Of Good Cheer In The Face Of Death In Plato's Phaedo

1053 Words 4 Pages
At the beginning of Plato’s Phaedo Socrates tries to explain to his friends why he is “of good cheer in the face of death” (63e). He argues that those who practice philosophy are actually training in preparation for death. It would be absurd for philosophers to be fearful or resentful of death, he argues, since they have wanted and practiced for it a long time (64a–68a). In this paper
I shall present Socrates’ argument for this conclusion and critically evaluate it. The argument appears to commit the fallacy of equivocation. But I think Socrates’ argument can be salvaged by very slightly reformulating it. Nevertheless, the argument tacitly assumes that the soul is immortal and survives the body’s death. Without a defense of this controversial
…show more content…
And presumably Socrates thinks philosophers willingly and cheerfully practice philosophy. If he is right that philosophy is practice at and training for death, then it does seem absurd for philosophers to fear and resent it.
Socrates spends most of his time defending premise (2). Socrates uses three sets of considerations to defend his characterization of philosophy as practice at and training for the separation of the soul from the body: first, philosophers despise the pleasures and goods of the body, like food and drink, sex, fine clothes, and other such things (64d–e); second, philosophers love and pursue the pleasures and goods of the soul, like wisdom and knowledge (66e); and third, the body is no help with, and is even a hindrance to, the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.
Socrates supports this third consideration by pointing out that the body’s senses often deceive us
(65a–c), and the body’s needs often distract us and prevent us from pursuing knowledge and wisdom (66b–d). He also points out that the body’s senses are no help in grasping things like the
Just itself, the Beautiful itself, and the Good itself (65d–66a), which, presumably, he
…show more content…
The considerations that Socrates offers in defense of his characterization of philosophy appear to introduce an equivocation into his main argument. The equivocal term is “separation.”
In premise (1) the term “separation” refers to the removal of the soul from the body in the sense
that the soul exists apart from the body. But Socrates’ defense of premise (2) makes it clear that in that premise the term “separation” refers to the disassociation of the soul from the body in the sense that the soul is not influenced by the body. And these are two different senses of
“separation.” To see the difference, compare what philosophers do with what a group of wouldbe suicides might do. Philosophers practice pursuing the truth by means of reason and argument.
Socrates may be right that this requires the disassociation of the soul from the body’s influence.
Would-be suicides, on the other hand, might practice pursuing death by learning to tie hangman’s nooses, mix deadly poisons, and so on—all for the sake of removing the soul from the body in death. The separation of the soul pursued by philosophers obviously differs from

Related Documents