Death and the Limits of Truth in the Phaedo

Apeiron 48 (3):263-284 (2015)


This paper raises a new interpretive puzzle concerning Socrates’ attitude towards truth in the Phaedo. At one point Socrates seems to advocate that he is justified in trying to convince himself that the soul is immortal and destined for a better place regardless of whether or not these claims are true, but that Cebes and Simmias should relentlessly pursue the truth about the very same matter. This raises the question: Why might Socrates believe that he will benefit from believing things about death irrespective of the truth, but that Cebes and Simmias will not? Why should they continue pursuing the truth? This paper argues that the relevant difference between Socrates and his friends is that Socrates is a fully accomplished philosopher, while his friends are not. This, I argue, makes Socrates an epistemic authority, and it is in virtue of being an epistemic authority that he is justified in not pursuing the truth about death. The upshot of this paper is that sometimes the demands of living well require that we abandon the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

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References found in this work

Other–Regarding Epistemic Virtues.Jason Kawall - 2002 - Ratio 15 (3):257–275.
Plato's Conception of Persuasion.Glenn R. Morrow - 1953 - Philosophical Review 62 (2):234-250.

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