Study Questions on Plato, The Phaedo

pp. 93-154 in Plato, Five Dialogues, 2nd ed. (Hackett, 2002),
translated by G. M. A. Grube, rev. by J. M. Cooper

Prepared by Dr. Jan Garrett

Last modification date: September 16, 2009

1. What was Socrates' attitude on the morning of his death? (58e-59a)*

2. If death is to be welcomed by a good person, why is suicide wrong? (62a-62d)

3. What belief does Socrates affirm at 63b-c? Does he claim he knows this?

4. What, according to Socrates, are philosophers really doing? (64a)

5. What is death in terms of body and soul? (64c)

6. What, according to Socrates, is the attitude of philosophy toward pleasures of food, drink, sex, material possessions? Toward the body in general? (64d-64e)

7. Why does Socrates claim that the body is an obstacle in the acquiring of knowledge? (65a-c)

8. What do philosophers like Socrates (see "we" at 65d4) maintain about "the Just itself" and other things of the same general sort? Are they seen by the eyes? By other bodily senses? (65d-e) If not, when are these things seen? (65e-66a)

9. What will "true philosophers believe" according to Socrates? (66b-67a) Summarize this passage in a few sentences.

10. What, according to Socrates, would be ridiculous for a philosopher? (67d-e) What relevance does this have to the philosopher's courage in the face of death? (67e-68c)

11. Why, according to Socrates, is a true philosopher moderate? (68) Aristotle associates virtues in general, and therefore moderation, with a "golden mean" between extreme dispositions? Does Plato think of moderation this way?

12. Of what sort of virtue is Socrates critical? (68d-69a) Upon what does true virtue rest? (69b-c)

13. What do "men" think about the soul, according to Cebes? (70a) What "ancient theory" does Socrates now introduce? (70c)

14. What evidence does Socrates give for his claim at 70d-e that "all things which come to be …come to be…from their opposites if they have such"? (70e-71b)

15. What "further point" does he introduce? (71a-b)

16. How does Socrates move from these principles to the conclusion that souls exist, apart from the body, before and after the present life? (71c-72a)

17. What further consideration does Socrates now add to support the "ancient theory" introduced at 70c? (72a-b)

18. What theory is Socrates constantly asserting? (72e)

19. What does recollecting anything imply? (73c)

20. In what two ways are we caused to remember (73d-74a)

21. When remembering is caused by what is similar to what one remembers, what consideration then arises? (74a)

22. According to Socrates, is there anything called the Equal itself over and above material examples of equality? (74b) ("Equality" and, oddly, "the equals themselves" refer to the same thing as the Equal itself.

23. How do we come to know the Equal itself? (74c-d)

24. Are equal material things completely equal or deficiently equal? (74d) What is their relation to the Equal itself? (74d-e)

25. How does Socrates "prove" that we possessed knowledge of the Equal itself before birth (74b-75c)?

26. To what other "themselves" (plural of "itself") does Socrates refer? (75c-d)

27. According to Socrates, what is properly called "recollection"? (75e)

28. How does Socrates show that we don't always have knowledge, in the fullest sense, of the "themselves" in the present life? (76b-c)

29. According to Socrates, the existence of souls before birth is equally necessary with [what]? (76d-e)

30. 78b-80b contains an argument for the indestructibility of the soul after death that starts with a comparison between the soul and the body, and between the soul and the forms like The Beautiful. Try to state this argument using complete sentences as premises, intermediate conclusions, and final conclusion.

31. What view of the soul is Simmias defending? (91c-d, 92a) How does this theory conflict with the view that the soul exists prior to the body, which Simmias previously granted?

32. Why does Simmias reject the attunement view and not the theory of the soul's preexistence? (92c-d)

33. Does an attunement, according to Socrates, direct its elements, i.e., the things of which it is an attunement? (93a)

34. Is attunement a matter of degree? Is being a soul a matter of degree? (93a-b)

35. Suppose we define virtue as the harmony or attunement of a soul. (This is roughly Plato's view in Republic.) Can there be a vicious soul, then, if soul is attunement? (93c-94a)

36. Does the soul always follow the body's direction? How does this undermine the attunement theory? (94b-e)

37. What interest did Socrates have when young? (96)

38. At a later stage, what fascinated him about Anaxagoras' view? (97b-c) What disappointed him about Anaxagoras? (98b-c)

39. How is his own situation a proof that, at least sometimes, the cause of a person's doings is his purposes, while material factors are only instruments to achieve purposes? (98d-99b)

40. Why does Socrates call the method he actually uses his "second best"? (99d)

41. In what did Socrates decide to take his refuge? (99e-100)

42. What makes beautiful things beautiful? Big things big? (100d-e) How can we generalize this point?

43. What sorts of explanations does Socrates now reject? (101b)

44. Are the "themselves"—at least the "themselves" that are opposites, such as Hold and Cold, and Odd and Even—ever willing to become their opposites? (102e)

45. What is the point of the discussion of fire and the hot, three and the odd, etc.? (103c-105)

46. What is the difference between a safe answer and a more sophisticated answer? (105b-c) What more sophisticated answer explains the presence of life in a body? (105c-d) What therefore cannot be admitted (allowed to enter) by soul? (105e)

47. How does the dialogue "prove" that the soul is indestructible? (105c-e) Be sure to read on to at least 107a.

48. Read from 115a to the end. In Socrates' view, what has Crito failed to understand? (115c-d) Why does Socrates chastise his friends for weeping? (117c-d)

* These "Stepanus numbers," which are given in the margin of the text, are keyed to the standard edition of the Greek text on which this translation is based. They allow us to pinpoint an idea or a sentence to within one fifth of a page. They also allow us to compare different translations of the same passage. Imagine the Stepanus number itself to be followed by an "a". "105a" refers to the part of Stepanus page 105 that begins with the line on which "105" occurs and ends with the line just before the occurrence of first marginal "b" encountered. "105b" refers to the part of Stepanus page 105 that begins with the line on which this "b" occurs and ends with the line just prior to the first marginal "c"encountered.