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HALL OF FAMEon 21 June 2005
Socrates is unique among philosophers, not just for his place among the early Greek philosophers, but also for the fact that he is the most famous philosopher to never write his own books. What we know of Socrates comes from contemporary accounts and students, most particularly Plato.
Set in 399 BCE, the Phaedo is a reconstruction of Socrates final conversations with friends on the day he died. We do not know when this dialogue was written, but it was probably before The Republic (Plato's most famous work, also featuring the figure of Socrates). Like The Republic, this dialogue features a well developed theory of Forms -- these are introduced gradually here, slowly filling out the details of each step. This develops the story of the caves idea from Plato's earlier work in epistemological, metaphysical, moral, and semantic terms. Plato also advances the 'imperfection argument' here -- the idea that when we sense something, it is never perfectly the thing we are thinking of, and that idea or standard to which we relate what we see, hear, feel, etc. is tying into a more perfect Form.
However, the idea of the soul is rather less developed here than in The Republic. The soul is simply mind, or intellect - all emotions are here placed as bodily aspects. This is rather Pythagorean in a fashion, that only the soul grasps the perfect Forms, and so should consist of nothing but reasoning ability, for emotions distort and cloud the perceptions and judgments.
In the end of the Phaedo, we witness Socrates drink the hemlock, without fear or trembling, as a philosopher should know the value of life and welcome death with a firm hope. The story is almost religious in nature here.
However, there are other possible readings, and this edition opens these up. This translation is part of a series done by the translators and Focus Publishing of the Plato dialogues. It has an introduction and a glossary of Greek terms, as well as a brief bibliography. The translators avoid a clunky translation by doing some interpretative work, but explain their reasonings in the introduction. They argue in the introduction against many traditional renderings of Phaedo, and as such provide an interesting counterweight to the prevailing editions available.
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HALL OF FAMEon 13 July 2004
Socrates is unique among philosophers, not just for his place among the early Greek philosophers, but also for the fact that he is the most famous philosopher to never write his own books. What we know of Socrates comes from contemporary accounts and students, most particularly Plato.
Set in 399 BCE, the Phaedo is a reconstruction of Socrates final conversations with friends on the day he died. We do not know when this dialogue was written, but it was probably before the Republic (Plato's most famous work, also featuring the figure of Socrates). Like the Republic, this dialogue features a well developed theory of Forms -- these are introduced gradually here, slowly filling out the details of each step.
However, the idea of the soul is rather less developed here than in the Republic. The soul is simply mind, or intellect - all emotions are here placed as bodily aspects. This is rather Pythagorean in a fashion, that only the soul grasps the perfect Forms, and so should consist of nothing but reasoning ability, for emotions distort and cloud the perceptions and judgments.
In the end of the Phaedo, we witness Socrates drink the hemlock, without fear or trembling, as a philosopher should know the value of life and welcome death with a firm hope. The story is almost religious in nature here.
Grube's translation is lively and accessible, not a dry academic rendering, and certainly no contrived high-formal style that so often distances the classics from modern life. This is serious stuff, but in a mere 60 pages manages to capture much, and Grube's work makes it all the more relevant.
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The Phaedo is a third-person account of the philosophical discussion between Socrates and his friends on the day of his death. Socrates accepts his fate most amicably, arguing that death is the means by which to achieve the aims of true philosophy, for only by escaping the evil of the body can the soul truly acquire wisdom. Socrates renews his argument that learning is in fact recollection, supposedly proving that the soul exists before birth. He also argues that everything comes from its opposite; if death comes from life, then life must come from death. The proofs he offers for his belief that the soul is eternal do not strike me as very convincing.
As the account of Socrates' final hours, the Phaedo is a corollary of sorts to the Apology and Crito, but it addresses certain themes those earlier dialogues did not. In many ways, the Phaedo is a precursor to much of the philosophy of The Republic, in which the concepts of the eternal soul and the invisible Forms addressed here are threshed out much more satisfactorily. Given the importance of these concepts later in The Republic and the formative yet lengthy discussion of them here in the Phaedo, this is a crucial dialogue in terms of understanding the overall philosophical arguments of Plato.
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on 23 September 2014
Regrettably, Hackforth, the translator, assumes that the reader knows classical Greek. Most of the notes and comments are concerned with the meanings of Greek words. They are incomprehensible to those, like me, who do not have classical Greek. The book was first published in 1955. The back cover says it is aimed at "the student and general reader", but even in 1955 the general reader did not have classical greek. The text is a clear translation, and those notes and comments which are not concerned with linguistic matters are interesting and give helpful explanations.
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