Phaedo Essay, Research Paper
The first item of discussion in Socrates’ argument is the separation of the body and the soul. Socrates gains full agreement from Simmias and Cebes when he says that death is simply a separation of the body and the soul. He then makes the argument that this parting is what the philosopher should look forward to and work for.
Socrates also gains his friends’ acknowledgement that the philosopher’s lifelong goal is to seek wisdom, and that the body impedes that search. Assuming that they are real, the “truths” of the Just, the Beautiful, etc. are seen in this life only partially– through the tainted filters of the human eyes. Therefore, humans–namely philosophers, are unable to achieve complete knowledge of these truths because the desires and the needs of the body get in the way. On line 67e, Socrates says, “If we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe matters in themselves with the soul by itself.” Socrates also points out that the pleasures of food and drink, sex and ornamentation are all worthless acquisitions because the body becomes worthless after death, reminding us again of the separation of body and soul.
Socrates then, has proven to Simmias and Cebes two things. First that the body is inferior to the soul because of its finite age, and secondly that it is harmful to the soul’s purpose of gaining the true forms. These two points lead to a third and final point, digressing into the difference between the philosophical life and the life of the commoner: People either spend their lives caring for the body and its immediate needs, or caring for the soul and furthering the success of the distant afterlife.
Differing from most people, the philosopher spends most of his/her time caring for the soul, not the body. Socrates, Simmias and Cebes all agree that the search for wisdom is the utmost care for the soul. They derive this view out of the thought that the goal of wisdom is to seek out the purest form of certain “truths.” A philosopher cannot attain the actual knowledge of the truths in their life with a body, but hope that it is possible after death frees them from that body. Therefore, by searching endlessly for truth in their physical lives, philosophers can get as close as possible to those truths and then finally attain them in the afterlife, thus explaining Socrates’ acceptance of his execution.
Socrates is careful to note, though, that although the philosopher should embrace death with the anticipation of a goal fulfilled, no man should take his own life in haste to reach that goal faster. He prefaces his whole argument by noting that he and all philosophers and all humans are possessions of the gods. Socrates says to Simmias and Cebes, ” would you not be angry if one of your possessions killed itself when you had not given any sign that you wished it to die, and if you had any punishment you could inflict, you would inflict it?”
So, in the dramatic setting of his final day on earth, Socrates enlightens Simmias and Cebes, illustrating the ways that a philosopher has reason to look forward to death. In doing this, he instills a hope for the perpetuity of the philosophical way of life for all of his successors, and those of us who read their works.