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Socrates Argument for the Immortality of the Soul

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Plato wrote the Phaedo, one of the most popular dialogues in philosophy, upon the death of his teacher Socrates. Socrates was murdered by the state of Athens. The dialogue presents four arguments on the notion that the soul is immortal. The dialogue encompasses Plato’s views about reality, knowledge and the soul, as well as the implications for political and ethical life. The dialogue can be divided into five major sections; A discussion of Socrates and death; three arguments proposing the soul is  immortal; Objections to the immortality arguments from Socrates critics and his reply to them which constitutes a fourth argument; Discussion on the afterlife; and a narration of the last moments of Socrates’ life(McPheran, 121).

The dialogue is told as a narration between Socrates’ student Phaedo and Echecrates. Socrates was sentenced to death by the state of Athens for refusal to obey the gods and for what was termed as corruption of the youth of the area. Phaedo was present when Socrates was dying and he witnessed the events first hand. In the dialogue it emerged that there is an afterlife in which the soul dwells after a person’s death. Socrates advances four arguments to prove that the soul is immortal.

Phaedo’s narration covers all the events surrounding Socrates’ death. He explains the reasons for the delay of Socrates’ death. Socrates discussed philosophical issues with his student Phaedo , Cebes and Simmias who are believed to be scholars of Pythagoras. Socrates explained to them that real philosophers should anticipate death as the true purpose of philosophy is to set the soul free from the wants of the body (Plato & Grube, 86).  Since death marks the eventual separation of the body and soul, philosophers should view death as fulfillment of their purpose since the soul is immortal and it will survive even after death. Socrates gave four arguments for immortality of the soul:

The cyclical argument or the theory of opposites provides that every form or being has an opposite. For something to be declared small there must be something larger than it in the past. The process of decreasing is required to link opposites such as small and large Death and life can also be explained in a similar manner. Dying and living are opposites and hence they have a similar relationship with larger and smaller. The act of dying is the link between life and death. The soul must survive and persist from one form to the other (Pojman, 27). Death is the process through which the dead are derived from the living just as birth is the process through which the living is derived from the dead. Or the souls of the dead to be capable of returning to life, they must exist somewhere.

The theory of recollection provides that learning involves learning about the thing we knew before birth but which we forgot about. True knowledge is unchanging and eternal in form, and can be deciphered through observable reality. We are able to conceive that two sticks that have equal length have different width because of our innate awareness of the concept of equality. Even though we never encounter equality in our experiences, we are able to comprehend the reality of equality because of eternal knowledge that has existed from birth. The argument is of the underlying implication that the soul existed even before death and therefore the soul lives even after death because it has a longer life than the body (McPhelan, 124). It is possible to generate information from a person who may not have a priori knowledge of the subject matter.

The affinity argument clearly differentiates between things which are perishable, visible and material from those that are immortal, invisible and immaterial. Whereas the body is perishable, visible and material, the soul is immortal, invisible and immaterial (Plato & Grube, 89). Consequently the soul lasts for eternity but the forms in which it exists differ. If the soul is not properly separated, the body becomes a ghost that will refuse to return to flesh while the soul will dwell in the heavens freely. Cebes and Sammias object to Socrates’ arguments. Cebes argues that while Socrates has proved that the soul outlives the body, he fails to prove that the soul is immortal. Simmias argues that while the soul maybe invisible and immaterial, it may be so in the same way as the tune of an instrument. The tune of the instrument can only exist so long as the instrument exists.

Socrates responds to the objections and starts by pointing out to Simmas that his objection conflicts with the theory of recollection. The soul cannot be compared to the tune of an instrument because the soul came into existence before existence of the body. The answer to Cebes generates to a discussion which leads to the fourth argument. The fourth argument is based on the theory forms(Peterson, 51). A form does not permit its opposite as it is beautiful and perfect on its own. For instance there is no ugliness in the form of beautiful. The form is always beautiful. The soul is the main reason why we are alive. The soul is thus connected to the form of life. The pure form of life cannot be said to incorporate the opposite of life which is death. The soul can therefore not be affected by death. Socrates concludes that all arguments point out the fact that the soil is immortal. Socrates uses a compelling myth for illustration of his idea of the soul. He suggests that the earth is a poor shadow of the real earth that is above human beings in the heavens. Socrates then baths, says his last farewell, drinks hemlock and dies in peace.

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