The Ethics and Moral Psychology of Plato's 'Phaedo'

Reed, Douglass, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Devereux, Daniel, Department of Philosophy, University of Virginia

In the 'Phaedo' Plato portrays Socrates on his dying day. All of the dialogue’s arguments and investigations are precipitated by and elaborations of Socrates’ defense of his decision to die, which he explains by his devotion to philosophy and its relationship to virtue. Despite the fact that Plato puts philosophy and virtue at the forefront of the dialogue, scholars tend to neglect these issues when interpreting the 'Phaedo.' Across four chapters in my dissertation I give these topics their due by arguing for an interpretation that puts Socrates’ conception of philosophy at the center of the dialogue, and that develops an understanding of the relationship between wisdom and virtue unrecognized by commentators on Plato. In Chapter One I argue that in the dialogue Plato conceives of virtue not as requiring the possession of wisdom, but of the desire for it. In Chapter Two I turn to the nature of desire. Going against the majority of interpretations, I argue that in the 'Phaedo' all desires are the result of the soul’s general desire for truth and reality, and, as such, all desires, bodily desires included, belong to the soul. In Chapter Three I make the case that because virtue is tied to the desire for wisdom, which the philosopher alone has, there is only a single form of deficient virtue—a sort of hedonistic calculation—available to non-philosophers. In Chapter Four I offer a characterization of philosophy in the dialogue. By considering the wrong way to do philosophy, which I argue Plato understands as contradiction mongering, I show that true philosophy is the faithful commitment to the pursuit of wisdom by genuine engagement in argumentation. Hence, I show that in the 'Phaedo' the philosopher alone has real virtue because she desires, so pursues what the soul wants: truth and wisdom.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Plato, Ethics, Moral Psychology, Socrates, 'Phaedo'
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: