restricted access Plato's Affinity Argument for the Immortality of the Soul
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Plato's Affinity Argument for the Immortality of the Soul
David Apolloni
Augsburg College


1. See Kenneth Dorter, "'Plato's Image of Immortality," The Philosophical Quarterly 6/105 (October, 1976): 295-304. Dorter's interpretation is probably the most sympathetic that I have seen, and yet he thinks that the argument is "set forth rather casually, is frequently weakened by qualifications and hesitancy, and is based merely upon analogy" (295).

2. David Gallop, Plato: Phaedo (Oxford, 1975), 140: "But if 'being more similar' means 'having more features in common', the fact that the soul shares with the Forms a given feature that the body lacks would not show that it is 'more similar' to them than is the body. Even if this were shown, it would not follow that the soul has all features in common with the Forms that the body lacks."

3. For example, David White, Myth and Metaphysics in Plato's "Phaedo" (London and Toronto: Associated University Press, 1989), 133.

4. Kenneth Dorter, Plato's "Phaedo": An Interpretation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 72. Dorter (76) thinks that the argument has value as an articulation of deep feelings that there is something noble and eternal about us. Thus he thinks that the Affinity Argument, like the Argument from Design for God's existence, is logically defective but very persuasive, and that this accounts for Plato's inclusion of it in the dialogue.

5. In support of this statement I can only invite my readers to compare the Affinity Argument as I shall reconstruct it with these other two arguments in the Phaedo. I believe that such a comparison will show that all three approach the definition of a great philosophical argument as one which moves from premisses which everyone considers obvious to conclusions nobody can believe. This does not mean that I am trying to establish the Affinity Argument as sound (or unsound). It, like any other argument by an ancient philosopher, makes assumptions that are, in the end, questionable or would require further revision and assessment if a contemporary philosopher were to try to defend them. For example, the argument assumes Plato's Theory of Forms-that the world of the senses is largely composed of compresent opposites but the Forms are not, that like is attracted to like so that the immaterial soul, when separated from the body, goes to a world of similar objects, whereas if the soul is too attached to the body, it remains in the world of physical objects. Compare these assumptions with those of the Argument from Recollection-that sensible equals somehow "fall short" of true Equality (Phaedo 74d-e), that a priori knowledge is "forgotten" (76d); or those of the Final Argument-that the soul cannot be destroyed because it has life and life cannot receive death (106c-e). For critical assessment of both of these arguments, and further references, See Gallop, Plato: Phaedo, 119ff. and 192ff., respectively. See also G.E.M. Anscombe, "Understanding Proofs," in her From Parmenides to Wittgenstein: Collected Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (Minneapolis, 1981), 34-43; Gregory Vlastos, "Anamnesis in the Meno," Dialogue 4 1965): 146-67.

6. See below, n. 48 and my Epilogue for this and other reasons for a wide interest for the argument.

7. Following his final mythic description of the afterlife, Socrates says here, "Complete affirmation that these things are as I have described is not proper for a reasonable person; nonetheless, that these things are so or something like them [] concerning the soul and its habitation, it seems fitting to me and appropriate to risk thinking, since it is manifest [θαίαεαι ] that the soul is immortal. For the risk is a reasonable one [χαλσς], and it is necessary for me to chant to myself such things as these, for which reason I have embellished my account [χαί πάλαι μηχύνω ]." These words make clear that Socrates takes himself to have established that the soul is immortal, and because he has established this, the mythic account of the hereafter he has just elaborated or something like it is reasonable to believe. Cf. Veda Cobb-Stevens, "Mythos and Logos in Plato's Phaedo," in A.-T. Tymieniecka, ed., The Philosophical Reflection of...