Philosophy 290-2

Spring 2009

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-2 Graduate Seminar: Plato’s Phaedo Ebrey M 4-6 233 Dwinelle

In this course, we will work our way through Plato’s Phaedo, covering most topics in it and trying to get an overall understanding of the dialogue. Although only around 60 pages long, the Phaedo covers an incredibly wide range of topics. If Plato’s Meno looks like his first transition from ethical topics to epistemological ones, the Phaedo looks like his first transition from ethical topics to metaphysical ones: the nature of opposites, change, the forms, the sensible world, souls, and causation. The dialogue is framed by ethical questions which are sometimes given short-shrift in the secondary literature, but which I want us to discuss: should we fear death? Is it acceptable to commit suicide? Are our body and soul somehow at odds with one another? These ethical questions are connected to the metaphysical and epistemological issues through the main topic of the dialogue: four arguments for the immortality of the soul. In addition to the topics already mentioned, Plato develops the idea that all learning is recollection, which he had introduced in the Meno, and he provides a long myth at the end of the dialogue, which provides an overall cosmological picture of the universe.

In addition to reading the Phaedo very closely, we will be reading secondary literature, parts of other relevant dialogues, and other ancient philosophers (particularly Anaxagoras, who seems to have a very strong influence on the Phaedo).

If you have not read any Plato before this class, I strongly suggest reading the Euthyphro (one of Plato’s earlier, Socratic works) before the course begins. I also strongly encourage you to read through the entire Phaedo once before the course begins.