And what is that, Socrates? said Cebes.
Why, this: When the feeling of pleasure or pain in the soul is most
intense, all of us naturally suppose that the object of this intense
feeling is then plainest and truest: but this is not the case.
And this is the state in which the soul is most enthralled by the
How is that?
Why, because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails
and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe
that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing
with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have
the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her
departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body;
so that she soon sinks into another body and there germinates and
grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and
pure and simple.
That is most true, Socrates, answered Cebes.
And this, Cebes, is the reason why the true lovers of knowledge are
temperate and brave; and not for the reason which the world gives.
Certainly not! For not in that way does the soul of a philosopher
reason; she will not ask philosophy to release her in order that when
released she may deliver herself up again to the thraldom of pleasures
and pains, doing a work only to be undone again, weaving instead of
unweaving her Penelope’s web. But she will make herself a calm of
passion and follow Reason, and dwell in her, beholding the true and
divine (which is not matter of opinion), and thence derive nourishment.
Thus she seeks to live while she lives, and after death she hopes
to go to her own kindred and to be freed from human ills. Never fear,
Simmias and Cebes, that a soul which has been thus nurtured and has
had these pursuits, will at her departure from the body be scattered
and blown away by the winds and be nowhere and nothing.
When Socrates had done speaking, for a considerable time there was
silence; he himself and most of us appeared to be meditating on what
had been said; only Cebes and Simmias spoke a few words to one another.
And Socrates observing this asked them what they thought of the argument,
and whether there was anything wanting? For, said he, much is still
open to suspicion and attack, if anyone were disposed to sift the
matter thoroughly. If you are talking of something else I would rather
not interrupt you, but if you are still doubtful about the argument
do not hesitate to say exactly what you think, and let us have anything
better which you can suggest; and if I am likely to be of any use,
allow me to help you.
Simmias said: I must confess, Socrates, that doubts did arise in our
minds, and each of us was urging and inciting the other to put the
question which he wanted to have answered and which neither of us
liked to ask, fearing that our importunity might be troublesome under
Socrates smiled and said: O Simmias, how strange that is; I am not
very likely to persuade other men that I do not regard my present
situation as a misfortune, if I am unable to persuade you, and you
will keep fancying that I am at all more troubled now than at any
other time. Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of
prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they
must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more than
ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the
god whose ministers they are. But men, because they are themselves
afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a
lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold,
or hungry, or in pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow,
nor yet the hoopoe; which are said indeed to tune a lay of sorrow,
although I do not believe this to be true of them any more than of
the swans. But because they are sacred to Apollo and have the gift
of prophecy and anticipate the good things of another world, therefore
they sing and rejoice in that day more than they ever did before.
And I, too, believing myself to be the consecrated servant of the
same God, and the fellow servant of the swans, and thinking that I
have received from my master gifts of prophecy which are not inferior
to theirs, would not go out of life less merrily than the swans. Cease
to mind then about this, but speak and ask anything which you like,
while the eleven magistrates of Athens allow.
Well, Socrates, said Simmias, then I will tell you my difficulty,
and Cebes will tell you his. For I dare say that you, Socrates, feel,
as I do, how very hard or almost impossible is the attainment of any
certainty about questions such as these in the present life. And yet
I should deem him a coward who did not prove what is said about them
to the uttermost, or whose heart failed him before he had examined
them on every side. For he should persevere until he has attained
one of two things: either he should discover or learn the truth about
them; or, if this is impossible, I would have him take the best and
most irrefragable of human notions, and let this be the raft upon
which he sails through life-not without risk, as I admit, if he cannot
find some word of God which will more surely and safely carry him.
And now, as you bid me, I will venture to question you, as I should
not like to reproach myself hereafter with not having said at the
time what I think. For when I consider the matter either alone or
with Cebes, the argument does certainly appear to me, Socrates, to
be not sufficient.
Socrates answered: I dare say, my friend, that you may be right, but
I should like to know in what respect the argument is not sufficient.
In this respect, replied Simmias: Might not a person use the same
argument about harmony and the lyre-might he not say that harmony
is a thing invisible, incorporeal, fair, divine, abiding in the lyre
which is harmonized, but that the lyre and the strings are matter
and material, composite, earthy, and akin to mortality? And when someone
breaks the lyre, or cuts and rends the strings, then he who takes
this view would argue as you do, and on the same analogy, that the
harmony survives and has not perished; for you cannot imagine, as
we would say, that the lyre without the strings, and the broken strings
themselves, remain, and yet that the harmony, which is of heavenly
and immortal nature and kindred, has perished-and perished too before
the mortal. The harmony, he would say, certainly exists somewhere,
and the wood and strings will decay before that decays. For I suspect,
Socrates, that the notion of the soul which we are all of us inclined
to entertain, would also be yours, and that you too would conceive
the body to be strung up, and held together, by the elements of hot
and cold, wet and dry, and the like, and that the soul is the harmony
or due proportionate admixture of them. And, if this is true, the
inference clearly is that when the strings of the body are unduly
loosened or overstrained through disorder or other injury, then the
soul, though most divine, like other harmonies of music or of the
works of art, of course perishes at once, although the material remains
of the body may last for a considerable time, until they are either
decayed or burnt. Now if anyone maintained that the soul, being the
harmony of the elements of the body, first perishes in that which
is called death, how shall we answer him?
Socrates looked round at us as his manner was, and said, with a smile:
Simmias has reason on his side; and why does not some one of you who
is abler than myself answer him? for there is force in his attack
upon me. But perhaps, before we answer him, we had better also hear
what Cebes has to say against the argument-this will give us time
for reflection, and when both of them have spoken, we may either assent
to them if their words appear to be in consonance with the truth,
or if not, we may take up the other side, and argue with them. Please
to tell me then, Cebes, he said, what was the difficulty which troubled
Cebes said: I will tell you. My feeling is that the argument is still
in the same position, and open to the same objections which were urged
before; for I am ready to admit that the existence of the soul before
entering into the bodily form has been very ingeniously, and, as I
may be allowed to say, quite sufficiently proven; but the existence
of the soul after death is still, in my judgment, unproven. Now my
objection is not the same as that of Simmias; for I am not disposed
to deny that the soul is stronger and more lasting than the body,
being of opinion that in all such respects the soul very far excels
the body. Well, then, says the argument to me, why do you remain unconvinced?
When you see that the weaker is still in existence after the man is
dead, will you not admit that the more lasting must also survive during
the same period of time? Now I, like Simmias, must employ a figure;
and I shall ask you to consider whether the figure is to the point.
The parallel which I will suppose is that of an old weaver, who dies,
and after his death somebody says: He is not dead, he must be alive;
and he appeals to the coat which he himself wove and wore, and which
is still whole and undecayed. And then he proceeds to ask of someone
who is incredulous, whether a man lasts longer, or the coat which
is in use and wear; and when he is answered that a man lasts far longer,
thinks that he has thus certainly demonstrated the survival of the
man, who is the more lasting, because the less lasting remains. But
that, Simmias, as I would beg you to observe, is not the truth; everyone
sees that he who talks thus is talking nonsense. For the truth is
that this weaver, having worn and woven many such coats, though he
outlived several of them, was himself outlived by the last; but this
is surely very far from proving that a man is slighter and weaker
than a coat. Now the relation of the body to the soul may be expressed
in a similar figure; for you may say with reason that the soul is
lasting, and the body weak and short-lived in comparison. And every
soul may be said to wear out many bodies, especially in the course
of a long life. For if while the man is alive the body deliquesces
and decays, and yet the soul always weaves her garment anew and repairs
the waste, then of course, when the soul perishes, she must have on
her last garment, and this only will survive her; but then again when
the soul is dead the body will at last show its native weakness, and
soon pass into decay. And therefore this is an argument on which I
would rather not rely as proving that the soul exists after death.
For suppose that we grant even more than you affirm as within the
range of possibility, and besides acknowledging that the soul existed
before birth admit also that after death the souls of some are existing
still, and will exist, and will be born and die again and again, and
that there is a natural strength in the soul which will hold out and
be born many times-for all this, we may be still inclined to think
that she will weary in the labors of successive births, and may at
last succumb in one of her deaths and utterly perish; and this death
and dissolution of the body which brings destruction to the soul may
be unknown to any of us, for no one of us can have had any experience
of it: and if this be true, then I say that he who is confident in
death has but a foolish confidence, unless he is able to prove that
the soul is altogether immortal and imperishable. But if he is not
able to prove this, he who is about to die will always have reason
to fear that when the body is disunited, the soul also may utterly
All of us, as we afterwards remarked to one another, had an unpleasant
feeling at hearing them say this. When we had been so firmly convinced
before, now to have our faith shaken seemed to introduce a confusion
and uncertainty, not only into the previous argument, but into any
future one; either we were not good judges, or there were no real
grounds of belief.
Ech. There I feel with you-indeed I do, Phaedo, and when you were
speaking, I was beginning to ask myself the same question: What argument
can I ever trust again? For what could be more convincing than the
argument of Socrates, which has now fallen into discredit? That the
soul is a harmony is a doctrine which has always had a wonderful attraction
for me, and, when mentioned, came back to me at once, as my own original
conviction. And now I must begin again and find another argument which
will assure me that when the man is dead the soul dies not with him.
Tell me, I beg, how did Socrates proceed? Did he appear to share the
unpleasant feeling which you mention? or did he receive the interruption
calmly and give a sufficient answer? Tell us, as exactly as you can,
Phaed. Often, Echecrates, as I have admired Socrates, I never admired
him more than at that moment. That he should be able to answer was
nothing, but what astonished me was, first, the gentle and pleasant
and approving manner in which he regarded the words of the young men,
and then his quick sense of the wound which had been inflicted by
the argument, and his ready application of the healing art. He might
be compared to a general rallying his defeated and broken army, urging
them to follow him and return to the field of argument.
Ech. How was that?
Phaed. You shall hear, for I was close to him on his right hand, seated
on a sort of stool, and he on a couch which was a good deal higher.
Now he had a way of playing with my hair, and then he smoothed my
head, and pressed the hair upon my neck, and said: To-morrow, Phaedo,
I suppose that these fair locks of yours will be severed.
Yes, Socrates, I suppose that they will, I replied.
Not so if you will take my advice.
What shall I do with them? I said.
To-day, he replied, and not to-morrow, if this argument dies and cannot
be brought to life again by us, you and I will both shave our locks;
and if I were you, and could not maintain my ground against Simmias
and Cebes, I would myself take an oath, like the Argives, not to wear
hair any more until I had renewed the conflict and defeated them.
Yes, I said, but Heracles himself is said not to be a match for two.
Summon me then, he said, and I will be your Iolaus until the sun goes
I summon you rather, I said, not as Heracles summoning Iolaus, but
as Iolaus might summon Heracles.
That will be all the same, he said. But first let us take care that
we avoid a danger.
And what is that? I said.
The danger of becoming misologists, he replied, which is one of the
very worst things that can happen to us. For as there are misanthropists
or haters of men, there are also misologists or haters of ideas, and
both spring from the same cause, which is ignorance of the world.
Misanthropy arises from the too great confidence of inexperience;
you trust a man and think him altogether true and good and faithful,
and then in a little while he turns out to be false and knavish; and
then another and another, and when this has happened several times
to a man, especially within the circle of his most trusted friends,
as he deems them, and he has often quarreled with them, he at last
hates all men, and believes that no one has any good in him at all.
I dare say that you must have observed this.
Yes, I said.
And is not this discreditable? The reason is that a man, having to
deal with other men, has no knowledge of them; for if he had knowledge
he would have known the true state of the case, that few are the good
and few the evil, and that the great majority are in the interval
How do you mean? I said.
I mean, he replied, as you might say of the very large and very small,
that nothing is more uncommon than a very large or a very small man;
and this applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small,
or swift and slow, or fair and foul, or black and white: and whether
the instances you select be men or dogs or anything else, few are
the extremes, but many are in the mean between them. Did you never
Yes, I said, I have.
And do you not imagine, he said, that if there were a competition
of evil, the first in evil would be found to be very few?
Yes, that is very likely, I said.
Yes, that is very likely, he replied; not that in this respect arguments
are like men-there I was led on by you to say more than I had intended;
but the point of comparison was that when a simple man who has no
skill in dialectics believes an argument to be true which he afterwards
imagines to be false, whether really false or not, and then another
and another, he has no longer any faith left, and great disputers,
as you know, come to think, at last that they have grown to be the
wisest of mankind; for they alone perceive the utter unsoundness and
instability of all arguments, or, indeed, of all things, which, like
the currents in the Euripus, are going up and down in never-ceasing
ebb and flow.
That is quite true, I said.
Yes, Phaedo, he replied, and very melancholy too, if there be such
a thing as truth or certainty or power of knowing at all, that a man
should have lighted upon some argument or other which at first seemed
true and then turned out to be false, and instead of blaming himself
and his own want of wit, because he is annoyed, should at last be
too glad to transfer the blame from himself to arguments in general;
and forever afterwards should hate and revile them, and lose the truth
and knowledge of existence.
Yes, indeed, I said; that is very melancholy.
Let us, then, in the first place, he said, be careful of admitting
into our souls the notion that there is no truth or health or soundness
in any arguments at all; but let us rather say that there is as yet
no health in us, and that we must quit ourselves like men and do our
best to gain health-you and all other men with a view to the whole
of your future life, and I myself with a view to death. For at this
moment I am sensible that I have not the temper of a philosopher;
like the vulgar, I am only a partisan. For the partisan, when he is
engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question,
but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions.
And the difference between him and me at the present moment is only
this-that whereas he seeks to convince his hearers that what he says
is true, I am rather seeking to convince myself; to convince my hearers
is a secondary matter with me. And do but see how much I gain by this.
For if what I say is true, then I do well to be persuaded of the truth,
but if there be nothing after death, still, during the short time
that remains, I shall save my friends from lamentations, and my ignorance
will not last, and therefore no harm will be done. This is the state
of mind, Simmias and Cebes, in which I approach the argument. And
I would ask you to be thinking of the truth and not of Socrates: agree
with me, if I seem to you to be speaking the truth; or if not, withstand
me might and main, that I may not deceive you as well as myself in
my enthusiasm, and, like the bee, leave my sting in you before I die.
And now let us proceed, he said. And first of all let me be sure that
I have in my mind what you were saying. Simmias, if I remember rightly,
has fears and misgivings whether the soul, being in the form of harmony,
although a fairer and diviner thing than the body, may not perish
first. On the other hand, Cebes appeared to grant that the soul was
more lasting than the body, but he said that no one could know whether
the soul, after having worn out many bodies, might not perish herself
and leave her last body behind her; and that this is death, which
is the destruction not of the body but of the soul, for in the body
the work of destruction is ever going on. Are not these, Simmias and
Cebes, the points which we have to consider?
Phaedo by Plato