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Plato’s Phaedo and the Soul

Historically, ancient Greece has long been recognized as the epicenter of mythological fables. The gods created a sense of reason, while mortals stood powerless. Mythology filled the gap between an unknown and human existence. Therefore, mythology fathered the birth of philosophy to assure a fundamental understanding of life. Pre-Socratic figures, such as Parmenides and Heraclitus searched for answers in the external world to the above fundamental question, as opposed to Socrates and Plato, who claim knowledge or truth begins with the Self. Opposite Heraclitus, Parmenide’s views are illustrated through the perception of change and motion, while influencing Socrates’ arguments of opposites and kinship of soul to Forms to prove the existence of the immortal soul in Plato’s Phaedo.

In the 5th century, off the coast of Southern Italy, the philosopher Parmenides demonstrated the transcending nature of appearances. He investigated beyond the sense perceptions of thought, including visual, sound, and all sensual stimulants. Subsequently, these forms undergo a steady development and vary by each individual. Therefore, each are purely deceptive and unreliable accounts. His notion of an unchanging, undivided reality characterizes the truth in reason. Parmenides assertion of real and unreal in the Way of Truth, illustrates the rational twofold view of thought. For example, he states, “Never shall it be proven that non-being is” (Wheelwright, 96). In this statement he necessitates the grounds in which human logic is composed. Claiming, “non-being is,” demonstrates the objective of Being. If Being is not, then consequently Being does not exist, since its orientation is not recognized. Further demonstrated in the example, Parmenides concludes that nothing can come from nothing. Meaning, everything evolves from something, therefore to not be, would terminate Being. If Being was not, then the object of thought evoked from a conscious state would not exist. Additionally, Parmenides concludes “Thought and being are the same” (Wheelwright, 98). Individuals can only understand their surroundings by a common language adapted at birth and objects visible on the surface. One cannot think of reality outside these words or images. The existence of a language eliminates the reasoning of a non-language. For instance, to recognize one’s origin, Bob is told he was “born.” However, if Bob is taught birth itself causes death, than he is dying. This analogy compares Parmenides cyclic concept of Being with non-Being, by transcending the opposites as prerequisites for a basis of higher understanding.

The illusion of motion and change claimed by Parmenides rejects all historical inquiries of sense experience in nature. Preceding philosophers, such as Heraclitus, believed the veil over appearances retains forms of truth opposed to Parmanides belief. Because “something” cannot be derived from “nothing,” everything holds an element from its original perfect, form. However, its change and growth have distorted the object with a false impression from its true form. For example, when brown wood is placed in fire, it turns into black ashes. The previously solid, mass of wood has crumbled into flaky dust. Its appearance’s reaction with the fire has completely transformed the wood’s weight, color, size and number into a new, unrecognizable condition. The image’s change in nature generates a different matter. Therefore, according to Heraclitus this reaction proves the unity of all things in nature. The essence of life holds components of its origins, however, Parmenides believes through this aspect of change it imposes a deception of truth. Accordingly, the senses are only aware of these stages of change. They cannot understand or perceive beyond the external realities from wood becoming ash. Therefore, they are not real, or being. The only known truth specified from this observation is that the ashes “being” was extended from “something.”

Heraclitus, however, considers that individuals are obliged to rely on their senses to obtain higher divinity. Failure to understand or use one’s senses, results in inner-conflict and ignorance. For example, without senses we would have no form of communication to observe nature and no understanding of our self. If one does not know language, he or she cannot learn the philosophy of such. Therefore, Heraclitus, unlike Parmenides believes the creation of change felt through the senses, facilitates the aspects of Being. Further, existence is justified from the constant motion felt by sense experience.

Parmenides believes one could move from the world of sense perception consumed by motion, appearance, and plurality to a world of reason and unity. Meaning, one could move away from appearances and motion if one has reason. He states, “that which is one, is one and can’t be conceived as many.” This statement, challenges Heraclitus’ view by explaining change does not ratify true knowledge. For the reason that, sense constantly alters individual perceptions and understanding of the “one” (Being). Therefore, Parmenides radically departs from Heraclitan values of change.

Correspondingly, in the theory of Relativism, the experiences of each individual are not shared in one common public reality, each have separate realties. Heraclitus suggests knowledge is only relative, like the constant change of flow in a river. Without the perpetual flow and motion of the water it would diminish from one’s senses and die. The identity of the river resonates through difference. Therefore, truth is radically individualistic and justice is only relative. Since all laws are designed by man, they are consequently purely artificial and subject to change by the nature of their circumstances. Senses are necessary in providing individuals with a feel for reality, but cannot be justified with absolute explanation. 17th century philosopher, Descartes states that Mind and Matter are separate. Yet, it is impossible to isolate one from the other. There is a conflict in the example of a person lifting there arm between mental and physical entities. Despite the independent condition of the mind, its reliance on the senses causes a collision and confusion of two divided realities. In a Heraclitan sense, the confusion of the realities balances change. For instance, looking up at a mountain from its base is directly proportionate to looking down from a mountain from its peak. Change is therefore equal. He refers to nature’s law of the changing universe as Logos. Logos is attributed with fire, since it is eternally changing, but nonetheless, the same. The rule of Logos contradicts Parmenides rejection of motion. Rationally, according to Parmenides objects cannot transform into new objects. Under this reasoning, for change to occur then “something,” comes from “nothing,” which is beyond human knowledge. For example, A will always only equal A. It is infeasible for A=B. If change were to occur A would become B, but if A were to become B, then A would be nothing. Since “everything,” must come from “something,” A could not simply stop existing. Therefore, everything is eternal, including individual souls. A can only be A, such as Man can only equal Man. This logical outlook further theorizes that reality is unchanging, undivided, and everlasting, which proposes significant opposition to Heraclitus’ principle “All is Change.” The pre-Socratic beliefs of Heraclitus and Parmenides further prevail in subsequent works, such as the Phaedo by Plato.

In the Phaedo, Plato documents Socrates accounts of the immortal soul before his death. He determines the state of the body as a meaningless vessel with one purpose—to carry the human soul. Socrates identifies death as a welcoming experience because it liberates the body from the physical needs that imprison the mind. Influenced by Parmenides, Socrates adapted the concept of the eternal soul. Claiming that after death, the soul continues to live. A still equals A. Two significant proofs Socrates discusses to prove the immortality of the soul are the “Argument of Opposites and Kinship of soul to Forms.”

First, in the Phaedo, the proof of opposites is derived from the acclaimed Heraclitan rule, that opposites are the fundamental basis for identifying objects (see mountain hypothetical). For example, one recognizes color, because she has experienced countless objects of different color. If one has never seen color, color would not exist. This system of measure between Hot to Cold, Light to Dark, etc., indicates a list of opposites governed by a system of expectations. According to Socrates, the cycle continues in Death. If Birth generates death, death then conceives birth. This analogy proves the immortality of the soul by claiming that with death will come rebirth.

From the argument of opposites identity is produced from the differences. “If something smaller comes to be, it will come from something larger before” and if “the weaker comes to be from the stronger, and the swifter from the slower” and “if something worse comes to be, does it not come from the better (Plato).” In this quote, Socrates reasons that things which have opposites, are created from their opposite, giving them existence. However, it is questionable whether Socrates could tap into immortal concepts using only mortal senses. If Socrates examined the opposites, then according to this disposition, there are no opposites. Meaning, if everything has an opposite, then the opposite must have an opposite, which is no longer opposite. The counter form of itself, would than be the same. Meaning, sunrise is sunrise and sunset is sunset, and so on. They are singular, unique moments, encompassing only themselves. The different degrees of light penetrating darkness are measured in that circumstance, independent of other forms. Through observation from the senses, the form of opposites appears correct, yet, remains false with rational judgment. Socrates uses the senses, as a measure of the infinite. All of Socrates’ arguments are made with disregard for the body, yet Socrates uses the senses to spawn his theory of the immortal soul. Socrates words are found from external realities to explain the immortal. Further, if the argument of opposites is assumed to be true then the immortal soul is also subject to external changes. If day and night are truly opposites and not in themselves sole uncountered entities, then the soul is changing. The soul identified with the Self, signifies its dependence on the body. Socrates does not explain the motion/interaction of the two forms. Truth of knowledge, according to Socrates is unchanging, however, his argument of opposites does not legitimately support this belief. But regardless, of the immortality of the soul, Socrates, claims the soul is what makes one living.

The kinship of soul to Forms is Socrates’ most significant argument before his death. There is an infinite number of Forms, such as the form of beauty, justice, equality, etc. They act as shadows, directing the truth of a perfect unknown. The Forms are not dependent on opposites because they are unchanging. One is born with inherent knowledge recognizing the perfect forms. Throughout existence it is the soul’s need to uncover and reproduce these forms, however, never obtaining perfection. They are necessary to nourish the soul in order to gain higher understanding of the immortal. If the soul is undying then education and knowledge is essential to purify its path into death and birth. The kinship of the soul illustrates the core being, which remains the same. The Phaedo distinguishes the soul as in “the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable.” The immortality of the soul is proven by the commonly shared knowledge between individuals. For example, if one observes a tree, he recollects knowledge from a past experience by the soul. The tree is not perfect, but the image of a flawless tree remains to be found. The true form of the tree can never be experienced through the senses. Since, senses are deceptive in a changing world, ones true form can never be understood. Instead, the soul acts as a “container” of this knowledge and maintains it as a reminder of the ideal. The argument of opposites and kinship of soul to Forms relates the evidence of the existence of the immortal soul. They necessitate the awareness formed from previous birth and death experiences.

In the argument of opposites, Socrates uses the balance of nature to foster the proof of life in death. The kinship of soul to forms supports this claim because it confirms the ideals of previously learned knowledge from a past existence. Since, one has lived and died before, he has taken his wisdom into the present. Past details and information surface through the subconscious and allow him to relearn the forms. This demonstrates the product of an undying, immortal soul, explained from the Phaedo.

Through the pre-Socratic inquiries of nature and time, by the philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides, a further analysis and theory are produced by Socrates and Plato. The inherited knowledge of claims and scrutiny allows the next individual to investigate deeper the questions arrived with birth. Heraclitus’ belief of “All is Change,” reacts another vision from Parmenides and so on. The motion of ideas planted by Socrates and Plato influence the structure and ways of thought into present day standards.


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