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Death in Plato'S Apology

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Death in Plato'S Apology

Daniel Sill

PHI 100.02

Fall 2012


        In Plato’s Apology, Socrates’ argument that death is a blessing begins with the premise that in death, either the soul is transported to another place where one is conscious and aware for eternity in some afterlife, or one is completely void of consciousness and perception for eternity. The former choice entails some system where the soul is either allowed into paradise or punished for their sins, while the latter is compared to a “dreamless sleep”. He also states that either of those two would be preferable to living. He shows that these premises lead to his conclusion by following each line of thought individually, stating that compared to a night of sound sleep, there are very few days and nights which are more pleasant. He also expresses the point that in this state, an eternity could pass in the same instantaneous way hours pass in the night. Socrates then argues that “If, on the other hand, death is a change from here to another place, and…all those who have died are there” there could be no greater blessing (Plato, 35). This is because he will then be afforded the opportunity to converse with and examine countless great people who lived before him for the rest of eternity.

        Several key terms Socrates uses are ambiguous and should be defined. The first term is “death”. When he uses the word death he refers to the death of the body and the termination of one’s life on earth, when the soul is separated from the body. The term “dreamless sleep” refers to a night during which the person asleep does not have any recollection of dreaming, and the whole night seems to pass in an instant. This term was chosen because it represents the closest analog to death, or complete lack of perception, that the living experience. “Blessing” is a term used to indicate that Socrates believes that whichever of the two theories of death turn out to be true, he will appreciate it and will be better off than to remain on Earth among the living.

        Socrates argument appears to be valid at first; however this is not the case. Although the conclusion does appear to follow from the premises, this argument is an example of a false dichotomy, where a situation is presented of having either one of two options, when in reality these options do not exhaust the possibilities; neither could be the case, rather something else entirely. Socrates states as a premise that death is either a “complete lack of perception” or “a change from here to another place”. This shows a lack of consideration for any other possibilities of an afterlife, such as reincarnation where the soul is believed to be born into a new body in another life, or nirvana where the soul becomes one with everything else in the universe. It could even be the case that the soul is left in some isolated state for eternity until it has gone completely insane. Since the only way to gain explicit knowledge of what happens after death is to actually die, one cannot evaluate the truth or falsehood of the premises, and therefore it is impossible to verify the soundness of this argument. It should also be taken into consideration that there is an element of personal belief and opinion incorporated into the argument. One must have faith in the same type of afterlife as Socrates, and also share the opinion that one of both of those occurrences are preferable to life.

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