Prof. Mark Cronin
HU 102 - HD
April 2, 2012
The Immortality of the Soul in Plato’s Phaedo
Among Plato’s dialogues, which serve to honor the realm of philosophy in general and Socrates’s life in particular, the Phaedo dramatically and poignantly portrays the death scene of Socrates. The Phaedo evokes such tragic sentiments of pity and fear while at the same time glorifies Socrates as the martyr for the truth. He dies because of human’s injustice yet faces his own death with extraordinary serenity and fearlessness; he devotes his whole life for philosophy and in fact practices it until the last minutes. In this dialogue, the philosophical discussion is about the soul. However, as a dualist, for the most part Socrates takes for granted the existence of the soul while arguing for the immortality of the soul, which eventually turns to a conclusion that the soul does survive the death of the body and it is immortal.
On the opening of the Phaedo, Socrates’s readiness to die and his astounding composure before his death utterly surprise both his friends and the audience: “the man appeared happy in both manner and words as he died nobly and without fear” (Plato 58e). As Cicero says, Socrates at his death “spoke in language which made him seem not as one thrust out to die but as one ascending to the heavens” (Ahrensdorf 1). The reason he acts in such fearless manner lies in his hope and belief in the afterlife: “I should be wrong not to resent dying if I did not believe that I should go first to other wise and good gods, and then to men who have died and are better than men are here” (Plato 63b). He strongly believes in a realm we’d basically call heaven, which is populated by gods and other philosophical kindred souls. He wishes to enjoy the company of wise gods and good men in a better political community in the afterlife, and accordingly he is of good hope that there is something for the departed and that, as is said of old, it is much better for the good than for the bad. Therefore, “his readiness to die is pious, wise, and just” (Ahrensdorf 35). However, not every human beings end up in such heavenly realm but only “a man who has truly spent his life in philosophy is probably right to be of good cheer in the face of death and to be very hopeful that after death he will attain the greatest blessing yonder” (Plato 64). He boldly claims that those who are devoted to philosophy in the correct way practice nothing else but practicing for death all his life, so it is irrational to be fearful of death while the philosophers are ready and have wanted it for a long time to come upon.
To answer the question why death is an utmost importance goal for a philosopher, Socrates examines the characters of the soul and its connection to the body by making arguments for the immortality of the soul. First of all, according to Professor Shelly Kagan on his lectures about Plato’s Phaedo at Yale University, Socrates is a dualist who believes that the people are made of two parts: the soul and the body. There is a two-way interaction: the soul directs and gives orders to the body while the body generates input that eventually gets sensed or felt by the soul, yet they are two complete separate identities. Socrates begins by defining death as the separation of soul and body, and the state of being dead as the state in which soul and body exist separately from one another (Plato 64c). Socrates, unlike the modern dualists who think we need to appeal to something immaterial in order to explain bodily sensations (Kagan), believes that the body takes care of all the bodily sensations, namely the desiring, wanting, feelings, emotions, and the cravings. On the other hand, the soul, in its essence, is rational. The soul thinks, and only the soul can think about pure concepts or ideas like Justice, Beauty, Goodness, Justice, or Health. Such things are called Platonic forms, and “they are not to be grasped by the senses, but by the intellect...