Click here to read Part 2: Crito.
The day has finally arrived for the death of Socrates. He is joined by a few close companions, who discuss his impending faith.
Socrates’s friends are confused, as he appears almost anxious to enter into the afterlife. He remarks that
…he, who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing to die; but he will not take his own life.”
A discussion of suicide ensues, as Cebes, a friend of Socrates, inquires why one should be willing to die, but not be able to commit suicide—it seems like a clear contradiction.
Socrates explains that our lives belong to the God(s) and that man has no right to decide to take his own life such that,
…to commit suicide is prohibited as man is not sole possessor of his body.”
On The Soul
We then get into a deeper discussion of why the philosopher should not fear death. As Socrates sees it the physical body only serves as an impediment to reaching our full potential.
For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us as full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as a thought.”
Our souls have the ability to understand the true nature of life, but it is inhibited by the bodily senses we perceive throughout our life. Therefore if the philosopher seeks true wisdom, and not the pleasures and desires of the physical body, then he must accept that true knowledge can only come through death and the shedding of one’s body.
And therefore, so far as that is concerned, I not only do not grieve, but I have great hopes that there is something in store for the dead…, something better for the good than for the wicked.”
Arguments and Refutations
Understandably Socrates’s peers have difficulty accepting this premise. To sway them, he presents several arguments to support his belief that the soul is indeed immortal:
The Cyclical Argument
The idea that the soul exists beyond death of the physical body is something that many people have difficulty accepting today. For the most part, we perceive the body and soul as one, if we even believe in a soul at all.
Socrates argues that the soul is indeed immortal. In fact, it must be!
He posits that since the dead come the living, then the living must come from the dead. We are therefore left with an eternal cycle of life and death, one that cannot be broken.
Now if it be true that the living come from the dead, then our souls must exist in the other world, for if not, how could they have been born again?”
He then uses several examples of contrasting relationships such as sleeping and waking, that can only derive from their opposite. His argument is enough for Cebes to accept the axiom that the dead come from the living, through death and vice versa.
If generation were in a straight line only, and there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return into one another, 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.”
The Theory of Recollection Argument
This is an interesting argument in which Socrates posits that when asking a person about an abstract subject that they are completely unfamiliar with, they can somehow recollect knowledge on it after a bit of prodding. Socrates claims that this knowledge must have been discovered in a previous life.
The Affinity Argument
In the argument from affinity Socrates demonstrates that there are two distinct categories of things: Those that are immortal and immaterial (the soul) and those that are mortal and material (The Body). Because the soul is of the first kind, it will have the same characteristics of other eternal forms such as beauty and justice.
…beyond question, the soul is immortal and imperishable, and our souls will truly exist in another world!”
A Fascinating Look at Metaphysics
This work presents Socrates in his final hour, though he is no less loquacious and insightful as he has been in previous dialogues.
Though I don’t, and you may not either, agree with all of Socrates’s ideas, they still present a unique viewpoint of metaphysics. It’s always good to question what you know, and Socrates is certainly skilled in getting us to do that.
I will say that this book was a bit tougher than the previous too, but it is more than manageable and a must-read.
Stay tuned for Part IV: Phaedrus.
I recently purchased a copy of Six Great Dialogues by Plato (Amazon). I plan on doing an article for each dialogue as I read through them.
But because this is a public domain work, it’s widely available for free. Here are some different versions: