Socrates’ on Philosopher’s Attitude Towards Death
Reconstruct in your own words the principal argument Socrates presents in the Phaedo for why philosophers should welcome death.
……As Socrates’ death draws near, Phaedo and some of his other students visit him and they discuss the nature of death. Socrates argues that a philosopher should be glad for death. He first establishes that death occurs when the soul is separated from the body. When this is agreed to, he goes on to ask if it was not part of being a philosopher to be concerned with food, drink, sex or other desires of material gain to which Simmias replied that philosophers oughtn’t to be. He then establishes that the work of a philosopher, then, is not to focus on the body but rather to turn inwards towards the soul and to associate as little as possible the soul to the body. Again, that is readily agreed to. Then, Socrates asks if the knowledge, the abstract truths, that philosophers strive to acquire and understand can be seen, smelled, heard or touched and if our very senses can be trusted as they very plainly can be altered by circumstances and are not always accurate. From these two veins of logic, Socrates concludes that the body is indeed a poor vessel from which to conduct any real attempts to get at truths as it distracts from the pursuit of truth and isn’t very good at perceiving it (Phaedo, 64c-65c). Therefore, because our souls by themselves are not affected by the needs of the body or the limitations of our senses, it would make sense that our souls would be the seat to reason. Socrates also notes that even though the universals are intangible, somehow, we still have some grasp on what they are. Somehow, we know if something is beautiful or if two things are equal or if something was just or right even though Beauty, Equality and Justice are all intangible, abstract concepts (Phaedo, 65d-e). From these assumptions, it can be said that the soul is able to think and comprehend these things that the body cannot sense and therefore would be the seat of reason. Since the body is weighed down by its desires and its limitations, and so is the soul so long as it still inhabits the body, a person cannot truly get at the truth while they are still alive and on this earth. Therefore, a philosopher, as a seeker of truth, should be happy at the prospect of death as it frees his soul from the body and allows him to do what he cannot while he was still alive (Phaedo, 66a). Only through the soul and only through intangible thought are we able to grasp at intangible truths so if it a philosopher’s work to acquire knowledge of reality and of what is true, then he would have worked at rejecting his body his whole life, waiting for the event that would separate his soul from his body and so, can be considered by others as already being close to death (Phaedo, 64a).