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Self-Discovery in Plato’s Phaedo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

How can we know ourselves? This thesis argues that Plato’s dialogue Phaedo replies to this difficult question. The dialogue suggests that we must discover our intellectual desire and governing function through the practice of philosophical investigation. Although this is an implicit suggestion, it is just as important as the explicit discussion of the soul’s immortality.
Focusing on this topic, the thesis also argues that we should read the dialogue as a suggestion for the process of improving a human being; it does not intend to provide a complete definition of the soul’s nature. A philosopher will recognise his progress towards achieving his objective, the Forms, through the investigation itself. Moreover, this thesis argues that Phaedo asserts that a philosophical desire should be found explicitly in a process of discussion with Socrates. In the first main discussion of the dialogue, interlocutors of Socrates request him to defend the goodness of death (62c-63a). This goodness is based on a claim that death as the soul’s separation from the body provides them with wisdom. However, the defence will be meaningless to people who do not desire wisdom. When the interlocutors become clearly conscious of their desire for wisdom, Socrates’ arguments would succeed in the truest sense.
The process of the philosophical investigation, though, is not simple. This thesis will argue that a philosopher must employ both objective discussion and subjective self-recognition of his desire, which contrasts with the view that focuses on the objective understanding of human psychology in Plato’s work. This thesis argues for a reading of Phaedo that focuses on the process of self-improvement, not the goal or the definition of the soul’s nature. Moreover, it also emphasizes self-discovery of intellectual desire in a philosopher, which cannot be reduced to an objective discussion.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2018


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