In Chapter 12 of his History of Western Philosophy entitled ‘Plato’s Theory of Immortality’ Russell brilliantly summarizes Plato’s Phaedo 77c-95a: ‘The doctrine of reminiscence being considered established, Cebes says: “about half of what was required has been proven; to wit, that our souls existed before we were born: – that the soul will exist after death as well as before birth is that other half of which the proof is still wanting [77c1-5, this and the following references are mine].” Socrates accordingly applies himself to this. He says that it follows from what was said about everything being generated from its opposite, according to which death must generate life just as much as life generates death [77c6-d5]. But he adds another argument, which had a longer history in philosophy: that only what is complex can be dissolved, and that the soul, like the ideas, is simple and not compounded of parts. What is simple, it is thought, cannot begin or end or change. Now essences are unchanging: absolute beauty, for example, is always the same, whereas beautiful things continuously change. Thus things seen are temporal, but things unseen are eternal. The body is seen, but the soul is unseen; therefore the soul is to be classified in the group of things that are eternal. The soul, being eternal, is at home in the contemplation of the eternal things, that is, essences, but is lost and confused when, as in sense perception, it contemplates the world of changing things.’
Follows a lengthy quotation in Jowett’s translation [in his note on Ch. 11, ‘Socrates’, Russell notes: ‘In quotations from Plato I have generally used Jowett’s translation.’ (p. 92)]: ‘The soul, when using the body as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sight or hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body is perceiving through the senses) … is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins around her, and she is like a drunkard, when she touches change [79c2-8] … But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself, and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom [79d1-7].’
Then Russel resumes his summarizing of what follows: ‘The soul of the true philosopher, which has, in life been liberated from the thraldom of flesh, will, after death, depart to the invisible world, to live in bliss in the company of the gods. But the impure soul, which has loved the body, will become a ghost haunting the sepulchre, or will enter the body of an animal, such as an ass or wolf or hawk, according to its character. A man who has been virtuous without being a philosopher will become a bee or wasp or ant, or some other animal of a gregarious and social sort. Only the true philosopher goes to heaven when he dies. “No one who has not studied philosophy and who is not entirely pure at the time of his departure is allowed to enter the company of the Gods, but the lover of knowledge only [82b10-c1].” That is why the true votaries of philosophy abstain from fleshly lusts: not that they fear poverty or disgrace, but because they “are conscious that the soul was simply fastened or glued to the body – until philosophy received her, she could only view the real existence through the bars of a prison, not in and through herself [82d9-e4], … and by reason of lust had become the principal accomplice in her captivity [82e6-83a1]”. The philosopher will be temperate because “each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and rivets the soul to the body, until she becomes like the body, and believes that to be true which the body affirms to be true [83d4-6].”
[There are discrepancies between the translation quoted by Bertrand Russell and Jowett’s translation in R. M. Hare & D. A. Russell’s edition of Jowett’s Plato. E. g. Russell’s Jowett: ‘until philosophy received her’, R. M. Hare & D. A. Russell’s Jowett: ‘until philosophy took her in hand’. I checked with Jowett’s Plato’s Phaedo in ‘Great Books of the Western World’, which one of my students donated to me when I was teaching philosophy at the University of Hawaii in 1969-70; Russell is true to the Jowett he had in his hands.]
Russell continues: ‘At this point, Simmias brings up the Pythagorean opinion that the soul is a harmony, and urges: if the lyre is broken, can the harmony survive? Socrates replies that the soul is not a harmony, for a harmony is complex, but the soul is simple. Moreover, he says, the view that the soul is a harmony is incompatible with its pre-existence, which was proved by the doctrine of reminiscence; for harmony does not exist before the lyre.’
The last paragraph is a very good summary of Phaedo 84d-86d (Simmias’ objection) and 91c-95a (Socrates’ reply to Simmias); but what follows is a fudge: ‘Socrates proceeds to give an account of his own philosophical development, which is very interesting, but not germane to the main argument. He goes on to expound the doctrine of ideas, leading to the conclusion “that ideas exist, and that other things participate in them and derive their names from them” [102b1-2]. At last he describes the fate of souls after death: the good go to heaven, the bad to hell, the intermediate to purgatory.’ (B. Russell, op. cit. pp. 139-140.)
Russell is wrong when he says that Socrates’ account of his own philosophical development is not germane to the main argument; he omitted to mention Cebes’ argument, which occasioned it. Socrates sums it up as follows: ‘You want to have it proven to you (axiois epideichthȇnai) that the soul is imperishable and immortal (hȇmȏn tȇn psuchȇn anȏlethron te kai athanaton ousan), for otherwise the philosopher, who meets death confidently in the belief that he will fare better in the world below than if he had led another sort of life, must be the dupe of a vain and foolish confidence (ei philosophos anȇr mellȏn apothaneisthai, tharrȏn te kai hȇgoumenos apothanȏn ekei [‘there’] eu praxein diapherontȏs ȇ ei en allȏi biȏi bious eteleuta, mȇ anoȇton te kai ȇlithion tharros tharrȇsei): and you say that the demonstration of the strength and divinity of the soul, and of her existence prior to our becoming men, does not of necessity imply her immortality, but only that she is long-lived, and has known and done much in a former state of immense duration (to de apophainein hoti ischuron ti esti hȇ psuchȇ kai theoeides kai ȇn eti proteron, prin hȇmas anthrȏpous genesthai, ouden kȏluein phȇis panta tauta mȇnuein athanasian men mȇ, hoti de poluchronion te estin psuchȇ kai ȇn pou proteron amȇchanon hoson chronon kai ȇidei te kai epratten polla atta). Still she is not on that account immortal (alla gar ouden ti mallon ȇn athanaton); and her entrance into the human form may itself be a form of decease which is the beginning of dissolution (alla kai auto to eis anthrȏpou sȏma elthein archȇ ȇn autȇi olethrou, hȏsper nosos), and she may be sorely vexed during her earthly life (kai talaipȏroumenȇ te dȇ touton ton bion zȏiȇ), and sooner or later perish in what is called death (kai teleutȏsa ge en tȏi kaloumenȏi thanatȏi apolluoito). And whether the soul enters the body once only or many times, does not, as you say, make any difference in the fears of individuals (diapherein de dȇ phȇis ouden eite hapax eis sȏma erchetai eite pollakis, pros ge to hekaston hȇmȏn phobeisthai). For any man who is not devoid of sense must fear (prosȇkei gar phobeisthai, ei mȇ anoȇtos eiȇ), if he has no knowledge (tȏi mȇ eidoti) and can give no account of the soul’s immortality (mȇde echonti logon didonai hȏs athanaton esti).’ (95b9-e1; like Russell, I use Jowett’s translation, but in R. M. Hare & D. A. Russell’s edition; the text I brought from Hawaii is too dilapidated, and I cherish it.)
What Cebes asks for is an enormity: he asks Socrates on his last day, face to face the approaching death, to overcome his not-knowing, or else, if he can’t do it, he is to face death as a foolish man, if he is happy to die. No wonder it took Socrates a long time before he decided to answer: ‘Socrates paused for a long while (Ho oun Sȏkratȇs suchnon chronon epischȏn), and seemed to be absorbed in reflection (kai pros heauton ti skepsamenos). At length he said: You are raising a tremendous question, Cebes (Ou phaulon pragma, ephȇ, ȏ Kebȇs, zȇteis), involving the whole nature and cause of coming into being and ceasing to be (holȏs gar dei peri geneseȏs kai phthoras tȇn aitian diapragmateusasthai), about which, if you like, I will give you my own experience (egȏ oun soi dieimi peri autȏn, ean boulȇi, ta ge ema pathȇ); and if anything which I say seems helpful to you (epeita an tis soi chrȇsimon phainȇtai hȏn an legȏ), you may use it to overcome your difficulty (pros tȇn peithȏ peri hȏn dȇ legeis chrȇsȇi).’ (95e7-96a4) … When I was young, Cebes (egȏ gar, ephȇ, ȏ Kebȇs, neos ȏn), I had a prodigious desire to know that department of philosophy which is called the investigation of nature (thaumastȏs hȏs epethumȇsa tautȇs tȇs sophias hȇn dȇ kalousi peri phuseȏs historian); to know the causes of things, and why a thing is and is created or destroyed, appeared to me to be a lofty profession (huperȇphanos gar moi edokei einai, eidenai tas aitias hekastou, dia ti gignetai hekaston kai dia ti apollutai kai dia ti esti, 96a6-10) … at last I concluded myself to be utterly and absolutely incapable of these inquiries (teleutȏn houtȏs emautȏi edoxa pros tautȇn tȇn skepsin aphuȇs einai hȏs ouden chrȇma, 96c1-2) … but I have in my mind some confused notion of a new method, and can never admit the other (alla tin’ allon tropon [tȇs methodou] autos eikȇi phurȏ, touton de oudamȇi prosiemai, 97b6-7).’
Before Socrates returns to his ‘confused notion of a new method’ and clarifies it, he makes a digression: ‘Then I heard someone reading, as he said, from a book of Anaxagoras (All’ akousas men pote ek bibliou tinos, hȏs ephȇ, Anaxagorou anagignȏskontos, kai legontos), that mind was the disposer and cause of all (hȏs ara nous estin ho diakosmȏn te kai pantȏn aitios), and I was delighted at this notion (tautȇi dȇ tȇi aitiai hȇsthȇn te), which appeared quite admirable (kai edoxe moi tropon tina eu echein to ton noun einai pantȏn aition), and I said to myself (kai hȇgȇsamȇn): If mind is the disposer, mind will dispose all for the best, and put each particular in the best place (ei touth’ houtȏs echei, ton ge noun kosmounta panta kosmein kai hekaston tithenai tautȇi hopȇi an beltista echȇi); and I argued that if anyone desired to find out the cause of the generation or destruction or existence of everything, he must find out what state of being or doing or suffering was the best for that thing (ei oun tis bouloito tȇn aitian heurein peri hekastou hopȇi gignetai ȇ apollutai ȇ esti, touto dein peri autou heurein, hopȇi beltiston autȏi estin ȇ einai ȇ allo hotioun paschein ȇ poiein), and therefore a man had only to consider what was best and most desirable both for the thing itself and for other things (ek de dȇ tou logou toutou ouden allo skopein prosȇkein anthrȏpȏi kai peri autou ekeinou [‘both concerning the man himself’] kai peri tȏn allȏn all’ ȇ to ariston kai to beltiston), and then he must necessarily also know the worse (anankaion de einai ton auton touton kai to cheiron eidenai), since the same science comprehends both (tȇn autȇn gar einai epistȇmȇn peri autȏn). Arguing in this way (tauta dȇ logizomenos), I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired (hasmenos hȇurȇkenai ȏimȇn didaskalon tȇs aitias peri tȏn ontȏn kata noun emautȏi, ton Anaxagoran).’ (97b8-d7) … How high were my hopes, and how quickly were they lost to me (Apo dȇ thaumastȇs elpidos, ȏ hetaire, ȏichomȇn pheromenos)! As I proceeded [in reading his book] (epeidȇ proiȏn kai anagignȏskȏn) I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind (horȏ andra tȏi men nȏi ouden chrȏmenon) and making no appeal to any other principle of order (oude tinas aitias epaitiȏmenon eis to diakosmein ta pragmata), but having recourse to air, and ether, and water (aeras de kai aitheras kai hudata aitiȏmenon), and many other eccentricities (kai alla polla kai atopa). I might compare him to a person who began by maintaining generally that mind is the cause of the actions of Socrates (kai moi edoxe homoiotaton peponthenai hȏsper an ei tis legȏn hoti Sȏkratȇs panta hosa prattei nȏi prattei), but who, when he endeavoured to explain the causes of my several actions in detail (k’apeita epicheirȇsas legein tas aitias hekastȏn hȏn prattȏ), went on to show that I sit here because my body is made up of bones and muscles (legoi prȏton men hoti dia tauta nun enthade kathȇmai, hoti sunkeitai mou to sȏma ex ostȏn kai neurȏn); and the bones, as he would say, are hard and have joints which divide them (kai ta men osta estin sterea kai diaphuas echei chȏris ap’ allȇlȏn), and the muscles are elastic (ta de neura hoia epiteinesthai kai aniesthai), and they cover the bones (periampechonta ta osta), which have also a covering or environment of flesh and skin which contains them (meta tȏn sarkȏn kai dermatos ho sunechei auta); and as the bones swing in their sockets (aiȏroumenȏn oun tȏn ostȏn en tais autȏn sumbolais), through the contraction or relaxation of the muscles (chalȏnta kai sunteinonta ta neura) I am able to bend my limbs (kamptesthai pou hoion t’ einai eme nun ta melȇ), and this is why I am sitting here in a curved posture (kai dia tautȇn tȇn aitian sunkamphtheis enthade kathȇmai) – that is what he would say; and he would have a similar explanation of my talking to you (kai au peri tou dialegesthai humin heteras toiautas aitias legoi), which he would attribute to sound, and air, and hearing, and he would assign ten thousand causes of the same sort (phȏnas te kai aeras kai akoas kai alla muria toiauta aitiȏmenos), forgetting to mention the true cause (amelȇsas tas hȏs alȇthȏs aitias legein), which is (hoti), that the Athenians have thought it better to condemn me (epeidȇ Athȇnaiois edoxe beltion einai emou katapsȇphisasthai), and accordingly (dia tauta dȇ) I thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence (kai emoi beltion au dedoktai enthade kathȇsthai, kai dikaioteron paramenonta hupechein tȇn dikȇn hȇn an keleusȏsin); for I strongly suspect that these muscles and bones of mine would long ago have been in Megara or Bootia (epei nȇ ton kuna, hȏs egȏ’mai, palai an tauta ta neura kai ta osta ȇ peri Megara ȇ Boiȏtous ȇn), borne there by their own idea of what was best (hupo doxȇs pheromena tou beltistou ‘born by the opinion of what is best’), if I did not think it more right (ei mȇ dikaioteron ȏimȇn) and honourable (kai kallion einai) to endure any penalty ordered by the state, instead of running away into exile (pro tou pheugein te kai apodidraskein hupechein tȇi polei tȇn dikȇn hȇntin’ an tattȇi).’ (98b7-99a4)
Socrates goes on to say: ‘That it is really the good and the right which holds and binds things together (kai hȏs alȇthȏs to agathon kai deon sundein te kai sunechein), they never reflect (ouden oiontai). Such then is the principle of causation which I would fain learn if anyone would teach me (egȏ men oun tȇs toiautȇs aitias hopȇi pote echei mathȇtȇs hotououn hȇdist’ an genoimȇn). But as I have failed either to discover it myself, or to learn it of anyone else (epeidȇ de tautȇs esterȇthȇn kai out’ autos heurein oute par’ allou mathein hoios te egenomȇn), I will exhibit to you, if you like, the method I have followed as the second best mode of inquiring into the cause (ton deuteron ploun epi tȇn tȇs aitias zȇtȇsin hȇi pepragmateumai boulei soi, ephȇ, epideixin poiȇsȏmai, ȏ Kebȇs).’ (99c5-d2)
Burnet in his note ad loc. says: ‘the paroemiographers [collectors of proverbs] say this expression is used epi tȏn asphalȏs ti prattontȏn, kathoson hoi diamartontes kata ton proteron ploun asphalȏs paraskeuazontai ton deuteron [‘concerning those who do something safely, in so far as they did something wrong during their earlier journey (voyage, sailing) and prepare for a safe second one’]. According to this, the reference would be rather to a less adventurous than to a ‘second best course’. See, however, Eustathius in Od. p. 1453, 20 deuteros plous legetai hote apotuchȏn tis ouriou kȏpais pleȇi kata Pausanian [‘second voyage is said about those who takes to the oars in the absence of wind, according to Pausanias’]. … In any case, Socrates does not believe for a moment that the method he is about to describe is a pis aller or “makeshift”. The phrase is ironical like eikȇi phurȏ (Jowett’s ‘some confused notion’, 97b7).’
Hackforth notes: ‘We should not regard it as ironical here: relatively to a discovery of the sort of cause which he had hoped to find worked out by Anaxagoras that which he is going to describe is second best; if there were also a suggestion that it is second-best relatively to the method of physicians (which I do not believe), that no doubt would be ironical.’ (Hackforth, Plato’s Phaedo, Cambrige University Press, 1955, p. 127, n. 5)
So let us see how Socrates describes it: ‘Well, here is what I mean (All’ hȏde legȏ); it is nothing new (ouden kainon, 100b1), but what I have constantly spoken of both in the talk we have been having and at other times too (all’ haper aei te allote kai en tȏi parelȇluthoti logȏi ouden pepaumai legȏn). I am going to attempt a formal account of the sort of cause that I have been concerned with (erchomai dȇ epicheirȏn soi epideixasthai tȇs aitias to eidos ho pepragmateumai), and I shall go back to my well-worn theme (kai eimi palin ep’ ekeina ta poluthrulȇta) and make it my starting-point (kai archomai ap’ ekeinȏn); that is, I shall assume the existence of a beautiful that is in and by itself (hupothemenos einai ti kalon auto kath’ hauto), and a good (kai agathon), and a great (kai mega), and so on with the rest of them (kai t’alla panta); and if you grant me them (ha ei moi didȏs te) and admit their existence (kai sunchȏreis einai tauta), I hope (elpizȏ) they will make it possible for me to discover and expound to you the cause of the soul’s immortality (soi ek toutȏn tȇn aitian epideixein kai aneurȇsein hȏs athanaton psychȇ).’ (100b1-9) … It appears to me (phainetai gar moi) that if anything else is beautiful (ei ti estin allo kalon) besides the beautiful itself (plȇn auto to kalon) the sole reason for its being so is that it participates in that beautiful (oude di’ hen allo kalon einai ȇ dioti metechei ekeinou tou kalou); and I assert that the same principle applies in all cases (kai panta dȇ houtȏ legȏ, 100c4-6). … It follows that I can no longer understand nor recognize those other learned causes which they speak of (Ou toinun eti manthanȏ oude dunamai tas allas aitias tas sophas tautas gignȏskein); if anyone tells me (all’ ean tis moi legȇi) that the reason why such-and-such a thing is beautiful (di’ hoti kalon estin hotioun) is that it has a bright colour (ȇ chrȏma euanthes echon) or a certain shape (ȇ schȇma) or something of that kind (ȇ allo hotioun tȏn toioutȏn), I take no notice of it all (ta men alla chairein eȏ), for I find it all confusing, (tarattomai gar en tois allois pasi) save for one fact, which in my simple, naїve and maybe foolish fashion I hug close (touto de haplȏs kai atechnȏs kai isȏs euȇthȏs echȏ par’ emautȏi): namely that what makes a thing beautiful is nothing other than the presence or communion of that beautiful itself (hoti ouk allo ti poiei auto kalon ȇ hȇ ekeinou tou kalou eite parousia eite koinȏnia eite hopȇi dȇ kai hopȏs prosgenomenȇ) – if indeed these are the right terms to express how it comes to be there: for I won’t go so far as to dogmatize about that, but merely affirm that all beautiful things are beautiful because of the beautiful itself (ou gar eti touto diischurizomai, all’ hoti tȏi kalȏi panta ta kala kala). That seems to me the safest answer for me to give whether to myself or to another (touto gar moi dokei asphalestaton einai kai emautȏi apokrinasthai kai allȏi); if I hold fast to that (kai toutou echomenos) I feel I am not likely to come to grief (hȇgoumai ou pote pesein); yes, the safe course is to tell myself or anybody else that beautiful things are beautiful because of the beautiful itself (all’ asphales einai kai emoi kai hotȏioun allȏi apokrinasthai hoti tȏi kalȏi ta kala kala).’(100c9-e3, tr. R. Hackforth)
The ‘beautiful itself’ as ‘the cause’ within the framework of Socrates’ life-long philosophic activities – ever since his failed attempt to fix his ‘Forms’ ontologically as a challenge to Parmenides’ ‘all is one’, when in his youth he met Zeno and the aging Parmenides, for which see ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ on my website – is just a notional cause. This is why he can say that ‘the safe course is to tell myself or anybody else that beautiful things are beautiful because of the beautiful’. That this is so becomes apparent when Socrates comes to the point of overcoming ‘the safe course’ by a new safe course, derived from the first one by giving the Forms real causal function: ‘The course of our argument has led me to discern a different kind of safety from that which I mentioned originally (legȏ dȇ par hȇn to prȏton elegon apokrisin, tȇn asphalȇ ekeinȇn, ek tȏn nun legomenȏn allȇn horȏn asphaleian). Thus, if you were to ask me (ei gar eroio me) what must come to be present in a thing’s body to make it hot (hȏi an ti en tȏi sȏmati engenȇtai thermon estai), I should not give you that safe, stupid answer “heat” (ou tȇn asphalȇ soi erȏ apokrisin ekeinȇn tȇn amathȇ [not ‘stupid’, but ‘unlearned’, ‘unsophisticated’], hoti hȏi an thermotȇs), but a cleverer one now at my disposal (alla kompsoteran ek tȏn nun), namely “fire” (hoti hȏi an pur).’ (105b6-c2, tr. Hackforth)
Hackforth’s ‘now at my disposal’ stands for ek tȏn nun, which means ‘from those now’, i.e. ‘from those things we have now discussed’. So let me give a relevant piece of what was discussed. Socrates: ‘Do you speak of “hot” and “cold” (thermon ti kaleis kai psuchron)?’ – Cebes: ‘I do (Egȏge).’ – Soc. ‘Meaning by them the same as “snow” and “fire” (All’ hoper chiona kai pur)?’ – Ceb. ‘Why no, of course not (Ma Di’ ouk egȏge).’ – Soc. ‘That is to say, the hot is different from fire (All’ heteron ti puros to thermon), and the cold from snow (kai heteron ti chionos to psuchron).’ – C. ‘Yes (Nai).’ – S. But I think you would agree (Alla tode g’ oimai dokei soi) that what starts as snow (chiona g’ ousan) cannot ever, as we were saying just now, admit the hot and still be what it was (dexamenȇn to thermon, hȏsper en tois prosthen elegomen, eti esesthai hoper ȇn): still be snow and also hot (chiona kai thermon); on the approach of the hot (alla prosiontos tou thermou) it will either withdraw or perish (ȇ hupekchȏrȇsein autȏi ȇ apoleisthai).’ – C. ‘Quite so (Panu ge).’ – S. ‘Again fire (Kai to pur ge au), when the cold approaches it (prosiontos tou psuchrou), will either get out of its way (ȇ hupexienai) or perish (ȇ apoleisthai); it will never bring itself to admit coldness (ou mentoi pote tolmȇsein dexamenon tȇn psuchrotȇta) and still be what it was (eti einai hoper ȇn), still be fire and also cold (pur kai psuchron).’ (103c11-d12, tr. Hackforth)
Aristotle says in Metaphysics A: ‘In the Phaedo the case is stated this way – that the Forms are causes both of being and of becoming (en de tȏi Phaidȏni houtȏ legetai, hȏs kai tou einai kai tou gignesthai aitia ta eidȇ estin, 991b3-4, tr. W. D. Ross.’ In De Generatione et Corruptione (On Coming-to-be and Passing-away) Aristotle says: ‘But some people have thought the nature of the “forms” was enough to account for coming-to-be (all’ hoi men hikanȇn ȏiȇthȇsan aitian einai pros to gignesthai tȇn tȏn eidȏn phusin). Socrates, for instance, did so in the Phaedo (hȏsper ho en Phaidȏni Sȏkratȇs); for he (kai gar ekeinos), after finding fault with the other philosophers for having made no pronouncement on the subject (epitimȇsas tois allois hȏs ouden eirȇkasi), lays it down (hupotithetai) that some of the things which exist are “forms” (hoti esti tȏn ontȏn ta men eidȇ) and others “partakers in the forms” (ta de methektika tȏn eidȏn), and that each thing is said to exist in virtue of the “form” (kai hoti einai men legetai hekaston kata to eidos) and to come-to-be in virtue of its participation in the “form” (gignesthai de kata tȇn metalȇpsin) and to pass-away because of its rejection of it (kai phtheiresthai kata tȇn apobolȇn). Hence he thinks that, if this is true, the “forms” are necessarily the causes of both coming-to-be and passing-away (hȏst’ ei tauta alȇthȇ, ta eidȇ oietai ex anankȇs aitia einai kai geneseȏs kai phthoras).’ (335b9-17, tr. E. S. Forster) – Forster translates Aristotle’s hȏs ouden eirȇkasi ‘for having made no pronouncement’, which is wrong; Socrates in the Phaedo speaks at length about foolish pronouncements of other philosophers concerning the causes of things. H. H. Joachim translates better: ‘Thus Socrates in the Phaedo blames everybody else for having given no explanation.’ – If someone were speaking a whole day, yet what he said made no sense, the Greeks would say: ‘he said nothing’ (ouden eirȇke).
In the Parmenides Socrates introduces the Forms as follows: ‘But tell me, Zeno (tode de moi eipe), do you not further think that there is an idea of likeness in itself (ou nomizeis einai auto kath’ hauto eidos ti homoiotȇtos), and another idea of unlikeness, which is the opposite of likeness (kai tȏi toioutȏi au allo ti enantion, ho esti anomoion), and that in these two (toutoin de duoin ontoin), you and I and all other things (kai eme kai se kai t’alla) to which we apply the term many (ha dȇ polla kaloumen), participate (metalambanein) – things which participate in likeness (kai ta men tȇs homoiotȇtos metalambanonta) become in that degree and manner like (homoia gignesthai tautȇi te kai kata tosouton hoson an metalambanȇi); and so far as they participate in unlikeness become in that degree unlike (ta de tȇs anomoiotȇtos anomoia), or both like and unlike in the degree in which they participate in both (ta de amphoterȏn amphotera)?’ (128e6-129a6)
Then Parmenides asks Socrates: ‘And would you make an idea of man apart from us and from all other human creatures, or fire and water (Ti d’, anthrȏpou eidos chȏris hȇmȏn kai tȏn hoioi hȇmeis esmen pantȏn, auto ti eidos anthrȏpou ȇ puros ȇ kai hudatos)?’ – Socrates: ‘I am often undecided, Parmenides, as to whether I ought to include them or not (En aporiai pollakis dȇ, ȏ Parmenidȇ, peri autȏn gegona, potera chrȇ phanai hȏsper peri ekeinȏn ȇ allȏs).’ (130c1-4) … Parmenides: ‘That is because you are still young (Neos gar ei eti); the time will come, if I am not mistaken, when philosophy will have a firmer grasp of you (kai oupȏ sou anteilȇptai philosophia hȏs eti antilȇpsetai kat’ emȇn doxan), and then you will not despise even the meanest things (hote ouden autȏn atimaseis, 130e1-3, tr. Jowett ).’
In the Phaedo Socrates fulfilled Parmenides’ prophesy, pushed aside his quibbles concerning the Forms – just as Plato did in the Parmenides (see ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ on my website) – and envisaged the Forms as true causes.
The more I think about it, the more likely it seems to me that when Plato returned to Athens from his second Sicilian voyage, with Dionysius’ promise that he would invite him back and his own promise that he would return, the first dialogue he wrote for his students in the Academy – who were to do without him after he left – was the Phaedo, followed by the Parmenides.