Plato s phaedo
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Exploring Ethics (Cahn): Phaedo--Fearless death suggests a meaningful life - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

In this powerpoint, I present a way of reading the Phaedo where Socrates is viewed as living a meaningful life BECAUSE he was unafraid of death.

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Exploring Ethics (Cahn): Phaedo--Fearless death suggests a m...

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Plato’s Phaedo

Death and Meaning of Life

What makes for a life meaningful?

Could it be that if someone lives their life without fear of death, particularly in the process of dying, then it means they must have lived a meaningful life?

The argument of Phaedo? (Hypothesis)

  • If one lives a meaningful life, then they are not afraid of death.

  • Socrates was not afraid of death.

  • So, Socrates lived a meaningful life.

The point of Phaedo?

Socrates was not afraid of death. So, he lived a meaningful life.

  • Gives no thought to burial.

  • Treats death like a vacation.

  • Guard praises Socrates’ peace and kindness.

  • Immediately drinks the hemlock.

  • Drinks the hemlock ‘calmly.’

  • Celebrates his dying with friends.

  • Last words are to his own future health.

Problem: Fear of death seems best

  • Courage is the virtue of possessing fear but continuing to act. (Contrast with ‘cowardice’ and ‘rashness.’)

  • Dying is an act.

  • So, those who fear death while dying are courageous.

Response: Fear of death does not result in courage

  • Temperance is to have desires that do not agitate, but are held “lightly and decently”.

  • Courage is temperate.

  • Fear is intemperate.

  • So, those for whom death is fearful do not die courageously.

Response (cont.): Two types of Courage

  • If one is ‘passively courageous,’ they accept there lot in life and are carried away with the current of their death and dying process.

    E.g. People who let death occur from terminal illness (?)

  • If one is ‘actively courageous,’ they control their own destiny in spite of what others would view as best and despite the options available to them in their death and dying process.

    E.g. People who decide to “die with dignity” from terminal illness (?)

Response 2 (Cont.): Two types of Fear

  • If one is ‘passively fearful,’ they find objects/events of fear.

    E.g. People who, unprepared, screech at finding spiders, mice, etc.

  • If one is ‘actively fearful,’ they seek out objects/events of fear.

    E.g. People who engage in “dangerous” sport while knowing the danger.

Passive Fear (Spiders)

Active Fear (Cliff Diving)

Active Courage

Passive Courage

Pathways of Fear and Courage

Passive Courage

Active Courage

Socrates actively sought out fearful things (provoking people) and actively confronted the consequences (death). Hence, his death was an act of courage.

What was “death” for Socrates? How did he overcome and act in spite of death’s approach?

No: Annihilation








Pain (Hell)




Socrates and Death

Conclusion: If one is not afraid of death, then they lived a meaningful life.

Philosophy demonstrates that Death is not evil and should be sought out.

How might this relate to the relationship between not fearing death and living a meaningful life?

Perhaps it suggests that life is a kind of burden that must be worn lightly (?)

Life is itself a great subversion: to really live it you must not be afraid to lose it.

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