We have discussed how knowledge, for Plato, must come from what truly is, which, in Plato’s case, are those eternal Forms [], that lie outside of what is visible to us, and can be grasped only by intellectual insight, through rational inquiry. Thus, knowledge must be found beyond sensible particulars, as what is given through the senses is always in flux, changing, and ultimately an imperfect copy of what truly “is”. To articulate this theory of both knowledge and reality, Plato first gives us an image in the Symposium that I have referred to as “The Ladder of Love,” where Diotima shows Socrates a series of “ascending steps” to illustrate how we move from the love of individual beautiful things to the love of the Form of Beauty Itself, which is an intangible entity, transcendent, and attainable only through intellectual insight (p. 48; 210a-211e). Thus, philosophy is depicted in the Symposium as a form of Love (eros), which properly understood is a desire for knowledge in its true “form,” that which is eternal and unchanging. However, in the Phaedo, which we have only just began discussing, philosophy is described as “practicing nothing other than dying and being dead” (p. 9; 64a). Socrates (or, more accurately, Plato) then goes on to construct a series of complex arguments for the immortality of the soul. So, on the one hand, Plato describes philosophy as the true practice of love (eros) and, on the other hand, the practice of death.

What do you think Socrates (Plato) means when he describes philosophy as the practice of dying and being dead? How does this relate to the separability and immortality of the soul that Plato argues for in the Phaedo? How, on the other hand, is philosophy also reflective of the true nature of Love, as described by Socrates/Diotima in the Symposium, and how does this relate to the Ladder of Love and Love’s true object, Beauty Itself? Can these two views be reconciled? Are they consistent? Put another way, how do these two points from Plato’s dialogues relate to and support his overall view of knowledge and reality, which we have described as the “Dual-world Metaphysical View,” and the related Theory of the Forms? Finally, do you feel that Plato is advocating that we only direct our attention beyond this world and its affairs to a different, separate realm of existence, hence Socrates’ eagerness to meet his death in the Phaedo (see p. 5-9; 61c-64c), as well as his advocating for turning away from the body and inward toward the soul, shutting off the senses, in order to obtain knowledge of the eternal forms, which the soul knows innately (recollection)? Or, conversely, are Platos metaphysical and epistemological views, as we have so far characterized them, meant to instruct us on how to live in this world? If his teaching has bearing on this world, then what exactly, to your mind, is it? Are the two views mutually exclusive, or is there some way to reconcile them? If so, then how?

This is a lot to think about for our first Reflection Essay, but it may give you an opportunity to piece together the different strands of thinking of Plato’s philosophy and develop an account on how it all fits together. Alternatively, you may decide to be critical of Plato’s views thinking that these two works, the Symposium and Phaedo, are indeed at odds with one another. However you respond, you must develop your views in an essay format and respond to each question, referring to the texts, demonstrating that you have engaged with them and drawing from the lectures so far. Thus, this is not a mere “opinion piece.” Rather, you’re responding to the questions to the best of your ability reflecting what you’ve learned and thought about Plato so far.