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Plato's Phaedo


Plato was one of the most reputable philosophers about three hundred years before the birth of Christ. He was a student of Socrates another renowned philosopher. Therefore, in order to understand Plato, one must understand the philosophy of Socrates. The latter described himself as a midwife who helped others deliver wisdom. Socrates was a great orator. Moreover, it appears that Plato was greatly inspired by Socrates’ death. Socrates was killed by the Greeks after he was accused of disrespecting the gods and also corrupting the minds of youths. As a result, Plato was touched by this unfair killing of Socrates and wrote many of his works based on Socrates’ unfair sentencing to death. In Phaedo, Plato talks about afterlife in the context of Socrates’ death. However, most of the ideas in the dialogue are gotten from another student of Socrates called Phaedo. Phaedo engages other students in talking about the immortality of soul. This research paper seeks to describe and analyze what happened immediately before Socrates was killed and how he responded to some of the objections to afterlife.

Arguments on the Immortality of the Soul

Analyzing the First Argument

Before Socrates was killed by poisoning, he engaged his students in a rather healthy debate that came to be referred to as theory of forms. After Socrates is killed, Phaedo talks with Echecrates. Their first concern was not objected. Socrates mentions that death refers to the separation of the soul and the body. However, a solid argument ensues from Cebes proposition that when a person died, the soul is destroyed. By analyzing Socrates analogy-answer, several things come out. First, it appears that Socrates is aware of the existence of things in duality or opposites. The first argument for afterlife is popularly referred to as cyclical argument. In this argument, Socrates mainly comes to conclude that that which is alive dies and that which dies come back to life. The first line of thought is direct. However, Cebes and Simmias raised oppositions to the latter. Socrates clarifies that when one dies, the soul is on its own. In this case, knowledge or wisdom becomes more successful (Bestor 30). This is based on Socrates earlier views that senses cannot grasp knowledge. This appears to mean that Socrates believed in a higher being who was the source of all completeness. In this case, he meant that the jury that sentenced him to death would promote him to higher glory than he was in.

A closer analysis of this part reveals that Socrates may have been psychologically disturbed about his death. Although he was an orator and could continue talking, there was no doubt that he was somewhat afraid of death. In this view, Socrates knew that he could do nothing about it. Moreover, Socrates appears to have been full of love. He did not want his wife and child to witness his killing so he said they should be taken away. This is left to the interlocutor to decide whether this was a philosophical undertaking or a psychological one.

Analyzing the Second Argument

The second argument is referred to as the argument of recollection. In this theory, Plato presents the argument that would compliment the first one. In this argument, Socrates contends that one is able to know answers to things he had no prior knowledge about. However, for that to happens, people must have had some prior knowledge of the thing on which answers are based. But the actual thing is not always the same as the recollected image. With regard to immortality of soul, Socrates seems to advance one basic argument. According to him, human souls were existent before human beings were created. According to White (145), Socrates links this argument with the above one that there perhaps exists a higher being that is complete in life and perfection. In yet another perspective, Socrates points out that when one sees something, it may remind him or her of something else. Additionally, people are able to recollect about beautiful and good things.

This theory or argument appears to have strong psychological basis. This is because there are things in people’s subconscious minds that are revealed through some stimuli. This would be equated with psychological processes of imagining. This is what Socrates described as possibility of existence of souls before the body (White 147). However, this may contradict or make difficult the question immortality of soul. Since there is no doubt that the body and the soul are distinct from each other, the soul continues to exist even after bodily death. But existence of soul before being calls for recourse to spiritual explanations. For instance, there exists a supreme deity that is the custodian of life before birth.

Analyzing the Third Argument

The affinity argument concerns how the soul belongs to the world. Socrates contends that after a righteous soul leaves the body, it leaves the world. However, if the person who dies had faults, the soul does not leave the world (Nehamas, 462). In other words, the soul is not only divine but also invisible. That which is visible is always mortal but the invisible soul cannot be destroyed. It would always outlive the body. On the basis of what is presented above, there seems to be some innate feelings in Socrates that he ought not to have died. Socrates was sure that he did not have any faults. Therefore, he was sure that his soul would leave the world to a place where there is no suffering of the people. On the contrary, those that are not virtuous are punished after they die. Their souls are simply attracted where they belong. This must have been directed to the jury that condemned Socrates to death by poisoning. Bad souls are bound to other living bodies. In addition, the soul of a good person is immortal. It never dies.

There is no doubt that Socrates was turning more theological. According to Keyt (171), this shift is easily realizable because Socrates mainly used logic to answer questions before his trial. After he was tried to be killed, his explanations notably changed from reason to recourse to spiritual matters that transcend human existence. Through affinity, the virtuous shall be rewarded and the wicked punished. But there is something worthy noting about Socrates approach. He is very explicit that truth does not depend on whether he succeeded in explaining it. On the contrary, truth exists independently of human intervention.

Final Argument

This paper constantly views Socrates’ arguments as being directed to talking about his life. The final argument was related to what they had been discussing all along. In the argument, Socrates propounds that for anything to become its opposite, it must first cease to become itself. By this, it appears that he was taking about his life. For him to live a more abundant life, he had to die first. Again, it was all about him. Although he may not have revealed it, he must have been disturbed. Plato presents him as not having been afraid of death but that cannot be ascertained with fact. He was human and must have felt anxious about dying. In his final argument, he reiterated that a soul always comes with a life (Crook, 120). This sheds a lot of light. Socrates would leave a wife and children. But since he was already old, his death would lead to separation of body and soul and consequent attainment of new life to his family. Symbolically, his students would continue the good works that he had started in Athens. This gave him much contentment. As part of the final argument, he asserts that man cannot avoid death. If death cannot be destroyed, even soul cannot be destructed. Therefore, it would ‘live’ forever. The immortality of the soul is at the centre of Socrates message (Stewart 254). He was definitely referring to the fact that even if they killed him, they will not be able to take his soul. It is also critical to mention that before a soul could leave the world, it could be used in many bodies. The idea in this Plato’s piece was the fact that as long as people were wicked, they would continue to make the society have traits or cases of wickedness.

Summary of Plato’s Phaedo

There is no doubt that Plato gave a detailed narrative of the events that happened before the death of his teacher. Phaedo represents the final of his dialogues. A careful analysis of the dialogue shows that Socrates made distinction between things and the Form (Stewart 255). According to him, a thing participates in the Form and its opposite without having to change its state. For instance, a person can change from being short to being tall without becoming something else. However, Form cannot be changed to its opposite without changing to something else. One cannot be simultaneously alive and dead. He or she must first die to become alive again. However, Plato’s views in the context of Socrates can be challenged in the context of some religious movements of today.


Plato wrote many dialogues in his lifetime. Some suspect that he wrote about thirty of them. Most of his middle life dialogues are based on Socrates death. Phaedo is one such a dialogue that intensively explores the concept of life after death or immortality of soul. It appears that Socrates was disturbed by the fact that he was about to be killed. As a result, he had to talk to his students about it. Interestingly, he provided answers to questions that they had never understood as students. He answered that soul exists before life and continues to exist after life ends. Wicked souls are not freed from the world until they are purged in other bodies. In the final analysis, Socrates is convinced that there is life after death; he would live even after being killed.

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