Jeffrey Jakubec

Goya, Francisco. The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters. Etching from Los caprichos. 1796-99.

The Philosopher's Fear of Death

In the Phaedo, Socrates states that the philosopher, least of all people, is afraid of death, and yet, he seems to imply that it may not be possible to overcome this fear. This leaves the reader wondering whether the philosopher is able to overcome the fear of death, or not? Ian Robins argues that the passages in question refer to the philosopher’s continual practice of reminding the soul, by way of reasoning by hypothesis, that the bodily is not the whole of reality, and the soul is not of the bodily. The non-philosopher understands their reality as sensuous only, which runs the risk of conflating the soul with the body. This results in the non-philosopher fearing that the soul will die along with the body, whereas the philosopher overcomes this fear by reminding oneself of the non-sensuous nature of the soul. Hans-Georg Gadamer, in “The Proofs of Immortality in Plato’s Phaedo”, contrastingly claims the Phaedo does not aim at overcoming the fear of death. Instead, he argues, Plato’s argument centers on the inability for rationalism to know anything of life after death. Because of this inability to know anything about the afterlife, it is rational to fear the judgment which may occur if the soul carries on past death. Socrates, however, states his belief that he will be judged well and arrive among good masters. The philosophic method, as Socrates presents it, understands by way of intellectus, which aims to receive the perspective of the gods, allowing his reasoning to reflect that perspective. The proper philosophic method combines this reasoning to one’s actions, leaving no reason to fear any negative judgment from the gods, allowing the properly philosophic individual to overcome the fear of death.