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Degrees of Separation in the Phaedo

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image of Phronesis

It can be shown that, if we assume 'substance dualism', or the real distinctness of the soul from the body, then the standard objections to the Cyclical Argument in the Phaedo fail. So charity would presumably require that we take substance dualism to be presupposed by that argument.

To do so would not beg any question, since substance dualism is a significantly weaker thesis than the immortality of the soul. Moreover, there is good textual evidence in favor of this presumption. A closer look at the immediately preceding passage, viz. "Socrates' Defense", reveals an argument for a real distinction between soul and body, not unlike Descartes' famous argument, based on the identification of an activity in which the soul can in principle engage on its own, without assistance from the body.

The argumentative project of the Phaedo, on this reading, becomes: given that the soul is really distinct, show that it is immortal. And Plato aims to do this in two stages. The three initial arguments are meant to establish merely the minimal claim that the continued existence of the soul across cycles of reincarnation is the most plausible view to take, given substance dualism; and it is left to the Final Argument to argue for something that we might regard as immortality, that is, the imperishability of the soul, come what may.

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/content/journals/10.1163/156852803322145573
2003-04-01
2016-12-10

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