In the dialogue, The Phaedo, Plato gives an account of the final moments of Socrates. Several arguments are presented and discussed. These arguments regard the immortality of the soul and reincarnation. In this essay I will present a brief summary of the dialogue, explain one of the arguments presented in it, and finally show why the argument fails to prove the notion of reincarnation.
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The Phaedo is a Socratic dialogue written by the philosopher Plato. The dialogue gives an account of the final hours of Socrates and his conversations from the viewpoint of a bystander. Several arguments are presented and discussed in The Phaedo, in addition to these a myth concerning the afterlife is presented by Socrates. The main arguments from The Phaedo are the argument from opposites, the argument from recollection, the argument from affinities, and a fourth argument concerning the difference between corporeal and incorporeal things. These arguments aim at proving the immortality of the soul, and also attempt to prove the Pythagorean conception of reincarnation. The myth presented near the closing of the dialogue concerns the terminus of the soul, which depends on how pure or corrupt it is at death. The dramatic death of Socrates concludes the dialogue.
The argument from opposites claims that the soul is reincarnated. It lies on the principle that things transition from two opposites in a cycle. Before something becomes small, it was large, for it could not have been small before it became small. Moreover, if things only became smaller, and not larger, eventually everything would be miniscule. And if it was the other way around, where everything only became larger, and not smaller, everything would eventually be one thing, because everything would have joined together. If this were the case then we would notice that things only become smaller, shorter, or uglier, and never their opposites, or vice versa. Socrates shows that things do transition from two opposites, by referencing to observable examples. He contrasts this to death, and claims that there has to be a cycle of becoming alive and becoming dead, or else everything would become dead, or vice versa.
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The analogies that Socrates uses are applicable to every corporeal thing in the universe. Everything is either large or small, tall or short, etcetera. He claims that there is a process of becoming from its opposite (e.g. something becoming larger from being small), and that this process is cyclical. For if everything only became larger, but not smaller, then eventually everything would be conjoined together into one large thing. Consequently, if everything only became smaller, then eventually everything would be miniscule. Life and death, however, are not qualities in which everything is either one or the other. For to be dead it is necessary that the thing was once alive. Not everything in the universe was once alive, nor is currently alive. Thus, not everything is either dead or alive. This is how the qualities of being dead and being alive differ than the qualities of small and large. It follows then, since the process of becoming dead or alive is not applicable to everything, that it cannot be said that all things would become one if all living things were to only die. Moreover, Socrates cannot point to any examples in which a soul comes back to life from death, as he can show something becoming short from its opposite.
In this essay I have given a summary of the dialogue, explained the argument from opposites, and showed why it fails to prove the reincarnation of the soul. I have done this by showing that the qualities of living and being dead are different from other universal qualities in that they are only applicable to a small portion of the universe, and the consequent of this is that the universe would not become one, if things which were once alive never become alive again. I also showed that Socrates cannot reference an example of a soul switching between the opposites of life and death as he can other qualities. Therefore, the argument from opposites fails to prove the notion of reincarnation.
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