The Phaedo Essay, Research Paper
In “The Phaedo,” Plato explains his theory of forms and ideas concerning the mortality of the soul. We find that the soul and body are separate and that the soul lives after death and had lived before. This leads us to the idea of forms and how we acquire the knowledge of these before birth. The only time the soul is separate from the body is in death. Since the soul can only obtain knowledge of forms when it is away from the body, we understand that after death is the only time when the soul can acquire this information. The intellect loses these ideas of forms when it is born unto a physical body. Although forgotten, the soul still holds this knowledge and what is known as learning is actually remembering, or recollecting, the knowledge we lose at birth.
These forms give us ideas of how we should relate objects to one another. For example, we know that a certain colour is red eventhough it’s not a “pure” red. When we see a red chair we recollect the form of red from our past knowledge of the soul. These forms are abstract ideas that hold true throughout each soul and are something that the physical body can never know. Since we only have an idea of these forms, we can never experience a true form with our senses. Our senses give us an understanding of the physical world at any given moment, but the physical world is constantly changing, so our senses can never let us experience the world as it truly “is.” Our senses can only let us experience how the world “was” at a particular moment. The soul acts as a “container,” for this knowledge and keeps it through each bodily life.
One argument against these ideas is that the soul would not be strong enough to survive the destruction of the body. This can not be true because the soul directly controls the motions of
the body; for the soul can will the body in any way it chooses and may oppose the body at any point. The attunement theory explains that the soul cannot be destroyed by death. It compares the
soul and the body to a string instrument, i.e. a lyre, and when the lyre is destroyed, so is the harmony, as with the body. The harmony of an instrument is a composite thing, which the soul is not. Composites cannot preexist their components. When the lyre is destroyed, so is the harmony; however, the soul cannot be destroyed for it is not a composite thing such as harmony, which means the soul is able to preexist its component (the body). Another argument is that the body may only be a garment for the soul. The garment will wear out eventually and the tailor that made this garment will also expire at some point. Suggesting that the body is a garment and the soul is a tailor, it may be the case that although the soul may exist after death, it may not exist infinitely, and eventually expire. Since the soul can oppose the body, the soul chooses to admit death. If the soul admits death, then the soul may perish. If the soul does not admit death, the soul is deathless, and if the soul is deathless then the soul is indestructible.
Our souls know the concept of the forms, and are the same throughout all souls. Since we cannot change the concept of these forms without creating confusion, all souls must have gotten this shared knowledge when the soul was separate from the body, i.e. death and before life. From this we understand that forms exist and as we learn we recollect these forms throughout our bodily life.