In This Article Plato’s Phaedo

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Editions, Translations, and Commentaries
  • Ancient Reception of the Phaedo

Classics Plato’s Phaedo
by
David Ebrey
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0272

Introduction

Plato’s Phaedo is set on the last day of Socrates’ life, ending with his moving death scene. The dialogue is one of Plato’s literary masterpieces, with classic discussions of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the value of the philosophical life. It is typically considered one of Plato’s middle-period dialogues due to its contrast between forms and sensible things, defense of the immortality of the soul, interest in natural science, and engagement with Pythagorean ideas. The primary interlocutors are Socrates, Simmias, and Cebes. Early in the dialogue, Socrates suggests that the poet Evenus should follow him in death. This shocks Simmias, leading Socrates first to defend the claim that a philosopher’s soul would be better separated from its body, and then the claim that the soul is immortal. Socrates’ four arguments for the immortality of the soul rely on considerations about the nature of change, causation, and the contrast between forms and sensible things. The two parts of the Phaedo that have received the most scholarship since the 1950s—among the most scholarship on any topic in ancient philosophy—are Socrates’ second argument for immortality, the Recollection Argument, which discusses central issues in Plato’s metaphysics and epistemology, and the so-called Autobiographical Section, which discusses Socrates’ earlier interest in natural science, the method of hypothesis, and his approach to providing causes. The dialogue ends with a long myth followed by Socrates’ death scene. For more on Plato, see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Classics article “Plato.”

General Overviews

The books in this section have chapters on different sections of the dialogue. Some, such as Bostock 1986, skip significant sections of the text. Dorter 1982 is one of the best places to look for discussions of literary features of the dialogue, and Frede 2005 provides a comprehensive account of the dialogue in German. Müller 2011 is the most recent collection of articles on the Phaedo. Pakaluk 2003 (in the Defense Speech) and Kamen 2013 (in the Death Scene) are articles that offer more-comprehensive readings of the dialogue.

  • Bostock, David. 1986. Plato’s Phaedo. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Strongly influenced by mid-20th-century analytic approach to ancient philosophy. It focuses on reconstructing Plato’s arguments for the immortality of the soul and finds all of them wanting.

  • Dorter, Kenneth. 1982. Plato’s Phaedo: An interpretation. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press.

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    An insightful book that focuses on the literary aspects of the dialogue.

  • Frede, Dorothea. 2005. Platons Phaidon. 2d ed. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

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    A general introduction to the dialogue that does not substantially engage with secondary literature; instead, provides basic accounts of the dialogue’s main ideas.

  • Müller, Jörn, ed. 2011. Platon Phaidon. Klassiker Auslegen 44. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

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    A collection of essays commissioned and organized to provide a comprehensive reading of the dialogue. Most essays are in German, with a few in English.

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