Notes on Plato’s “Phaedo”


  1. Dramatis persona
    1. Phaedo of Elis (b. ~418/9)
      1. Student of Socrates
      2. founded the School of Elis
      3. aristocratic descent
      4. captured during war, sold as slave (as a “catamite”)
    2. Echecrates of Philus
      1. Student Eurytus of Tarentum and Philolaus)
      2. “last of the Pythagoreans”
      3. Philus was an ally of Sparta vs. Athens
    3. Antisthenes – student of Gorgias
    4. Critobolus of Alopece, son of Crito
    5. Appollodorus of Phaleron – “constant companion” of Socrates, “maniac”, flamboyant
    6. Hermogenes – Alopece, wealthy man
    7. Epigenes of Cephisia
    8. Aeschines – poor, dissolute, legal troubles w.r.t. debts, speaker, author of Socratic dialogues
    9. “Foreigners”
      1. Simmias of Thebes
      2. Cebes
      3. Phaedondes
      4. Euclides of Megara
      5. Terpsion of Megara
  2. Themes:
    1. Category identification (the soul, life, mind)
      1. Many dialogues, especially the early ones, have as their dominant theme the finding of what we call “definitions of common terms”, but which in Plato were called
    1. “what it is to be an ‘x'”
    2. “x itself”
    3. “the common character of all x”
    1. Philosophical way of life
    2. Dialectic
    3. Explanation of natural phenomena – life, sensation, movement, other changes in livin creatures.
  1. Introduction
    1. the fableof pleasure and pain (60c)
    2. The Socratic daimon’s last advice: “ “Socrates” it said “compose music and work at it.” …. philosophy is the greatest music” (61a)
    3. The soul, body and the gods
      1. Body as prison or fort (62b)
      2. Against suicide
      3. “It is gods who take care of us and that we human beings are one of the gods’ possessions.” (62b)
      4. The Afterlife:
        1. “firstly, the company of other gods, who are both wise and good”
        2. “secondly, the company of humans who have dies and who are better than the people here”
      5. “…the sole pursuit of those who correctly engage in philosophy is dying and being dead.” (64a)
    4. “For it is unreasonable that the wisest people shouldn’t resent leaving this ministration in which they are supervised by the best supervisors there are, namely gods. Because I take it such a person doesn’t think that he will take better care of himself after he has become free.” (62d)
  2. Philosophy and Death
    1. There is death (64c)
    2. Death is the separation of body and soul (64c).
    3. Pleasures vs. reason: food, drink, sex, clothes (64d)
    4. Lack of pleasure in body > death? (65a)
    5. Reasoning also seeks that which is separate from body? (65b-66a)
      1. “Just itself”, “…and a Beautiful and Good” (65d)
      2. .. which are not visible with the eyes (65d)
      3. but which are only visible with the mind (65e)
      4. And the affections of the body impede said mental vision? (66c)
      5. Virtue is such separation from the bodily affections. (67a)
    6. “Virtue” marginalia (67d)
    7. “Form” as ideal
    8. “nowhere but in Hades will he have a worthwhile encounter with it” (68b)
    9. courage, temperance (68c)
    10. “The reality is, I suspect, that temperance, justice, and courage are a kind of purification from everything like this and that wisdom itself is a kind of rite to purify us.” (69c)
    11. Concerns for possible mortality of the soul itself. (70a)
  3. Initial arguments for the immortality of the soul (70d-86)
    1. Argument from opposites or reciprocal processes of eternal recurrence (70d-73)
      1. If you want to consider this with regard to humans only, but in relation to all animals, and plants too. In short, everything that has a coming-to-be, let us see whether they all come to be in this way; the opposites from nowhere other than their opposites…” (70e)
      2. “being dead is the opposites of being alive” (71d)
    2. Argument based on the doctrine of recollection (73-78)
      1. “Suppose one set of things did not always balance the other by coming to be, going round in a circle, as it were, but instead the process of coming-to-be were a straight line from the one to its opposite only, and did not bend back again to the former or turn in its course. Do you realize that then everything in the end would have the same form, be in the same condition, and stop coming to be?” (72b)
      2. “also, according to that theory which you yourself habitually propound, that our learning is in fact nothing but recollection…” (72e)
      3. “I don;t quite remember at the moment.” (73a)
      4. “Equal itself” (74b)
      5. “For our present argument is no more about the Equal than about the Beautiful itself, the Good itself, the Just, the Pious, and, as I’ve been saying, about everything to which we attach this label, “what such and such is”…” (75d)
      6. [For other uses of the locution “what such and such is”..look at:]
        1. 65d-e
        2. 74d
        3. 75b
        4. 78d
        5. 92e
        6. Symposium 211c-d
        7. Republic
          • 490b
          • 507b
          • 532a-b
      7. Fears about the immortality of the soul:
        1. “For why shouldn’t it be that, on the one hand, the soul is born and constituted from somewhere else, and exists before it ever enters a human body, but that, on the other hand, when the soul has entered a body, and is being separated from it, it itself then dies and is destroyed?” (77b)
        2. “…when the soul leaves the body the wind blows it apart and dissipates it, especially when someone happens to die not in clam weather but in a strong wind.” (77e)
        3. “You must chant spells to him every day until you manage to chant it away.”
      8. “The Great Commission”: “Greece is a large place … and there are no doubt many good men in it. There are also many races of foreigners. All of these people you must comb in your search for such an enchanter, sparing neither money nor effort, as there’s nothing on which you’d be better off spending money. But you must yourselves work together as you search, because you may not easily find others more able to do this than you.” (78a)
    1. Argument involving these two arguments: souls as pre- and post- life existence.
      1. “What kind of thing is liable to undergo this – that is, to be dissipated?” (78b)
    2. Argument involving composite and incomposite objects [affinity argument] (78c-81)

















      1. The characterization of the form in future dialogues:
        1. Republic– “noeton” or “intelligible”
        2. Parmenides– “mono-eide” or “one idea”
        3. Sophist –
          • ever self-consistent
          • Khorismos(“separate”)
      2. “those who care about their own soul”
      3. “purifying rite that philosophy provides” (82d)
      4. “and philosophy observes the cleverness of the prison – that it works through desire, the best way to make the prisoner himself assist in his imprisonment.” (82e)
      5. “the god whose servants they are” (85a)
      6. “I myself am the swan’s fellow-slave and sacred to the same god” (85b)
  1. Objections (86-102)
    1. Epiphenomenalism (92-95c)
      1. Simmias’ Pythoagoreanism”
      2. Soul as harmony or attunement
      3. musical instrument analogy
        1. “…attunement, too, and a lyre and strings: that the attunement is something invisible, incorporeal, and utterly beautiful and divine in the tuned lyre, whereas the lyre itself and its strings are bodies, corporeal, composite and earthly and akin to the mortal.” (86a)
        2. “our soul is a blend and attunement of those every things, when they are blended properly and proportionately with one another.” (86c)
        3. “…a weaver who had dies in old age. One might argue that the human being has not perished but exists intact somewhere, providing as evidence the fact that the cloak that he himslef wove for his own use and wore is intact and has not perished.” (87b)
        4. “But let us suppose that, after granting this much, he refused to concede the further point that the soul does not suffer in its many births and at the end perish completely during one of those deaths, and that no one knows which death and which parting from the body make the soul perish.” (88b)
      4. Rebuttal 1: How can an assembly of material parts account for recollection? (92b-93)
        1. “For presumably you won’t allow yourself to say that an attunement existed, already composed, before those thing existed of which it was due to be composed.” (92b)
        2. “For the second has come to me with no proof but with a sort of plausibility and outward appeal, which is the basis on which most people believe it too.” (92d)
      5. Rebuttal 2: How can there be differences in moral worth among collections of material parts? (93-95)
        1. “In that case, an attunement is not the sort of thing to governits components, but rather to follow them.” (93a)
        2. “…is one soul in even the smallest degree this very thing, soul, more and to a greater extent than another, or less so and to an inferior extent?” (93b)
        3. “Of all the things in a human being, is there any other than soul that you would say is in command, and especially a wise soul? … Does soul do so by surrendering to the body’s affections or by actualy opposing them?” (94b)
        4. “Theban Harmonia” (95a) [wife of Cadmus, legendary founder of Thebes]
    2. Cebes’ reply (Mechanist naturalism) (95c-102)
      1. Based on Heraclitean theory of exchanges
      2. Analogy: weaver wearing out many coats or bodies as a covering.
      3. The soul viewed as psychic units of energy, which are variously allotted through the whole realm of souls.
      4. Requires the full treatment of the causes of generation and destruction; leads to the famous account of Socrattes’ intellectual development and critique of the Anaxagorean conception of nous. (96-102)
        1. Anaxagoras – “intelligence should be the cause of everything” (97c)
        2. Socrate’s intellectual quest:
          • Ionian physicists – combination of elements
          • Pythagoreans – numbers
          • Empedocles –
          • Anaxagoras – Mind
          • The Delphic Oracle – Wisdom, definitions, “common character”, “x-itself”, “ontos on
      5. dunamis” (98c) “method” or “function”
      6. “causes” (99b)
      7. cosmology (99b)
  2. The Theory of Forms (102-107d)
    1. Participation and Oppositional Forms (102-104)
      1. “In the same way, the small in us is never willing to come to be, or be, large, nor can any other opposite still be what it was and at the same time come to be, and be, its opposite, but it withe” (103a)
      2. “…not only does the Form iteslf merit its own name for all time, but there is also something else that merits it, which is not the same as the Form, but which, whenever it exists, always has the feature of that Form.” (103e)
    2. Concluding section on dialectic and the soul as an animating principle. Difference between accidental and essential predication. (104-105c)
      1. “For if you were to ask me what I is that, when it comes to be present in anything’s body, makes the thing hot, I will not give that safe, ignorant answer – namely that it is hotness – but, thanks to what we now say, a more ingenious one: that it is fire.” (105c)
    3. Formal argument for immortality from the premise that the soul is a principle of life – the Form of Life.
    4. “…and as for God, I suppose, and the Form of Life itself, and any other immortal thing there may be, it would be agreed by everyone that they may never perish.” (106d)
  3. The Myth of the Underworld.
    1. “Now there are many wondrous regions of the earth, and the earth itself is neither of the nature nor of the size it is believed to be by those who usually talk about it, as I have been convinced by someone.” (108c)
    2. “…if the earth is round and in the middle of the heaven, it has no need of air or of any other such necessity to stop it falling” (109a)
    3. “the earth is extremely large” (109b)
    4. “aether” (109c)
    5. “Now we are unaware that we dwell in the earth’s hollows, and we suppose that we dwell up on the earth’s surface…” (109c)
    6. “…true heaven, the genuine light and the vertiable earth.” (110b)
    7. “For if it’s also appropriate to tell a myth, it’s worth hearing, Simmias, what the things on the surface of the earth under the heaven are really like.” (110b)
    8. “One of the chasms in the earth is in fact the largest in a number of ways, but in particular because it is bored right through the whole earth.” (112a)
    9. “Tartarus” (112b)

Taran, Leonardo. “Plato, Phaedo, 62 A.” The American Journal of Philology, vol. 87, no. 3, 1966, pp. 326–336. JSTOR,

Deborah Kamen. “The Manumission of Socrates: A Rereading of Plato’s Phaedo.” Classical Antiquity, vol. 32, no. 1, 2013, pp. 78–100. JSTOR,

Rundin, John S. “Gods and Corporations: Fifth-Century B.C.E. Athena and the Economic Utility of Extraordinary Agents.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, vol. 19, no. 3/4, 2007, pp. 323–331. JSTOR,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s