Phaedo: Interpretation Essay
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Following the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines
The passages of the assigned reading for “Plato’s Phaedo” were nothing short of thought provoking, with many of the ideas eliciting new and seemingly evolved thoughts considering the time they were written. Many of the concepts can appear to be confusing, whether it is because of how they are presented, or their general content. Plato’s take on Socrates’ ideas about the soul are complicated, at best. Throughout one such passage, Plato attempts to show the disagreement Socrates and Cebes have over the soul’s life after death.
The entire reading proclaims Socrates believes the soul lives on after the body dies. One specific passage asserts Cebes agrees with much of what Socrates has stated, but is not convinced of this specific fact; Cebes does not believe the soul is active after the body dies, but instead suggests the soul leaves the body much like the breath does upon the person’s death . Socrates attempts to convince Cebes of his case by relating a myth about souls existing in an alternate world, eventually returning to animate bodies when possible. Socrates states if the myth is true, the soul must think and remain active after death, otherwise how it would be able to ascertain when it was possible to enter an animate body.
Socrates then introduces what is known as an argument of opposites, claiming that everything we see is made possible by its opposite . For example, small things come from big things, and big things come from small things in a process much like transference. Socrates asks Cebes if the living has an opposite counterpart, wherein Cebes of course replies the opposite of living are the dead. Cebes claim, coupled with the opposite argument allow Socrates to cement the idea that if he is alive, he will die, but eventually return to living, because opposites swing back and forth in this manner. For added effect, Socrates states if this were untrue, the entire world would have already died, having never been replaced by their opposite counterparts .
Plato’s account is supposed to be Socrates’ final hours of life, which would explain why he is so vehemently arguing the possibility of a soul, as well as where it goes after the body ceases to live. Philosophically, there may be credence to what he is saying, and while Socrates was a man of scholar, it is possible he was frightened or had grown uncertain in his final hours. Cebes, a man not hanging on the perils of death, was able to wonder unbiased about the presence of a soul, ascertaining that souls did not exist, and ceased to be after the body died. Cebes believed that perhaps they only lived while the body was alive, but once the body perished, the soul was unable to carry on without it.
Being faced with his own mortality, however, it is likely Socrates may have been attempting to seek solace in the idea that his soul would continue after his body ceased to live, or even exist. Much like religious occultists of today, he was unsure of what awaited him after he died; in order to comfort himself, he solidified a concrete idea of what was going to happen. In order to strengthen the idea in his mind, he used illogical arguments like the argument of opposites in order to irrationalize the notion, forcing those like Cebes to concede he was right, even if the ideas were inherently flawed. The argument of opposites is flawed because it assumes nothing can spontaneously come into being, or cease to exist, which leaves nearly all of existence unaccounted for. However, it simultaneously accounts for all of existence, as well, because everything, being something, came from nothing, and something, being everything, will eventually be nothing again. While it is inherently correct in some cases, and can be proven, in the matter of the human soul, it is likely the Socratic argument was used out of fear.
Plato. (2008). Plato's Phaedo. Rockville: Arc Manor Publishers.
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