Notes on The Phaedo


Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?

Socrates, last words

The Phaedo was written by Plato and is the dramatized final dialogue with Socrates. In it he argues for the persistence of the soul after death, though he never questions the existence of the soul itself. It has always interested me when I remember that Plato existed before the time of Jesus Christ and to wonder if he ever read or was somehow influenced by the writings of Plato. After all, scholars claim that the Hellenized world played a great part in spreading the message of Christ around, why should it not work the other direction? I'm not suggesting that their ideology is identical--it's obviously not. However, there are several moments when they traverse one another.


Growing up in the Church, my understanding of the world was almost exclusively based on biblical writings. When I went off to school and began to read the philosophers, I was startled when I found so many intersections of ideas. I was a sheltered boy and assumed that the Bible was all original thinking. Was it possible that Christ took borrowed from Plato, or was he simply an unconscious participant in the zeitgeist at large?


I wonder if Hamlet asked similar questions when he went to Wittenberg. I wonder if he someone exposed him to the Greeks. I wonder if he didn't take some classes outside his major that gave him a chance to engage with ideas he had here to for not been exposed to. I wonder if he too came back to his home church a little less mystified and a little more skeptical.


  • A good philosopher hopes for death, but does not commit suicide because his life belongs to the gods

  • The life of the philosopher is preparing for death; it is a practice of subverting the body’s rule over one’s life. It is a given for Socrates that there is a soul – something entirely different (in opposition?) to the body.

  • The soul -- one hopes (or does he?) -- is the thing, the you, that will survive the death of the body.

  • Opposites – things come to be necessary from their opposites according the Socrates (e.g. sleeping/waking, night/day), ergo dead generated from living and then living from death.

  • Recollection – if learning is remembering ten we must have existed before…

  • The soul is unchanging and so eternal.

  • True understandings of the soul is only attained through philosophy – the pursuit of the true Forms of things.

  • Doubt about the soul’s immortality come about because one is not yet a true philosopher.

  • The meaning of things is not revealed by physical constituents, but by the Form (Idea) in which the thing participates. The Idea(l) could never become its opposite (e.g. Tallness could never become Shortness).

  • “Plato does not present this as a strict asceticism, though, but rather a lack of excessive concern or earthly things.” SN

If knowledge of the Forms is given in past lives, when? When was the first time we learned it?)

#phaedo #socrates #death #soul #sparknotes

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