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Philosophy – Plato Essay

2. What is the role of philosophy for Socrates and why is it valuable in itself? Explain three argu- ments Socrates gives for the immortality of the soul. Briefly explain Cebes and Simmias’ coun- terarguments using examples from the text for support. Finally, based on your understanding of the Phaedo give your interpretation of the last words of Socrates and back it up by citing the text. In Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, Phaedo gives an account of the last few hours of Socrates’ life, to Echecrates when he encounters him after Socrates’ death.

In Phaedo’s telling of the story, we learn about why Philosophy was so important to Socrates, and why he spent his final hours explaining his arguments about the body and the soul, to his two friend Cebes and Simmias. Socrates presents four separate arguments as to how the soul lives separately from the body, the first being the theory of opposites, seconded by the theory of recollection, and followed by his theory of Affinity. After he presents his first three arguments, Simmias and Cebes interject with their opinions and counterarguments to Socrates’ first three, which is then when Socrates comes up with his fourth and final argument – Theory of the Forms.

The last and final argument is one of the most important arguments that Socrates will make throughout the whole story. Phaedo ends his account to Echecrates by telling us of the final words of Socrates. Socrates was a well known Greek philosopher, known chiefly through the writings of his students, such as Plato who wrote the novel in which we are reflecting. Socrates did not write down any of his ideas or knowledge, but instead instilled it upon other people who took the re- sponsibility of writing it down for themselves.

During Socrates’ final hours, we find out why Phi- losophy was so important to him. He argues that the soul is a separate entity from the body, and that we must separate the soul as far as possible from it. He relates this to death, by saying that death is this freeing and parting of the soul from the body. Socrates states, on page 100 line 67d exactly why Philosophy is important – “…those that go in for philosophy in the correct way who are always eager to set the soul free; what philosophers practice is exactly this, the freeing and parting of soul from body. ”

He believes that Philosophers live their lives being as close to death as possible, “those occupied correctly in philosophy really do practice dying, and death is less frightening for them than for anyone else (Plato 67a). ” He states that if philosophers desire that one thing, separating the soul from the body, then they must always be close to death and to nev- er be afraid of it. Socrates presents his initial argument that “everything comes to be through opposite things coming to be from no other source than their own opposites (Plato 70e). ” He believed that everything that exists, has an opposite and must have came from that opposite.

He provided examples such as “the beautiful is presumably opposite to the ugly” or “when something comes to be bigger, it must be from being smaller before (Plato 70e). ” In explaining this argument, he presents that between the two members of the pair, there are two-processes for the pair to come into being. In order for something to be big, it had to come from being small, it increased in size but it could go the opposite way and decrease in size as well. This argument relates to the soul and the body by saying that being alive has an opposite, which is being dead.

In order for the op-posites argument to be logical, one must be able to come back from the dead and be alive, so it is from the dead that living things come to be alive. This leads us to believe that the soul is immor- tal, and existed before the body. Socrates sums up this argument by stating, “the living have come from the dead no less than the dead from the living; and I think it seemed to us that if this were the case, it would be sufficient proof that the souls of the dead must be somewhere – from where they were to be born again (Plato 72a). ”

Following the argument about opposites, Socrates poses the question that if we are going to recollect something, we must have had knowledge about it at a previous point in time. This is then the second argument that Plato recounts in his telling of Socrates’ last hours. What he is pre- senting in this argument, is the fact that when we recognize something, it brings us back to think- ing about something else. So when we recognize this first object, it triggers our minds to remem- ber something that is associated with that object. Therefore, when we remember something we are recollecting back to a previous state or time or object.

He argues that these recollections canat are unlike the items we have recollected. He sums this thought up by saying, “So long as, on seeing one thing, you come to have something else in mind, like or unlike, from seeing the first one. What occurs must be recollection (Plato 74d). ” He doesn’t stop at this, but then goes on to explain that we had this knowledge before we even obtained our senses. When we were born, we obtained the ability to see, hear, and possess all of the other senses, but we had this knowledge before our senses, so therefore we had this knowledge before we were even born. This argument leads back to his original point that the soul exists outside of the body.

“Whereas if we get our knowledge before we are born but lose it on being born, and then later through the use of our perceptions we get back those pieces of knowledge that we had at some previous time, what we call learning would be a matter of getting back knowledge that was ours anyway; and we’d be surely correct if we called that recollection (Plato 75e). ” Socrates’ third argument before Cebes and Simmias provide their counterarguments is his theory of Affinity.

This suggests that we must distinguish between things that are material, visi- ble, and perishable and things that are immaterial, invisible, and immortal. In this case, the body is the thing that is perishable, while the soul is immortal and lives on. While arguing this to Sim- mias and Cebes, Socrates states, “the soul is something that’s very like what’s divine, deathless, the object of intellect, uniform, undissolved, and always in exactly the same state as it ever was; while body in its turn is something very like what’s human, mortal, mindless, multiform, tending to dissolution, and never the same as it was before (Plato 80b). ” This is yet another argument that proves his point that when the body dies, the soul still lives.

He brings up the point in this argu- ment that the soul may wander, but eventually it is put into a different body or it will spend its time with the Gods. After his third argument, Simmias and Cebes finally interject and give their counterargu- ments to Socrates. Simmias is the first to present his counterargument, by comparing the topic of the soul existing after the death of the body, to the attunement of an instrument.

He states, “The argument would go, there’d be no way that the lyre could continue to exist as it does, with the strings broken, or that the strings could, while the attunement, which is of the same nature and the same kin as the divine and deathless, had already perished, before the mortal (Plato 86a-c). ” He is comparing the body to an instrument, and the soul to the attunement. When the instrument is no longer there, if it was completely broken or burned, there would no longer be a tune. The tune of one instrument does not just travel to a separate instrument when the original one is gone.

Cebes then gives his counterargument, not agreeing with the one Simmias just made and not ful- ly agreeing with all of Socrates’ arguments. Cebes argument states that the soul does still live on after the body is dead, but that it is not entirely immortal. He then compares the body to a cloak and the soul to the body, stating “someone might say the very same things about soul and body as about the weaver and his cloak, that the soul is something long-lived, while the body is a weaker and shorter-lived thing, but all the same, he’d say, every single soul wears out many bod-ies, especially if it has a long life – for if the body is in flux, and is perishing even while the per- son is alive, still the soul always weaves again whats being worn out. (Plato 87e). ”

This argu- ment he presents states that a soul can live through many bodies, as a person can go through many cloaks each as they wear out. He finishes his argument by stating that “there’s no justifica- tion yet for relying on this argument of yours, and it gives us no reassurance that when we die our soul still exists somewhere (Plato 88a). ” Socrates final words at the end of Phaedo’s account were, “Crito, we owe a cock to As-clepius; pay our debt and no forgetting. ”

According to Greek myth, the cock symbolizes a peace offering to the god Asclepius in order to receive a cure. In this case, Socrates was getting ready to die. This could mean only two things to me, the first being that he was being cured of his life by dying and being closer than ever to the one thing that philosophers dedicate their time to, sep- arating his soul from his body and having that soul be free. The second interpretation I came up with is that he offered this cock to the god Asclepius to avoid any misfortune after he dies, while his soul is still living.

All in all, Socrates had many deep and thought provoking arguments as to why the soul and the body are separate, and why the soul continues to live after the body has perished. Whether or not these arguments seemed logical, or were very believable, Socrates spent his whole life dedicated to the ideas of Philosophy, and he spent his final hours instilling his beliefs upon those who cared about him. Socrates died for what he believed in, and that’s what makes Phaedo’s account of his life so interesting. Works Cited: Plato, , and Christopher Rowe. The Last Day of Socrates. New York: Penguin Classics, 2010. 87-169. Print.


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