The Phaedo is a dialogue between Socrates and his friends on the days of his eminent execution. Given the circumstances, the conversation naturally turns to questions concerning death and soul of the after-life. The friends of Socrates is sad at his impending death, but Socrates is cheerful of death and he promises to tell them why. “I desire to prove to you that a real philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and after death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world”.
Socrates explains that man can only attain wisdom after death for it is only then that the mind is liberated from the distractions of the body. Despite Socrates’s confidence, some of his friends are not convinced that the soul will survive the death of the body. They are fearful that when the body dies so too will the soul. To dispel their fears, Socrates presents four arguments. The Cyclical Argument, The Theory of Recollection, The Affinity Argument, and The Argument from the Form of Life. The Cyclical Argument asserts that contraries are generated from contraries. For example, sleeping is the contrary of waking and vice versa.
The state of sleeping is generated from the state of waking, so too are other contraries. Swiftness is generated from slowness, and bigness from littleness. Life is the contrary of death, and therefore life is generated from death just as death is generated from life. Socrates concludes that “If generation were in a straight line only, and there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return of elements into their opposites, then you know that all things would at last have the same form and pass into the same state, and there would be no more generation of them. If all things which artook of life were to die, and after they were dead remained in the form of death, and did not come to life again, all would at last die, and nothing would be alive”. The Theory of Recollection claims that we have knowledge of abstract ideas – such as Justice, Beauty, and Equality – because we became acquainted with them in a former life. It explains that we possess some non-empirical knowledge at birth. For example, Equalities does not exist in this universe. Two pens might be very similar in length, but they are not equal. Perfect circles, squares, and triangles do not exist either.
Where does our knowledge of perfect symmetry come from, if we have yet to encounter it in the real world? Socrates answers that we encounter them before our birth in the realm of the perfect immaterial world. This realization lead him to conclude that our soul must have existed before our birth. The Affinity Argument claims that the soul bears an affinity to the invisible, the immortal, and the indissoluble, while the body exhibits an affinity to the visible, the mortal, and the dissoluble. Socrates first remarks that the forms such as beauty, truth, and justice are invisible and immutable.
The soul likewise is invisible and immutable. The body on the other hand is visible and subject to change. Finally, the soul resembles the divine because the soul commands the body not vice versa. Thus, Socrates concludes that because the soul bears an affinity to the eternal forms and the divine gods, the soul must also be immortal. Lastly, The Argument from the Form of Life claims that the soul is immortal, because the soul is the form or cause of life. Just as things are beautiful in so much that they partake in the form of beauty, so too are things alive in so much that they partake the form of life.
In other words, things that are alive possess a soul. Just as fire, the bringer of heat, can never be cold and just as snow, the bringer of cold, can never be hot, so too the soul, the bringer of life, can never be dead. The Crito is a philosophical dialogue between Socrates and his good friend Crito. While waiting for his tragic death, Socrates goes into a conversation with Crito where he develops four main reasons why he should stay in Athens. First of all, the crowd can do neither good nor harm and that the multitude’s actions are utterly random and irrational.
The judgement of the multitude constantly changes with remarkable similarity. It is also impossible to determine why their judgement changes. “The crowd will love someone for a certain quality, and hate another for the same exact quality. They will love one person today and hate the same person tomorrow”. I believe this is the reason why Socrates hated democracy, for he believed that the crowd is very gullible, and lacks the foundation to use reason as their means to find the truth. The second idea examined in the dialogue is that men should only regard the opinions of wise men.
Socrates uses an analogy of a gymnast and his trainer. The gymnast should only regard the praise, criticism and teachings of his trainer, and should disregard everyone else’s opinion. If he does not regard his trainer’s wisdom, then he will likely suffer harm and not improve his gymnastic abilities to the utmost. Furthermore, if he regards the opinion of the crowd that is ignorant of the proper techniques and exercises required to improve in gymnastics, then he will again suffer harm and fall short of the greatness of which he is capable of.
This analogy holds true in all other endeavors. Any man who wants to improve his soul should only regard the opinion of one who knows how to improve the soul. The third idea presented in the dialogue was never to do harm or revenge, because warding off evil by evil deeds is injustice, and to do injustice is always unjust regardless of the situation. In the apology, Socrates recalls the story of how Achilles avenged his cousin’s death by slaying hector. He extols Achilles’s virtue and his desire to die honorably to avenge his cousin’s death rather than to live a dishonorable ife.
Furthermore, Socrates asserts that one must obey the commands of the state in the court of law and the battlefield. If the state commands its citizens to kill citizens of another state with which they are at war, then the citizens must obey. It would be dishonorable and unjust to do otherwise. However, Socrates states that it is always unjust to do harm. From what | understood, there was a difference between justly obeying the law, and having an honorable death in battle.
Socrates believed that the laws are never unjust, so if the state sanctions a law to kill the neighboring state, then it must be followed. Lastly, the fourth idea is the social contract theory. In the last few paragraphs of Crito, Socrates asserts that every citizen is free to leave the city after learning the structure of the laws and how it functions, but if a citizen chooses to remain in the city of his own volition, then he implicitly signs the social contract with the state to abide by its laws.
Socrates does claim that a man can try to persuade the state to change the laws which is deemed to be unjust, but if you cannot then you must abide by them. In conclusion, the main theme of The Phaedo highlights the immortality of the soul. By giving the definition of the soul and the afterlife, Socrates makes four arguments to support his stance. By piecing all four arguments together, he arrived at the conclusion that the soul is indeed immortal.
For The Crito, although Crito tries to persuade Socrates in fleeing the city of Athens, Socrates successfully justified himself to stay in prison even after the glaringly evident injustice to his condemnation. The main theme of this segment revolves around the social contract each citizen have conscientiously agreed to. Socrates concluded that even if the accusers reek of injustice, the laws are never unjust. Therefore, by escaping the prison, he can be considered an unjust person for he broke the laws that are ultimately righteous.