Philosophy as a preparation for death.

Plato famously called philosophy a preparation for death. We can see the goal of this preparation in the dialogue Phaedo, which depicts Socrates at the day and hour of his execution. This approaching death, therefore, is the most significant and formidible of Socrates’ interlocutors, and the one he has been preparing to meet for his entire life: Plato, after all, did not call philosophy a “preparation for Callicles” or even a preparation for sophistical arguments”, but a preparation for death. Socrates meets death- which he compares to meeting the Minataur in the Labyrinth- and using argument, he prevails.

As soon as we take Plato’s definition of philosophy seriously, much of what styles itself philosophy becomes vain and worthless, for it could no more prepare us for death than some other body of knowledge chosen as random. When we judge philosophies in light of Plato’s definition (or even when we decide to read Plato himself in light of his definition!) philosophy takes on a new urgency and a greater focus, for so many of our arguments, complaints, papers, seminars, pet theories and conferences prove themselves as so much wasted time, and we don’t have much time. Sooner or later we will turn a corner and the Minataur will be upon us, voiceless, real, and promising to take away everything.

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1 Comment

  1. October 30, 2013 at 7:23 am

    […] Philosophy as a preparation for death, published on Just Thomism, by James Chastek provides an introspective account. […]


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