Plato’s Phaedo: The Legal Ego (63a- 63e)

This article is the seventh installment of my translation of Plato’s Phaedo. Please read the previous installment before continuing. If you are just jumping in, please begin with my introduction.

In this section, Plato wants us to see something, specifically, he wants us to see how society is a function of the legal system, and that the legal system is a function of rhetoric or logistical manipulation. On that basis, every ego within that system is in the business of self-defense, either against the state, or for the state. This is the manifestation of duality and conflict as mentioned in the beginning of this dialogue.

Fundamentally, the thing that ego wants to save itself from most of all is death. It’s not concerned with any other death but its own and what it has attached itself too. This is why the ego has no problem killing millions of people, as long as “its own” is saved and protected. This egoic relationship to fear of death surfaces through the individual human being, as well as the state, through which groups of individuals co-create strength and military might through the power of the collective, for the sake of the protection of their own.

Philosophy and wisdom is, simply speaking, experienced despite the reality-matrix of the ego, in all of its manifestations. For this reason, philosophy is by nature a threat to ego on every level, on an individual level and the level of state. The reason is that philosophy neutralizes all conflicts and begins from that vantage point. However, that is not to say that philosophy is better than or should usurp the state. That is like saying that we would be better off without a body and to just be pure consciousness. That is a nice egoic idea, but it doesn’t help us to be here in both time and space and beyond time and space, which is the goal. What I am saying here is the core of why Socrates didn’t escape, as some of his friends wanted him to, his face. He could have avoided the death penalty and chose not to. The reason is that philosophy is all three: the ever present, the past, and the future, all together, or the body, the mind and the spirit – always as one; always as a whole.

But philosophy is not something the mind or the ego can understand or really speak about, without sounding poetic, and so, we have our reality here, one that has certainly spun out of control, as we are currently living under a tyranny of contract law on all spiritual and physical planes. The contracts bind souls and rip them apart into compartments, pieces, and so, a lack of consciousness of the whole. These contracts include ancestral contracts embedded in DNA, inside written contracts such as marriage, birth certificates; financial contracts such as mortgages and employment.

I have written a bit on the nature of Roman contract law and contracts in general, and its influence on our modern civilization. You can check out these links if you are interested: Spiritual Contracts: The Foundation of Human Suffering and Fractured Souls,Programs, Contracts and the Matrix, Roman Contract Religion (of Satan), Contracts and Agreements This matrix system that we live inside of, is constructed out of a web of contracts that are founded in contract law. The Roman legal system, however, is ultimately founded in the Greek system, as we are well aware. It is often taught in modern schools that the Athenian legal system, which is enforced by the Athenian political system, is the foundation for democracy and democratic principles.

Those who have studied the Athenian political system know that the democratic system didn’t last long and was quickly usurped by what we still have today: a tyranny that camouflages itself behind democratic principles and virtue (signaling) either in the form of oligarchy or communism/socialism. As we read this passage, we are seeing that Plato is showing how the state has usurped the place of the gods, as the “best rulers” over human beings. Remember, in Ancient Greek, the word thēos contains the root -the- which means “to set or place”. Thus, themis means law and is also the name of the goddess, Themis. The gods are those who set the rules about how people should act and behave. The conflict between the old natural gods, or even nature itself, and the gods of society is often represented in the plays of Euripides and various others during that period. I highly recommend that we revisit those classic plays, such as the Bacchae, Medea, and Hippoloytus. The wisdom expressed in those plays rivals that of Shakespeare.

Plato also was a playwrite, but he wrote dialogues without physical representation and stage direction. He, like Euripides, presents the enigma of what we call reality in that form. He was not in the business of writing what we consider to be philosophical treatises, despite what University departments of philosophy may teach.

In this passage, it is clear that the Athenians, through the legal system, have jurisdiction over the life and death of human beings. What this creates is not only a conceptual division between nature and society, but also – more importantly – a conflict within each individual, between his own nature and the expectations and requirements of the society in which he inhabits. Socrates in particular, as a character in a Platonic play/dialogue, represents the voice of wisdom that speak only for the truth and for the benefit of truth. But make no mistake. Wisdom is not human, and its personification through Socrates is a mechanism that is simply employed because wisdom can be relayed through the human form. This is why Socrates, in The Apology, speaks of the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, that the god told him to pursue philosophy. Socrates is guided to wisdom, as sure as the light attracts a fly to its fire. For this reason, philosophy and wisdom, is outside of what a society might feel is beneficial for it, particularly if “what is beneficial” is simply a construct that protects itself against the truth. Yet still, its placement as being outside is simply a function of the ego: philosophy and wisdom cannot possibly seen or known by the ego directly, just as the eye cannot stare directly at the sun.

Speaking of benefit, Simmias points out the strange nature of our human condition and communication by saying that Cebes is only speaking to benefit his own interests. “His own” is actually a pronoun in the dative form. In Ancient Greek, the dative form of any noun is used when that noun is considered to be the beneficiary of the main action of the sentence. In English, we have to explicitly express this. For example. I am buying bread for me. In Ancient Greek, instead of “for me”, you would just have me (me) in the dative form (moi). Simmias statement however is a mouthful. He uses the dative form for me (moi) to express his opinion: “It seems to me that Cebes is”. When we speak, we don’t often say “it seems to me”. Most of us use the declarative “It is”. This avoidance of the use of “it seems to me” before every sentence may seem to be for reasons of convenience. But it is also used for reasons of subterfuge, whether unconsciously or consciously. The point is: in every-day speech, we pretend to speak about things that are, rather than the things that seem to “me”, and for the benefit of “me”. The ego likes to hide its self-interested nature. In fact, it has to in order to pretend that society is not a function of ego as a whole.

But speaking for the sake of its own benefit is what the ego does professionally, and always does. When we have those moments or periods of time where we are able to speak from our heart, to speak truth, without the considerations of what the ego believes conforms to self-interest or not, then we are starting to speak (logos) with wisdom. Defensive or argumentative speech is actually the nature of all egoic speech, even when we are not actively conscious of being in conflict or argument. By simply asserting, even to yourself, that “death is always bad”, you are creating a conflict, a possible scenario of avoidance and segregation, and, not to mention, extreme anxiety and fear around everything that lives. If death is bad, life too must, by association, be bad. This is where duality, conflict creates painful schisms in our life. The truth cannot be reconciled here unless the human being can experience that life and death are one. Otherwise, the ego, in itself and in its expression as state, is constantly at war, and loves to be at war as a matter of survival.

At this point in the dialogue, Socrates is being pulled into a logical war, to make an argument in his defense against the prosecution, which has been set up by Simmias, via Cebes’ argument. Again, remember, Socrates began talking about duality when he first spoke in this dialogue. He was expressing from wisdom, not defensiveness. He was simply observing an experience or pattern in life. That observation was largely ignored and now Socrates is being pulled down away from this form of higher consciousness, into defending his position, a position, that doesn’t by itself feel an urge to defend itself. For that is the nature of higher consciousness, and so philosophy, wisdom, and love: there is no need for defense or explanation, as it doesn’t dwell in the matrix systems of justifications, justice, law, and defense mechanisms. But, as Socrates experienced before the Athenian jury, he is now experiencing again – that philosophy, something that is more inclined to being, rather than forcing itself on others, will need to defend itself before the laws of society, in the full meaning of the word “law”, which includes all contracts, agreements, and systems that are born from them.

But the strangest thing of all here is that philosophy can defend its life, as well as its death, which is what Socrates is doing here. In the Apology, we see Socrates defend himself as doing something good. The implication is that, if he is seen as doing something good for the state, that he, the philosopher and philosophy, will be allowed to live. Here, however, he is seeing death as something good, not only for the state, but for himself, and so he is defending his position to his friends so that he should be allowed to die. Remember, life and death are the same, and yet appear to be at odds, only from the vantage of the ego – not from the vantage of wisdom, which already knows that who we are is actually internal (soul).

At the end of this small passage, which establishes the kind of environment in which philosophy finds itself in, Simmias wants to know more about this good thing that those who are good in life, receive at the end of it. He feels that if it is convincingly good, then everyone would accept Socrates’ choice. Socrates responds that he will try to persuade them, but that he first must put attention on what Crito has been trying to say all this time. Apparently, the instrument of death (poison) to be administered doesn’t work as well on a human who is engaging in dialogue (philosophical dialogue), and the person who is creating the poison for Socrates is concerned about having to administer it two or three times. Socrates says he could care less about the frustrations or occupation of the one who kill Socrates. As we see, the killer, or the person whose hand must kill, is not of any concern to the philosopher or philosophy. The philosophical acceptance of death is completely unrelated to how death occurs, or how hard it may be to occur. Socrates emphasizes here that philosophy is not in the business of killing or being killed. Remember, for philosophy death and life are one – it is not a sanction for killing or suicide, as many Stoic philosophers, states, and egos have done.

Then Simmias chimed in. “But Socrates, it seems to me that Cebes is making this argument to benefit his own position. To me, Cebes seems to apply this argument, “Why would the wise willingly want to flee and easily rid themselves of truly good rulers who are better than they are?”[1] to you, seeing that you so easily rid yourself of us and the good rulers who you yourself agree are gods.

You speak just like a lawyer: For I believe you are saying that it is necessary for me to make an apology[2] against these charges as if I were in a court of law.

“Absolutely,” said Simmias.

“Come then,” he said, “I must attempt to make an account to you that is more convincing than the one I made before the jury.[3]  For, Simmias and Cebes, if I hadn’t believed that I would first of all be going to different [4] gods who are wise and good, and also to men who have ended life, more than the ones here, it would have been unjust for me not to be angry at death. But know well that while I hope to arrive amongst good men, I don’t put all my eggs in that basket.  Instead, if anything, I am confident in the expectation that I’ll be with gods who are good rulers. For those reasons, I’m not altogether angry, but am of good hope that there is something good there for those who have reached perfection and are good, as opposed to those who are wicked.”

“So, what, Socrates?”, asked Simmias. “Do you have it in you to go away, all the while keeping this belief you have in your own mind, or would you share it with us? For this ‘good’ seems to me to be something that is common [to all], not to mention that it will serve as your defense if in fact you can persuade us to the things you are saying.” [5]

“Well, I will attempt to persuade you,” he said. “But first, focus on what Crito has been wanting to say to me for quite a while now.”

“What else, Socrates”, said Crito “other than to tell you what the appointed administrator of the potion has been telling me, namely, that you should dialogue as little as possible. He says those who engage in dialogue generate a lot of heat, and that one shouldn’t add that heat to the potion. Those who continue to do those things are forced to drink the potion two or three times.[6]

And Socrates responded, “Let him mind his own matters[7] Allow him to go ahead and prepare the poison as if he will give it two times, or, if necessary, even three.”

“I figured as much,” said Crito, “but he has been making a big deal (pragma) about this for a while now.”

[1] In Ancient Athens, young wealthy men were educated in the art of rhetoric, which was commonly confused with philosophy. Simmias’ way of describing Cebes argument is similar to the way arguments are used in a court of law – they are deliberately created and used to benefit self-interest. Here, Simmias is trying to say that Cebes’ position is simply an application of what is probably a familiar point of view, and that he is trying to use that argument to convince Socrates to avoid death.  Whatever Cebes’ intention is, Simmias is clearly someone who knows a good manipulative argument when he sees one.

[2] apologēsasthai. From which our word, apology (apo-logos), derives.  The verb means to make a defense argument. I translate “apology” because of the famous Platonic dialogue The Apology, where Socrates makes his defense against the Athenian accusers. Here, Socrates notes that he is being asked to apologize (defend himself) again.

[3] Note the irony. In the Apology, Socrates defends philosophy in order to save his life. In this dialogue, he is defending philosophy in order to die.

[4] Socrates was accused of teaching “gods” other than those “sanctioned” by the city.

[5] Simmias wants to hear more about this “good” to be received by those who have been good in life. This “reward” would be a way to convince the mock jury of why Socrates should willingly die.

[6] The lethality of the poison weakens on those who are engaged in dialogue or generating more heat than normal.

[7] pragmata. This word is closely aligned with the Sanskrit prakriti which refers to anything that consist of matter or functionality in the material world. The administrator of the poison has a business that he is concerned and occupied with. In that sense, his pragma is his domain of interest and focus. Socrates says to let him carry on his own focus. This is the Socratic way, to allow others their pragma. Philosophy, which desires to achieve consciousness of the whole does seek to disturb another’s pragma, but to allow consciousness to facilitate pragma’s orientation with the highest good.

3 thoughts on “Plato’s Phaedo: The Legal Ego (63a- 63e)

  1. Thank you. That philosophy was found by Socrates to be more inclined to being, is interesting. Being appears to be quite an important state; I have been called by Yahweh to be with him in being. One can search like a mystic, one can think like an academic, but the way into connection (to be as one) appears to be in being; out of the tangles and turmoil of our divided states. In being, maybe Yahweh speaks through us and what is spoken is philosophy coming out of wholeness. Is that how you might see it? (I am not Jewish by the way.)


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