how the true philosopher practices for death (from the Phaedo)


SOCRATES:   Never mind him, said Socrates. Now for you, my jury. I want to explain to you how it seems to me natural that a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy should be cheerful in the face of death, and confident of finding the greatest blessing in the next world when his life is finished. I will try to make clear to you, Simmias and Cebes, how this can be so.

            Ordinary people seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward.

SIMMIAS:       Simmias laughed and said, Upon my word, Socrates, you have made me laugh, though I was not at all in the mood for it. I am sure that if they heard what you said, most people would think--and our fellow countrymen would heartily agree--that it was a very good hit at the philosophers to say that they are half dead already, and that they, the normal people, are quite aware that death would serve the philosophers right.

SOCRATES:   And they would be quite correct, Simmias--except in thinking that they are 'quite aware.' They are not at all aware in what sense true philosophers are half dead, or in what sense they deserve death, or what sort of death they deserve. But let us dismiss them and talk among ourselves. Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?

            Most certainly, said Simmias, taking up the role of answering.

            Is it simply the release of the soul from the body? Is death nothing more or less than this, the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition by itself of the soul when released from the body? Is death anything else than this?

            No, just that.

            Well then, my boy, see whether you agree with me. I fancy that this will help us to find out the answer to our problem. Do you think that it is right for a philosopher to concern himself with the so-called pleasures connected with food and drink?

            Certainly not, Socrates, said Simmias.

            What about sexual pleasures?

            No, not at all.

            And what about the other attentions that we pay to our bodies?

Do you think that a philosopher attaches any importance to them? I

mean things like providing himself with smart clothes and shoes and other bodily ornaments; do you think that he values them or despises them--in so far as there is no real necessity for him to go in for that sort of thing?

            I think the true philosopher despises them, he said.

            Then it is your opinion in general that a man of this kind is not concerned with the body, but keeps his attention directed as much as he can away from it and toward the soul?

            Yes, it is.

            So it is clear first of all in the case of physical pleasures that the philosopher frees his soul from association with the body, so far as is possible, to a greater extent than other men?

            It seems so.

            And most people think, do they not, Simmias, that a man who finds no pleasure and takes no part in these things does not deserve to live, and that anyone who thinks nothing of physical pleasures has one foot in the grave?

            That is perfectly true (Phaedo 63e-65a).