Plato’s The Phaedo

The main theme behind the “Phaedo” is Socrates’ readiness and willingness to die, because of his belief of immortality. Socrates believed that when his body ceased to exist anymore, that his soul would leave and join that of the forms, where he would be eternally. Socrates believed so strongly in this, that not only did he not fear his death, he welcomed it. He believed that only when the soul separated from the body, is a person able to be truly enlightened and gain all knowledge. This “enlightenment” has been Socrates’ life long goal of discovering the truth. Even at his hour of death, Socrates showed no hesitation. However, Socrates’ friends did not believe so strongly, and took some great convincing by Socrates, to allow his friends to be okay with his death. The two proofs that Socrates used to convince his friends are the “Doctrine of Opposites” and the “simple and composite theory.

The first proof, the “Doctrine of Opposites,” is the type of proof that uses a sequence of factual statements the lead from to another to prove that one thing is the same as another thing. The “Doctrine of Opposites” uses simple references to allow the reader to easily comprehend and follow the steps of the logical process. For example, hot comes from cold. An object could not possibly be hot if it was never heated up from the state of being cold. The same holds true for the reverse of this analogy. If cold object must have at one point been cooled down from a state of being hot. Since hot and cold are opposites, this simple statement proves that things come from there opposite. Also by using this example, Socrates is trying to imply the idea of eternal existence. He is saying that cold doesn’t come from thin air. It had to have come from some previous existence in some other form, which in this case would be hot. Another example that he uses is the asleep and awake analogy. One would have to agree that a person could be only one or the other. If you are not sleeping, then you are awake and if you are not awake then you have to be asleep. This example further proves that you can only be one of something or the other, its opposite, but you must be one of them. Sleep can not come from thin air, and neither can being awake. A person must physically be one before that person can become the other. Then Socrates ventures to say that if you are not alive then you are dead. This idea works because to prove the theory of immortality because according to the previous two statements, life must come from it’s opposite, which is death. So therefore there must be a form of being dead, which we are to assume is the freed soul. This appears to be a valid proof until one of Socrates’ friends, Cebes, brings up a counter point. He said that there is a process of becoming hot or cold and there is a process of going to sleep and waking up. Then Cebes states, that there is no process to dying or becoming alive. There is no point in between, where a person has a partial soul, either on its way in or on its way out. At this points Socrates abandons this theory and brings out his second point.

Socrates’ second attempt to prove the immortality of the soul is based on the simple and composite theory. This proof relies on the assumption that everyone believes that a human is made of a soul and a body. This proof separates all things into to categories, the simple and the composite. Those that belong to the simple category have no parts, are indestructible, and are invisible. The composite category is composed of things that have parts, are visible, and are destructible. Socrates says that when a person dies, he separates into a body and into a soul. What once was a composite are not a simple, the soul, and a composite, the body. He then argues that because the soul is a simple, and that makes it indestructible. And since the soul is indestructible, is therefore must be immortal.

Socrates’ friends then try to disprove him a second time. Cebes, again, rejects Socrates’ idea, and says that the soul and body are like a lyre and harmony. Cebes says that without the lyre, harmony can’t exist. He then states that the harmony is like that of the soul and the lyre shares a likeness with the body. Harmony fits into his simple category, and the lyre in the composite. The lyre must be made and perfectly in tune before harmony can exist. Which implies that the soul does not exist until the body already does. And if the lyre is destroyed, then so is harmony, which likewise means that is the body is destroyed then the soul no longer exists. Which means that the soul is not immortal. However, Socrates has a reply to his disbelief. Socrates then asks of his friends, if they believe in the “Doctrine of Recollections.” This doctrine is one that was long before proved, and all of them strongly believe in this doctrine. Socrates then states that in that doctrine it is said that the soul does exist before the body. Therefore, Socrates’ friends are forced to abandon their lyre and harmony theory. It now appears that Socrates has successfully proven the immortality of the soul. His friends are satisfied with his belief, and although, weep at his leaving of the earth, have learned to be all right with it.

Personally, I do not agree with any of the things Socrates has said. He seems to blatantly disregard some obvious conflictions with his belief. First of all, he never proved the existence of the soul to begin with. Most would think that the first step to proving a belief is true about something is to first prove that the something actually exists. Secondly, he doesn’t explain how a newborn son, if given the soul of a recently passed away person, then why is that infant, innocent and unaware of the worlds flaws.

Philosophy Essays