Suicide in the Phaedo

Rhizomata 6 (2):157-188 (2018)
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In the Phaedo the character Socrates argues that suicide is morally wrong. This is in fact one of only two places in the entire Platonic corpus where suicide is discussed. It is a brief passage, and a notoriously perplexing one. In this article, I distinguish between two arguments that Socrates gives in support of his claim. I argue that one of them is not to be taken literally, while the other represents the deeper reason for the prohibition of suicide. I further relate the question of suicide to the overarching concerns of the Phaedo as a whole: the nature of our incarnate “imprisonment”, the nature and purpose of philosophy, the philosophical “purification” of the soul, the human pursuit of knowledge, and the nature of the divine.

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Daniel Werner
State University of New York (SUNY)


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