Recollecting Forms in the Phaedo

Phronesis 48 (3):175-214 (2003)

Abstract

According to an interpretation that has dominated the literature, the traditional interpretation as I call it, the recollection argument aims at establishing the thesis that our learning in this life consists in recollecting knowledge the soul acquired before being born into a body, or thesis R, by using the thesis that there exist forms, thesis F, as a premise. These entities, the forms, are incorporeal, immutable, and transcendent in the sense that they exist separately from material perceptibles, which in turn are related to them through participation and by being caused by them in some sense. But the properties of transcendence, immutability and incorporeality are sufficient to signal forms, and so the thesis that there exist forms claims that there exists entities with at least these three properties. In the first section of this paper, I argue that strong textual and more general exegetical reasons suggest that the traditional interpretation is mistaken. Furthermore, this interpretation, as I argue in the second section, fails to credit Plato with a proper argument for recollection. In section III, I present an alternative account of the argument for R in the "Phaedo". At the same time I defend a more general interpretation according to which the metaphysical doctrine Plato offers in the "Phaedo" represents a natural continuation of the philosophical position that stands at the centre of the dialectical conversations we find in the shorter Socratic dialogues.

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