Phil 30301 -- Alternate First Paper Assignment

 6-7 page paper due on September 17


     Read carefully from the beginning of the Phaedo to 91C ("... when I go."). In the latter part of this section of the Phaedo Socrates presents three distinct arguments for the immortality of the soul, viz., the argument from opposites, the argument from recollection, and the argument from the analogy between the soul and the Forms; afterwards, Simmias and Cebes present two arguments against the immortality of the soul, viz., the "harmony" argument and the "coat" argument. 

     Three arguments for, two arguments against, none of them conclusive ... it sounds a bit like your typical Intro to Philosophy course; and, indeed, many philosophical neophytes -- including several of Socrates's friends present in the Phaedo -- are sorely tempted to adopt the belief that rational argumentation is useless, unserious ("It's a joke," as they say), unconnected to truth, and even disingenous, its purpose being mainly to exhibit the arguer's cleverness and persuasiveness. This is the attitude that Socrates calls "misology," i.e., hatred of or disdain for philosophical argumentation or philosophical inquiry. 

     Your task is to reflect intelligently on Socrates's discussions of philosophical argumentation and misology at 84A-85B and especially at 89C-91C. More specifically, using as reference points (i) Socrates's initial discussion of the philosopher, death, and the nature of the philosophical life, (ii) the concrete situation that Socrates finds himself in, viz., inquiring into immortality just before he is to die, and (iii) the fact that only two of the people present seem capable of carrying on a sophisticated philosophical discussion with Socrates, address the following questions, not necessarily in this order:

(a) Within the dialogue itself, what is it that prompts Socrates in the first place to construct arguments for the immortality of the soul? That is, why does he engage in this discussion and what are his goals? Why does he resort to philosophical argumentation in order to accomplish those goals?

(b) How important is it to him in this context that his arguments should be successful? (What is success, anyway?)  More specifically, will he -- or should he -- give up his belief in immortality if his arguments do not succeed? Why or why not?  More generally, is his belief in the immortality of the soul based on the arguments he gives?  If not, just what is his main warrant for this belief?

(c) Reflecting on Socrates's analogy between the misologist and the misanthrope, explain exactly what is wrong with misology from Socrates's perspective. Socrates himself surely realizes that his arguments for immortality are subject to tough objections, and that those objections are themselves subject to further criticism. So why shouldn't we just dismiss philosophical argumentation as inconclusive and thus not very useful for getting at the truth about complex and controversial metaphysical issues? How, if at all, would one be worse off by becoming a misologist?
(d) More generally, if philosophical argumentation is for all practical purposes inconclusive with respect to fundamental metaphysical and moral issues, then what, if anything, distinguishes Socrates from those sophists whose main goal is to teach others how to argue persuasively?  Socrates spends all of the Gorgias and a good deal of the Republic trying to distinguish the true philosopher from these charlatans.  Yet how exactly is he different?  Is it just that he is under the delusion that philosophical inquiry can establish important truths -- or what?
 

NOTE: YOUR NAME SHOULD APPEAR ONLY ON THE BACK OF THE LAST PAGE, WRITTEN IN PENCIL. THIS WILL HELP TO ENSURE THAT I DO NOT HAVE MY MANY GRIEVANCES AGAINST YOU CLEARLY IN MIND AS I GRADE YOUR PAPER.