Phaedo Summary

Plato

Phaedo

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Phaedo Summary

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Phaedo is a dialogue written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. The moving account of the execution of Socrates is considered one of Plato’s masterpieces. This widely-read piece serves as one of the best introductions to Plato’s thoughts and philosophies.

Phaedo is the fourth and final dialogue Plato wrote depicting trial and the last days leading up to the execution of Plato’s teacher, Socrates (469-399 B.C.E.). Socrates was sentenced to death by the state of Athens. It follows after his dialogues Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito.

In Euthyphro, Socrates is outside the court awaiting his trial. He is being charged with not believing in the gods of the state and for corrupting the youth of Athens. In Apology, Plato portrays Socrates’ defense before the jury. In Crito, Socrates has been imprisoned and sentenced to death. The dialogue covers a conversation that takes place while Socrates is in prison.

In Phaedo, Socrates is with friends in his prison cell moments before his death. He will be executed by drinking hemlock. Socrates asks his friends gathered around his deathbed questions about death and immortality. What happens to our souls after we die? Is there an afterlife?

Socrates has a philosophical discussion using the Socratic method on the fate of a person’s soul after death. In the Socratic method, there is a dialogue between the teacher and his students. The teacher poses probing questions. The teacher designs the questions to draw out the underlying views and beliefs held by the students.

Socrates, like a true philosopher, welcomed death as a time to come closest to true knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is more important than the physical body. Death allows you to achieve the truest knowledge of your soul. There is no reason to fear death. If the Gods created a life that is good for us, why would death be any different? Socrates did not condone suicide.

Plato writes the dialogue with Socrates from the perspective of one of the students, Phaedo of Elis. Phaedo of Elis was present at Socrates’ death bed and witnesses the death of Socrates.

After Socrates’ death, Phaedo of Elis recounts the conversations before Socrates died to Echecrates, a Pythagorean philosopher. The ideas of Pythagorean have a marked influence on both Plato’s philosophy and all Western philosophy.

In Socrates’ discussions, he argues that the soul is immortal and that there is an afterlife for our souls following our deaths. This is one of the main themes in the Phaedo. Socrates provides four different arguments for the soul’s immortality.

The Opposites Argument explains that the soul has to be immortal and the opposite of our mortal bodies. It is also known as the Cyclical Argument because it explains the cycle of life, death, and birth. The cycle involves the dead being created from the living and through death, the living are then created from the dead through their birth. The soul withdraws completely intact from the physical body at our death. The soul then enters another body at birth. The soul, which always brings life, is eternal and unchanging.

The Theory of Recollection explains that at birth humans have knowledge from past incarnations of our soul. In this life, the role of learning is to rediscover the knowledge that already resides within us.

The Affinity Argument explains the soul’s relationship to the body. The soul is invisible and immortal while in contrast the body visible and mortal. Our physical bodies will die and decay while our soul will continue to live.

The Final Argument, also known as the Argument from Form of Life, argues that ideas (Form) are the cause of everything in the world and represent the most accurate version of reality. The soul can never die. The study of ideas is the only true way to gain knowledge.

Plato explains his distinctive philosophical theory of Forms for the first time in Phaedo. Plato masterfully combines a portrait of his teacher Socrates in his final hours with his own philosophies. Phaedo merges Plato’s own philosophical worldview with an enduring portrait of Socrates in the hours leading up to his death.

Plato, who lived from 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC, was a philosopher in Classical Greece. He was the founder of the first institution of higher learning in the Western world, the Academy in Athens. Together with his teacher, Socrates, and his prized student Aristotle, Plato developed the key concepts of Western philosophy and culture.