November 5, 2014
Professor James Connelly
The topic of this paper is the immortality of the soul. I will explain and assess Plato’s argument for the immortality of the soul, as developed in the Meno and Phaedo. In addition, this paper will discuss what epistemological considerations Plato used to support his view of the immortality of the soul, and how these considerations supported this view. I find Plato’s arguments for the immortality of the soul convincing. My thesis is that our souls are immortal. First, I will give some background information of how the argument for immortality of the soul started. Second, I will discuss how knowledge as recollection supports my thesis. Third, I will discuss the theory of forms and how it supports my thesis. Finally, I will discuss the nature of and the relationship between the mind, the body and the soul and how it provides evidence for my thesis.
The Meno is a dialogue that represents the writings of Plato during the time when Plato was transitioning from writing as a student of Socrates to writing on his own. In this dialogue, Plato uses Socrates as a character to express his views. The dialogues start out with Socrates and Meno discussing the moral concept of ‘virtue’. Meno is a well-known aristocrat that was visiting Athens at the time. Meno was questioning Socrates if the concept of virtue could be taught? Socrates, who claims to know nothing, did not know if virtue could be taught because he did not know what virtue meant. Meno tells Socrates that Gorgias, a well-known Sophist (i.e., Ancient Greek Philosopher), gave him some information on what the concept virtue meant. When Socrates asks Meno to explain what Gorgias said about virtue, Meno gave examples of virtue but did not give him the general description that he was hoping for. Finally, Meno gave Socrates the general definition that he had been waiting for: “virtue is the ability to rule over others” (73d). Socrates was still not satisfied with this definition. This lead to a debate on the subject until Meno agreed that he did not really know the meaning of virtue. To try and settle the debate, Socrates introduced knowledge as recollection to Meno.
Socrates wanted to show Meno that we are born with the knowledge of moral and theoretical concepts just like we are born knowing that we need to eat. This in turn, began an argument that our souls are immortal. In other words, we are born with knowledge, but when our souls’ connect to the human body, the knowledge is forgotten. Once this happens, this knowledge is forgotten and we must recollect it in order to use it; this is called knowledge as recollection. The idea of innate knowledge or knowledge that we have before experience, is called a priori knowledge and a posteriori knowledge is knowledge that we have after birth or what we obtain after experience. Another difference between a priori and a posteriori knowledge is that a priori is knowledge does not need to be investigated to know that it is true; but, a posteriori knowledge requires empirical investigation to prove that it is true. Meno starts to agree with Socrates’ theory on knowledge as recollection but wants to see some evidence.
Socrates continues to discuss knowledge as recollection and hypothesizes that if we ask ourselves a series of questions, we can recall forgotten knowledge. To test his hypothesis, Socrates asks Meno’s slave boy a series of questions regarding a geometrical problem, even though the slave boy has not be taught geometry before. The geometrical question is: how do you find a square double in area to any given square (p. 58). Socrates breaks down this question into a series of questions that the slave boy answers successfully. Because the slave answered the questions correctly, Socrates infers that the slave was able to answer the questions about geometry, even though he does not know anything about geometry because he was