a lot of
interesting arguments that are well worth the time taken to contemplate them. Some of the principle
arguments will be dealt with here by providing a brief account of their structure, and examining their
validity and truth value, as seen by Plato and scholars of Plato.
The suicide argument that Socrates offers early in the text is roughly made in the following form:
Premise 1: Death is the separation
of soul from body.
2: The philosopher acting as a philosopher, seeks to affect this separation as far as possible.
Conclusion: Therefore, the philosopher
This is an
argument that Socrates makes to illustrate why he in unafraid of dying, and why he is thinking rationally
when he lacks this fear. Two thoughts to think about are that it is a problem for Plato and Socrates
if you say the person dies, and the soul makes up the person because then the soul dies. Remember,
that Plato is using Socrates to show that the soul is immortal so this objection is certainly a problem
that must be considered by scholars of the text.
Another slight problem comes when Socrates advocates learning with the mind alone, which necessarily
implies learning without the body or senses. But does Plato truly mean that we can and should
learn without the senses? It would most likely be terribly difficult to acquire skills requisite to
knowledge if we could make no use of our senses. This is the position that a lot of empiricists
(another type of philosophy in contrast to rationalists) take on matters of knowledge and learning.
There are parts of this text when
Plato speaks about the sensibles and the form of properties. His goal in such a discussion is
to show that the sensibles are not the same things as the Forms. An example of the sensibles would
be things in the world like horses, men, books, and mountains. They are what we perceive with
our senses, and according to Plato they are inferior to the Forms. The intangible, divine, perfect
ideals of Beauty, Good, Truth and the like are examples of the Forms. Plato believes that knowledge
of everything lies in the Forms and that they are necessary causes of all sensibles. The Forms
are a sort of realm like heaven for Plato, where we commune with them as souls learning and doing the
dialectic. Socrates often draws analogies between the Forms and the soul in Platonic dialogues.
Plato wants to show that both the Forms and souls are indivisible and indestructible, but there are
points in his texts when this becomes a very difficult task.
The immortality argument for the soul is outlined as follows:
1) opposites cannot admit of their opposites (when opposed they either flee or perish)
2) carriers cannot admit the opposite of what they carry
3) the soul is a carrier; what it
carries is life
4) the opposite
of life is death
5) the soul
can't admit of death; it must either flee or perish
6) the soul is therefore deathless
7) what is deathless is indestructible
8) the soul is indestructible (i.e. immortal)
There is a fallacy in this argument though that is that it doesn't follow from the soul make whatever
it is in alive to that the soul itself is alive. This is of course that a philosopher like Plato
ought to address, but his argument for the immortality of the soul is otherwise quite impressive as
Socrates presents it.
finally an important point to note about the Phaedo is the grace with which Socrates faces his
final hours. This work is quite a testimony to the character of Socrates, as Plato saw from his
perspective, and an inspiration to those who truly believe in themselves and their personal philosophy.
Socrates was a dedicated philosopher with a talent for discussion and a passion for learning.
He was remembered by his friends for being wise and good-natured, and in the closing words of Phaedo,
"such was the end of our comrade.a man who we would say, was of all those we have known the best, and
also the wisest and the most upright."