The philosopher’s Reward: Contemplation and Immortality in Plato’s Dialogues

In Alex Long (ed.), Immortality in Ancient Philosophy (forthcoming)
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In dialogues ranging from the Symposium to the Timaeus, Plato appears to propose that the philosopher’s grasp of the forms may confer immortality upon him. Whatever can Plato mean in making such a claim? What does he take immortality to consist in, such that it could constitute a reward for philosophical enlightenment? And how is this proposal compatible with Plato’s insistence throughout his corpus that all soul, not just philosophical soul, is immortal? In this chapter, I pursue these questions by applying the distinction between general and earned immortality to the Phaedo and the Symposium. I argue that, while Plato attributes general immortality to all soul in the Phaedo, in the Affinity Argument, he proposes that the philosopher’s soul can achieve earned immortality through contemplating forms. It is this form of immortality that Plato claims is unavailable to humankind in the flux passage of the Symposium. At the same time, in the ascent passage, he holds out the possibility – albeit with significant reservations – that the philosopher’s soul may transcend its humanity and achieve earned immortality through its communion with the form.
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