July 25, 2017 at 2:19 am #262
Puzzle in the Phaedo
The follower of Socrates should lament not for the death of Socrates but for the death of the word. And if the living word stays alive, then there is no need to mourn for Socrates—even if his ψυχή or ‘soul’ were to die along with him. (Nagy, Hour 23§46)
Yet how can we keep the living word alive if Socrates’s soul dies along with him? Do we, along with David Bostock, conclude that none of the arguments that seek to prove the immortality of the soul work, and that they are just bad arguments? If so, who would want to talk about that (other than to puff oneself up that they are better than Plato)? Why keep that logos going?
How we keep the word going is by trying to solve the puzzles that we are left with—they are everywhere in Plato’s dialogues. The logos becomes the ἐπῳδή the ‘charm’ that allows us mortals to take away our concerns for death and deteriorating health and through argument we are able to turn our mind to the beautiful realities in Plato’s world. Hence the Phaedo is one such pharmakon to the worry we find in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo:
Men live an unresourceful and thoughtless life, unable to find a cure for death and a charm to repeal old age. (192-193)
One of the puzzles that we are still left with in the Phaedo is whether Socrates has proved the soul to be immortal. In a way, Socrates makes our inquiry impossible from the beginning as he says, “if it is impossible to attain any pure knowledge with the body, then one of two things is true: either we can never attain knowledge or we can do so after death.” (Phd. 66e5-67a1) But Socrates just said “it really has been shown” that pure knowledge is when we “observe things in themselves with the soul by itself.” (66e1-2) This may relieve the fear of death but doesn’t help the arguments Socrates is just about to set sail with. Throughout the dialogue, each proof seems convincing until further scrutiny, and their search together for the truth keeps the logos alive. The most abstract of all the arguments is the final proof that relies on a complicated analogy with soul and number. And this appears to be the winning proof (105e6-7, 107a1-2). Yet Socrates calls the logos in question again at 107b, “I am bound to still have some private misgivings about what we have said.”
Yet aside from the hedging in the Apology (40c-d), that the soul is immortal seems to be one of the few ‘doctrines’ that the Socrates of Plato espouses (Phaedrus (264a), Republic (Book X), Timaeus (44cff)).
So what could the private misgivings be that Socrates is talking about? Is it the arguments? The Forms? Soul?
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