Philosophy as a Training for Death

The idea that philosophy can assist one face their own mortality with courage and equanimity has a long history. Many philosophers have in fact claimed that it is the knowledge of our mortality which gives rise to the need for philosophy in the first place. This idea has its roots in Plato’s dialogue the Phaedo.

In the Phaedo Plato has Socrates claim that in death the soul is released from the impure and contaminated body, and thus becomes able to attain pure knowledge of Truth. In the dialogue Socrates says: “It really has been shown to us that, if we are ever to have pure knowledge, we must escape from the body and observe things in themselves with the soul by itself. It seems likely that we shall, only then, when we are dead, attain that which we desire and of which we claim to be lovers, namely, wisdom…”

Thus according to Plato upon death the philosopher achieves that which he has been striving for his entire life. Because of this Plato has Socrates claim that the practice of philosophy in life is really a dress rehearsal for what comes in death: “…those who practice philosophy in the right way are in training for dying, and they fear death least of all men.”

Since the time of Socrates and Plato philosophy has assisted countless individuals confront their own mortality, and provided consolation in the face of what many consider the greatest of all evils – death.

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