In this section of Plato’s Five Dialogues, Phaedo includes a narration of the dialogue between Socrates and his friends during his last hours in his cell.
Socrates believed that as long as a philosopher’s soul is confined to their body, they will never be able to acquire the truth because of the body’s need for nurturing. Socrates states that philosophers should live a pure life, and remain obedient to the gods until they release them from their prisons. In this paper, I will expand on Socrates’ argument that true knowledge cannot be acquired as long as the soul and body are mixed together. Socrates directly states his claim that “we men are in a kind of prison” and that they should not try to escape (62b). The prison that Socrates is referring to is the human body, and committing suicide is an act of trying to escape from it. Socrates continues on to explain that people are property of the gods, and that they must do as they direct until their final days on earth (62b). Since people are considered property of the gods, they do not have the privilege of ending their own lives unless they are in a similar position to Socrates. Socrates acknowledges that this statement is hard to grasp, but he feels that it is conveyed well and that people should follow it without argument.
Socrates makes another argument that the body makes it difficult to obtain the truth, because “the body confuses the soul” (66). His claim essentially means that philosophers will never be able to reach an understanding of the truths they are looking for, because our body’s need for nurturing serves an obstacle (66b). The body’s senses overflow people with “wants, desires, fears, all sorts of illusions and much nonsense” which prevents rational thought, and as long as a philosopher is in their body, they will never be able to gain the unmixed truth of what they are searching for (66e). Socrates believed that as long as the body and soul are connected, philosophers are enforced to serve the gods until death and will never truly attain knowledge. In order to gain true knowledge, Socrates believed that the philosopher had to separate themselves from their body and look at things within the soul itself, and he also noted contrasts between the two.
He established that philosophers have the option of never achieving true knowledge as long as they are in their bodies, or to wait until death to pursue it (66e-67). Socrates reasoned that philosophers should stay away from the pleasures that their bodies offer, remain pure until god releases them from their prison, and that they will eventually be rewarded with knowing “all that is pure” which is the truth and is only granted to those who remained pure in their bodies (67b). Socrates furthers his reasoning by explaining that philosophers who want their souls to be separate from their bodies should not resent death, because it’s what they desired throughout their mortal lives (68b).
Socrates stated that a true philosopher should firmly believe that they will never attain true knowledge unless they are in the afterlife (68b). Substantially, true philosophers should steer away from the body’s desires for pleasure, live a life where their souls and bodies are not associated, and wait until death to be freed from the prison of their bodies. Socrates concluded that the philosophers will never be able to acquire knowledge as long as their souls were trapped inside their bodies. By living a life without conforming to the body’s infectious need for nurture, a philosopher who remained pure will be granted with the gift of the truth after they are freed from their prison.
Socrates’ wanted philosophers to understand that a good fate would await them after a life where they remained pure and obedient to the gods.