The Death of Socrates and the Life of Philosophy

An Interpretation of Plato's Phaedo

By Peter J. Ahrensdorf

Subjects: Ancient Greek Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791426340, 248 pages, September 1995
Hardcover : 9780791426333, 248 pages, September 1995

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Table of contents



1. The Context of Socrates' Defense of Philosophy

2. The Opening of the Dialogue

3. The Opening of Socrates' Last Conversation

4. Socrates' Defense of the Philosopher's Readiness to Die

5. The First Argument for the Immortality of the Soul

6. The Argument that Learning is Recollection

7. The Third Argument for the Immortality of the Soul

8. The Objections of Simmias and Cebes to the Argument for Immortality

9. Socrates' Warning Against Misology

10. Socrates' Response to Simmias' Argument Against Immortality

11. Socrates' Response to Cebes' Argument Against Immortality

12. The Ending of the Dialogue


Selected Bibliography


Shows that the dialogue in Plato's Phaedo is primarily devoted to presenting Socrates' final defense of the philosophical life against the theoretical and political challenge of religion.


While the Phaedo is most famous for its moving portrayal of Socrates' death and its arguments for the immortality of the soul, Ahrensdorf argues that the dialogue is primarily devoted to presenting Socrates' final defense of the philosophic life against the theoretical and political challenge of religion. Through a careful analysis of both the historical context of the Phaedo and the arguments and drama of the dialogue, Ahrensdorf argues that Socrates' defense of rationalism is singularly undogmatic and that a study of that defense can lead us to a clearer understanding and a deeper and richer appreciation of the case both for and against rationalism.

Peter J. Ahrensdorf is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Humanities at Davidson College.


"That the psychology of its characters is a key to understanding the argument of a Platonic dialogue is a principle effectively applied in this reading of the Phaedo and well supported by the results: in bringing out the differences in the perspectives of Socrates' two interlocutors on this occasion—one primarily concerned with the question of the goodness of the philosophic life, and indeed of life as such, the other motivated by a deep skepticism about the possibilities of human reason—this study leads us to see why the conversation in the Phaedo has to be divided between them, and how the strategy of each argument is motivated by its particular addressee." — Ronna Burger, Tulane University

"This clear, extremely well-written book distinguishes itself from other fine works on the Phaedo by its careful attention to Socrates' rhetoric. It does a masterful job of showing how Socrates intends his arguments to affect Simmias and Cebes—as well as readers like them—even in cases where Socrates must have seen those arguments to be logically weak. Ahrensdorf's insight into the differences between Simmias and Cebes is excellent." — Chris A. Colmo, Rosary College