Part 1 out of 3
This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
After an interval of some months or years, and at Phlius, a town of
Peloponnesus, the tale of the last hours of Socrates is narrated to
Echecrates and other Phliasians by Phaedo the 'beloved disciple.' The
Dialogue necessarily takes the form of a narrative, because Socrates has to
be described acting as well as speaking. The minutest particulars of the
event are interesting to distant friends, and the narrator has an equal
interest in them.
During the voyage of the sacred ship to and from Delos, which has occupied
thirty days, the execution of Socrates has been deferred. (Compare Xen.
Mem.) The time has been passed by him in conversation with a select
company of disciples. But now the holy season is over, and the disciples
meet earlier than usual in order that they may converse with Socrates for
the last time. Those who were present, and those who might have been
expected to be present, are mentioned by name. There are Simmias and Cebes
(Crito), two disciples of Philolaus whom Socrates 'by his enchantments has
attracted from Thebes' (Mem.), Crito the aged friend, the attendant of the
prison, who is as good as a friend--these take part in the conversation.
There are present also, Hermogenes, from whom Xenophon derived his
information about the trial of Socrates (Mem.), the 'madman' Apollodorus
(Symp.), Euclid and Terpsion from Megara (compare Theaet.), Ctesippus,
Antisthenes, Menexenus, and some other less-known members of the Socratic
circle, all of whom are silent auditors. Aristippus, Cleombrotus, and
Plato are noted as absent. Almost as soon as the friends of Socrates enter
the prison Xanthippe and her children are sent home in the care of one of
Crito's servants. Socrates himself has just been released from chains, and
is led by this circumstance to make the natural remark that 'pleasure
follows pain.' (Observe that Plato is preparing the way for his doctrine
of the alternation of opposites.) 'Aesop would have represented them in a
fable as a two-headed creature of the gods.' The mention of Aesop reminds
Cebes of a question which had been asked by Evenus the poet (compare
Apol.): 'Why Socrates, who was not a poet, while in prison had been
putting Aesop into verse?'--'Because several times in his life he had been
warned in dreams that he should practise music; and as he was about to die
and was not certain of what was meant, he wished to fulfil the admonition
in the letter as well as in the spirit, by writing verses as well as by
cultivating philosophy. Tell this to Evenus; and say that I would have him
follow me in death.' 'He is not at all the sort of man to comply with your
request, Socrates.' 'Why, is he not a philosopher?' 'Yes.' 'Then he will
be willing to die, although he will not take his own life, for that is held
to be unlawful.'
Cebes asks why suicide is thought not to be right, if death is to be
accounted a good? Well, (1) according to one explanation, because man is a
prisoner, who must not open the door of his prison and run away--this is
the truth in a 'mystery.' Or (2) rather, because he is not his own
property, but a possession of the gods, and has no right to make away with
that which does not belong to him. But why, asks Cebes, if he is a
possession of the gods, should he wish to die and leave them? For he is
under their protection; and surely he cannot take better care of himself
than they take of him. Simmias explains that Cebes is really referring to
Socrates, whom they think too unmoved at the prospect of leaving the gods
and his friends. Socrates answers that he is going to other gods who are
wise and good, and perhaps to better friends; and he professes that he is
ready to defend himself against the charge of Cebes. The company shall be
his judges, and he hopes that he will be more successful in convincing them
than he had been in convincing the court.
The philosopher desires death--which the wicked world will insinuate that
he also deserves: and perhaps he does, but not in any sense which they are
capable of understanding. Enough of them: the real question is, What is
the nature of that death which he desires? Death is the separation of soul
and body--and the philosopher desires such a separation. He would like to
be freed from the dominion of bodily pleasures and of the senses, which are
always perturbing his mental vision. He wants to get rid of eyes and ears,
and with the light of the mind only to behold the light of truth. All the
evils and impurities and necessities of men come from the body. And death
separates him from these corruptions, which in life he cannot wholly lay
aside. Why then should he repine when the hour of separation arrives?
Why, if he is dead while he lives, should he fear that other death, through
which alone he can behold wisdom in her purity?
Besides, the philosopher has notions of good and evil unlike those of other
men. For they are courageous because they are afraid of greater dangers,
and temperate because they desire greater pleasures. But he disdains this
balancing of pleasures and pains, which is the exchange of commerce and not
of virtue. All the virtues, including wisdom, are regarded by him only as
purifications of the soul. And this was the meaning of the founders of the
mysteries when they said, 'Many are the wand-bearers but few are the
mystics.' (Compare Matt. xxii.: 'Many are called but few are chosen.')
And in the hope that he is one of these mystics, Socrates is now departing.
This is his answer to any one who charges him with indifference at the
prospect of leaving the gods and his friends.
Still, a fear is expressed that the soul upon leaving the body may vanish
away like smoke or air. Socrates in answer appeals first of all to the old
Orphic tradition that the souls of the dead are in the world below, and
that the living come from them. This he attempts to found on a
philosophical assumption that all opposites--e.g. less, greater; weaker,
stronger; sleeping, waking; life, death--are generated out of each other.
Nor can the process of generation be only a passage from living to dying,
for then all would end in death. The perpetual sleeper (Endymion) would be
no longer distinguished from the rest of mankind. The circle of nature is
not complete unless the living come from the dead as well as pass to them.
The Platonic doctrine of reminiscence is then adduced as a confirmation of
the pre-existence of the soul. Some proofs of this doctrine are demanded.
One proof given is the same as that of the Meno, and is derived from the
latent knowledge of mathematics, which may be elicited from an unlearned
person when a diagram is presented to him. Again, there is a power of
association, which from seeing Simmias may remember Cebes, or from seeing a
picture of Simmias may remember Simmias. The lyre may recall the player of
the lyre, and equal pieces of wood or stone may be associated with the
higher notion of absolute equality. But here observe that material
equalities fall short of the conception of absolute equality with which
they are compared, and which is the measure of them. And the measure or
standard must be prior to that which is measured, the idea of equality
prior to the visible equals. And if prior to them, then prior also to the
perceptions of the senses which recall them, and therefore either given
before birth or at birth. But all men have not this knowledge, nor have
any without a process of reminiscence; which is a proof that it is not
innate or given at birth, unless indeed it was given and taken away at the
same instant. But if not given to men in birth, it must have been given
before birth--this is the only alternative which remains. And if we had
ideas in a former state, then our souls must have existed and must have had
intelligence in a former state. The pre-existence of the soul stands or
falls with the doctrine of ideas.
It is objected by Simmias and Cebes that these arguments only prove a
former and not a future existence. Socrates answers this objection by
recalling the previous argument, in which he had shown that the living come
from the dead. But the fear that the soul at departing may vanish into air
(especially if there is a wind blowing at the time) has not yet been
charmed away. He proceeds: When we fear that the soul will vanish away,
let us ask ourselves what is that which we suppose to be liable to
dissolution? Is it the simple or the compound, the unchanging or the
changing, the invisible idea or the visible object of sense? Clearly the
latter and not the former; and therefore not the soul, which in her own
pure thought is unchangeable, and only when using the senses descends into
the region of change. Again, the soul commands, the body serves: in this
respect too the soul is akin to the divine, and the body to the mortal.
And in every point of view the soul is the image of divinity and
immortality, and the body of the human and mortal. And whereas the body is
liable to speedy dissolution, the soul is almost if not quite indissoluble.
(Compare Tim.) Yet even the body may be preserved for ages by the
embalmer's art: how unlikely, then, that the soul will perish and be
dissipated into air while on her way to the good and wise God! She has
been gathered into herself, holding aloof from the body, and practising
death all her life long, and she is now finally released from the errors
and follies and passions of men, and for ever dwells in the company of the
But the soul which is polluted and engrossed by the corporeal, and has no
eye except that of the senses, and is weighed down by the bodily appetites,
cannot attain to this abstraction. In her fear of the world below she
lingers about the sepulchre, loath to leave the body which she loved, a
ghostly apparition, saturated with sense, and therefore visible. At length
entering into some animal of a nature congenial to her former life of
sensuality or violence, she takes the form of an ass, a wolf or a kite.
And of these earthly souls the happiest are those who have practised virtue
without philosophy; they are allowed to pass into gentle and social
natures, such as bees and ants. (Compare Republic, Meno.) But only the
philosopher who departs pure is permitted to enter the company of the gods.
(Compare Phaedrus.) This is the reason why he abstains from fleshly lusts,
and not because he fears loss or disgrace, which is the motive of other
men. He too has been a captive, and the willing agent of his own
captivity. But philosophy has spoken to him, and he has heard her voice;
she has gently entreated him, and brought him out of the 'miry clay,' and
purged away the mists of passion and the illusions of sense which envelope
him; his soul has escaped from the influence of pleasures and pains, which
are like nails fastening her to the body. To that prison-house she will
not return; and therefore she abstains from bodily pleasures--not from a
desire of having more or greater ones, but because she knows that only when
calm and free from the dominion of the body can she behold the light of
Simmias and Cebes remain in doubt; but they are unwilling to raise
objections at such a time. Socrates wonders at their reluctance. Let them
regard him rather as the swan, who, having sung the praises of Apollo all
his life long, sings at his death more lustily than ever. Simmias
acknowledges that there is cowardice in not probing truth to the bottom.
'And if truth divine and inspired is not to be had, then let a man take the
best of human notions, and upon this frail bark let him sail through life.'
He proceeds to state his difficulty: It has been argued that the soul is
invisible and incorporeal, and therefore immortal, and prior to the body.
But is not the soul acknowledged to be a harmony, and has she not the same
relation to the body, as the harmony--which like her is invisible--has to
the lyre? And yet the harmony does not survive the lyre. Cebes has also
an objection, which like Simmias he expresses in a figure. He is willing
to admit that the soul is more lasting than the body. But the more lasting
nature of the soul does not prove her immortality; for after having worn
out many bodies in a single life, and many more in successive births and
deaths, she may at last perish, or, as Socrates afterwards restates the
objection, the very act of birth may be the beginning of her death, and her
last body may survive her, just as the coat of an old weaver is left behind
him after he is dead, although a man is more lasting than his coat. And he
who would prove the immortality of the soul, must prove not only that the
soul outlives one or many bodies, but that she outlives them all.
The audience, like the chorus in a play, for a moment interpret the
feelings of the actors; there is a temporary depression, and then the
enquiry is resumed. It is a melancholy reflection that arguments, like
men, are apt to be deceivers; and those who have been often deceived become
distrustful both of arguments and of friends. But this unfortunate
experience should not make us either haters of men or haters of arguments.
The want of health and truth is not in the argument, but in ourselves.
Socrates, who is about to die, is sensible of his own weakness; he desires
to be impartial, but he cannot help feeling that he has too great an
interest in the truth of the argument. And therefore he would have his
friends examine and refute him, if they think that he is in error.
At his request Simmias and Cebes repeat their objections. They do not go
to the length of denying the pre-existence of ideas. Simmias is of opinion
that the soul is a harmony of the body. But the admission of the pre-
existence of ideas, and therefore of the soul, is at variance with this.
(Compare a parallel difficulty in Theaet.) For a harmony is an effect,
whereas the soul is not an effect, but a cause; a harmony follows, but the
soul leads; a harmony admits of degrees, and the soul has no degrees.
Again, upon the supposition that the soul is a harmony, why is one soul
better than another? Are they more or less harmonized, or is there one
harmony within another? But the soul does not admit of degrees, and cannot
therefore be more or less harmonized. Further, the soul is often engaged
in resisting the affections of the body, as Homer describes Odysseus
'rebuking his heart.' Could he have written this under the idea that the
soul is a harmony of the body? Nay rather, are we not contradicting Homer
and ourselves in affirming anything of the sort?
The goddess Harmonia, as Socrates playfully terms the argument of Simmias,
has been happily disposed of; and now an answer has to be given to the
Theban Cadmus. Socrates recapitulates the argument of Cebes, which, as he
remarks, involves the whole question of natural growth or causation; about
this he proposes to narrate his own mental experience. When he was young
he had puzzled himself with physics: he had enquired into the growth and
decay of animals, and the origin of thought, until at last he began to
doubt the self-evident fact that growth is the result of eating and
drinking; and so he arrived at the conclusion that he was not meant for
such enquiries. Nor was he less perplexed with notions of comparison and
number. At first he had imagined himself to understand differences of
greater and less, and to know that ten is two more than eight, and the
like. But now those very notions appeared to him to contain a
contradiction. For how can one be divided into two? Or two be compounded
into one? These are difficulties which Socrates cannot answer. Of
generation and destruction he knows nothing. But he has a confused notion
of another method in which matters of this sort are to be investigated.
(Compare Republic; Charm.)
Then he heard some one reading out of a book of Anaxagoras, that mind is
the cause of all things. And he said to himself: If mind is the cause of
all things, surely mind must dispose them all for the best. The new
teacher will show me this 'order of the best' in man and nature. How great
had been his hopes and how great his disappointment! For he found that his
new friend was anything but consistent in his use of mind as a cause, and
that he soon introduced winds, waters, and other eccentric notions.
(Compare Arist. Metaph.) It was as if a person had said that Socrates is
sitting here because he is made up of bones and muscles, instead of telling
the true reason--that he is here because the Athenians have thought good to
sentence him to death, and he has thought good to await his sentence. Had
his bones and muscles been left by him to their own ideas of right, they
would long ago have taken themselves off. But surely there is a great
confusion of the cause and condition in all this. And this confusion also
leads people into all sorts of erroneous theories about the position and
motions of the earth. None of them know how much stronger than any Atlas
is the power of the best. But this 'best' is still undiscovered; and in
enquiring after the cause, we can only hope to attain the second best.
Now there is a danger in the contemplation of the nature of things, as
there is a danger in looking at the sun during an eclipse, unless the
precaution is taken of looking only at the image reflected in the water, or
in a glass. (Compare Laws; Republic.) 'I was afraid,' says Socrates,
'that I might injure the eye of the soul. I thought that I had better
return to the old and safe method of ideas. Though I do not mean to say
that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas sees only
through a glass darkly, any more than he who contemplates actual effects.'
If the existence of ideas is granted to him, Socrates is of opinion that he
will then have no difficulty in proving the immortality of the soul. He
will only ask for a further admission:--that beauty is the cause of the
beautiful, greatness the cause of the great, smallness of the small, and so
on of other things. This is a safe and simple answer, which escapes the
contradictions of greater and less (greater by reason of that which is
smaller!), of addition and subtraction, and the other difficulties of
relation. These subtleties he is for leaving to wiser heads than his own;
he prefers to test ideas by the consistency of their consequences, and, if
asked to give an account of them, goes back to some higher idea or
hypothesis which appears to him to be the best, until at last he arrives at
a resting-place. (Republic; Phil.)
The doctrine of ideas, which has long ago received the assent of the
Socratic circle, is now affirmed by the Phliasian auditor to command the
assent of any man of sense. The narrative is continued; Socrates is
desirous of explaining how opposite ideas may appear to co-exist but do not
really co-exist in the same thing or person. For example, Simmias may be
said to have greatness and also smallness, because he is greater than
Socrates and less than Phaedo. And yet Simmias is not really great and
also small, but only when compared to Phaedo and Socrates. I use the
illustration, says Socrates, because I want to show you not only that ideal
opposites exclude one another, but also the opposites in us. I, for
example, having the attribute of smallness remain small, and cannot become
great: the smallness which is in me drives out greatness.
One of the company here remarked that this was inconsistent with the old
assertion that opposites generated opposites. But that, replies Socrates,
was affirmed, not of opposite ideas either in us or in nature, but of
opposition in the concrete--not of life and death, but of individuals
living and dying. When this objection has been removed, Socrates proceeds:
This doctrine of the mutual exclusion of opposites is not only true of the
opposites themselves, but of things which are inseparable from them. For
example, cold and heat are opposed; and fire, which is inseparable from
heat, cannot co-exist with cold, or snow, which is inseparable from cold,
with heat. Again, the number three excludes the number four, because three
is an odd number and four is an even number, and the odd is opposed to the
even. Thus we are able to proceed a step beyond 'the safe and simple
answer.' We may say, not only that the odd excludes the even, but that the
number three, which participates in oddness, excludes the even. And in
like manner, not only does life exclude death, but the soul, of which life
is the inseparable attribute, also excludes death. And that of which life
is the inseparable attribute is by the force of the terms imperishable. If
the odd principle were imperishable, then the number three would not perish
but remove, on the approach of the even principle. But the immortal is
imperishable; and therefore the soul on the approach of death does not
perish but removes.
Thus all objections appear to be finally silenced. And now the application
has to be made: If the soul is immortal, 'what manner of persons ought we
to be?' having regard not only to time but to eternity. For death is not
the end of all, and the wicked is not released from his evil by death; but
every one carries with him into the world below that which he is or has
become, and that only.
For after death the soul is carried away to judgment, and when she has
received her punishment returns to earth in the course of ages. The wise
soul is conscious of her situation, and follows the attendant angel who
guides her through the windings of the world below; but the impure soul
wanders hither and thither without companion or guide, and is carried at
last to her own place, as the pure soul is also carried away to hers. 'In
order that you may understand this, I must first describe to you the nature
and conformation of the earth.'
Now the whole earth is a globe placed in the centre of the heavens, and is
maintained there by the perfection of balance. That which we call the
earth is only one of many small hollows, wherein collect the mists and
waters and the thick lower air; but the true earth is above, and is in a
finer and subtler element. And if, like birds, we could fly to the surface
of the air, in the same manner that fishes come to the top of the sea, then
we should behold the true earth and the true heaven and the true stars.
Our earth is everywhere corrupted and corroded; and even the land which is
fairer than the sea, for that is a mere chaos or waste of water and mud and
sand, has nothing to show in comparison of the other world. But the
heavenly earth is of divers colours, sparkling with jewels brighter than
gold and whiter than any snow, having flowers and fruits innumerable. And
the inhabitants dwell some on the shore of the sea of air, others in
'islets of the blest,' and they hold converse with the gods, and behold the
sun, moon and stars as they truly are, and their other blessedness is of a
piece with this.
The hollows on the surface of the globe vary in size and shape from that
which we inhabit: but all are connected by passages and perforations in
the interior of the earth. And there is one huge chasm or opening called
Tartarus, into which streams of fire and water and liquid mud are ever
flowing; of these small portions find their way to the surface and form
seas and rivers and volcanoes. There is a perpetual inhalation and
exhalation of the air rising and falling as the waters pass into the depths
of the earth and return again, in their course forming lakes and rivers,
but never descending below the centre of the earth; for on either side the
rivers flowing either way are stopped by a precipice. These rivers are
many and mighty, and there are four principal ones, Oceanus, Acheron,
Pyriphlegethon, and Cocytus. Oceanus is the river which encircles the
earth; Acheron takes an opposite direction, and after flowing under the
earth through desert places, at last reaches the Acherusian lake,--this is
the river at which the souls of the dead await their return to earth.
Pyriphlegethon is a stream of fire, which coils round the earth and flows
into the depths of Tartarus. The fourth river, Cocytus, is that which is
called by the poets the Stygian river, and passes into and forms the lake
Styx, from the waters of which it gains new and strange powers. This
river, too, falls into Tartarus.
The dead are first of all judged according to their deeds, and those who
are incurable are thrust into Tartarus, from which they never come out.
Those who have only committed venial sins are first purified of them, and
then rewarded for the good which they have done. Those who have committed
crimes, great indeed, but not unpardonable, are thrust into Tartarus, but
are cast forth at the end of a year by way of Pyriphlegethon or Cocytus,
and these carry them as far as the Acherusian lake, where they call upon
their victims to let them come out of the rivers into the lake. And if
they prevail, then they are let out and their sufferings cease: if not,
they are borne unceasingly into Tartarus and back again, until they at last
obtain mercy. The pure souls also receive their reward, and have their
abode in the upper earth, and a select few in still fairer 'mansions.'
Socrates is not prepared to insist on the literal accuracy of this
description, but he is confident that something of the kind is true. He
who has sought after the pleasures of knowledge and rejected the pleasures
of the body, has reason to be of good hope at the approach of death; whose
voice is already speaking to him, and who will one day be heard calling all
The hour has come at which he must drink the poison, and not much remains
to be done. How shall they bury him? That is a question which he refuses
to entertain, for they are burying, not him, but his dead body. His
friends had once been sureties that he would remain, and they shall now be
sureties that he has run away. Yet he would not die without the customary
ceremonies of washing and burial. Shall he make a libation of the poison?
In the spirit he will, but not in the letter. One request he utters in the
very act of death, which has been a puzzle to after ages. With a sort of
irony he remembers that a trifling religious duty is still unfulfilled,
just as above he desires before he departs to compose a few verses in order
to satisfy a scruple about a dream--unless, indeed, we suppose him to mean,
that he was now restored to health, and made the customary offering to
Asclepius in token of his recovery.
1. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul has sunk deep into the
heart of the human race; and men are apt to rebel against any examination
of the nature or grounds of their belief. They do not like to acknowledge
that this, as well as the other 'eternal ideas; of man, has a history in
time, which may be traced in Greek poetry or philosophy, and also in the
Hebrew Scriptures. They convert feeling into reasoning, and throw a
network of dialectics over that which is really a deeply-rooted instinct.
In the same temper which Socrates reproves in himself they are disposed to
think that even fallacies will do no harm, for they will die with them, and
while they live they will gain by the delusion. And when they consider the
numberless bad arguments which have been pressed into the service of
theology, they say, like the companions of Socrates, 'What argument can we
ever trust again?' But there is a better and higher spirit to be gathered
from the Phaedo, as well as from the other writings of Plato, which says
that first principles should be most constantly reviewed (Phaedo and
Crat.), and that the highest subjects demand of us the greatest accuracy
(Republic); also that we must not become misologists because arguments are
apt to be deceivers.
2. In former ages there was a customary rather than a reasoned belief in
the immortality of the soul. It was based on the authority of the Church,
on the necessity of such a belief to morality and the order of society, on
the evidence of an historical fact, and also on analogies and figures of
speech which filled up the void or gave an expression in words to a
cherished instinct. The mass of mankind went on their way busy with the
affairs of this life, hardly stopping to think about another. But in our
own day the question has been reopened, and it is doubtful whether the
belief which in the first ages of Christianity was the strongest motive of
action can survive the conflict with a scientific age in which the rules of
evidence are stricter and the mind has become more sensitive to criticism.
It has faded into the distance by a natural process as it was removed
further and further from the historical fact on which it has been supposed
to rest. Arguments derived from material things such as the seed and the
ear of corn or transitions in the life of animals from one state of being
to another (the chrysalis and the butterfly) are not 'in pari materia' with
arguments from the visible to the invisible, and are therefore felt to be
no longer applicable. The evidence to the historical fact seems to be
weaker than was once supposed: it is not consistent with itself, and is
based upon documents which are of unknown origin. The immortality of man
must be proved by other arguments than these if it is again to become a
living belief. We must ask ourselves afresh why we still maintain it, and
seek to discover a foundation for it in the nature of God and in the first
principles of morality.
3. At the outset of the discussion we may clear away a confusion. We
certainly do not mean by the immortality of the soul the immortality of
fame, which whether worth having or not can only be ascribed to a very
select class of the whole race of mankind, and even the interest in these
few is comparatively short-lived. To have been a benefactor to the world,
whether in a higher or a lower sphere of life and thought, is a great
thing: to have the reputation of being one, when men have passed out of
the sphere of earthly praise or blame, is hardly worthy of consideration.
The memory of a great man, so far from being immortal, is really limited to
his own generation:--so long as his friends or his disciples are alive, so
long as his books continue to be read, so long as his political or military
successes fill a page in the history of his country. The praises which are
bestowed upon him at his death hardly last longer than the flowers which
are strewed upon his coffin or the 'immortelles' which are laid upon his
tomb. Literature makes the most of its heroes, but the true man is well
aware that far from enjoying an immortality of fame, in a generation or
two, or even in a much shorter time, he will be forgotten and the world
will get on without him.
4. Modern philosophy is perplexed at this whole question, which is
sometimes fairly given up and handed over to the realm of faith. The
perplexity should not be forgotten by us when we attempt to submit the
Phaedo of Plato to the requirements of logic. For what idea can we form of
the soul when separated from the body? Or how can the soul be united with
the body and still be independent? Is the soul related to the body as the
ideal to the real, or as the whole to the parts, or as the subject to the
object, or as the cause to the effect, or as the end to the means? Shall
we say with Aristotle, that the soul is the entelechy or form of an
organized living body? or with Plato, that she has a life of her own? Is
the Pythagorean image of the harmony, or that of the monad, the truer
expression? Is the soul related to the body as sight to the eye, or as the
boatman to his boat? (Arist. de Anim.) And in another state of being is
the soul to be conceived of as vanishing into infinity, hardly possessing
an existence which she can call her own, as in the pantheistic system of
Spinoza: or as an individual informing another body and entering into new
relations, but retaining her own character? (Compare Gorgias.) Or is the
opposition of soul and body a mere illusion, and the true self neither soul
nor body, but the union of the two in the 'I' which is above them? And is
death the assertion of this individuality in the higher nature, and the
falling away into nothingness of the lower? Or are we vainly attempting to
pass the boundaries of human thought? The body and the soul seem to be
inseparable, not only in fact, but in our conceptions of them; and any
philosophy which too closely unites them, or too widely separates them,
either in this life or in another, disturbs the balance of human nature.
No thinker has perfectly adjusted them, or been entirely consistent with
himself in describing their relation to one another. Nor can we wonder
that Plato in the infancy of human thought should have confused mythology
and philosophy, or have mistaken verbal arguments for real ones.
5. Again, believing in the immortality of the soul, we must still ask the
question of Socrates, 'What is that which we suppose to be immortal?' Is
it the personal and individual element in us, or the spiritual and
universal? Is it the principle of knowledge or of goodness, or the union
of the two? Is it the mere force of life which is determined to be, or the
consciousness of self which cannot be got rid of, or the fire of genius
which refuses to be extinguished? Or is there a hidden being which is
allied to the Author of all existence, who is because he is perfect, and to
whom our ideas of perfection give us a title to belong? Whatever answer is
given by us to these questions, there still remains the necessity of
allowing the permanence of evil, if not for ever, at any rate for a time,
in order that the wicked 'may not have too good a bargain.' For the
annihilation of evil at death, or the eternal duration of it, seem to
involve equal difficulties in the moral government of the universe.
Sometimes we are led by our feelings, rather than by our reason, to think
of the good and wise only as existing in another life. Why should the
mean, the weak, the idiot, the infant, the herd of men who have never in
any proper sense the use of reason, reappear with blinking eyes in the
light of another world? But our second thought is that the hope of
humanity is a common one, and that all or none will be partakers of
immortality. Reason does not allow us to suppose that we have any greater
claims than others, and experience may often reveal to us unexpected
flashes of the higher nature in those whom we had despised. Why should the
wicked suffer any more than ourselves? had we been placed in their
circumstances should we have been any better than they? The worst of men
are objects of pity rather than of anger to the philanthropist; must they
not be equally such to divine benevolence? Even more than the good they
have need of another life; not that they may be punished, but that they may
be educated. These are a few of the reflections which arise in our minds
when we attempt to assign any form to our conceptions of a future state.
There are some other questions which are disturbing to us because we have
no answer to them. What is to become of the animals in a future state?
Have we not seen dogs more faithful and intelligent than men, and men who
are more stupid and brutal than any animals? Does their life cease at
death, or is there some 'better thing reserved' also for them? They may be
said to have a shadow or imitation of morality, and imperfect moral claims
upon the benevolence of man and upon the justice of God. We cannot think
of the least or lowest of them, the insect, the bird, the inhabitants of
the sea or the desert, as having any place in a future world, and if not
all, why should those who are specially attached to man be deemed worthy of
any exceptional privilege? When we reason about such a subject, almost at
once we degenerate into nonsense. It is a passing thought which has no
real hold on the mind. We may argue for the existence of animals in a
future state from the attributes of God, or from texts of Scripture ('Are
not two sparrows sold for one farthing?' etc.), but the truth is that we
are only filling up the void of another world with our own fancies. Again,
we often talk about the origin of evil, that great bugbear of theologians,
by which they frighten us into believing any superstition. What answer can
be made to the old commonplace, 'Is not God the author of evil, if he
knowingly permitted, but could have prevented it?' Even if we assume that
the inequalities of this life are rectified by some transposition of human
beings in another, still the existence of the very least evil if it could
have been avoided, seems to be at variance with the love and justice of
God. And so we arrive at the conclusion that we are carrying logic too
far, and that the attempt to frame the world according to a rule of divine
perfection is opposed to experience and had better be given up. The case
of the animals is our own. We must admit that the Divine Being, although
perfect himself, has placed us in a state of life in which we may work
together with him for good, but we are very far from having attained to it.
6. Again, ideas must be given through something; and we are always prone
to argue about the soul from analogies of outward things which may serve to
embody our thoughts, but are also partly delusive. For we cannot reason
from the natural to the spiritual, or from the outward to the inward. The
progress of physiological science, without bringing us nearer to the great
secret, has tended to remove some erroneous notions respecting the
relations of body and mind, and in this we have the advantage of the
ancients. But no one imagines that any seed of immortality is to be
discerned in our mortal frames. Most people have been content to rest
their belief in another life on the agreement of the more enlightened part
of mankind, and on the inseparable connection of such a doctrine with the
existence of a God--also in a less degree on the impossibility of doubting
about the continued existence of those whom we love and reverence in this
world. And after all has been said, the figure, the analogy, the argument,
are felt to be only approximations in different forms to an expression of
the common sentiment of the human heart. That we shall live again is far
more certain than that we shall take any particular form of life.
7. When we speak of the immortality of the soul, we must ask further what
we mean by the word immortality. For of the duration of a living being in
countless ages we can form no conception; far less than a three years' old
child of the whole of life. The naked eye might as well try to see the
furthest star in the infinity of heaven. Whether time and space really
exist when we take away the limits of them may be doubted; at any rate the
thought of them when unlimited us so overwhelming to us as to lose all
distinctness. Philosophers have spoken of them as forms of the human mind,
but what is the mind without them? As then infinite time, or an existence
out of time, which are the only possible explanations of eternal duration,
are equally inconceivable to us, let us substitute for them a hundred or a
thousand years after death, and ask not what will be our employment in
eternity, but what will happen to us in that definite portion of time; or
what is now happening to those who passed out of life a hundred or a
thousand years ago. Do we imagine that the wicked are suffering torments,
or that the good are singing the praises of God, during a period longer
than that of a whole life, or of ten lives of men? Is the suffering
physical or mental? And does the worship of God consist only of praise, or
of many forms of service? Who are the wicked, and who are the good, whom
we venture to divide by a hard and fast line; and in which of the two
classes should we place ourselves and our friends? May we not suspect that
we are making differences of kind, because we are unable to imagine
differences of degree?--putting the whole human race into heaven or hell
for the greater convenience of logical division? Are we not at the same
time describing them both in superlatives, only that we may satisfy the
demands of rhetoric? What is that pain which does not become deadened
after a thousand years? or what is the nature of that pleasure or happiness
which never wearies by monotony? Earthly pleasures and pains are short in
proportion as they are keen; of any others which are both intense and
lasting we have no experience, and can form no idea. The words or figures
of speech which we use are not consistent with themselves. For are we not
imagining Heaven under the similitude of a church, and Hell as a prison, or
perhaps a madhouse or chamber of horrors? And yet to beings constituted as
we are, the monotony of singing psalms would be as great an infliction as
the pains of hell, and might be even pleasantly interrupted by them. Where
are the actions worthy of rewards greater than those which are conferred on
the greatest benefactors of mankind? And where are the crimes which
according to Plato's merciful reckoning,--more merciful, at any rate, than
the eternal damnation of so-called Christian teachers,--for every ten years
in this life deserve a hundred of punishment in the life to come? We
should be ready to die of pity if we could see the least of the sufferings
which the writers of Infernos and Purgatorios have attributed to the
damned. Yet these joys and terrors seem hardly to exercise an appreciable
influence over the lives of men. The wicked man when old, is not, as Plato
supposes (Republic), more agitated by the terrors of another world when he
is nearer to them, nor the good in an ecstasy at the joys of which he is
soon to be the partaker. Age numbs the sense of both worlds; and the habit
of life is strongest in death. Even the dying mother is dreaming of her
lost children as they were forty or fifty years before, 'pattering over the
boards,' not of reunion with them in another state of being. Most persons
when the last hour comes are resigned to the order of nature and the will
of God. They are not thinking of Dante's Inferno or Paradiso, or of the
Pilgrim's Progress. Heaven and hell are not realities to them, but words
or ideas; the outward symbols of some great mystery, they hardly know what.
Many noble poems and pictures have been suggested by the traditional
representations of them, which have been fixed in forms of art and can no
longer be altered. Many sermons have been filled with descriptions of
celestial or infernal mansions. But hardly even in childhood did the
thought of heaven and hell supply the motives of our actions, or at any
time seriously affect the substance of our belief.
8. Another life must be described, if at all, in forms of thought and not
of sense. To draw pictures of heaven and hell, whether in the language of
Scripture or any other, adds nothing to our real knowledge, but may perhaps
disguise our ignorance. The truest conception which we can form of a
future life is a state of progress or education--a progress from evil to
good, from ignorance to knowledge. To this we are led by the analogy of
the present life, in which we see different races and nations of men, and
different men and women of the same nation, in various states or stages of
cultivation; some more and some less developed, and all of them capable of
improvement under favourable circumstances. There are punishments too of
children when they are growing up inflicted by their parents, of elder
offenders which are imposed by the law of the land, of all men at all times
of life, which are attached by the laws of nature to the performance of
certain actions. All these punishments are really educational; that is to
say, they are not intended to retaliate on the offender, but to teach him a
lesson. Also there is an element of chance in them, which is another name
for our ignorance of the laws of nature. There is evil too inseparable
from good (compare Lysis); not always punished here, as good is not always
rewarded. It is capable of being indefinitely diminished; and as knowledge
increases, the element of chance may more and more disappear.
For we do not argue merely from the analogy of the present state of this
world to another, but from the analogy of a probable future to which we are
tending. The greatest changes of which we have had experience as yet are
due to our increasing knowledge of history and of nature. They have been
produced by a few minds appearing in three or four favoured nations, in a
comparatively short period of time. May we be allowed to imagine the minds
of men everywhere working together during many ages for the completion of
our knowledge? May not the science of physiology transform the world?
Again, the majority of mankind have really experienced some moral
improvement; almost every one feels that he has tendencies to good, and is
capable of becoming better. And these germs of good are often found to be
developed by new circumstances, like stunted trees when transplanted to a
better soil. The differences between the savage and the civilized man, or
between the civilized man in old and new countries, may be indefinitely
increased. The first difference is the effect of a few thousand, the
second of a few hundred years. We congratulate ourselves that slavery has
become industry; that law and constitutional government have superseded
despotism and violence; that an ethical religion has taken the place of
Fetichism. There may yet come a time when the many may be as well off as
the few; when no one will be weighed down by excessive toil; when the
necessity of providing for the body will not interfere with mental
improvement; when the physical frame may be strengthened and developed; and
the religion of all men may become a reasonable service.
Nothing therefore, either in the present state of man or in the tendencies
of the future, as far as we can entertain conjecture of them, would lead us
to suppose that God governs us vindictively in this world, and therefore we
have no reason to infer that he will govern us vindictively in another.
The true argument from analogy is not, 'This life is a mixed state of
justice and injustice, of great waste, of sudden casualties, of
disproportionate punishments, and therefore the like inconsistencies,
irregularities, injustices are to be expected in another;' but 'This life
is subject to law, and is in a state of progress, and therefore law and
progress may be believed to be the governing principles of another.' All
the analogies of this world would be against unmeaning punishments
inflicted a hundred or a thousand years after an offence had been
committed. Suffering there might be as a part of education, but not
hopeless or protracted; as there might be a retrogression of individuals or
of bodies of men, yet not such as to interfere with a plan for the
improvement of the whole (compare Laws.)
9. But some one will say: That we cannot reason from the seen to the
unseen, and that we are creating another world after the image of this,
just as men in former ages have created gods in their own likeness. And
we, like the companions of Socrates, may feel discouraged at hearing our
favourite 'argument from analogy' thus summarily disposed of. Like
himself, too, we may adduce other arguments in which he seems to have
anticipated us, though he expresses them in different language. For we
feel that the soul partakes of the ideal and invisible; and can never fall
into the error of confusing the external circumstances of man with his
higher self; or his origin with his nature. It is as repugnant to us as it
was to him to imagine that our moral ideas are to be attributed only to
cerebral forces. The value of a human soul, like the value of a man's life
to himself, is inestimable, and cannot be reckoned in earthly or material
things. The human being alone has the consciousness of truth and justice
and love, which is the consciousness of God. And the soul becoming more
conscious of these, becomes more conscious of her own immortality.
10. The last ground of our belief in immortality, and the strongest, is
the perfection of the divine nature. The mere fact of the existence of God
does not tend to show the continued existence of man. An evil God or an
indifferent God might have had the power, but not the will, to preserve us.
He might have regarded us as fitted to minister to his service by a
succession of existences,--like the animals, without attributing to each
soul an incomparable value. But if he is perfect, he must will that all
rational beings should partake of that perfection which he himself is. In
the words of the Timaeus, he is good, and therefore he desires that all
other things should be as like himself as possible. And the manner in
which he accomplishes this is by permitting evil, or rather degrees of
good, which are otherwise called evil. For all progress is good relatively
to the past, and yet may be comparatively evil when regarded in the light
of the future. Good and evil are relative terms, and degrees of evil are
merely the negative aspect of degrees of good. Of the absolute goodness of
any finite nature we can form no conception; we are all of us in process of
transition from one degree of good or evil to another. The difficulties
which are urged about the origin or existence of evil are mere dialectical
puzzles, standing in the same relation to Christian philosophy as the
puzzles of the Cynics and Megarians to the philosophy of Plato. They arise
out of the tendency of the human mind to regard good and evil both as
relative and absolute; just as the riddles about motion are to be explained
by the double conception of space or matter, which the human mind has the
power of regarding either as continuous or discrete.
In speaking of divine perfection, we mean to say that God is just and true
and loving, the author of order and not of disorder, of good and not of
evil. Or rather, that he is justice, that he is truth, that he is love,
that he is order, that he is the very progress of which we were speaking;
and that wherever these qualities are present, whether in the human soul or
in the order of nature, there is God. We might still see him everywhere,
if we had not been mistakenly seeking for him apart from us, instead of in
us; away from the laws of nature, instead of in them. And we become united
to him not by mystical absorption, but by partaking, whether consciously or
unconsciously, of that truth and justice and love which he himself is.
Thus the belief in the immortality of the soul rests at last on the belief
in God. If there is a good and wise God, then there is a progress of
mankind towards perfection; and if there is no progress of men towards
perfection, then there is no good and wise God. We cannot suppose that the
moral government of God of which we see the beginnings in the world and in
ourselves will cease when we pass out of life.
11. Considering the 'feebleness of the human faculties and the uncertainty
of the subject,' we are inclined to believe that the fewer our words the
better. At the approach of death there is not much said; good men are too
honest to go out of the world professing more than they know. There is
perhaps no important subject about which, at any time, even religious
people speak so little to one another. In the fulness of life the thought
of death is mostly awakened by the sight or recollection of the death of
others rather than by the prospect of our own. We must also acknowledge
that there are degrees of the belief in immortality, and many forms in
which it presents itself to the mind. Some persons will say no more than
that they trust in God, and that they leave all to Him. It is a great part
of true religion not to pretend to know more than we do. Others when they
quit this world are comforted with the hope 'That they will see and know
their friends in heaven.' But it is better to leave them in the hands of
God and to be assured that 'no evil shall touch them.' There are others
again to whom the belief in a divine personality has ceased to have any
longer a meaning; yet they are satisfied that the end of all is not here,
but that something still remains to us, 'and some better thing for the good
than for the evil.' They are persuaded, in spite of their theological
nihilism, that the ideas of justice and truth and holiness and love are
realities. They cherish an enthusiastic devotion to the first principles
of morality. Through these they see, or seem to see, darkly, and in a
figure, that the soul is immortal.
But besides differences of theological opinion which must ever prevail
about things unseen, the hope of immortality is weaker or stronger in men
at one time of life than at another; it even varies from day to day. It
comes and goes; the mind, like the sky, is apt to be overclouded. Other
generations of men may have sometimes lived under an 'eclipse of faith,' to
us the total disappearance of it might be compared to the 'sun falling from
heaven.' And we may sometimes have to begin again and acquire the belief
for ourselves; or to win it back again when it is lost. It is really
weakest in the hour of death. For Nature, like a kind mother or nurse,
lays us to sleep without frightening us; physicians, who are the witnesses
of such scenes, say that under ordinary circumstances there is no fear of
the future. Often, as Plato tells us, death is accompanied 'with
pleasure.' (Tim.) When the end is still uncertain, the cry of many a one
has been, 'Pray, that I may be taken.' The last thoughts even of the best
men depend chiefly on the accidents of their bodily state. Pain soon
overpowers the desire of life; old age, like the child, is laid to sleep
almost in a moment. The long experience of life will often destroy the
interest which mankind have in it. So various are the feelings with which
different persons draw near to death; and still more various the forms in
which imagination clothes it. For this alternation of feeling compare the
Old Testament,--Psalm vi.; Isaiah; Eccles.
12. When we think of God and of man in his relation to God; of the
imperfection of our present state and yet of the progress which is
observable in the history of the world and of the human mind; of the depth
and power of our moral ideas which seem to partake of the very nature of
God Himself; when we consider the contrast between the physical laws to
which we are subject and the higher law which raises us above them and is
yet a part of them; when we reflect on our capacity of becoming the
'spectators of all time and all existence,' and of framing in our own minds
the ideal of a perfect Being; when we see how the human mind in all the
higher religions of the world, including Buddhism, notwithstanding some
aberrations, has tended towards such a belief--we have reason to think that
our destiny is different from that of animals; and though we cannot
altogether shut out the childish fear that the soul upon leaving the body
may 'vanish into thin air,' we have still, so far as the nature of the
subject admits, a hope of immortality with which we comfort ourselves on
sufficient grounds. The denial of the belief takes the heart out of human
life; it lowers men to the level of the material. As Goethe also says, 'He
is dead even in this world who has no belief in another.'
13. It is well also that we should sometimes think of the forms of thought
under which the idea of immortality is most naturally presented to us. It
is clear that to our minds the risen soul can no longer be described, as in
a picture, by the symbol of a creature half-bird, half-human, nor in any
other form of sense. The multitude of angels, as in Milton, singing the
Almighty 's praises, are a noble image, and may furnish a theme for the
poet or the painter, but they are no longer an adequate expression of the
kingdom of God which is within us. Neither is there any mansion, in this
world or another, in which the departed can be imagined to dwell and carry
on their occupations. When this earthly tabernacle is dissolved, no other
habitation or building can take them in: it is in the language of ideas
only that we speak of them.
First of all there is the thought of rest and freedom from pain; they have
gone home, as the common saying is, and the cares of this world touch them
no more. Secondly, we may imagine them as they were at their best and
brightest, humbly fulfilling their daily round of duties--selfless,
childlike, unaffected by the world; when the eye was single and the whole
body seemed to be full of light; when the mind was clear and saw into the
purposes of God. Thirdly, we may think of them as possessed by a great
love of God and man, working out His will at a further stage in the
heavenly pilgrimage. And yet we acknowledge that these are the things
which eye hath not seen nor ear heard and therefore it hath not entered
into the heart of man in any sensible manner to conceive them. Fourthly,
there may have been some moments in our own lives when we have risen above
ourselves, or been conscious of our truer selves, in which the will of God
has superseded our wills, and we have entered into communion with Him, and
been partakers for a brief season of the Divine truth and love, in which
like Christ we have been inspired to utter the prayer, 'I in them, and thou
in me, that we may be all made perfect in one.' These precious moments, if
we have ever known them, are the nearest approach which we can make to the
idea of immortality.
14. Returning now to the earlier stage of human thought which is
represented by the writings of Plato, we find that many of the same
questions have already arisen: there is the same tendency to materialism;
the same inconsistency in the application of the idea of mind; the same
doubt whether the soul is to be regarded as a cause or as an effect; the
same falling back on moral convictions. In the Phaedo the soul is
conscious of her divine nature, and the separation from the body which has
been commenced in this life is perfected in another. Beginning in mystery,
Socrates, in the intermediate part of the Dialogue, attempts to bring the
doctrine of a future life into connection with his theory of knowledge. In
proportion as he succeeds in this, the individual seems to disappear in a
more general notion of the soul; the contemplation of ideas 'under the form
of eternity' takes the place of past and future states of existence. His
language may be compared to that of some modern philosophers, who speak of
eternity, not in the sense of perpetual duration of time, but as an ever-
present quality of the soul. Yet at the conclusion of the Dialogue, having
'arrived at the end of the intellectual world' (Republic), he replaces the
veil of mythology, and describes the soul and her attendant genius in the
language of the mysteries or of a disciple of Zoroaster. Nor can we fairly
demand of Plato a consistency which is wanting among ourselves, who
acknowledge that another world is beyond the range of human thought, and
yet are always seeking to represent the mansions of heaven or hell in the
colours of the painter, or in the descriptions of the poet or rhetorician.
15. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul was not new to the Greeks
in the age of Socrates, but, like the unity of God, had a foundation in the
popular belief. The old Homeric notion of a gibbering ghost flitting away
to Hades; or of a few illustrious heroes enjoying the isles of the blest;
or of an existence divided between the two; or the Hesiodic, of righteous
spirits, who become guardian angels,--had given place in the mysteries and
the Orphic poets to representations, partly fanciful, of a future state of
rewards and punishments. (Laws.) The reticence of the Greeks on public
occasions and in some part of their literature respecting this
'underground' religion, is not to be taken as a measure of the diffusion of
such beliefs. If Pericles in the funeral oration is silent on the
consolations of immortality, the poet Pindar and the tragedians on the
other hand constantly assume the continued existence of the dead in an
upper or under world. Darius and Laius are still alive; Antigone will be
dear to her brethren after death; the way to the palace of Cronos is found
by those who 'have thrice departed from evil.' The tragedy of the Greeks
is not 'rounded' by this life, but is deeply set in decrees of fate and
mysterious workings of powers beneath the earth. In the caricature of
Aristophanes there is also a witness to the common sentiment. The Ionian
and Pythagorean philosophies arose, and some new elements were added to the
popular belief. The individual must find an expression as well as the
world. Either the soul was supposed to exist in the form of a magnet, or
of a particle of fire, or of light, or air, or water; or of a number or of
a harmony of number; or to be or have, like the stars, a principle of
motion (Arist. de Anim.). At length Anaxagoras, hardly distinguishing
between life and mind, or between mind human and divine, attained the pure
abstraction; and this, like the other abstractions of Greek philosophy,
sank deep into the human intelligence. The opposition of the intelligible
and the sensible, and of God to the world, supplied an analogy which
assisted in the separation of soul and body. If ideas were separable from
phenomena, mind was also separable from matter; if the ideas were eternal,
the mind that conceived them was eternal too. As the unity of God was more
distinctly acknowledged, the conception of the human soul became more
developed. The succession, or alternation of life and death, had occurred
to Heracleitus. The Eleatic Parmenides had stumbled upon the modern
thesis, that 'thought and being are the same.' The Eastern belief in
transmigration defined the sense of individuality; and some, like
Empedocles, fancied that the blood which they had shed in another state of
being was crying against them, and that for thirty thousand years they were
to be 'fugitives and vagabonds upon the earth.' The desire of recognizing
a lost mother or love or friend in the world below (Phaedo) was a natural
feeling which, in that age as well as in every other, has given
distinctness to the hope of immortality. Nor were ethical considerations
wanting, partly derived from the necessity of punishing the greater sort of
criminals, whom no avenging power of this world could reach. The voice of
conscience, too, was heard reminding the good man that he was not
altogether innocent. (Republic.) To these indistinct longings and fears
an expression was given in the mysteries and Orphic poets: a 'heap of
books' (Republic), passing under the names of Musaeus and Orpheus in
Plato's time, were filled with notions of an under-world.
16. Yet after all the belief in the individuality of the soul after death
had but a feeble hold on the Greek mind. Like the personality of God, the
personality of man in a future state was not inseparably bound up with the
reality of his existence. For the distinction between the personal and
impersonal, and also between the divine and human, was far less marked to
the Greek than to ourselves. And as Plato readily passes from the notion
of the good to that of God, he also passes almost imperceptibly to himself
and his reader from the future life of the individual soul to the eternal
being of the absolute soul. There has been a clearer statement and a
clearer denial of the belief in modern times than is found in early Greek
philosophy, and hence the comparative silence on the whole subject which is
often remarked in ancient writers, and particularly in Aristotle. For
Plato and Aristotle are not further removed in their teaching about the
immortality of the soul than they are in their theory of knowledge.
17. Living in an age when logic was beginning to mould human thought,
Plato naturally cast his belief in immortality into a logical form. And
when we consider how much the doctrine of ideas was also one of words, it
is not surprising that he should have fallen into verbal fallacies: early
logic is always mistaking the truth of the form for the truth of the
matter. It is easy to see that the alternation of opposites is not the
same as the generation of them out of each other; and that the generation
of them out of each other, which is the first argument in the Phaedo, is at
variance with their mutual exclusion of each other, whether in themselves
or in us, which is the last. For even if we admit the distinction which he
draws between the opposites and the things which have the opposites, still
individuals fall under the latter class; and we have to pass out of the
region of human hopes and fears to a conception of an abstract soul which
is the impersonation of the ideas. Such a conception, which in Plato
himself is but half expressed, is unmeaning to us, and relative only to a
particular stage in the history of thought. The doctrine of reminiscence
is also a fragment of a former world, which has no place in the philosophy
of modern times. But Plato had the wonders of psychology just opening to
him, and he had not the explanation of them which is supplied by the
analysis of language and the history of the human mind. The question,
'Whence come our abstract ideas?' he could only answer by an imaginary
hypothesis. Nor is it difficult to see that his crowning argument is
purely verbal, and is but the expression of an instinctive confidence put
into a logical form:--'The soul is immortal because it contains a principle
of imperishableness.' Nor does he himself seem at all to be aware that
nothing is added to human knowledge by his 'safe and simple answer,' that
beauty is the cause of the beautiful; and that he is merely reasserting the
Eleatic being 'divided by the Pythagorean numbers,' against the
Heracleitean doctrine of perpetual generation. The answer to the 'very
serious question' of generation and destruction is really the denial of
them. For this he would substitute, as in the Republic, a system of ideas,
tested, not by experience, but by their consequences, and not explained by
actual causes, but by a higher, that is, a more general notion.
Consistency with themselves is the only test which is to be applied to
them. (Republic, and Phaedo.)
18. To deal fairly with such arguments, they should be translated as far
as possible into their modern equivalents. 'If the ideas of men are
eternal, their souls are eternal, and if not the ideas, then not the
souls.' Such an argument stands nearly in the same relation to Plato and
his age, as the argument from the existence of God to immortality among
ourselves. 'If God exists, then the soul exists after death; and if there
is no God, there is no existence of the soul after death.' For the ideas
are to his mind the reality, the truth, the principle of permanence, as
well as of intelligence and order in the world. When Simmias and Cebes say
that they are more strongly persuaded of the existence of ideas than they
are of the immortality of the soul, they represent fairly enough the order
of thought in Greek philosophy. And we might say in the same way that we
are more certain of the existence of God than we are of the immortality of
the soul, and are led by the belief in the one to a belief in the other.
The parallel, as Socrates would say, is not perfect, but agrees in as far
as the mind in either case is regarded as dependent on something above and
beyond herself. The analogy may even be pressed a step further: 'We are
more certain of our ideas of truth and right than we are of the existence
of God, and are led on in the order of thought from one to the other.' Or
more correctly: 'The existence of right and truth is the existence of God,
and can never for a moment be separated from Him.'
19. The main argument of the Phaedo is derived from the existence of
eternal ideas of which the soul is a partaker; the other argument of the
alternation of opposites is replaced by this. And there have not been
wanting philosophers of the idealist school who have imagined that the
doctrine of the immortality of the soul is a theory of knowledge, and that
in what has preceded Plato is accommodating himself to the popular belief.
Such a view can only be elicited from the Phaedo by what may be termed the
transcendental method of interpretation, and is obviously inconsistent with
the Gorgias and the Republic. Those who maintain it are immediately
compelled to renounce the shadow which they have grasped, as a play of
words only. But the truth is, that Plato in his argument for the
immortality of the soul has collected many elements of proof or persuasion,
ethical and mythological as well as dialectical, which are not easily to be
reconciled with one another; and he is as much in earnest about his
doctrine of retribution, which is repeated in all his more ethical
writings, as about his theory of knowledge. And while we may fairly
translate the dialectical into the language of Hegel, and the religious and
mythological into the language of Dante or Bunyan, the ethical speaks to us
still in the same voice, and appeals to a common feeling.
20. Two arguments of this ethical character occur in the Phaedo. The
first may be described as the aspiration of the soul after another state of
being. Like the Oriental or Christian mystic, the philosopher is seeking
to withdraw from impurities of sense, to leave the world and the things of
the world, and to find his higher self. Plato recognizes in these
aspirations the foretaste of immortality; as Butler and Addison in modern
times have argued, the one from the moral tendencies of mankind, the other
from the progress of the soul towards perfection. In using this argument
Plato has certainly confused the soul which has left the body, with the
soul of the good and wise. (Compare Republic.) Such a confusion was
natural, and arose partly out of the antithesis of soul and body. The soul
in her own essence, and the soul 'clothed upon' with virtues and graces,
were easily interchanged with one another, because on a subject which
passes expression the distinctions of language can hardly be maintained.
21. The ethical proof of the immortality of the soul is derived from the
necessity of retribution. The wicked would be too well off if their evil
deeds came to an end. It is not to be supposed that an Ardiaeus, an
Archelaus, an Ismenias could ever have suffered the penalty of their crimes
in this world. The manner in which this retribution is accomplished Plato
represents under the figures of mythology. Doubtless he felt that it was
easier to improve than to invent, and that in religion especially the
traditional form was required in order to give verisimilitude to the myth.
The myth too is far more probable to that age than to ours, and may fairly
be regarded as 'one guess among many' about the nature of the earth, which
he cleverly supports by the indications of geology. Not that he insists on
the absolute truth of his own particular notions: 'no man of sense will be
confident in such matters; but he will be confident that something of the
kind is true.' As in other passages (Gorg., Tim., compare Crito), he wins
belief for his fictions by the moderation of his statements; he does not,
like Dante or Swedenborg, allow himself to be deceived by his own
The Dialogue must be read in the light of the situation. And first of all
we are struck by the calmness of the scene. Like the spectators at the
time, we cannot pity Socrates; his mien and his language are so noble and
fearless. He is the same that he ever was, but milder and gentler, and he
has in no degree lost his interest in dialectics; he will not forego the
delight of an argument in compliance with the jailer's intimation that he
should not heat himself with talking. At such a time he naturally
expresses the hope of his life, that he has been a true mystic and not a
mere retainer or wand-bearer: and he refers to passages of his personal
history. To his old enemies the Comic poets, and to the proceedings on the
trial, he alludes playfully; but he vividly remembers the disappointment
which he felt in reading the books of Anaxagoras. The return of Xanthippe
and his children indicates that the philosopher is not 'made of oak or
rock.' Some other traits of his character may be noted; for example, the
courteous manner in which he inclines his head to the last objector, or the
ironical touch, 'Me already, as the tragic poet would say, the voice of
fate calls;' or the depreciation of the arguments with which 'he comforted
himself and them;' or his fear of 'misology;' or his references to Homer;
or the playful smile with which he 'talks like a book' about greater and
less; or the allusion to the possibility of finding another teacher among
barbarous races (compare Polit.); or the mysterious reference to another
science (mathematics?) of generation and destruction for which he is vainly
feeling. There is no change in him; only now he is invested with a sort of
sacred character, as the prophet or priest of Apollo the God of the
festival, in whose honour he first of all composes a hymn, and then like
the swan pours forth his dying lay. Perhaps the extreme elevation of
Socrates above his own situation, and the ordinary interests of life
(compare his jeu d'esprit about his burial, in which for a moment he puts
on the 'Silenus mask'), create in the mind of the reader an impression
stronger than could be derived from arguments that such a one has in him 'a
principle which does not admit of death.'
The other persons of the Dialogue may be considered under two heads: (1)
private friends; (2) the respondents in the argument.
First there is Crito, who has been already introduced to us in the
Euthydemus and the Crito; he is the equal in years of Socrates, and stands
in quite a different relation to him from his younger disciples. He is a
man of the world who is rich and prosperous (compare the jest in the
Euthydemus), the best friend of Socrates, who wants to know his commands,
in whose presence he talks to his family, and who performs the last duty of
closing his eyes. It is observable too that, as in the Euthydemus, Crito
shows no aptitude for philosophical discussions. Nor among the friends of
Socrates must the jailer be forgotten, who seems to have been introduced by
Plato in order to show the impression made by the extraordinary man on the
common. The gentle nature of the man is indicated by his weeping at the
announcement of his errand and then turning away, and also by the words of
Socrates to his disciples: 'How charming the man is! since I have been in
prison he has been always coming to me, and is as good as could be to me.'
We are reminded too that he has retained this gentle nature amid scenes of
death and violence by the contrasts which he draws between the behaviour of
Socrates and of others when about to die.
Another person who takes no part in the philosophical discussion is the
excitable Apollodorus, the same who, in the Symposium, of which he is the
narrator, is called 'the madman,' and who testifies his grief by the most
violent emotions. Phaedo is also present, the 'beloved disciple' as he may
be termed, who is described, if not 'leaning on his bosom,' as seated next
to Socrates, who is playing with his hair. He too, like Apollodorus, takes
no part in the discussion, but he loves above all things to hear and speak
of Socrates after his death. The calmness of his behaviour, veiling his
face when he can no longer restrain his tears, contrasts with the
passionate outcries of the other. At a particular point the argument is
described as falling before the attack of Simmias. A sort of despair is
introduced in the minds of the company. The effect of this is heightened
by the description of Phaedo, who has been the eye-witness of the scene,
and by the sympathy of his Phliasian auditors who are beginning to think
'that they too can never trust an argument again.' And the intense
interest of the company is communicated not only to the first auditors, but
to us who in a distant country read the narrative of their emotions after
more than two thousand years have passed away.
The two principal interlocutors are Simmias and Cebes, the disciples of
Philolaus the Pythagorean philosopher of Thebes. Simmias is described in
the Phaedrus as fonder of an argument than any man living; and Cebes,
although finally persuaded by Socrates, is said to be the most incredulous
of human beings. It is Cebes who at the commencement of the Dialogue asks
why 'suicide is held to be unlawful,' and who first supplies the doctrine
of recollection in confirmation of the pre-existence of the soul. It is
Cebes who urges that the pre-existence does not necessarily involve the
future existence of the soul, as is shown by the illustration of the weaver
and his coat. Simmias, on the other hand, raises the question about
harmony and the lyre, which is naturally put into the mouth of a
Pythagorean disciple. It is Simmias, too, who first remarks on the
uncertainty of human knowledge, and only at last concedes to the argument
such a qualified approval as is consistent with the feebleness of the human
faculties. Cebes is the deeper and more consecutive thinker, Simmias more
superficial and rhetorical; they are distinguished in much the same manner
as Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Republic.
Other persons, Menexenus, Ctesippus, Lysis, are old friends; Evenus has
been already satirized in the Apology; Aeschines and Epigenes were present
at the trial; Euclid and Terpsion will reappear in the Introduction to the
Theaetetus, Hermogenes has already appeared in the Cratylus. No inference
can fairly be drawn from the absence of Aristippus, nor from the omission
of Xenophon, who at the time of Socrates' death was in Asia. The mention
of Plato's own absence seems like an expression of sorrow, and may,
perhaps, be an indication that the report of the conversation is not to be
The place of the Dialogue in the series is doubtful. The doctrine of ideas
is certainly carried beyond the Socratic point of view; in no other of the
writings of Plato is the theory of them so completely developed. Whether
the belief in immortality can be attributed to Socrates or not is
uncertain; the silence of the Memorabilia, and of the earlier Dialogues of
Plato, is an argument to the contrary. Yet in the Cyropaedia Xenophon has
put language into the mouth of the dying Cyrus which recalls the Phaedo,
and may have been derived from the teaching of Socrates. It may be fairly
urged that the greatest religious interest of mankind could not have been
wholly ignored by one who passed his life in fulfilling the commands of an
oracle, and who recognized a Divine plan in man and nature. (Xen. Mem.)
And the language of the Apology and of the Crito confirms this view.
The Phaedo is not one of the Socratic Dialogues of Plato; nor, on the other
hand, can it be assigned to that later stage of the Platonic writings at
which the doctrine of ideas appears to be forgotten. It belongs rather to
the intermediate period of the Platonic philosophy, which roughly
corresponds to the Phaedrus, Gorgias, Republic, Theaetetus. Without
pretending to determine the real time of their composition, the Symposium,
Meno, Euthyphro, Apology, Phaedo may be conveniently read by us in this
order as illustrative of the life of Socrates. Another chain may be formed
of the Meno, Phaedrus, Phaedo, in which the immortality of the soul is
connected with the doctrine of ideas. In the Meno the theory of ideas is
based on the ancient belief in transmigration, which reappears again in the
Phaedrus as well as in the Republic and Timaeus, and in all of them is
connected with a doctrine of retribution. In the Phaedrus the immortality
of the soul is supposed to rest on the conception of the soul as a
principle of motion, whereas in the Republic the argument turns on the
natural continuance of the soul, which, if not destroyed by her own proper
evil, can hardly be destroyed by any other. The soul of man in the Timaeus
is derived from the Supreme Creator, and either returns after death to her
kindred star, or descends into the lower life of an animal. The Apology
expresses the same view as the Phaedo, but with less confidence; there the
probability of death being a long sleep is not excluded. The Theaetetus
also describes, in a digression, the desire of the soul to fly away and be
with God--'and to fly to him is to be like him.' The Symposium may be
observed to resemble as well as to differ from the Phaedo. While the first
notion of immortality is only in the way of natural procreation or of
posthumous fame and glory, the higher revelation of beauty, like the good
in the Republic, is the vision of the eternal idea. So deeply rooted in
Plato's mind is the belief in immortality; so various are the forms of
expression which he employs.
As in several other Dialogues, there is more of system in the Phaedo than
appears at first sight. The succession of arguments is based on previous
philosophies; beginning with the mysteries and the Heracleitean alternation
of opposites, and proceeding to the Pythagorean harmony and transmigration;
making a step by the aid of Platonic reminiscence, and a further step by
the help of the nous of Anaxagoras; until at last we rest in the conviction
that the soul is inseparable from the ideas, and belongs to the world of
the invisible and unknown. Then, as in the Gorgias or Republic, the
curtain falls, and the veil of mythology descends upon the argument. After
the confession of Socrates that he is an interested party, and the
acknowledgment that no man of sense will think the details of his narrative
true, but that something of the kind is true, we return from speculation to
practice. He is himself more confident of immortality than he is of his
own arguments; and the confidence which he expresses is less strong than
that which his cheerfulness and composure in death inspire in us.
Difficulties of two kinds occur in the Phaedo--one kind to be explained out
of contemporary philosophy, the other not admitting of an entire solution.
(1) The difficulty which Socrates says that he experienced in explaining
generation and corruption; the assumption of hypotheses which proceed from
the less general to the more general, and are tested by their consequences;
the puzzle about greater and less; the resort to the method of ideas, which
to us appear only abstract terms,--these are to be explained out of the
position of Socrates and Plato in the history of philosophy. They were
living in a twilight between the sensible and the intellectual world, and
saw no way of connecting them. They could neither explain the relation of
ideas to phenomena, nor their correlation to one another. The very idea of
relation or comparison was embarrassing to them. Yet in this intellectual
uncertainty they had a conception of a proof from results, and of a moral
truth, which remained unshaken amid the questionings of philosophy. (2)
The other is a difficulty which is touched upon in the Republic as well as
in the Phaedo, and is common to modern and ancient philosophy. Plato is
not altogether satisfied with his safe and simple method of ideas. He
wants to have proved to him by facts that all things are for the best, and
that there is one mind or design which pervades them all. But this 'power
of the best' he is unable to explain; and therefore takes refuge in
universal ideas. And are not we at this day seeking to discover that which
Socrates in a glass darkly foresaw?
Some resemblances to the Greek drama may be noted in all the Dialogues of
Plato. The Phaedo is the tragedy of which Socrates is the protagonist and
Simmias and Cebes the secondary performers, standing to them in the same
relation as to Glaucon and Adeimantus in the Republic. No Dialogue has a
greater unity of subject and feeling. Plato has certainly fulfilled the
condition of Greek, or rather of all art, which requires that scenes of
death and suffering should be clothed in beauty. The gathering of the
friends at the commencement of the Dialogue, the dismissal of Xanthippe,
whose presence would have been out of place at a philosophical discussion,
but who returns again with her children to take a final farewell, the
dejection of the audience at the temporary overthrow of the argument, the
picture of Socrates playing with the hair of Phaedo, the final scene in
which Socrates alone retains his composure--are masterpieces of art. And
the chorus at the end might have interpreted the feeling of the play:
'There can no evil happen to a good man in life or death.'
'The art of concealing art' is nowhere more perfect than in those writings
of Plato which describe the trial and death of Socrates. Their charm is
their simplicity, which gives them verisimilitude; and yet they touch, as
if incidentally, and because they were suitable to the occasion, on some of
the deepest truths of philosophy. There is nothing in any tragedy, ancient
or modern, nothing in poetry or history (with one exception), like the last
hours of Socrates in Plato. The master could not be more fitly occupied at
such a time than in discoursing of immortality; nor the disciples more
divinely consoled. The arguments, taken in the spirit and not in the
letter, are our arguments; and Socrates by anticipation may be even thought
to refute some 'eccentric notions; current in our own age. For there are
philosophers among ourselves who do not seem to understand how much
stronger is the power of intelligence, or of the best, than of Atlas, or
mechanical force. How far the words attributed to Socrates were actually
uttered by him we forbear to ask; for no answer can be given to this
question. And it is better to resign ourselves to the feeling of a great
work, than to linger among critical uncertainties.
Translated by Benjamin Jowett.
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
Phaedo, who is the narrator of the dialogue to Echecrates of Phlius.
Socrates, Apollodorus, Simmias, Cebes, Crito and an Attendant of the
SCENE: The Prison of Socrates.
PLACE OF THE NARRATION: Phlius.
ECHECRATES: Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the
day when he drank the poison?
PHAEDO: Yes, Echecrates, I was.
ECHECRATES: I should so like to hear about his death. What did he say in
his last hours? We were informed that he died by taking poison, but no one
knew anything more; for no Phliasian ever goes to Athens now, and it is a
long time since any stranger from Athens has found his way hither; so that
we had no clear account.
PHAEDO: Did you not hear of the proceedings at the trial?
ECHECRATES: Yes; some one told us about the trial, and we could not
understand why, having been condemned, he should have been put to death,
not at the time, but long afterwards. What was the reason of this?
PHAEDO: An accident, Echecrates: the stern of the ship which the
Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned on the day before he
ECHECRATES: What is this ship?
PHAEDO: It is the ship in which, according to Athenian tradition, Theseus
went to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the
saviour of them and of himself. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo
at the time, that if they were saved they would send a yearly mission to
Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of the voyage
to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo crowns the stern of
the ship, is a holy season, during which the city is not allowed to be
polluted by public executions; and when the vessel is detained by contrary
winds, the time spent in going and returning is very considerable. As I
was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the trial, and this was
the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was not put to death until long
after he was condemned.
ECHECRATES: What was the manner of his death, Phaedo? What was said or
done? And which of his friends were with him? Or did the authorities
forbid them to be present--so that he had no friends near him when he died?
PHAEDO: No; there were several of them with him.
ECHECRATES: If you have nothing to do, I wish that you would tell me what
passed, as exactly as you can.
PHAEDO: I have nothing at all to do, and will try to gratify your wish.
To be reminded of Socrates is always the greatest delight to me, whether I
speak myself or hear another speak of him.
ECHECRATES: You will have listeners who are of the same mind with you, and
I hope that you will be as exact as you can.
PHAEDO: I had a singular feeling at being in his company. For I could
hardly believe that I was present at the death of a friend, and therefore I
did not pity him, Echecrates; he died so fearlessly, and his words and
bearing were so noble and gracious, that to me he appeared blessed. I
thought that in going to the other world he could not be without a divine
call, and that he would be happy, if any man ever was, when he arrived
there, and therefore I did not pity him as might have seemed natural at
such an hour. But I had not the pleasure which I usually feel in
philosophical discourse (for philosophy was the theme of which we spoke).
I was pleased, but in the pleasure there was also a strange admixture of
pain; for I reflected that he was soon to die, and this double feeling was
shared by us all; we were laughing and weeping by turns, especially the
excitable Apollodorus--you know the sort of man?
PHAEDO: He was quite beside himself; and I and all of us were greatly
ECHECRATES: Who were present?
PHAEDO: Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus, Critobulus
and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, Antisthenes;
likewise Ctesippus of the deme of Paeania, Menexenus, and some others;
Plato, if I am not mistaken, was ill.
ECHECRATES: Were there any strangers?
PHAEDO: Yes, there were; Simmias the Theban, and Cebes, and Phaedondes;
Euclid and Terpison, who came from Megara.
ECHECRATES: And was Aristippus there, and Cleombrotus?
PHAEDO: No, they were said to be in Aegina.
ECHECRATES: Any one else?
PHAEDO: I think that these were nearly all.
ECHECRATES: Well, and what did you talk about?
PHAEDO: I will begin at the beginning, and endeavour to repeat the entire
conversation. On the previous days we had been in the habit of assembling
early in the morning at the court in which the trial took place, and which
is not far from the prison. There we used to wait talking with one another
until the opening of the doors (for they were not opened very early); then
we went in and generally passed the day with Socrates. On the last morning
we assembled sooner than usual, having heard on the day before when we
quitted the prison in the evening that the sacred ship had come from Delos,
and so we arranged to meet very early at the accustomed place. On our
arrival the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out
and told us to stay until he called us. 'For the Eleven,' he said, 'are
now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving orders that
he is to die to-day.' He soon returned and said that we might come in. On
entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom
you know, sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw
us she uttered a cry and said, as women will: 'O Socrates, this is the
last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with
you.' Socrates turned to Crito and said: 'Crito, let some one take her
home.' Some of Crito's people accordingly led her away, crying out and
beating herself. And when she was gone, Socrates, sitting up on the couch,
bent and rubbed his leg, saying, as he was rubbing: How singular is the
thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be
thought to be the opposite of it; for they are never present to a man at
the same instant, and yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to
take the other; their bodies are two, but they are joined by a single head.
And I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had remembered them, he would have
made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and how, when he
could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the reason why
when one comes the other follows, as I know by my own experience now, when
after the pain in my leg which was caused by the chain pleasure appears to
Upon this Cebes said: I am glad, Socrates, that you have mentioned the
name of Aesop. For it reminds me of a question which has been asked by
many, and was asked of me only the day before yesterday by Evenus the poet
--he will be sure to ask it again, and therefore if you would like me to
have an answer ready for him, you may as well tell me what I should say to
him:--he wanted to know why you, who never before wrote a line of poetry,
now that you are in prison are turning Aesop's fables into verse, and also
composing that hymn in honour of Apollo.
Tell him, Cebes, he replied, what is the truth--that I had no idea of
rivalling him or his poems; to do so, as I knew, would be no easy task.
But I wanted to see whether I could purge away a scruple which I felt about
the meaning of certain dreams. In the course of my life I have often had
intimations in dreams 'that I should compose music.' The same dream came
to me sometimes in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying
the same or nearly the same words: 'Cultivate and make music,' said the
dream. And hitherto I had imagined that this was only intended to exhort
and encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has been the pursuit of
my life, and is the noblest and best of music. The dream was bidding me do
what I was already doing, in the same way that the competitor in a race is
bidden by the spectators to run when he is already running. But I was not
certain of this, for the dream might have meant music in the popular sense
of the word, and being under sentence of death, and the festival giving me
a respite, I thought that it would be safer for me to satisfy the scruple,
and, in obedience to the dream, to compose a few verses before I departed.
And first I made a hymn in honour of the god of the festival, and then
considering that a poet, if he is really to be a poet, should not only put
together words, but should invent stories, and that I have no invention, I
took some fables of Aesop, which I had ready at hand and which I knew--they
were the first I came upon--and turned them into verse. Tell this to
Evenus, Cebes, and bid him be of good cheer; say that I would have him come
after me if he be a wise man, and not tarry; and that to-day I am likely to
be going, for the Athenians say that I must.
Simmias said: What a message for such a man! having been a frequent
companion of his I should say that, as far as I know him, he will never
take your advice unless he is obliged.
Why, said Socrates,--is not Evenus a philosopher?
I think that he is, said Simmias.
Then he, or any man who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing to
die, but he will not take his own life, for that is held to be unlawful.
Here he changed his position, and put his legs off the couch on to the
ground, and during the rest of the conversation he remained sitting.
Why do you say, enquired Cebes, that a man ought not to take his own life,
but that the philosopher will be ready to follow the dying?
Socrates replied: And have you, Cebes and Simmias, who are the disciples
of Philolaus, never heard him speak of this?
Yes, but his language was obscure, Socrates.
My words, too, are only an echo; but there is no reason why I should not
repeat what I have heard: and indeed, as I am going to another place, it
is very meet for me to be thinking and talking of the nature of the
pilgrimage which I am about to make. What can I do better in the interval
between this and the setting of the sun?
Then tell me, Socrates, why is suicide held to be unlawful? as I have
certainly heard Philolaus, about whom you were just now asking, affirm when
he was staying with us at Thebes: and there are others who say the same,
although I have never understood what was meant by any of them.
Do not lose heart, replied Socrates, and the day may come when you will
understand. I suppose that you wonder why, when other things which are
evil may be good at certain times and to certain persons, death is to be
the only exception, and why, when a man is better dead, he is not permitted
to be his own benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another.
Very true, said Cebes, laughing gently and speaking in his native Boeotian.
I admit the appearance of inconsistency in what I am saying; but there may
not be any real inconsistency after all. There is a doctrine whispered in
secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door and run
away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I too
believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of
theirs. Do you not agree?
Yes, I quite agree, said Cebes.
And if one of your own possessions, an ox or an ass, for example, took the
liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no intimation
of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry with him, and would
you not punish him if you could?
Certainly, replied Cebes.
Then, if we look at the matter thus, there may be reason in saying that a
man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him, as he is
now summoning me.
Yes, Socrates, said Cebes, there seems to be truth in what you say. And
yet how can you reconcile this seemingly true belief that God is our
guardian and we his possessions, with the willingness to die which we were
just now attributing to the philosopher? That the wisest of men should be
willing to leave a service in which they are ruled by the gods who are the
best of rulers, is not reasonable; for surely no wise man thinks that when
set at liberty he can take better care of himself than the gods take of
him. A fool may perhaps think so--he may argue that he had better run away
from his master, not considering that his duty is to remain to the end, and
not to run away from the good, and that there would be no sense in his
running away. The wise man will want to be ever with him who is better
than himself. Now this, Socrates, is the reverse of what was just now
said; for upon this view the wise man should sorrow and the fool rejoice at
passing out of life.
The earnestness of Cebes seemed to please Socrates. Here, said he, turning
to us, is a man who is always inquiring, and is not so easily convinced by
the first thing which he hears.
And certainly, added Simmias, the objection which he is now making does
appear to me to have some force. For what can be the meaning of a truly
wise man wanting to fly away and lightly leave a master who is better than
himself? And I rather imagine that Cebes is referring to you; he thinks
that you are too ready to leave us, and too ready to leave the gods whom
you acknowledge to be our good masters.
Yes, replied Socrates; there is reason in what you say. And so you think
that I ought to answer your indictment as if I were in a court?
We should like you to do so, said Simmias.
Then I must try to make a more successful defence before you than I did
when before the judges. For I am quite ready to admit, Simmias and Cebes,
that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were not persuaded in the first
place that I am going to other gods who are wise and good (of which I am as
certain as I can be of any such matters), and secondly (though I am not so
sure of this last) to men departed, better than those whom I leave behind;
and therefore I do not grieve as I might have done, for I have good hope
that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and as has been said of
old, some far better thing for the good than for the evil.
But do you mean to take away your thoughts with you, Socrates? said
Simmias. Will you not impart them to us?--for they are a benefit in which
we too are entitled to share. Moreover, if you succeed in convincing us,
that will be an answer to the charge against yourself.
I will do my best, replied Socrates. But you must first let me hear what
Crito wants; he has long been wishing to say something to me.
Only this, Socrates, replied Crito:--the attendant who is to give you the
poison has been telling me, and he wants me to tell you, that you are not
to talk much, talking, he says, increases heat, and this is apt to
interfere with the action of the poison; persons who excite themselves are
sometimes obliged to take a second or even a third dose.
Then, said Socrates, let him mind his business and be prepared to give the
poison twice or even thrice if necessary; that is all.
I knew quite well what you would say, replied Crito; but I was obliged to
Never mind him, he said.
And now, O my judges, I desire to prove to you that the real philosopher
has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after
death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world. And how
this may be, Simmias and Cebes, I will endeavour to explain. For I deem
that the true votary of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other
men; they do not perceive that he is always pursuing death and dying; and
if this be so, and he has had the desire of death all his life long, why
when his time comes should he repine at that which he has been always
pursuing and desiring?
Simmias said laughingly: Though not in a laughing humour, you have made me
laugh, Socrates; for I cannot help thinking that the many when they hear
your words will say how truly you have described philosophers, and our
people at home will likewise say that the life which philosophers desire is
in reality death, and that they have found them out to be deserving of the
death which they desire.
And they are right, Simmias, in thinking so, with the exception of the
words 'they have found them out'; for they have not found out either what
is the nature of that death which the true philosopher deserves, or how he
deserves or desires death. But enough of them:--let us discuss the matter
among ourselves: Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?
To be sure, replied Simmias.
Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the
completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from
the body and the body is released from the soul, what is this but death?
Just so, he replied.
There is another question, which will probably throw light on our present
inquiry if you and I can agree about it:--Ought the philosopher to care
about the pleasures--if they are to be called pleasures--of eating and
Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what about the pleasures of love--should he care for them?
By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body, for
example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments
of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise
anything more than nature needs? What do you say?
I should say that the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with
the body? He would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and
to turn to the soul.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed
in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the communion of the body.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that to him who has
no sense of pleasure and no part in bodily pleasure, life is not worth
having; and that he who is indifferent about them is as good as dead.
That is also true.
What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge?--is the
body, if invited to share in the enquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean
to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the
poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and yet, if even they
are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses?--for
you will allow that they are the best of them?
Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth?--for in attempting to consider
anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Then must not true existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of
these things trouble her--neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any
pleasure,--when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible
to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring
after true being?
And in this the philosopher dishonours the body; his soul runs away from
his body and desires to be alone and by herself?
That is true.
Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an
Assuredly there is.
And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense?--and I speak not of
these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of
the essence or true nature of everything. Has the reality of them ever
been perceived by you through the bodily organs? or rather, is not the
nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures made by him who
so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact conception of
the essence of each thing which he considers?
And he attains to the purest knowledge of them who goes to each with the
mind alone, not introducing or intruding in the act of thought sight or any
other sense together with reason, but with the very light of the mind in
her own clearness searches into the very truth of each; he who has got rid,
as far as he can, of eyes and ears and, so to speak, of the whole body,
these being in his opinion distracting elements which when they infect the
soul hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge--who, if not he, is
likely to attain the knowledge of true being?
What you say has a wonderful truth in it, Socrates, replied Simmias.
And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led
to make a reflection which they will express in words something like the
following? 'Have we not found,' they will say, 'a path of thought which
seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in
the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our
desire will not be satisfied? and our desire is of the truth. For the body
is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of
food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the
search after true being: it fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears,
and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say,
takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and
fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the
body? wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be
acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all
these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and
worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some
speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and
confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from
seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would
have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body--the soul in
herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the
wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while
we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul
cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows--either knowledge is
not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not
till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself
alone. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to
knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the
body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure
until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having
got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse
with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is
no other than the light of truth.' For the impure are not permitted to
approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true
lovers of knowledge cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. You
would agree; would you not?
But, O my friend, if this is true, there is great reason to hope that,
going whither I go, when I have come to the end of my journey, I shall
attain that which has been the pursuit of my life. And therefore I go on
my way rejoicing, and not I only, but every other man who believes that his
mind has been made ready and that he is in a manner purified.
Certainly, replied Simmias.
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I
was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself
into herself from all sides out of the body; the dwelling in her own place
alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can;--the release
of the soul from the chains of the body?
Very true, he said.
And this separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death?
To be sure, he said.
And the true philosophers, and they only, are ever seeking to release the
soul. Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body their
That is true.
And, as I was saying at first, there would be a ridiculous contradiction in
men studying to live as nearly as they can in a state of death, and yet
repining when it comes upon them.
And the true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of
dying, wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible. Look at
the matter thus:--if they have been in every way the enemies of the body,
and are wanting to be alone with the soul, when this desire of theirs is
granted, how inconsistent would they be if they trembled and repined,
instead of rejoicing at their departure to that place where, when they
arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they desired--and this was
wisdom--and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many
a man has been willing to go to the world below animated by the hope of
seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them.
And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is strongly persuaded in
like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still
repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, O my
friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction
that there and there only, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this
be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were afraid of
He would, indeed, replied Simmias.
And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not his
reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom, but a lover
of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money or
power, or both?
Quite so, he replied.
And is not courage, Simmias, a quality which is specially characteristic of
There is temperance again, which even by the vulgar is supposed to consist
in the control and regulation of the passions, and in the sense of
superiority to them--is not temperance a virtue belonging to those only who
despise the body, and who pass their lives in philosophy?
For the courage and temperance of other men, if you will consider them, are
really a contradiction.
Well, he said, you are aware that death is regarded by men in general as a
Very true, he said.
And do not courageous men face death because they are afraid of yet greater
That is quite true.
Then all but the philosophers are courageous only from fear, and because
they are afraid; and yet that a man should be courageous from fear, and
because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing.
And are not the temperate exactly in the same case? They are temperate
because they are intemperate--which might seem to be a contradiction, but
is nevertheless the sort of thing which happens with this foolish
temperance. For there are pleasures which they are afraid of losing; and
in their desire to keep them, they abstain from some pleasures, because
they are overcome by others; and although to be conquered by pleasure is
called by men intemperance, to them the conquest of pleasure consists in
being conquered by pleasure. And that is what I mean by saying that, in a
sense, they are made temperate through intemperance.
Such appears to be the case.
Yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or
pleasure or pain, and of the greater for the less, as if they were coins,
is not the exchange of virtue. O my blessed Simmias, is there not one true
coin for which all things ought to be exchanged?--and that is wisdom; and
only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is anything truly
bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice. And is not all
true virtue the companion of wisdom, no matter what fears or pleasures or
other similar goods or evils may or may not attend her? But the virtue
which is made up of these goods, when they are severed from wisdom and
exchanged with one another, is a shadow of virtue only, nor is there any
freedom or health or truth in her; but in the true exchange there is a
purging away of all these things, and temperance, and justice, and courage,
and wisdom herself are the purgation of them. The founders of the
mysteries would appear to have had a real meaning, and were not talking
nonsense when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes
unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will lie in a slough, but
that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with
the gods. For 'many,' as they say in the mysteries, 'are the thyrsus-
bearers, but few are the mystics,'--meaning, as I interpret the words, 'the
true philosophers.' In the number of whom, during my whole life, I have
been seeking, according to my ability, to find a place;--whether I have
sought in a right way or not, and whether I have succeeded or not, I shall
truly know in a little while, if God will, when I myself arrive in the
other world--such is my belief. And therefore I maintain that I am right,
Simmias and Cebes, in not grieving or repining at parting from you and my
masters in this world, for I believe that I shall equally find good masters
and friends in another world. But most men do not believe this saying; if
then I succeed in convincing you by my defence better than I did the
Athenian judges, it will be well.
Cebes answered: I agree, Socrates, in the greater part of what you say.
But in what concerns the soul, men are apt to be incredulous; they fear
that when she has left the body her place may be nowhere, and that on the
very day of death she may perish and come to an end--immediately on her
release from the body, issuing forth dispersed like smoke or air and in her
flight vanishing away into nothingness. If she could only be collected
into herself after she has obtained release from the evils of which you are
speaking, there would be good reason to hope, Socrates, that what you say
is true. But surely it requires a great deal of argument and many proofs
to show that when the man is dead his soul yet exists, and has any force or
True, Cebes, said Socrates; and shall I suggest that we converse a little
of the probabilities of these things?
I am sure, said Cebes, that I should greatly like to know your opinion
I reckon, said Socrates, that no one who heard me now, not even if he were
one of my old enemies, the Comic poets, could accuse me of idle talking
about matters in which I have no concern:--If you please, then, we will
proceed with the inquiry.
Suppose we consider the question whether the souls of men after death are
or are not in the world below. There comes into my mind an ancient
doctrine which affirms that they go from hence into the other world, and
returning hither, are born again from the dead. 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? And this would be
conclusive, if there were any real evidence that the living are only born
from the dead; but if this is not so, then other arguments will have to be
Very true, replied Cebes.
Then let us consider the whole question, not in relation to man only, but
in relation to animals generally, and to plants, and to everything of which
there is generation, and the proof will be easier. Are not all things
which have opposites generated out of their opposites? I mean such things
as good and evil, just and unjust--and there are innumerable other
opposites which are generated out of opposites. And I want to show that in
all opposites there is of necessity a similar alternation; I mean to say,
for example, that anything which becomes greater must become greater after
And that which becomes less must have been once greater and then have
And the weaker is generated from the stronger, and the swifter from the
And the worse is from the better, and the more just is from the more
And is this true of all opposites? and are we convinced that all of them
are generated out of opposites?
And in this universal opposition of all things, are there not also two
intermediate processes which are ever going on, from one to the other
opposite, and back again; where there is a greater and a less there is also
an intermediate process of increase and diminution, and that which grows is
said to wax, and that which decays to wane?
Yes, he said.
And there are many other processes, such as division and composition,
cooling and heating, which equally involve a passage into and out of one
another. And this necessarily holds of all opposites, even though not
always expressed in words--they are really generated out of one another,
and there is a passing or process from one to the other of them?
Very true, he replied.
Well, and is there not an opposite of life, as sleep is the opposite of
True, he said.
And what is it?
Death, he answered.
And these, if they are opposites, are generated the one from the other, and
have there their two intermediate processes also?