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Copyright © 2017 by J Horsfield @ Hearts Minds Media
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The purpose of philosophy and of man?
Discussions on the history and metaphysics of philosophy
J Horsfield, 2017
These pages are a collection of my studies on history and metaphysics of philosophy as a post-grad student with amendments and alterations to better reflect my journey through these areas to discuss the purpose of philosophy and of man as a thinking being.
I hope you enjoy and it stimulates interest in these fundaments areas of philosophy.
‘According to Plato, what is the task of a philosopher?’
The book Phaedo is a discourse between Socrates and his closest friends. It is set on the day of his execution and deals with a great many subjects, specifically, the existence of the soul and duty of the philosopher. Socrates says ‘that he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good
cheer when he is about to die.’¹ Socrates argued in his discussion that the philosopher has a number of duties, most critical are the desire to embrace death daily to live life to its fullest and to be free from fears and other moral imperatives. Socrates sets out the points for a philosopher’s life to be aimed towards wisdom and knowledge and the rejection of the temptations of the body and lesser pleasure’s.
Within this essay, I will begin by considering the philosophers attitude towards death and to examine how the soul and the body are influenced by one another. The next point will be how Plato viewed the pleasure’s of the body and how their nature affects the attainment of wisdom.
Leading on from this, I will examine what virtues are most important for the philosopher, concluding with the commitment of the philosopher.
Socrates argues throughout the Phaedo that the philosopher has nothing to fear from death, as the soul is eternal. Simmias who was present at the time and one of Socrates close friends, proposed in the discussion that the soul is imprisoned by the body. Such a description of the soul was paramount to Socrates argument that the soul is a form within the body and can be corrupted by the daily pursuit of lower vices. While Simmias states so far as saying that the body is a prison for the soul and thereby the soul is dependant and subverted to the bodily demands. Socrates counters by saying that the soul is a part of and yet separate from the body, and upon death the soul is released and able to continue rather than fade away.
Whilst discussing with Simmias, Socrates poses the question of the relationship between the body and the soul and how a ‘true philosopher’ should view the requirements and pleasure of the body. He argues that the true philosopher should be focussed on distancing themselves from the body and the pleasure of the body, he should view the soul as a living breathing entity which should be fed with the attainment of wisdom and the pursuit of truth.
Socrates asks of Simmias ‘Then when does the soul attain truth?-for in attempting to consider
anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived’, which Simmias replies ‘That is true’ ². In this singular point, Socrates must believe that in order to seek truth, reason above all must be employed. By the definition, anything which the body relies on (e.g. senses, experiences, demands) must be deceptive towards truth. Socrates later states in the same section ‘And in this the philosopher dishonours the body; his soul runs away from the body and desires to be alone and by herself?’ ³ Both Socrates and Simmias agree on these points, which show that not only should the true philosopher believe that the body can deceive or distort truth, but all act as a hindrance to cultivating the soul.
By coming to this conclusion, the soul must be disconnected from the bodily pursuits and be solely devoted to as possible by the Philosopher. The discourse continues in saying that not only should bodily pleasures be avoided as not advantageous to the philosopher but despised as being in opposition to the life of the scholar. He should keep in mind always that the soul is the primary beneficiary of the philosophers’ learning and understanding.
Socrates clearly answers this by saying ‘There is a virtue, Simmias, which is named courage. Is not that a special attribute of the philosopher?’
Whilst Socrates and Simmias agreed upon this, there is a clear point to be made in the definition of courage by these men. Courage and temperance might be believed to be a contradiction of nature, but by existing within the philosopher can be used to full benefit of despising the body and acting in accordance with the pursuit of wisdom. By defining courage and the balance of temperance in a disciplined individual, they can be made to serve the enlightened person and not rule him by actions of emotion. Socrates and Simmias go onto discuss the issue of discipline ‘Is not the calm, and control, and disdain of the passions which even the many call temperance, a quality belonging only to those who despise the body and live in philosophy?’
Through the above discourse, Socrates talks with Simmias on the nature of virtues, which enable the philosopher to be true to his calling, Courage to seek truth and defend their position when they take a stand upon a viewpoint has been a central theme throughout Socrates’s life as a philosopher.