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oregon plato


PHAEDO, 57a - 61c






    The opening of the Phaedo (57a - 61c)is as complex as that of either the Symposium or the Theaetetus. Although several book length treatments of the Phaedo have been published during the past twenty years , no thoroughgoing analysis of the opening exists. I think that this inhibits the fullest possible understanding of what this dialogue tells us, not only about the fate of the soul, but also about that form of “music” called “philosophy.” 

This paper concentrates on an analysis of the first part of that “prologue” (57a -b), what I call the three journey motifs --  Phaedo’s journey to Elis that combines themes of homecoming and liberation; the “accidental” journey of the “theoroi” to Delos in Theseus’ ship to honor Apollo; Theseus’ trip to the Labyrinth and his slaying of the Minotaur. My claim is that each of these journey motifs foreshadows the subjects of the dialogue -- the fate of the soul and the nature of philosophy  -- and offers us figurative templates for thinking about these issues. That three, or perhaps four, such templates are offered, that none is privileged, and that all are figurative, indicates something about the way in which the issues of the dialogue will be taken up and also, I believe, and most importantly,  tell us something about how philosophy will work in face of the question of the meaning of death. 

In the time I have today I will only analyze the first journey motif, Phaedo’s homecoming, and then offer remarks on what the journey motifs in general tell us about the status of philosophy in the face of the question of the soul’s fate.

The Phaedo begins on the road, halfway through Phaedo’s journey from Athens back to his native Elis,  with a peremptory question posed by a man who recently left his native city  in Southern Italy. 

“Autos?” -- “You? -- Phaedo - were you yourself present when Socrates drank that poison in the prison or did you just hear about it from somebody else?”(57a),  asks the refugee Echecrates to the traveler Phaedo. We find ourselves in a narrative present without any framing, somewhere and somewhen that has yet to be established. We do know that the conversation is taking place after Socrates’ death.  We know that the person being interrogated is Phaedo, who we, as knowledgeable “Athenians”, know is that young man who was such 

an ardent student of Socrates.(FN)  We also learn quickly enough that the person asking the question is Echecrates ( he is named in list of characters), and that the conversation is taking place in a small city called Phlius. We learn, from ancient sources, that this man is a Pythagorean, the head of a colony of Pythagoreans. Echecrates was said to have been taught by the most illustrious of Pyhtagoreans, the Theban Philolaus (FN)  Phaedo is on his way home to his native city of Elis on the west coast of the peninsula. 

Aside from Echecrates’ peremptory question, another question, unwritten, hangs in the metaphoric air. What in the world are we (by “we” I mean the putative audience, we Athenians who are hearing the piece read) doing in Phlius? Homeric song, myths, lyric poems, hero tales and tragic poems often take Athenians to a faraway narrative geography,  and even Plato sometimes transports us, as readers, to places like the world of the soul and Atlantis. But in this case we are much more literally displaced, since we are, inexplicably, there in the public spaces of Phlius to serve as an audience to the conversation between Phaedo and Echecrates. For reasons unexplained ( something I will try to do),  and in a move Plato has never made before and will never make again, we find ourselves in a foreign setting, and en route home with Phaedo. The farthest a dialogue ever gets from Athens is when the much-discussed Theaetetus travels a short way down the road to Megara, Athens’ near neighbor and part of her sphere of influence.  But in this case we are in the middle of the Peloponnese, site of Athens’ sworn enemy, Sparta, in a town that Echecrates says never sends visitors to Athens and rarely receives any. It’s a place Athenians almost never go, a city with no important or even trivial connection to Athens. The setting cannot be accidental, even though great care is taken, rhetorically, to strike a note of accident.  

Phaedo just happens to be stopping along the way home in one of those towns one finds on any long trip, a place in the road that comes up just as night is falling. He is not there to do anything; his visit is not really a visit at all but a stopover. We can imagine Echecrates, who seems to have a serious interest in Socrates and philosophy, hearing that this guy from Athens, a known associate of Socrates, is passing through town. We can imagine Echecrates seeking Phaedo out and introducing himself -- they would have no mutual friends -- and we can further imagine Echecrates prevailing on Phaedo to tell what he knows about the death of Socrates. 

This dialogue then, the all-important narrative of what Socrates said and did during the final hours of his life, only happens because Phaedo, with other matters on his mind, happens to stop at 

the out of the way town of Phlius on his away away from Athens, and happens to hook up with the curious and half-informed Echecrates And we, mirabile dictu, happen to along for the ride! 

The themes of accident, geographical displacement and temporal complexity, all woven into the theme of dialogue-as-journey, mark this opening and the remainder of the brief but overdetermined prologue, and it is these themes and subthemes that I want to unpack first. 

Why are we so far from Athens? The first bit of relevant information in responding to this question is that we are “with” Phaedo. He is far from Athens, and getting farther away all the time. Two questions press on us: why is he leaving and getting farther away, and why are we with him? The answer to the first question is that  Phaedo has no further reason to remain in Athens, now that his mentor and model is dead, and because, in the absence of Socrates, Phaedo has no reason at all to love that city. He was brought there as a captive, made into a slave, placed in a brothel to be an unwilling male prostitute, and kept from returning home to his former station as an Elisian aristocrat.  After his freedom was purchased under Socrates’ influence Phaedo devoted himself full time to learning how to become a philosopher, a process that began even before his liberation when, as a slave, he would sneak away from his duties and join Socrates’ circle in the streets of Athens.  

For Phaedo Socrates represented freedom in a double sense: Socrates freed him from literal 

slavery and then freed him from the slavery of the passions and the body. He also represented a home for the displaced youth; as long as Socrates was alive Phaedo belonged to his circle and found a metaphoric and literal home there in the city that had otherwise used him so ill. 

But when the city of which Phaedo was not a citizen and in which he was not even a metic executed Socrates the young philosopher-in-training had no reason to linger. Socrates’ philosophic circle was clearly not enough to keep Phaedo in the city and so he left as soon as he could.  And we seem to have left with him. Why?

Here is my educated guess, with which I am certain some of you will contend.  We are with Phaedo because Plato has chosen to burden him, as literary figure, with a special mission, or with a special 

mission that has several levels. Phaedo leaves and takes Socrates, in the form of Socrates’ last lengthy philosophical conversation, with him. This is important on more than one level. First, now that Socrates is dead and buried he is no longer anywhere. His body is no doubt buried in Athens, perhaps in the Kerameikos district along the road leading into the city. But he, the essential Socrates, Socrates-as-soul,  the speaking Socrates, has disappeared. Perhaps his soul has already journeyed to the next world to be with the gods but Socrates cannot be found in his native city, the one he vowed never to desert even at the cost of his life. But here, in the person of Phaedo, his most beholden follower, Socrates can be found still in this world, in the “person” of a perfectly or near-perfectly remembered conversation in which Socrates is resurrected into a timeless narrative present. Whenever he chooses (by accident?) to open his mouth Phaedo can bring the missing Socrates back to life.  

He does so with an authenticity that obviously outstrips, in Plato’s eyes and in his artistic judgment, that of any of the dozen or more other people who were present at Socrates’ death, including the Theban youths Simmias and Cebes who are Socrates’ major interlocutors in the piece. It is the protophilosopher Phaedo, an outsider, a former slave and prostitute, rather than the well-placed Thebans or other Athenian and Megaran aristocrats whom Plato chooses as the one to carry Socrates’ “body” and more important his soul across the face of Greece. 

This is both a political and a philosophical comment. Politically Plato is distancing Socrates and philosophy from his/its native city, suggesting perhaps that Athens is no longer worthy to be the home of philosophy because it killed its major practitioner.  And for similar reasons no Athenian or neighboring citizen is worthy of bearing the last Socratic conversation, partly because all Athenians are tainted, even those loyal to Socrates and partly because in a hostile Athens no such conversation could be publicly rehearsed without negative consequences. 

Phaedo’s possession of Socrates’ “soul” in the form of his final earthly conversation, which not  accidentally is about Socrates’ death and about death, and the nature of philosophy, in general, is also appropriate because Phaedo is a philosopher-in-training who knows enough to know how to listen to and remember what was philosophically significant in Socrates’ final conversation. But he is better suited to be the philosopher-in-training who remembers and recounts this conversation because unlike his aristocratic “rivals” Phaedo has suffered exclusion, imprisonment and rejection, and has been an inveterate outsider, experiences and qualities that affine him with Socrates who ended his life as an imprisoned reject, cast outside the society of the city he loved so dearly. Phaedo is in a better existential position to preserve his master’s message because his position in the world ties him more profoundly to Socrates than anyone else (perhaps including Plato himself) is tied. On this level we belong with Phaedo because he is Socrates’ best witness.

There is another level to this choice of the departing Phaedo. Not only is he the best witness but he is also the one whose departure suggests something new and exciting about philosophy. It is no longer an Athenian monopoly but can be practiced by any Greek who cares enough to participate, even if that Greek is an Elisian or a Phliasian. With Phaedo philosophy leaves its Athenian confines and  becomes itinerant. Socrates goes on the road, and that is the only place where you can see him.

This going on the road inside Phaedo’s body (his soul?) as an invisible gift aligns Phaedo even more deeply with Socrates. Just as, in Symposium, Alcibiades compared Socrates to a Selenos statue that, when broken open, revealed images of the gods, (215 b)  so too is Phaedo like Socrates like Selenos in the fact that when he is “broken open”, or asked, he too reveals that he hides gods, or the divine Socrates and the “secret” of philosophy. He, like the Selenos, and like Socrates, comes with pipes and flutes in his hands, that is, he comes, like Socrates to “sing” and thereby to enchant. (see Phaedo, 61 e, 77e, 84d - 85 b, 114 d,) And in another connection, also related to the great erotic dialogue, Phaedo is carrying a philosophical, verbal “child”, what Diotima described as the proper issue of a philosophical union, in the form of the his memory of the last philosophical conversation the first philosopher ever had. (209, b - e)  Phaedo is both philosophically pregnant and the carrier of hidden godly images, two different ways to characterize the tale he has to tell. In a third register, unnoted in any other dialogue, Phaedo is also like a living sarcophagus, or flesh eater. He has “eaten” or introjected the all important final conversation and when his “lid” is opened by  questions he reveals the Socratic remains, the last dialogue, which now serves as Socrates’ “body.”

Phaedo is protophilosopher, the outsider  who shares imprisonment in Athens and marginalization with Socrates, and who is now going to his proper home as Socrates went to his when he died. As he travels home, finally free, to become a philosopher in his own right, he carries a hidden image of god (the Socratic tale), a philosophical child (the Socratic tale) and Socrates’ “remains” (the Socratic tale) inside him as a remembered discourse that can be reanimated anywhere and anywhen, thereby making Socrates available to anyone Phaedo meets on his homeward journey. Phaedo the traveler is the guarantor of one form of Socrates’ life after death. As he puts his first person narrative in play, Socrates is broadcast, and he can then come alive again in the discourse of whoever hears Phaedo and remembers the words of the story. Of course every iteration by a new listener/speaker carries the tale one further remove from first person witnessing, and something will inevitably be lost. But Phaedo allows Socrates to travel well beyond Athens and for him to be resurrected all over Greece. 

We now have some ideas about why Phaedo is central to this dialogue but we have only begun to scratch the surface of the homeward journey motif. So far I have restricted my remarks to a consideration of how Phaedo is a Socrates and philosophy “carrier”, infecting new listeners with the disease of philosophy wherever he stops. But  let’s go a little deeper. If both Phaedo and Socrates are philosophers, and if Socrates says in Phaedo that philosophy is a preparation for dying, then there is on one level a connection between philosophy and dying (both are sorts of activities) and one between Socrates and Phaedo but now also, perhaps, there is a connection between philosophy and making journeys and also by extension one between dying and making a journey. Could we suggest that  one useful way to think about what Socrates was doing, and one good reason for putting him and his final dialogue on the road with Phaedo, is that doing philosophy is like taking a journey, is like setting out on a path, and that dying should also be understood in this way? What more appropriate setting for the retelling of the final dialogue of philosophy-as-journey and death-as-journey than a journey? Phaedo is on a journey home telling about the double journey of death and philosophy.

This journey Phaedo is making is as we said above a homeward trip; is philosophy also a homeward voyage, and is death one too? We also said that Phaedo’s trip was one of liberation: he 

was fleeing his enslavement and the imprisonment and death of his mentor. Are philosophy, and death, also to be understood as a form of flight from imprisonment? 

There is one final further layer of complexity to be added. As far as we can tell in the dialogue, we are the only Athenian witnesses to the recitation of the final Socrates tale. But we are, in a powerful sense, already in the dialogue rather than free agents outside its scope. The question then becomes -- how did this tale told on the road, far from Athens in a town no Athenian ever visits, by a guy who had no intention of ever going back to Athens, and therefore witnessed by no one who would ever go to Athens, have appeared in pristine form, perfect in every detail, as Plato’s text in the Athens to which that text could not have traveled?  This is, in short, a dialogue that could never have happened or, had it happened, it could never have been known, either to have happened or in substance. Yet here it is and we are reading it, in Athens, as it was written out by a Plato who could not have written it. 

What does this make clear? It makes clear that the setup, the characters, the site, all the “frame” are a skillfully crafted fiction none of whose elements is accidental or without significance. If there were ever a demonstration of the reality of the “logographic necessity” that Socrates attributes to valid writing in Phaedo, this is it. (FN) Since the dialogue could not have happened and been known the fact that it is perfectly known means that it was perfectly crafted in a most plausible way to make some point or points and the fact that it is on the road needs just the sort of overdetermined hermeneutic frenzy as I have just elaborated on it.

But there is then something else, something more still. If this is a carefully crafted tale, essentially a piece of fiction, designed to tell us the meaning of Socrates’ death and the significance of both death and philosophy, then why not get on with the job? Why delay the conversation and why create a complex allusive connection between doing philosophy and taking journeys of homecoming and liberation? If the read is reasonable at all what Plato is telling us very early on is that doing philosophy is like going on a journey home, and a journey of liberation, and that Phaedo is like Socrates in his journeying and that philosophy is like death. Nothing here is anything, and perhaps in this prologue we are being introduced, however subtly, to an idea about philosophy: perhaps it only tells of likenesses, not of identities, perhaps it has to keep deferring its explanations along a line of analogies that is ever receding, and that therefore philosophy cannot unequivocally name Being or offer an account of things that is more than plausible, more than a brilliantly crafted fiction.

This pattern of ever-receding likenesses continues throughout the dialogue and shapes every one of its arguments, all of which are analogical and hypothetical. Perhaps in the face of the question of death, philosophy, even in the mouth of Socrates, can only tell likely stories rather than unvarnished truth. 

Philosophy has to revert to useful fictions and likely stories and analogies and hypotheses because in the case of death it can not attain the level of certainty it would like to achieve and that it seems designed to achieve. Or, perhaps philosophy as Plato conceives it in this dialogue is a collection of stories, supposals, hypotheses, analogies, and that the use of such strategies is not a reversion at all, but the very substance of what philosophy can do in the face of the question of death. 

Both characterizations of philosophy seems entirely consistent with two  revealing methodological suggestions Plato offers later in the dialogue, and they are also consistent with the way in which Socrates is characterized, and characterizes himself in this dialogue.

Socrates offers one of the instructions, Simmias offers another. After Socrates has presented his first set of arguments for the immortality of the soul (70 c ff.), both Simias and Cebes, his young Theban interlocutors, appear disappointed. Simmias says that  (85 c -d) when one is faced with such questions as that of the fate of the soul, which he thinks it is all but impossible to answer in this world, (86c) one has two recourses. One can hope for a divine revelation but, barring such an unlikely eventuality, one must cling to the argument that stands up best against attacks, as if one were clinging to a raft on a stormy sea, and ride out the storm of life holding fast to this best possible answer to an impossible question. (86 d) As Simmias puts the matter:

For he must do one of two things; either he must find out or discover the truth

about these things, or if that is impossible, he must take whatever human doctrine is best and hardest to disprove and, embarking on it as upon a raft, 

sail upon it through life in the midst of dangers (86d)

And Simmias clearly does not believe that the arguments Socrates has offered provide such a raft.

We could read this passage as a striking, lyrically powerful version of a Socratic commonplace, namely that the arguments and positions we ought to accept, as philosophers, are only those that stand up to the most relentless logical testing. This is the way of the elenchus.  But is this what Simmias means in this case? Recall that he has already admitted that such questions as the fate of the soul are all but impossible to answer. So it is not as if he is relying on the elenchus to produce a deductively impeccable or empirically unequivocally warranted claim. What he is looking for is an  argument (or arguments) that stand up best against attack, not at perfect or wholly conclusive arguments. And in the case of answering a question nearly impossible to answer, the arguments might not be very strong ones at all. And Simmias might not be referring to a single argument but perhaps, as I suggested above, at an array of different kinds of “arguments”, including likely stories and analogies and hypotheses. Just as Simmias uses an analogical figure (the raft), and a metaphor (life is a stormy sea) to weave a dramatic narrative (clinging to the raft of argument on life’s stormy sea) to gesture toward the impossibility of producing a strict proof for the immortality of the soul, just so he might be endorsing just such strategies as legitimate elements in philosophical practice. 

Even though Simmias putativley uses this analogy and metaphor to criticize Socrates’ arguments 

(except for the Forms argument, which he accepts without demur) he also then himself offers a weak argument based on an analogy, that of the soul as harmony, or as like a harmony. Cebes follows this analogical-cum-metaphoric argument with another, also based on an analogy: souls are like tailors who make coats that evnetually wear out, and so forth. The particulars these arguments are not important for mt purposes. What I want to emphasize is that Simmias and Cebes both put forward weak analogical arguments to counter Socrates’ admittedly weak arguments, which operate by analogy, affinity, and examples taken from sensory experience. The point is that not one of the arguments, pro or con, is irrefutable, and none seems like more than a likely story that can be countered by equally likely stories that run in opposite logical directions. 

This point is strongly reinforced when Phaedo speaks in his own voice ((88c), talking “out” of his recitation to Echecrates to relate the fact that after Simmias an Cebes had posed their counter-theories about the soul, everyone present was depressed. They had all been thoroughly persuaded by arguments that now seemed unconvincing, and now did not know what to believe and 

had lost confidence that any future argument would hold up any better. The counter-arguments seemed enough  to undo the devotees’ beliefs. They had gone well beyond Simmias’ warnings and had scuttled all possible rafts. Echecrates agrees completely. He too was thoroughly convinced and now has lost all faith in arguments. He needs a new, more convincing argument. 

Socrates’ response is a direct refutation of the both Phaedo’s and Echecrates’ loss of faith and, I want to suggest, a reaffirmation of the validity of Simmias’ call to find the best answer 

available and cling to it. He makes his point in an odd shift, speaking in this instance directly to Phaedo, who now becomes an active character in the dialogue, even though he phrases his responses to Socrates with reference outside the story, by saying “I said”, to Echecrates. Perhaps Phaedo is the one person involved in and around the dialogue who must know this lesson more fully than anyone else because he has to recognize that arguments are of varying merits and that such variance does not condemn all of them to complete falsehood. 

This response comes in his fascinating attack on misology, a “monster” he considers a larger threat to the flourishing of souls than fear of death itself. (89 b - 91c) The misology argument itself operates by an analogy. Socrates calls our attention to how inexperienced people behave when they make friends. Such people tend to overvalue their new friend, imagining that they see in him or her all manner of virtues and perfections, which must belong to that individual because they are the naive person’s friend. When, as inevitably happens, the friend fails to live up to these inflated and inaccurate expectations, and reveals some flaw, be that minor or major, the naive friend-maker turns on the “friend” with great bitterness -- a bitterness born of naiveté -- and vows never to befriend anyone again because all people are false. These people are missing the great truth about people (and, by extension, the great truth about arguments): (90a) “there are not very many very god or very bad people, but the great majority are something between the two.” Relating this to objects in general, (90a), Socrates states that  “extreme instances are few and rare, while intermeiate ones are many and plentiful.”

Socrates likens this pattern to how  naive people treat arguments. When they are less than logically sophisticated they can get taken in by less-than-perfect arguments and place far more reliance on such arguments than they have any right to do. When the arguments collapse, as Socrates’ first round of arguments for the immortality of the soul seem to have collpsed,  they abjure all argument and declare that all reasoning is fallacious and designed to entrap us in indefensible beliefs. 

What does this tell us about philosophy, and about the “bad” arguments for the soul’s immortality? Well, let’s begin with a notion that never gets said about the immortality arguments in Phaedo. Of course they don’t work -- but neither do any other arguments that have ever been proposed to prove the immortality of the soul. What if Simmias is right, that this question really is all but impossible for we mortals to answer without divine help? In that case we would not expect arguments proving the soul’s immortality to “work”, and would be less unsettled or critical when they fail to do what they cannot ever have done.  But returning to the misology argument, one thing that Socrates seems to be arguing for is the idea that just because arguments, like friends, are imperfect does not mean (i) that they are bad friends or arguments or (ii) that one should lose all faith in either friends or arguments.  Conflating these two ideas, we might say that Socrates is suggesting that there are some egregiously bad and misleading arguments (as there are genuinely bad people) and in these cases skepticism is wholly justified. There are also, possibly, near-perfect arguments and really good people, though these are probably quite rare, and when we encounter such we need to acknowledge their relative perfection and know that it is genuine. But the most important thing we might be learning is that most arguments, like most potential friends, fall somewhere between perfection and perfidy, logical purity and gross incoherence, and that they are none the less still arguments for all their imperfections.  What we have to learn is not to hate and reject such limited and fallible arguments, just as we ought not reject a limited and fallible friend, especially when the limits of both friend and argument are unavoidable.

If we combine this instruction with Simmias’ warning about the difficulty of getting answers when we ask about the fate of the soul, the weakness of the immortality arguments makes a lot more sense, as does my suggestion that the dialogue opens with a thicket of likenesses and allusions and implicit comparisons. Taken together, the weak arguments and the thicket of allusions and likenesses suggest that we have to approach the question of the soul’s immortality through the imperfect media available to souls trapped in a thick world ruled by the body and its senses.  And this means that philosophy in this instance includes storytelling and allusion as some of its “arguments.”

This claims is further warranted by the way in which, also in the dialogue’s Prologue, Socrates introduces  himself on the last day of his life. He begins by reminding us of the position from which he must pose the question of the soul’s immortality. He has been shackled and when his irons are struck off in preparation for drinking the hemlock, Socrates feels the pleasure of circulation returning to his leg, as well as the memory of the pain that he had just felt. (60 a-b) We meet Socrates, whose soul is what is at issue in the dialogue, in a most unsoulish pose, rubbing the circulation back into this leg. At this point he is all body, and will remain a body until the hemlock does its work. The position from which Socrates has to pose his questions is one in which he is still imprisoned in his body, and this is what makes questions about the soul all but impossible to answer and requires us to be tolerant of having to deploy less-than-perfect arguments. 

Socrates confirms these intuitions. He immediately offers a theory about the relationship between pleasure and pain, and says that were he Aesop he could make up a likely story about why when we experience one of these things we inevitably expect to experience the other. Then he proceeds to make up just such a likely story, ambiguously doing precisely what he later says he is not able to do, which is to make up stories (myths, fables, likely stories). (60 b -c) He thereby presents himself first as a hedonist then as a fabulist, two characterizations that run sharply against the ways in which Socrates usually presents himself. 

The situation becomes more complicated when Cebes tells Socrates that he has heard that Socrates was using the unexpected extra time in jail to do two things that Socrates has not only avoided doing but has condemned in more than one dialogue,  most famously in both the Republic and the Phaedrus, and most recently in the Apology.  He has been writing, and making “demotic” poems.  Cebes is sufficiently puzzled to ask Socrates why. (60d)

Socrates answer adds to the strangeness, because not only does he freely admit that he has become a demotic poet and a writer, in addition to being a hedonist and a fabulist, but he has also taken up a late career as an interpreter of dreams, something shamans and magicians, not psychoanalysts, did in ancient Greece. He seems to have become everything but a philosopher, and to have adopted callings that he has explicitly rejected in the past. (60e - 61c) What is going on, and what does it have to do with my earlier claims about the nature of philosophy in the Phaedo ?

Socrates explains that he has been using his time to set Aesop’s fables to verse and to work on versifying a hymn to Apollo because he has been responding to certain dreams that he has been having for a long time. He says that the dreams do not always take exactly the same shape but they always deliver the same message: “Socrates, you must produce music”.  Now “mousiké” in Greek usage can mean, as Roochnik says,  virtually any cultural production. In Socrates’ case, he once thought it meant producing what he was already producing, the unwritten, non-versified “music” of philosophy. We note that Socrates has here established a crucial continuum between demotic poetry, storytelling, verse and doing philosophy, as if all of these activities were some version of a single enterprise, all forms of “music”. 

If that is true then perhaps fables and hymns and poems are part of the same sort of activity as philosophy. This position is clearly different from other positions Socrates has taken with respect to the question of the relationship between philosophy, writing and poetry. 

Socrates says he reinterpreted the dream to mean that he should (also) produce some ordinary 

(demotic) poetry. He figured that he might as well read the dreams more literally since he was about to die and had the time to interpret them in this more obvious way.  If he enacted the dreams more literally he would have covered all his bases and made sure he honored what the dreams had asked of him. 

So he wrote poems. He did not write his own poems but adapted Aesop’s fables to verse because as he says he cannot create fictions (mythoi), even though he just did that  when he made up an Aesopian fable to account for the close relationship between pleasure and pain.  It is relevant to note that the one fiction, or mythos, that he created, and the materials for his poems, both had to do with likely stories rather than things he simply made up. Socrates’ fictions are always tales that encode some rational claim, a narrative version of a theoretical position or perception. His stories are likely, not creative, stories. 

What we have then in Socrates’ self-description is the image of a man who is definitely a philosopher, practicing that “music”, which is not fictional or mythological, while also, in this dialogue at least, practicing other forms of music-making, that consists in either crafting or recasting a set of likely stories which have a theoretical point. If these are not philosophy in the strictest sense they are related to it as other forms of music, and so are not exactly not philosophy, either. And in the face of the impossible question of the fate of the soul perhaps Socrates has to redescribe both himself and the enterprise of philosophy to include likely stories, weak arguments, hypotheses, analogies, likenesses, allusions and other forms of making connections that under more favorable circumstances would not need to be used to approach the truth. The vivid image of Simmias’ raft keeps returning: are these weak arguments, likenesses, images and hypotheses, these demotic forms of storytelling, the tools philosophers have to use when faced with impossible questions?  And is then philosophy, at least in this dialogue about death and the fate of the soul, an assembly of reminders rather than a single canonical method?

I close by stating something that is probably obvious. I am not suggesting that Plato is some form of postmodern thinker avant le mot. He is not suggesting that doing philosophy is, as Nietzsche expressed it, the assembling of an army of metaphors. Nor is he advancing the position that philosophy must have recourse to likely stories because it is inherently incapable of naming Being. Rather I am suggesting that in Phaedo alone, because it is a dialogue about the fate of the soul, the relative impotence of reason to penetrate the veil of death compels philosophy, and Socrates, to make a truce with poetry, fable and writing, and to enunciate a doctrine against misology that allows weaker arguments, and literary figures, to substitute for arguments that reason, trapped in time and space, cannot make. Whether philosophy is reverting to these “lesser” forms or naturally includes them is a question for which I do not have a definitive answer. My point here is that either answer is plausible, given the figures and arguments from the Phaedo that I have cited.

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