“The aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death.” This is a statement made by Socrates in “Phaedo”. To some, this may seem an absurd statement, as it did to Simmias and Cebes, the men to whom Socrates is speaking. In this essay, I will show how Socrates proved his statement to his listeners through a series of defences. I will present and evaluate these defences here.
After making this bold statement, Socrates first defends himself by first defining death. He questions his listeners until they all agree that death is nothing more than the separation of the body from the soul. The true philosopher does not worry about or fear this because he is not concerned with matters of the body.
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The true philosopher’s goal is the attainment of knowledge and truth. They believe that this can only be attained through the soul and that the body is a major obstacle to this attainment. This is evident in the statement that Socrates makes in line 66b “…… The body keeps us busy in a thousand ways because of its need for nurture. Moreover, if certain diseases befall it, they impede our search for the truth. It fills us with wants, desires, fears, all sorts of illusions and much nonsense, so that, as it is said, in truth and in fact no thought of any kind ever comes to us from the body.” Because of this, the true philosopher tries to separate the soul from the body, because that is the only way knowledge and truth can be attained.
Since death is the only way for philosophers to achieve their ultimate goal of separation of soul and body, Socrates says that it would be ridiculous for a man to train himself to live in a state as close to death as possible and then resent it when it comes. He compares this at 68a to men who at the deaths of their lovers, wives, or sons, are willing to go to the underworld to see them and be with them. In the same way, a philosopher and true lover of wisdom would not resent going to the only place where he knew he could achieve this knowledge.
In his last statements, Socrates discusses men who are brave because they fear other things and men who are moderate so that they can have a license for other pleasures. He says that this is wrong, to exchange pleasures for pleasures and fears for fears and that this is not the right kind of virtue. He says that only pure knowledge, courage, and moderation can make the soul pure and ready for death.
So, basically, Socrates is saying that the goal of philosophy is knowledge. The only way to get the knowledge is to separate the body and soul. And the only way to separate the body and soul is death. So because of this true philosophers and lovers of wisdom do not fear death.
I think that Socrates does well in presenting his statements and defending them. His question-and-answer technique of discussion makes his listeners and the readers see things from his point of view and sometimes reevaluate their own. All of the things he says in defence of his statement that true philosophy is preparation for death make sense to me and are easy to understand.
Despite this understanding of Socrates’ point of view, however, I do not agree with him. Although his thoughts are well organized, and I can see why he believes what he does, I do not believe the same thing. I believe that first of all, the goal of life should not be knowledge. It should be happiness. No one can ever know everything, nor do I think that we should try to. Total knowledge does not make one happy.
Even if total knowledge was the goal of life, I don’t think that the body is an impediment to this goal. I think that the senses only enhance your ability to learn. It would be hard to read books without your eyes, hard to listen to others’ thoughts and views without your ears, and hard to walk to class or the library without your legs.
Finally, I think that life should be looked at as the ultimate gift. Whether you think it comes from God or from many Gods, life is bestowed on us by a supreme being or being, and if the purpose of life was to prepare for death, why would we be given the gift of life in the first place? Also, I think that the body is a gift as well, given to us so that we may better live and enjoy our lives. We should take care of and appreciate our bodies, and our lives. Spending all your time despising your body and looking forward to dying, in my opinion, is no way to live.
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