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Phaedo - 1 P L AT O Phaedo Selections Plato of Athens(c...

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P L AT O Phaedo: Selections Plato of Athens (c. 429–347 B . C . E .) stands with Aristotle as one of the two most important philosophers of Antiquity and as a major shaper of the Western intellectual history as a whole. Descended from a wealthy and aristocratic family, his intellectual outlook was decisively formed by his teacher, Socrates. Socrates’ judicial murder at the instance of political oppo- nents helped turn Plato into as critic of democracy and a supporter of aris- tocracy, in his special sense of the term, that is, rule by the wise and virtuous (or “philosopher-kings”). From Socrates Plato learned a mode of inquiry that consisted of subjecting received opinions to systematic cross-exammination (“dialectic”), as well as certain moral doctrines such as the view that the source of wrongdoing is ignorance, or that the gods’ approval or disapproval does not render actions right or wrong. Plato attempted to put his political ideas into practice by serving as counselor to Dionysius II. tyrant of Syracuse, but the young ruler’s sporadic enthusiasm for philosophy did not survive political reality, and the two men were finally estranged. Plato was more suc- cessful as the founder of a philosophical school, the Academy, which he estab- lished in a grove dedicated to the hero Academus outside Athens during the early fourth century B . C . E . The school continued for several centuries and was instrumental in preserving Plato’s teachings and writings. Plato’s sur- viving writings are cast in dialogue form, to force the reader to make up his or her own mind about the positions and arguments presented. Plato him- self never appears, though students of the dialogues often assume, perhaps correctly, that his point of view is represented by Socrates. Modern scholar- ship largely agrees in dividing the dialogues into three broad groupings: early, middle, and late. Attempts to coordinate these groupings with known events in Plato’s life or with the development of his thought, however, are more controversial. In the following selections from Plato’s Phaedo , a follower of Socrates (Phaedo) recounts the events surrounding the death of Socrates, when Socrates discussed such issues as death, the afterlife, and the immortality of the soul with Cebes and Simmias. 1 “Phaedo,” by Plato, from The Last Days of Socrates , translated by Hugh Tredennick, copy- right © 2003. Reprinted by permission of Penguin Books, Ltd. (UK).
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ECHECRATES : Were you there with Socrates yourself, Phaedo, the day when he drank the poison, or did you hear about it from some- body else? PHAEDO : I was there myself, Echecrates. ECHECRATES : Then what did the Master say before he died, and how did he meet his end? I should very much like to hear. None of the people in Phlius go to Athens much in these days, and it is a long time since we had a visitor from there who could give us any defi- nite information, except that he was executed by drinking hemlock; nobody could tell us anything more than that.
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