Socratic Rationalism and Political Philosophy

An Interpretation of Plato's Phaedo

By Paul Stern

Subjects: Classics
Paperback : 9780791415740, 240 pages, August 1993
Hardcover : 9780791415733, 240 pages, August 1993

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Table of contents


I. Introduction

The Issues of the Phaedo

Mode of Interpretation

II. The Defense of Socrates


The Opening Scene

Socrates' Poetic Defense of Philosophy

Philosophy as Preparation for Death

III. The Proofs of Immortality






IV. Socrates' 'Second Sailing



Socrates' Reply to Simmias: Soul as Harmonia

Socrates' Reply to Cebes: The Second Sailing

Socrates' varying views of nature

The 'second sailing'

V. Socrates' Final Teaching


Immortality and Imperishability

The True Earth

The Death of Socrates

VI. Conclusion





In this new interpretation of Plato's Phaedo, Paul Stern considers the dialogue as an invaluable source for understanding the distinctive character of Socratic rationalism. First, he demonstrates, contrary to the charge of such thinkers as Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Rorty, that Socrates' rationalism does not rest on the dogmatic presumption of the rationality of nature. Second, he shows that the distinctively Socratic mode of philosophizing is formulated precisely with a view to vindicating the philosophic life in the face of these uncertainties. And finally, he argues that this vindication results in a mode of inquiry that finds its ground in a clear understanding of the problematical but enduring human situation. Stern concludes that Socratic rationalism, aware as it is of the limits of reason, still provides a nondogmatic and nonarbitrary basis for human understanding.

Paul Stern is Assistant Professor of Politics at Ursinus College.


"This is a fine piece of work. The overall organization is clear and sensible and this is matched by a scrupulous attention to detail. Stern is extremely well versed in the secondary literature and quite sensitive to all of the differences in interpretation. Above all, Stern knows how to read Plato. The book reads like a thriller—at least for someone who cares about the possibility of philosophy and sees that Stern is dealing with this central issue. " — Christopher Colmo, Rosary College

"Stern has written a careful, exceptionally clear, eminently readable interpretation of Plato's Phaedo. He disputes the accepted philosophic reading of the dialogue as an 'early' statement of Plato's theory of ideas quite convincingly. " — Catherine Zuckert, Carleton College