Plato's Phaedo: An Interpretation

University of Toronto Press, C1982 (1982)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content: [99] JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 23:1 JANUARY 198 5 Book Reviews Kenneth Dorter. Plato's 'Phaedo': An Interpretation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. Pp. xi + 233. $28.50. Kenneth Dorter of the University of Guelph has given us a useful and unusual study of the Phaedo, which will attract the interest of a variety of Plato's readers. He provides the careful studies of the dialogue's arguments for immortality to be expected in a sound commentary, paying close attention to the text as well as to recent scholarship, and displaying a good sense of argument. What gives the book additional interest, however, are its features as an interpretation of the Phaedo. Two stand out. First, Dorter wishes to give full weight not only to the logic of the arguments but also to the dramatic details of Plato's writing, believing these to be important in disclosing Plato's intentions. Secondly, he reads the Phaedo in light of a more general understanding of Plato's philosophy, especially the nature of the soul in its cosmic as well as individual aspects. Much of this is set out in a final speculative chapter, where Dorter seeks to make intelligible Plato's developing conception of soul by means of such notions as energy and poles of consciousness. Not every reader will be persuaded; but Dorter is to be commended for an attempt to move the discussion beyond the Phaedo and Plato's own vocabulary. The study gains its coherence from Dorter's belief that Plato's view of soul cannot support the ostensible aim of the dialogue, to provide reassurance of personal immortality. Although he has no doubt that for the Platonic Socrates there is "a meaningful sense in which we may be called immortal" (94, cf. 159), Dorter's analysis must be stretched to provide that sense. In part this is a result of his assessment of the arguments. The first, from reciprocity in nature, can at most show that, given the eternal nature of the world, soul and corporeality in general must continue to exist. The argument from recollection can point only to a non-empirical element in our knowledge ; that from the soul's kinship with the divine is best seen as an analogy developed to awaken within us a sense of eternity. The final argument, though containing fallacies (157), will support the conclusion that immortal soul is imperishable as long as soul is regarded as motive force in the universe, in the first argument's sense. In none of these discussions, then, can Plato's reasoning yield up personal survival. But there is another part to Dorter's case, underlying this conclusion. For Plato the individual human being is a composite of soul and body; so even if Plato were to prove the immortality of the soul he could never establish personal survival (63-64). It is not surprising then that Dorter is left with a doctrine of immortality either reduced to a "discovery of eternity within ourselves" (77), or else dissolved into a principle of enduring cosmic energy. So in neither case does it seem meaningful for Plato to say that we are immortal: the eternal which we sense is no more us than it is anything else. Although it is of course possible that Plato did not intend this consequence of his arguments, Dorter thinks otherwise. In support he invokes literary features of the dialogue to argue that Plato operates on one level for the less sophisticated (who wish to be persuaded of personal survival) and on another for the philosophically reflective reader. Dorter treats the textual evidence for this claim with an appropriate modesty, and tries to justify Plato's apparent duplicity as an attempt to convince the weak by a 'noble lie' (95-97). Nevertheless this leads Dorter to mix together too quickly for this reader popular religion, myth, and metaphor. To the fact that Plato does not espouse the language of popular religion literally, Dorter adds his own view of myth as an imaginative appeal to emotion that can be translated without loss into rational discourse (7, 165, a95). So the accounts of the afterlife at 8oc-84 b...



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Ken Dorter
University of Guelph

Citations of this work

The Phaedo as an Alternative to Tragedy.David Ebrey - 2023 - Classical Philology 118 (2):153-171.
Is the Idea of the Good Beyond Being? Plato's "epekeina tês ousias" Revisited.Rafael Ferber & Gregor Damschen - 2015 - In Debra Nails, Harold Tarrant, Mika Kajava & Eero Salmenkivi (eds.), SECOND SAILING: Alternative Perspectives on Plato. Wellprint Oy. pp. 197-203.
Socrates’ Warning Against Misology.Thomas Miller - 2015 - Phronesis 60 (2):145-179.

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