Plato’s Phaedo: The Religion of Body/Soul dichotomy (64c- 66b)

“It is near supernatural,” said Simmias, “how true this is, Socrates!” – [66β]

This article is the ninth 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.

The body/soul dichotomy is endemic to western philosophical thought and permeates all aspects of thought from poetry to philosophy, to science, and more. This section of the dialogue reveals, not the nature of soul of Simmias, but the core of his dualistic logic and just how deeply human beings live inside of their mind. In this small passage, we see a mind that doesn’t see itself, as it divides in order to conquer the nature of soul and the nature of body. The mind just divides both away from each other and assumes that the two are as real as twins born on a summer day. In addition to the natural birth of the two, Simmias naturally assumes the primacy of soul and its superiority. To Simmias, due to his education and programming as such, the soul is on principle of more value than the body.

The division between soul and body, however, doesn’t reveal anything about any particular body or in general, but is simply a function of mental mathematics, of dividing a whole into two parts, with the intention of freeing one from the other. The body is seen as being something that gets in the way of the nature of the soul. You can find many examples in history of certain belief systems that encourage individuals to abstain from proper care of the body, mostly because taking care of the body – feeding it, cleaning, taking care of it when it is ill – is seen as being too mundane for the egoic mind (that projects into “soul”) that thinks it is above such mundane matters. The business of taking care of the body should be taken care of by those who are “beneath” it such as cleaners, plumbers, electricians, mothers, and wives. As Simmias says, the beautiful and the just, because they are good are all able to be contemplated by soul as long as the body “doesn’t get in the way”. This is the nature of egoic mind par excellence: the mind is never in error; it is only the body that makes it come to error!

Simmias’ idea that the philosopher doesn’t enjoy any sort of physical pleasure is his way of giving moral superiority to the soul as an entity, effectively transforming the entire physical realm into the shadow that must be suppressed, punished, and even killed if necessary. This idea is most famously carried on inside church doctrine over the centuries, as the body was seen to be the source of all human sin and disease. It is also carried on in all philosophies and belief systems that claim that those who indulge directly in physical pleasures are going to go to “hell” or suffer “karma” or various other forms of punishment.

In this particular manifestation of soul/body programming, Simmias displays that typical attitude of the “educated” nobility, who can easily remove care of the body as anything worthy of the philosopher or related to wisdom in any way. He is emboldened, therefore, by the idea that the philosophy is the practice of death, of leaving the body behind, because it further supports the idea that he doesn’t have to or shouldn’t have to care for it at all. However, this point of view doesn’t allow for any distinction between practicing philosophy and suicide, as both it would appear would be the same thing. Moving forward, due to the grave hindrance of the body to the soul’s life and desire for truth, a social or religious group would have no problem burning or destroying all those who represent it.

New age religion tends to refer to the body as “3D” and considers it as being beneath the 5D realm of soul and “higher self”. People who practice a new age faith are identical to the church they claim to reject, but that is by design. Their programming was created in order to handle those who were waking up to the ancient church programming. New age was invented to be something a little more free-form in its doctrine – basically as long as you believed in some sort of god, angels, guides, saints, or “ascended masters” or some such thing, you would be fine. But the motivation to ascend beyond 3D and to live in the 5D, or in a realm that doesn’t have to manage the challenges of 3D, is identical to the programming as displayed by Simmias here, and the church in various episodes in human history.

Always remember, that the foundation of all duality or polarization is the dark and the light, the nothingness and somethings, the 0 and the 1. Everything that asserts itself as “light” is going to instantly manifest its opposite “dark”. So, as soon as Simmias agrees to the idea of the soul as light or of pure form, he introduces the impurity of what he calls the body. Socrates suggests the image of the soul as a hunter who is trying to get a “shot” at truth. This absurd image doesn’t cause Simmias to laugh this time. Socrates is trying to suggest the violence of this dichotomy, but Simmias doesn’t yet see it. He may do so as the dialogue continues – we shall see if he wakes up to notice his own programming.

Ah, is it [death] anything other than the separation[1] of the soul from the body?  And isn’t this what it is to be dead: the body, separated from the soul, becomes[2] just a body by itself according to its nature; while the soul, separated from the body is by itself according to its nature? Would death be anything other than this?

“Nothing but this,”[3] he said.

Then take a look to see, my good man, if this too appears the same to you as it does to me. From that [common] ground, I believe we’ll be better able to know what it is we are both looking at it.. Would a philosopher appear to you to be someone who puts serious attention to the so-called pleasures, such as those that belong to food and drink?

“Least of all, Socrates,” said Simmias.

What about sexual pleasures?

Not at all.

What about all the other kinds of therapies[4] for the body? Does it seem to you that such a man would put great value[5] on them? Like the possession of exceptional clothing and shoes[6] and physical adornments – do you think such a man would put great value in those things, beyond the necessity for them?

“Seems to me of course that the one who is truly a philosopher would think that they have little value,” he said.[7]

“So then does it seem to you,” he said, “that the business[8] of such a man does not concern the body, but is instead to abstain[9]– as much as possible from the body and to be turned towards the soul.

As far as I am concerned.

So then, first of all, on this basis, the philosopher is clearly[10] someone who, as much as he can do so beyond other human beings, frees[11] the soul from [its] connection to the body.[12]

He appears so.

But, without a doubt, to many human beings the person to whom there is neither pleasure in such things nor has a share in them, does not deserve to live; that someone who is not concerned with the pleasures gained through the body is someone who is attached[13] to the act of death.

You absolutely speak the truth.

So what about mastering phonesis[14]? Is the body an impediment or not, whenever someone, in their hunt has to take it along with them?  What I am trying to say is this: Does sight and hearing offer any kind of truth[15] to human beings, or are these the things that poets babble on about to us incessantly, saying that we can neither hear nor see anything with precision? Yet, if these are neither precise nor clear, hardly could all the rest of the sensations be so: for those are far worse than sight and hearing. Or is that not so to you?

“Absolutely,” he said.

So when can the soul get a shot[16] at truth? Whenever she attempts to look at something with the body, it’s clear that that’s exactly when she’s deceived by the body.

You speak truth.

Well, isn’t it by the action of thinking (logos), that any one of the beings becomes clear to her?


And the soul certainly can think the most beautiful things as long as nothing disturbs her, whether it be a sound or a vision, a pain or some kind of pleasure. As long as she is able to let the body go, and as much as possible neither communicating with it nor being attached to it, she can reach out for[17] being.

These things are so.

And so, it follows that the soul of the philosopher most especially has little esteem for the body and flees from it, and instead seeks to become herself by herself.

It appears so.

So, what about these, Simmias? Do we say that the just itself is something, or nothing?[18]

The affirmative, by Zeus!

And is the beautiful by itself something and the good?

How not?

And have you ever at any time seen those sorts of things with the eyes?

“Not at all”, he said.

So have you been able to grasp them through some perception other than the perceptions of the body? I am talking about everything, like about stature, health, strength, and, in a word, everything else that belongs to substance, whatever each happens to be. Is it through their bodies that these things are most truly observed?  Or is it rather the following: That the one who is closest to knowing each being is the one who has been trained to accurately comprehend each thing that he investigates?


So then would he be the one could do this with the most purity[19], the one who could traverse each being through thought, employing no aspect of physical vision in that thought, nor dragging in any other kind of perception with the thinking, but by using pure thought unmixed and in itself, would attempt to hunt each of the beings as each is purely in itself, completely dissociated from the eyes and the ears and, so to speak, the entire body, since the body, whenever it tags along, only stirs up trouble and prevents the soul from possessing both truth and meditation whenever it communicates with it? Isn’t this the one, Simmias, if there could be anyone else, who would be able to have a shot at being?[20]

“It is extraordinary,” said Simmias, “how true this is, Socrates!”

[1] The word apallagē, means to set free, acquit as in a trial, to depart from, to be finished with, to be rid of, to be divorced.

[2] The body becomes (gegogeni) by itself. I translate this as born. It is cognate to the verb used in the Bible (John 3) when Jesus says that one must be born (gennēthai) from above in order to comprehend the dominion of God.  The soul “is” by itself. The soul is not born, because it always is. This is also similar to Jesus’ teaching.

[3] Simmias agrees with Socrates’ presentation. If he hadn’t agreed to it, the dialogue would go in a different direction. It is important to understand that this is how the dialogue works. That Simmias agrees, does not mean it is something that Plato firmly asserts or believes.

[4] therapeia is usually used in connection with the service to the gods. It also came to mean flattery. In addition, the word can be used to express cultivation, nurturing, and care. In Simmias’ view, the philosopher does not have concern or care for the needs of the body: drink, food, and sex, beyond what is necessary.

[5] entimous. This adjective means valuable. It is from the root, -tim-, which means “honor”. The word is also associated with evaluations, such as judgments, particularly in a legal sense. To evaluate someone is to sentence them to a punishment. The punishment is regarded as payment for the “value” of their crime. 

[6] Socrates was known to not own any shoes. His clothes were never exceptional.

[7] The usage of “he said” reminds us that Phaedo is telling us the story here.

[8] pragmateia. This word is related to the Sanskrit, prakrti, which is generally the material or matter that the soul manifests herself in. The focus and attention that the mind constantly puts on a certain area, determines its pragmateia. The pragmateia or business of the philosopher of course is learning how to die.

[9] aphestanai. Yet another verb signifying separation or moving away from something.

[10] delos is an adjective that means clear.  Delos is also the birthplace of Apollo. In pre-Olympian myth, Delos was a major cult center for Dionysus and Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis.In 6th C BC, the Greek Tyrant Pisistratus ordered that all dead bodies be removed from the site. Also, going forward, no one was allowed to die or give birth on the island. This was called “purification”. The land of the immortals is deathless.

[11] apolūon. The word means to free “from shackles” of some kind. The word also sounds like Apollo (the god) and Apolluo (to kill). Apollo was in his original form, a god of life and death and destruction. The suggestion is that the philosopher would not care if the body were destroyed.

[12] Could easily be translated that the philosopher is the one who separates the soul of all human beings from the body or from the community of the body of all human beings. The implication is that he is the cause of death, if death is the freeing of the soul from the body.

[13] teinein. Means to stretch towards, be eager, struggle towards. It also means to stretch like stretch a string of a lyre. The image is of the philosopher being corded like a string to death and dying.

[14] In Plato’s Meno, Socrates explains how phronēsis, a quality synonymous with moral understanding, is the most important attribute to learn, although it cannot be taught and is instead gained through the development of the understanding of one’s own self. The world literally means to feel through the heart. It is heart-centered perception.

[15] aletheia

[16] The Greek here is suggesting that the philosopher is like a hunter. Socrates laces in that metaphor throughout this passage.

[17] oregētai. The soul learns to love “being” or rather the concept that she has created through programming.

[18] This is “thinking” in action. We gain clarity of our world through thought. However, clarity does not mean we are attaining the truth. It is often the case with thinking that because we understand it and it makes sense, that it is true.

[19] katharōtata. From katharsis meaning purification. in the sense of holy or sacred. Previously, the one who could do this was most accurate and close to truth. Socrates now uses an adverb to describe a sacred and pure action. To see the truth is to see the divine.

[20] Contemplation. Socrates is almost referring to meditation, the practice of focusing the mind and losing all connection to physical perception. Socrates now is treating the philosopher as if he is a hunter for the beings, for truth. The body is presented as a companion that would make hunting difficult, stirring up all sorts of trouble and difficulties. So the one who can keep away from the body, has a better shot at cleanly possessing his prey.

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