Platos Phaedo is a dialog between Phaedo, Cebes, and Simmias depicting Socrates explanation as to why death should not be feared by a true philosopher. For if a person truly applies oneself in the right way to philosophy, as the pursuit of ultimate truth, they are preparing themselves for the very act of dying. Plato, through Socrates, bases his proof on the immortality of the soul, and it being the origin of our intellect. Several steps must be taken for the soul to be proven immortal. First the body and all the information acquired though it must be discredited.
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For without the question being addressed of whether sensory information can be trusted, looking inwards towards the soul and the intangible for the essence of truth would be absurd. Plato must prove through Socrates that this is in fact so, For without this his legacy would be one of being condemned to death for committing a grievous crime. Not as a philosopher being granted a release from the body to achieve ultimate knowledge. The pursuit of philosophy, to Socrates, involves the denial of the bodys desires due to their distraction to any intellectual engagement.
For the acquirement of knowledge is an intellectual pursuit, one that the body confuses with faulty sensory information, Plato says through Socrates, “Now take the acquisition of wisdom; is the body a hindrance or not, if one takes it into partnership to share an investigation? What I mean is this: is there any certainty in human sight and hearing, or is it true, as the poets are always dinning into our ears, that we neither hear or see anything accurately? ” (1) What we perceive though the senses has to be quantified constantly by the intellect.
For example, a man seen in the distance is mistaken to be a woman, when the mistake is realized we do not jump to the conclusion that a woman just mysteriously changed into a man. Our intellect makes the correction that it was always a man, and it was actually a visual error that made him seem female. Distance or any other means of creating ambiguity leads us to differentiate between what we experience and what we know to be actually happening. If a differentiation has to take place between the crude sensory information and what we view as reality, than the truth or meaning within an object is not held within the sensory perception of it.
Well, have you ever apprehended them with any other bodily sense? By “them” I mean them all, including tallness or health or strength in themselves, the real nature of any given thing what it actually is. Is it through the body that we get our truest view of them? Isnt it true that in any inquiry you are likely to attain more nearly to knowledge of your object in proportion to the care and accuracy with which you have prepared yourself to understand that object in itself? ” (2)
Besides the processing of inaccurate information, the temptations and desires of the body are so strong and numerous that the philosopher “never gets an opportunity to think. ” (3) The functions of the body that are being described as distractions and contradictions are in fact the fundamental processes of life. To view these as burdensome is to perceive the functions of life, those of physical necessity as well as joy and contentment, as an annoyance. A nagging that would be appreciated only if removed. Thus, putting the soul at the center of the definition of what we are, that which is seeking wisdom, in short the essence of humanity.
Thus, if the body is only a distraction to thought, and intellectual investigation is the only way to achieve wisdom and knowledge of an object in itself, then the separation of the intellect from the burdens of the body is the only way to achieve absolute clarity of thought. “Is death nothing more or less than this, the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition of the soul by itself when released from the body? Is death anything more than this? ” (4) So death becomes the pinnacle of intellectual discovery and not the grievous end to all that is precious in life.
To view something in itself by itself, with out the distractions of the body, is the only way to discover its truth. This is true for external objects such as that of a table or chair, and also true for the body and that which is considered intimately apart of our person, the itself of ourselves. That essence is the soul not the body, the intangible verses the tangible. If the body is merely a distraction to the soul and philosophical investigation, this raises the question as to what happens to the soul after it leaves the body.
Does it cease to exist, and if so isnt it a paradox as to whether there is any philosophical investigation possible at all. For if the soul where to perish the instant it left the body, the moment that pure thought is able to take place, no such thought would be possible. Plato answers this in several stages, for it is a complex issue. First of all, ultimately for death to be an occurrence that should not be feared, the soul, the essence of humanity, must be immortal. Allowing an eternity for the philosophical investigation of an object in itself by itself.
Where does life originate from is the first question that must be answered, and it is answered in a discussion about opposites. The answer being that it comes from death. “And similarly if it becomes smaller, it mist be bigger, and become smaller afterwards? ” (5) “What about this: if a thing becomes worse, is it not from being better, and if more just, from being ore unjust? ” (6) “Are we satisfied, then that all opposites are brought about in this way from opposites? ” (7) Meaning that everything has an opposite, and it is that very opposite that brings its opposite into existence.
Leading to the correlation that there are two processes of generation being conducted between two pairs of opposites, “the first from the second, and another the second from the first? ” (8) If the opposite to big is small, heat to cool, and sleep to awake, then the opposite of living is death. If pairs of opposites come from each other, and death is the opposite of life, then the living come from the dead, and the dead from the living. Giving proof that souls exist after death and remain long enough to be “reborn”. As a further argument as to the existence of the soul before birth the process of recollection is introduced.
This is the ability to recognize equality, beauty, or any other quality, in the limited representations given to us by the senses. To be able to recognize the imperfect, as a representation of a perfect attribute, an idea of the perfect must already exist. If an idea of a perfect attribute must exist before its imperfect representation can be recognized through a sensory experience, we must have had an idea of perfection before we started to explore the world sensually. We began to explore things sensually at birth so if we were to have a preexisting knowledge of perfection it must have predated our own birth.
Birth is the origin of the body, and therefore to be incorporated in us prier our bodies, its incorporation must have been an attribute of our souls. “So it must be as a result of the senses that we obtained the notion that all sensible equals are striving to realize actual equality but falling short of it. ” (9) “So before we began to see and hear and otherwise perceive equals we must somewhere have acquired the knowledge of equality as it really is; otherwise we could never have realized, by using it as a standard for comparison, that all equal objects of sense are desirous of being like it, but are only imperfect copies” (10)
The last two arguments are raised to prove thoroughly that the soul exists after death, and that if it exists after death that it is truly immortal. The first of these proposes is that the soul has an attunement, like that of a musical instrument. The instrument being the representation of the physical body and the invisible tuning being that of the soul. The flaw with this argument is that it supposes the soul, like a tuning coming from the strings of an instrument, is dependent upon the physical components of the body.
If the soul exists before the body then it can not be dependent upon its physical components to exist. An attunement of the soul also leads to the assumption that this attunement can vary, being more or less in tune. Giving rise to the theory that the body can effect the tuning of the soul, allowing the soul to be more or less in tune. Seeing that the soul can never be more or less of a soul it can not have tuning. “Does that which is neither more or less in tune contain a greater or smaller proportion of attunement, or an equal one? 11) “Then since no soul is any more or less than just a soul, it is neither more or less in tune. ” (12) The second argument is that the soul may survive many lifetimes but eventually it will wear out, for there are an inexhaustible amount of new bodies and lives, and only one particular soul. For this argument to be answered the very essence of what the soul is must be examined. Whenever the soul is present if brings life, and when the is absent so is life. For if a thing is beautiful it said to take part in beauty itself.
Or if a man is tall he partakes in tallness. Further more if something is beautiful, and thus partaking in beauty itself, it can not partake in ugliness. For beauty and ugliness are opposites and one can not exist in the presence of the other in the same object. Though the same object that was considered beautiful when compared to something else of surpassing beauty it is considered to be partaking in ugliness. Some objects partake in so much of an attribute that they can not, in any comparison, partake in their opposite.
That is an opposite itself can not become an opposite to itself. Fire can not remain in the presence of cold with out ceasing to exist. Likewise the soul, which is life itself, can not partake in its opposite, dying, or it shall cease to exist. For living and dying are opposites. If a soul can not partake in dying it must be not only partaking in the attribute of living, it must be life itself, therefore the very opposite of death. If an opposite can not become an opposite to itself, and life and are death are opposites, then the must be immortal.
The cyclic nature of the soul, is an example of the cyclic nature of the universe. To illustrate this Socrates gives his interpretation of how there are many different layers to the earth and how they coexist in a cyclic pattern. For rivers cycle into the ocean which cycles into a great cavern, called Tartarus, that dissects the Earth allowing all water to circulate throughout the world. This cyclic pattern also applies to the levels of beauty and divinity. For the gems and metals that we hold precious are in fact just pebbles descended from a reality that exists above us.
For we live in hollows of the earth, that are filled with the dregs of the celestial ether that fills the universe. This ether flows down filling them with air, mists, and water. Where to the reality above us, what we call air to them is like our water, and the celestial ether, in its pure form is their air. Likewise if there where people living at the bottom of the ocean they would in turn treat the water as air. This is all very metaphoric, and colorful, but describes the different levels of understanding and perspective associated with knowledge. If the soul is immortal then it is living itself.
By means of recollection we attribute the imperfect sensual images of objects to be representations of various perfect attributes themselves. With the soul existing before the body, the soul can not have attunement for it implies that the soul is dependent upon the body for its existence. Therefore the truth to an object in itself and by itself can not be contained in the physical representation given to us by the senses, therefore a philosopher should, in the search of truth, disregard the sensual distractions of the body. Allowing the intellect to be as free as possible for philosophical contemplation.
With the abandonment of the physical the philosopher is given greater ability to practice his or her search for truth. Thus, the philosopher, being in pursuit of the truth is also in the pursuit of death as means to gain absolute truth. For only through death is it possible for the soul be completely free of the confines and distractions of the body, the state that is necessary for pure contemplation. This cyclic nature of life and death, of understanding and confusion, is an outline of what philosophy is, and how it leads to the acquirement of absolute knowledge.
For even though Socrates says that the physical is only a distraction to the pursuit of wisdom, that very pursuit is dependent upon the understanding of the physical to be able to establish what is truth. If any aspect of exploration is left uninvestigated the results it achieves, being any truth or knowledge uncovered, become partial in nature. Socrates alludes to this himself when he encourages Pheado by running his fingers through his hair. “So he laid his hand on my head on my head and gathered up the hair on my neck. ” (13)
Furthermore, Socrates suggests that they should all cut off their hair until the present argument is solved satisfactually. For without physical representation we have no ability to identify any aspect of perfection, for only through imperfect sensory information can we appreciate the perfect. The physical reference, be it only metaphoric, is essential to being able to convey any information. So even though the absolute truth of an object may lie completely outside of the physical, the accessing of that information while confined within a physical form is dependent upon physical representation.
The philosopher is supposed to be awaiting the release of the soul from the body, so as perfection and truth can be appreciated in itself by itself. Without the monotonous struggle of the philosophical process while within physical confines of the body, no soul would be trained to appreciate the intellectual freedom granted to the released soul. “So long as we keep to the body and our soul is contaminated with this imperfection, there is no chance of ever attaining satisfactorily to our object, which we assert to be Truth. ” (14)
The rationale that the separation of the soul and body as being the only avenue to attain absolute truth, must have come from the analyzing of the physical information and then evaluating it as being flawed and a distraction to the real pursuit of wisdom. Without this evaluation no conclusions could be made as to the validity of the senses and all that is contained in sensual information. This falls back to the cyclic nature of philosophical investigation for with out the expenditure of filtering out the physical the intellect would remain undefined and no investigation would be possible.
Further more we interact in a physical context, and are dependent upon sensory information for communication. Without communication Socrates and Plato would not be able to conduct any investigation. For investigation without communication will always collimate with hypothesis, and never lead to any absolute fact. The very basis of Platos works is communication and that communication is in the form of dialogues, the very application of physical verbal communication. To propagate the ideals of philosophical abandonment of the body, the communication devices of the body must be incorporated to achieve any appropriate decision.
To observe the soul itself by itself may involve the concept; that though we are intangible and immortal in essence, we can only be quantified physically. For we have no way of quantifying the soul, besides being life itself, and those qualities used to define life are quantified solely in a physical context, as that which gives an object the qualities that make it distinct from death and those objects that are inanimate such as; movement, reproduction, respiration, and growth. If an object contains life, that life can not be quantified only without containing those physical qualities.