The True Philosopher Icon

September 29, 2015
The real philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die. After death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world. The true devotee of philosophy is always pursuing death. He has had the desire of death all his life long.
Simmias laughingly: Our people will think that philosophers want to die, and will think them deserving death.

They are right in thinking so, but not in discovering the death that a philosopher deserves. Death is separation of soul and body. A philosopher should not care about the pleasures of love, eating, and drinking. He instead despises costly acquisition and the adornments of the body.

He would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and to turn to the soul. He will try to dissever the soul from the body. People think that a person who has no sense of bodily pleasure is not worth having life.

Is the body a hinderer or a helper in the actual acquiring of knowledge?

Does sight and hearing any truth in them? The poets say they are inaccurate witnesses. Thus the soul cannot attain the truth while she is deceived by the body. The truth is revealed to the soul as a thought. Thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her—neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure,—when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being?

In this the philosopher dishonours the body; his soul runs away from his body and desires to be alone and by herself.

There is absolute justice, absolute beauty, and absolute good. But we can never see these.

Absolute greatness, health, strength, and of the essence or true nature of everything. These cannot be perceived by our bodily organs. The closest we can get to knowing their several natures is through our intellectual vision. This will give us the most exact conception of the metaphysics of each thing.

We attain the purest knowledge of them by going to each with the mind alone. We should not introduce or intrude sight or any other sense together with reason in the act of thought. Instead, with the very light of the mind in her own clearness, we should search into the very truth of each.

We should get rid of our eyes, ears, the whole body as these are the distracting elements. They infect the soul and hinder it from acquiring truth and knowledge.

And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a reflection which they will express in words something like the following?

‘Have we not found,’ they will say, ‘a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied? and our desire is of the truth.

For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being= it fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and fightings, and factions?

whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth.

It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body—the soul in herself must behold things in themselves= and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows—either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone.

In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us.

Thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth.’ For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of knowledge cannot help saying to one another, and thinking.

But after I die, I shall attain that which has been the pursuit of my life. So I go on my way rejoicing, and not I only, but every other man who believes that his mind has been made ready and that he is in a manner purified.

This purification is the separation of the soul from the body. It is the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into herself from all sides out of the body. The dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can;—the release of the soul from the chains of the body.

This separation and release of the soul from the body is called death.

Only the true philosophers are ever seeking to release the soul. The separation and release of the soul from the body is their especial study.

There would be a ridiculous contradiction in men studying to live as nearly as they can in a state of death, and yet repining when it comes upon them.

The true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying. Wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible.

Look at the matter thus:—if they have been in every way the enemies of the body, and are wanting to be alone with the soul, when this desire of theirs is granted, how inconsistent would they be if they trembled and repined, instead of rejoicing at their departure to that place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they desired—and this was wisdom—and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy.

Many a man has been willing to go to the world below animated by the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is strongly persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy?

Surely he will, O my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there and there only, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were afraid of death.

When you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom, but a lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money or power, or both.

The true philosopher is known specially for his courage and temperance. The latter is the control and regulation of the passions. It is a virtue belonging to those only who despise the body, and who pass their lives in philosophy.

The courage and temperance of other men are really a contradiction. Death is regarded by men in general as a great evil. Courageous men face death because they are afraid of yet greater evils.

Then all but the philosophers are courageous only from fear. Yet that a man should be courageous from fear, and because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing.

The temperate is exactly in the same case. They are temperate because they are intemperate. —which might seem to be a contradiction, but is nevertheless the sort of thing which happens with this foolish temperance.

They are afraid of losing certain pleasures. In their desire to keep them, they abstain from some pleasures because they are overcome by others. Although to be conquered by pleasure is called by men intemperance, to them the conquest of pleasure consists in being conquered by pleasure.

That is what I mean by saying that they are made temperate through intemperance.

Yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or pleasure or pain, and of the greater for the less, as if they were coins, is not the exchange of virtue.

Wisdom is the true coin for which all things should be exchanged. Courage, temperance, or justice are really only exchanged for wisdom.

All the true virtues are the companion of wisdom. But the virtue which is made up of these goods, when they are severed from wisdom and exchanged with one another, is a shadow of virtue only, nor is there any freedom or health or truth in her.

In the true exchange, all these things are purged away. This purging leads to temperance, justice, courage, and wisdom.

The founders of the mysteries said long ago:

  • that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will lie in a slough
  • but he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods.

This is because many are the thyrsus-bearers, but few are the mystics – the the true philosophers.

In the number of whom, during my whole life, I have been seeking, according to my ability, to find a place;—whether I have sought in a right way or not, and whether I have succeeded or not, I shall truly know in a little while, if God will, when I myself arrive in the other world—such is my belief.

I am right, Simmias and Cebes, in not grieving or repining at parting from you and my masters in this world. For I believe that I shall equally find good masters and friends in another world.

But most men do not believe this. If I succeed in convincing you by my defence better than I did the Athenian judges, then it will be well.


I agree in most of what you say. But in what concerns the soul, men tend to be incredulous.

They fear that when she has left the body her place may be nowhere, and that on the very day of death she may perish and come to an end—immediately on her release from the body, issuing forth dispersed like smoke or air and in her flight vanishing away into nothingness.

If she could only be collected into herself after she has obtained release from the evils of which you are speaking, there would be good reason to hope, Socrates, that what you say is true. But surely it requires a great deal of argument and many proofs to show that when the man is dead his soul yet exists, and has any force or intelligence.


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