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Plato and Death

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“Phaedo” is one of the brightest documents in the history of human culture, which deals with the issues that have always interested all thinking people. This work represents questions about life and death, body and soul, and destiny of a man. Plato’s dialog is imbued with the idea of perpetual anxiety and mortality of the human body, and on the other hand, the idea of the greatness of human ideals. The author constantly dreams about the dispensation of life, where there is no suffering and sorrow, mutual hatred and enmity and the life full of an eternal truth. All this is embodied in the dialogue in the sublime image of Socrates, dying for the future blessedness. Death of Socrates that ends the dialogue, is sustained in the classical manner: the sublime suppresses all vile and simplicity, brevity, conciseness and profound ideological content are combined. Plato is representative of his age, beliefs and spiritual life of the century.

Socrates refers to the Philolaus and Pythagorean doctrine of the moral impermissibility of suicide, and finds that people is a property of the gods, and have no right to take from them what they own. The hope for a better future in the afterlife allows thinking calmly about death. Thus a task of the real philosopher is in preparing for death by thinking about it, abstain from sensual pleasures, and to seek truth and knowledge. The feelings deceive people, though only pure contemplation brings people to the recognition of the truth. Attention to satisfy the needs of the body does not leave time to study philosophy. There is no way to achieve perfect knowledge, and people have to approach to the truth with provided minimal contact with the body. Therefore, mind is the only principle of the courage, justice and temperance. The philosopher, who truly loves wisdom and hopes to comprehend it in the afterlife, has to meet the death with the pleasure. 

According to Socrates if a person meets death with a sense of grief, he or she does not love wisdom, but a body. Courage and temperance are appreciated when they appear not by the influence of the fear, but are inseparable from the wisdom. Person needs to be abstemious in order to resist the enjoyments and to search for the death because of avoiding the evil. Socrates expressed thoughts about wisdom and its virtue. The achievement of the virtue is made by the purification, which makes a person a true philosopher, whom Socrates tried to be.

Cebes expressed concern that the soul does not die at the time of separation from the body. In response, Socrates gives the first evidence of the immortality of the soul. He says that the human soul continues to exist in the underworld, and then it comes back on the Earth. Thus the great philosopher refers to the different proofs, namely to the law of extremes in the world of phenomena. Socrates represents the fact that if something is large then it is necessary that it used to be smaller before, and on the contrary: the weak forms are based on the strong forms. Between these extremes there are appropriate processes of change. Recognizing that the opposite of life is death, Socrates states that life comes from death, and inversely. The process of changes accompanying the transition of one concept to the other is followed by the dying and revival. Without this process of the circular movement everything would be frozen in the same state.

Socrates compares equal things and finds out that in addition to them there exists the idea of equality. The idea of equality arises from the consideration of equal subjects, although it is not the same as those items. Being more perfect, it has to define their relationship. Thus people should have known equality before the time when they saw equal subjects for the first time. In the same way human receives and tries to understand all the concepts of beauty, value and justice. Despite of the received knowledge before the birth concepts are immediately forgotten after it because a person is not born aware. Therefore, acquiring new knowledge by means of the senses, people remind forgotten laws of the association of similarity. Thus such concepts like beauty, love and property really exist as the prototype of all, which is obtained through the senses that are necessary for the soul and human body. This is a psychological explanation of the soul’s immortality.

According to the great philosopher, the soul is similar and closer to the formless beings, while the body – to the visible. The soul and body are one being, yet the soul is more identical and divine, and the body is variable, earthly and controlled. The author states that the soul, which gets into the body is in prison. The true sage entrusts the care of the soul to the philosophy, which leads to the desired liberation from the body. When the soul gets free it cannot go through the danger or be degenerated into nothing.  The dialogue ends with a deep dramatic and breathtaking scene of Socrates’ submortem parting with his family and friends. The scene of the poison adoption and death is written by Plato in a simple, sincere, soft tone of sincere love and devotion to the teacher. Painted portrait of Socrates by Plato represents an idealization, in common with other philosopher’s dialogues. Through the words of the great teacher Plato his own philosophical views are presented. Socrates’ death became to the humanity a typical example of how the strength and independence of the soul, detected during the tragic ending, guarantee continued existence. Plato has given mankind the doctrine that the soul is eternal, and it is essentially indestructible substance.

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