Monday, March 10, 2008

Selection 17 - Phaedo

Reference: Phaedo Wikipedia Entry

Source: Phaedo at Project Gutenberg


Background:The last book in the first tetralogy as well as the final book discussing the end of Socrates life (including his trial) and death.

1/25/2008 (sorry for some reason this didn’t get posted and stayed in draft way back when)
I started this dialogue about a month ago and something has been nagging at me about it - today I finally realized what it was. I saw this in a Disney(?) movie in the 6th grade. I am not sure what finally triggered the realization but suddenly I had a vivid memory of sitting in the gym at Highland Elementary in Billings with about 99 other 6th graders barely able to stay awake watching Socrates and a bunch of other guys in sheets talk about the soul and then Socrates drinking a chalice full of poison. I also remember when one of the girls in the class, Michelle something, asked why Socrates had to kill himself Mr. Howe, my teacher, told us it was because he had sex with boys. Then they started showing a Donald Duck film about the "Golden Ratio"

Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land Part 1

Donald Duck in MathMagic Land Part 2

Sorry the middle part is missing :-(

Anyway enough cherished childhood memories...

Updated 3/10/2008

So I finally finished Phaedo over the weekend. Although this was the most difficult of the dialogues I have read so far it was also (now that I have thought about it) the most interesting.

I’m really struggling with what to write her. In short this book argues the premise of the immortality of the soul and attacks it from 4 different angles. Stealing shamelessly from Wikipedia they are:

The Opposites Argument or "Cyclical argument" explains that as the Forms are eternal and unchanging, and as the soul always brings life, then it must not die, and is necessarily "imperishable". As the body is mortal and is subject to physical death, the soul must be its indestructible opposite. Plato then suggests the analogy of fire and cold. If the form of cold is imperishable, and fire, its opposite, was within close proximity, it would have to withdraw intact as does the soul during death. This could be likened to the idea of the opposite charges of magnets.

The Theory of Recollection explains that we possess some non-empirical knowledge (e.g. The Form of Equality) at birth, implying the soul existed before birth to carry that knowledge. Another account of the theory is found in Plato's Meno, although in that case Socrates implies anamnesis (previous knowledge of everything) whereas he is not so bold in Phaedo.

The Affinity Argument explains that invisible, immortal, and incorporeal things are different from visible, mortal, and corporeal things. Our soul is of the former, while our body is of the latter, so when our bodies die and decay, our soul will continue to live.

The Argument from Form of Life explains that the Forms, incorporeal and static entities, are the cause of all things in the world, and all things participate in Forms. For example, beautiful things participate in the Form of Beauty; the number four participates in the Form of the Even, etc. The soul, by its very nature, participates in the Form of Life, which would mean the soul could never die.

Of the four I think the “Form of Life” argument is the most important. Mainly because I know that Plato believed that everything had a “form” that made it distinctly it, but this is the first of the four dialogues I have read that really addresses this.

The other interesting thing was how Socrates approaching death tied in with his approach to life. Basically that man should embrace experiences as they happen but with a detachment that allows an unbiased analysis. This will allow the soul to grow and develop with the corrupting influence of the body minimized.

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