Literature Study GuidesDialogues Of PlatoObjections And Response Summary 84c 107b Summary

Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Objections and Response Summary (84c–107b) | Summary



Simmias objects to Socrates's third argument. The comparison of the soul to absolute reality is not the only plausible comparison one could make. One could argue, for example, that the soul is like the attunement produced by a tuned instrument, while the instrument itself is like the body. If the instrument is destroyed, the attunement ceases to be. By analogy, this would mean that the soul ceases to exist when the body dies.

For his part, Cebes is not convinced that the soul continues to exist after death. In the case that a tailor has died, he says, "Your theory would be just like saying that the man is not dead, but still exists somewhere safe and sound," the proof being "that the coat which he had made for himself and was wearing has not perished but is still intact." Perhaps the man had many coats before this one, wearing out each one until he finally died. According to Cebes, one would have to agree that the soul was not damaged by the multiple births and deaths. Because no one knows which bodily death finally proves fatal to the soul, "no one but a fool is entitled to face death with confidence, unless he can prove that the soul is absolutely immortal and indestructible."

Before responding to Cebes and Simmias's objections, Socrates warns against misology, or hatred of reason. It may be the case than when an argument one first thought was good turns out otherwise, one may be inclined to dismiss all arguments. Instead, one should remember one's "intellectual invalidity" and press on to create better arguments.

Socrates then recaps Simmias and Cebes's positions: Simmias is worried that, "even if the soul is more divine and a higher thing than the body, it may nevertheless be destroyed." Cebes, meanwhile, agrees with Socrates "that soul is more enduring than body," but can't be sure the soul does not eventually die.

To Simmias, Socrates offers several counterarguments:

  1. If Simmias agrees that the theory of recollection is true, then he cannot consistently maintain his attunement view, namely that the soul is dependent on the body.
  2. If the soul is indeed an attunement, then it cannot engage in the disattunement of wickedness. However, this erroneously implies that all souls are equally in "attunement," that is, are equally good.
  3. The attuned instrument or soul implies that it can never be at odds with its elements. However, there are plenty of instances when the soul is "out of tune" with the body. The body experiences things like hunger and thirst, but the soul does not always yield to these impulses. Instead, the soul, particularly the wise one, governs the body.

Simmias agrees that Socrates is correct, and that his attunement theory is not.

Next, Socrates reviews Cebes's objection that Socrates's account of the soul does not rule out its eventual destruction. After some reflection Socrates declares that it requires an investigation into "the causes of generation and destruction." He relates his own youthful forays into this domain before turning his attention away from the mechanistic explanations of things advanced by Anaxagoras (500–428 BCE). Instead, he adopted the forms as the explanation of what comes to be and what is. Assuming that the Beautiful is Real allows him to explain beautiful things.

Socrates offers a fourth and final argument for the existence of the soul:

  1. Whatever is cannot simultaneously be its opposite; an opposite either destroys what is, or what is "gives way" to it.
  2. The same is said also of that which contains opposites. Fire is not the opposite of ice, for example, but with fire comes heat, and with ice comes cold, which are opposites.
  3. "Whenever soul takes possession of a body, it always brings life with it."
  4. Consequently, the soul will never admit death, life's opposite, for if it did, it would cease to be a soul.
  5. Whatever does not admit death is immortal.
  6. Therefore, the soul is immortal.


It is worth noting that Simmias professes a version or the Pythagorean view of the soul. Pythagoras (c. 570–500/490 BCE) was a pre-Socratic thinker who, among other contributions to knowledge, developed the Pythagorean theorem, a well-known relation in geometry. Indeed, both Simmias and Cebes are probably Pythagoreans, members of a religious and philosophical brotherhood believed to be founded by Pythagoras. The order was particularly concerned with musicality and mysticism, which explains Socrates's initial surprise over their unfamiliarity with thinking about philosophy as a preparation for death.

In Socrates's response to Cebes's objection is found still more filling in of Plato's theory of forms. It is presented here as an alternative to an empirical method of explaining how things come into being and pass away. The forms do a lot of heavy lifting in providing answers not only to epistemological questions, such as how knowledge is possible (thinking back to Meno's paradox in the Meno), but also to ontological questions, such as accounting for how things exist. Although it's true Plato does not here specify further exactly how the forms cause particular things to be, he still asserts the forms for explaining what is.

Socrates discusses opposites in at least two senses in relation to the forms. In his first argument for the immortality of the soul, he talks about opposites as properties of things, such as bigger and smaller, living and dying. The thing itself—Socrates, for example—participates in a Form, e.g., Shortness, but it is possible for him to participate in the opposite Form, Tallness, without Socrates himself changing. However, the forms themselves never admit their opposite, and the shortness in Socrates cannot admit its opposite without either giving way or being destroyed. The soul is the sort of entity whose essential property, life, also can never admit its opposite. Another way to say this is that the soul's Form is Life, which does not admit its opposite.

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