Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Plato's Argument for the Immortality of the Soul

Plato, Phaedo

In the first argument for the immortality of the soul, Socrates seems to be arguing from the cycle of life. He argues that the souls of people come from the underworld (54). He states, "If that is true, that the living come back from the dead, then our souls must exist there..."(54). This seems to make sense. Where do souls come from? It seems this argument is as strong as other explanations of the origin of the soul. Materialists, of course, would say there are no souls, so they will not accept the argument; but if we accept the existence of souls, and they are immortal, the first argument seems supported. What I do notice is that the arguments are interconnected, so to accept one it seems you have to accept the others. The second argument is the argument of recollection. This seems to be a strong argument since most people experience deja vu. It seems that we have done the same thing before or remember doing it. There might be other explanations for this experience. Another support of this argument is that we seem to be born with a knowledge of the forms. How do we know these things? It does seem sometimes we experience an opening of the curtain and we know things or have a mystical experience. In the third argument, Socrates differentiates the soul/body, the visible/invisible, the material/immaterial. He states the body is visible and material and impermanent. In contrast, the soul is invisible, immaterial and permanent. This seems to be a strong argument for the immortality of the soul. These comparisons seem accurate. In addition, he argues that knowledge through the senses are ever-changing; in contrast, reasoning about the forms are eternal. How we experience the body does seem that us (soul?) is different from the body. In addition, we have reports of people leaving their bodies for a short time. The last argument seems to be based on the theory of the forms. He even thinks that "Mind" directs everything (69). He says that we assume "the existence of a Beautiful, itself by itself, of a Good and a Great" (70). He says particulars are made what they are through participation in the forms. For example, something is beautiful by participating in the beautiful. Then, he argues that opposites cannot exist in itself. I am not sure I understand what he means by this, but he argues if the soul is what gives life, it is indestructible and deathless and cannot give death. He argues that the "soul will never admit the opposite of that which it brings along" (73). I admit I do not completely understand these arguments, but I hope I understand it a little. I try to think of these arguments in the context of their time and the immortality of the soul seems supported by these arguments. Other arguments could be added to it. For example, since people do not get their due in this life, so their must be another life where sinners will be punished and the righteous rewarded.

Is Socrates wrong to start from certain cultural beliefs and to see where the thought will take him? It might be wrong to view Socrates as a purely rational thinker. Maybe, there is both faith and reason in Socrates use of dialectic. Descartes wanted to start from scratch, but I think he was wrong in his pursuit. 

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