Chapter 8 of The Simple Phaedo by Plato

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September 23, 2015

You say that Simmias is greater than Socrates and less than Phaedo. You predicate of Simmias both greatness and smallness.

But still you allow that Simmias does not really exceed Socrates, as the words may seem to imply, because he is Simmias, but by reason of the size which he has; just as Simmias does not exceed Socrates because he is Simmias, any more than because Socrates is Socrates, but because he has smallness when compared with the greatness of Simmias.

If Phaedo exceeds him in size, this is not because Phaedo is Phaedo, but because Phaedo has greatness relative to Simmias, who is comparatively smaller.

Therefore, Simmias is great and small because he is in a mean between them. He exceeds the smallness of the one by his greatness, and allowing the greatness of the other to exceed his smallness.


Absolute greatness will never be great and also small. Greatness in us or in the concrete will never admit the small or admit of being exceeded. Instead, one of two things will happen=

but will not, if allowing or admitting of smallness, be changed by that; even as I, having received and admitted smallness when compared with Simmias, remain just as I was, and am the same small person. And as the idea of greatness cannot condescend ever to be or become small, in like manner the smallness in us cannot be or become great; nor can any other opposite which remains the same ever be or become its own opposite, but either passes away or perishes in the change.

Cebes In heaven’s name, is not this the direct contrary of what was admitted before? Out of the greater came the less. Out of the less the greater. Oposites were simply generated from opposites. But now this principle is utterly denied.

I like your courage in reminding us. But there is a difference in the two cases.

Back then, we were speaking of physical opposites. Now we are speaking of the metaphysical opposite. This can never be at variance with itself.

We were speaking of things in which opposites are inherent and which are called after them. But now, we are talking about the opposites which are inherent in them and which give their name to them.

These metaphysical opposites will never admit of generation into or out of one another.

The opposite will never be opposed to itself. One thing is hot, another is cold. But these are not the same as fire and snow. Heat is different from fire. Cold is different from snow.

But when snow is under the influence of heat, it will not remain as snow. Instead, it will perish.


The fire too at the advance of the cold will perish. When the fire is under the influence of the cold, fire and cold will not remain as fire and cold.

In some cases, the name of the idea is not only attached to the idea in an eternal connection. Anything else which, not being the idea, exists only in the form of the idea, may also lay claim to it.

For example, the odd number is always called ‘odd’. But there are many other things which have their own name, and yet are called odd. This is because they are always odd, even if they are not the same as oddness.


This is what I mean when I ask: Is 3 a class of odd?

There are many other examples. 3 can be called ’three’ or ‘odd’. ‘Odd’ is different from ’three’.

This is also true for 5, 7, etc. Each of them without being oddness is odd. In the same way, 2, 4, 6 are even, without being evenness.

Metaphysical opposites exclude one another, but also physical things. Both do not oppose by themselves, contain opposites. They reject the idea which is opposed to that which they represent.

When it approaches them, they either perish or withdraw. For example= 3 will preserve itself as 3, but will perish when converted into an even number.


Yet 2 does not oppose 3 since both are numbers.

Opposite ideas repel the advance of one another, like odd repels even. Opposite natures also repel the approach of opposites.

Are they not, Cebes, such as compel the things of which they have possession, not only to take their own form, but also the form of some opposite?

Those things which are possessed by 3 must not only be 3 in number, but must also be odd. This oddness, of which the number three has the impress, the opposite idea will never intrude. This impress was given by the odd principle.

Odd is opposed the even. Then the idea of the even number will never arrive at 3, and 3 has no part in the even.


To return then to my distinction of natures which are not opposed, and yet do not admit opposites—as, in the instance given, three, although not opposed to the even, does not any the more admit of the even, but always brings the opposite into play on the other side; or as two does not receive the odd, or fire the cold—from these examples (and there are many more of them) perhaps you may be able to arrive at the general conclusion, that not only opposites will not receive opposites, but also that nothing which brings the opposite will admit the opposite of that which it brings, in that to which it is brought.

5 will not admit the nature of the even, any more than 10, the double of 5, will admit the nature of the odd.

The double has another opposite. It is not strictly opposed to the odd, but nevertheless rejects the odd altogether.

Nor again will parts in the ratio 3:2, nor any fraction in which there is a half, nor again in which there is a third, admit the notion of the whole, although they are not opposed to the whole.


If anyone asks you ‘what that is, of which the inherence makes the body hot,’ you will reply not heat. This is the safe and stupid answer. Fire is a far superior answer.

If anyone asks you ‘why a body is diseased?’ You will not say from disease, but from fever.

Instead of saying that oddness is the cause of odd numbers, you will say that the monad is the cause of odd numbers.

The inherence of the soul renders the body alive. Anything that has a soul has life.

Death is the opposite of life.

Then the soul, as has been acknowledged, will never receive the opposite of what she brings.

Odd repels the even. The unmusical repels the musical. The unjust repels the just.


The immortal does not admit of death. The soul does not admit of death. Therefore, the soul is immortal.

If the odd were imperishable, then 3 is imperishable.

If a cold thing were imperishable, when the warm principle came attacking the snow, must not the snow have retired whole and unmelted—for it could never have perished, nor could it have remained and admitted the heat?

If the uncooling or warm principle were imperishable, the fire when assailed by cold would not have perished or have been extinguished, but would have gone away unaffected?

The same may be said of the immortal. If the immortal is also imperishable, the soul when attacked by death cannot perish; for the preceding argument shows that the soul will not admit of death, or ever be dead, any more than three or the odd number will admit of the even, or fire or the heat in the fire, of the cold.


Yet a person may say: ‘But although the odd will not become even at the approach of the even, why may not the odd perish and the even take the place of the odd?’

Now to him who makes this objection, we cannot answer that the odd principle is imperishable; for this has not been acknowledged, but if this had been acknowledged, there would have been no difficulty in contending that at the approach of the even the odd principle and the number three took their departure.

The same argument would have held good of fire and heat and any other thing.

The same may be said of the immortal= if the immortal is also imperishable, then the soul will be imperishable as well as immortal; but if not, some other proof of her imperishableness will have to be given.

Cebes No other proof is needed. If the immortal, being eternal, is liable to perish, then nothing is imperishable.

Yes, and yet all men will agree that God, and the essential form of life, and the immortal in general, will never perish.

Yes, all men, he said—that is true; and what is more, gods, if I am not mistaken, as well as men.

The immortal is indestructible and so the immortal soul is also imperishable.

When death attacks a man, the mortal portion of him dies. But the immortal retires at the approach of death and is preserved safe and sound.

Then Cebes, the soul is immortal and imperishable. Our souls will truly exist in another world.

Cebes I am convinced, said Cebes. I have nothing more to object. But if Simmias, or any one else, has any further objection to make, he had better speak out.

But I have nothing more to say. I cannot see any reason to doubt after what has been said.

But I still feel and cannot help feeling uncertain in my own mind, when I think of the greatness of the subject and the feebleness of man.


Yes, Simmias, replied Socrates. The first principles, even if they appear certain, should be carefully considered.

When they are satisfactorily ascertained, then, with a sort of hesitating confidence in human reason, you may, I think, follow the course of the argument; and if that be plain and clear, there will be no need for any further enquiry.

But if the soul is really immortal, what care should be taken of her, not only in respect of the portion of time which is called life, but of eternity!

The danger of neglecting her from this point of view does indeed appear to be awful. If death had only been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil together with their souls.


But now, inasmuch as the soul is manifestly immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education; and these are said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure the departed, at the very beginning of his journey thither.

For after death, the genius of each individual, to whom he belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are gathered together, whence after judgment has been given they pass into the world below, following the guide, who is appointed to conduct them from this world to the other

When they have there received their due and remained their time, another guide brings them back again after many revolutions of ages.

Now this way to the other world is not, as Aeschylus says in the Telephus, a single and straight path—if that were so no guide would be needed, for no one could miss it; but there are many partings of the road, and windings, as I infer from the rites and sacrifices which are offered to the gods below in places where three ways meet on earth. The wise and orderly soul follows in the straight path and is conscious of her surroundings.


But the soul which desires the body, and which, as I was relating before, has long been fluttering about the lifeless frame and the world of sight, is after many struggles and many sufferings hardly and with violence carried away by her attendant genius, and when she arrives at the place where the other souls are gathered, if she be impure and have done impure deeds, whether foul murders or other crimes which are the brothers of these, and the works of brothers in crime—from that soul every one flees and turns away;

no one will be her companion, no one her guide, but alone she wanders in extremity of evil until certain times are fulfilled, and when they are fulfilled, she is borne irresistibly to her own fitting habitation; as every pure and just soul which has passed through life in the company and under the guidance of the gods has also her own proper home.

Now the earth has divers wonderful regions, and is indeed in nature and extent very unlike the notions of geographers, as I believe on the authority of one who shall be nameless.


What do you mean, Socrates?

I have myself heard many descriptions of the earth, but I do not know, and I should very much like to know, in which of these you put faith.


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