The Phaedo, a synthesis of the Socratic thought
The Phaedo, a Plato’s dialogue, has two advantages for readers:
- firstly, it is one of the most easy-to-read text of Plato’s philosophy (such as the Allegory of the Cave)
- secondly its main theme, the death of Socrates, allows Plato allows to introduce some major lines of his master. As part of this dialogue is the prison in which Socrates is confined after being sentenced to death. His trial for corrupting the youth was indeed sentenced to drink hemlock, a deadly poison.
Summary of Plato’s Phaedo:
A number of friends gather Socrates in his cell, including his old friend Crito and two Pythagorean philosophers, Simmias and Cebes. Socrates begins, as usual, the story by saying that suicide is wrong, because a true philosopher must wait for death and not cause it voluntarily. The soul is immortal, and the philosopher spent his life in the form, so that it detaches from the body’s needs. The thesis of the immortality of the soul is put in four points:
The Argument of Opposites:
Everything comes from its opposite. For example, a great man does not become bigger than before because it was small. Similarly, death exists only for what is alive, and vice versa. This implies a perpetual cycle of life and death.
The theory of recollection:
The second point is the theory of memory. This theory suggests that all learning is a matter of recollection. According to Socrates, man forgets his knowledge, but the maieutic, questioning method adopted by Socrates, may call to mind his knowledge buried.
The argument of immateriality:
Socrates makes a distinction between things that are intangible, invisible, immortal, and which are material, visible and perishable. The body is the second type, while the soul is the first kind. Therefore, the soul is immortal and survives the death of the body.
The theory of Forms and participation:
Behind the appearances of the world exist, according to Socrates, the causes of these appearances (i.e. Forms), which are immutable and intelligible. All things have their apparent qualities through their participation forms. Form, or the Idea of life, is an essential property of the soul, so it is inconceivable that the soul can be anything but alive.