Nov 19, 2020 in Analysis

Critical Analysis of Socrates' theory of "recollection" and its bearing on belief in the immortality of the soul

Socrates Theory of Recollection

The idea of the immortality of the soul is distinct to the Ancient Greek philosophy. In Platos theoretical system, the dialogue Phaedo represents this idea. Plato justifies the thesis of the immortality of the soul with the assistance of the theory of recollection as the second valid argument for the demonstration of this interpretation. The former is the core concept of Platos epistemology. Even though philosophers speculations seem to be the first formulation of the theory of innate ideas in the history of philosophy, their foundations are more feasible to be the belief and mythology than the products of a logic and scientific approach.


According to Plato, the recollection is the definition of knowledge (Plato 72 e). That implies that the process of cognition is identical to the reconstruction of ideas that previously were the part of humans mind. Thus, in every new corporal existence an individual has to recollect these concepts so as to reach the practice of proper cognition and virtuous life. The justification of this idea seems to be plausible and valid. The philosopher demonstrates the essential incompleteness of empirical knowledge due to the absence of the generalized concepts that serve as the background of humans understanding.

Empirical knowledge is always partial because it reveals the facts about individual things, which cannot give the background of the unification of phenomena. As Plato states, a man sees or hears or in some other way perceives one thing and not only knows that thing but also thinks of another thing of which the knowledge is not the same but different (Plato 73 c). Therefore, according to Plato, humans' mind operates not only sensible images but also abstract notions that do not possess any concrete form: the soul can perceive them taking leave of the body and as far as possible having no contact or association with it in its search for reality (Plato 65 c).

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Therefore, the empirical experience cannot be the source of the knowledge. Only the verily-existing things can generate knowledge. That means that, according to Plato, there are innate ideas in humans soul that point at the existence of the former before the body and its further being after the corporal death: it is impossible to observe the equality without having an innate idea of the equal itself (Plato 75 b). These concepts are a priori as the notions of the eternal and unchangeable essences that cannot appear as the result of the life experience. Among such innate ideas are the notions of beauty, kindness, justice, mathematical categories, and proportions such as equality etc.

The theory of recollection is possible only if our soul existed somewhere before it took on this human shape (Plato 73 a). Consequently, the theory of recollection is the premise of the concept of the immortality of the soul in Platos philosophical system. All Platos arguments, which Socrates represents in the analyzed dialogue, tend to demonstrate the validity of such conception. Although they seem to be plausible, they are logically unfounded.

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Firstly, Plato argues that the conversion of the oppositions ensures the souls immortality because the death would be the only existing phenomenon without such transition. However, the opposite testifies to the idea that the soul does not disappear after the death due to the transformation in another form (Plato 72 d).

Secondly, in comparison to the changeableness of the humans body, the soul is always self-identical. Therefore, it has to be approaching to the great extent to the eternal world of abstract notions. In addition, the soul is the foundation of everything, the first cause of every phenomenon and, thus, incompatible with the death. That means that as the source of everything it cannot vanish. On the contrary, the soul as an essence that can recall the gist of ideas is eternal.

However, it is believed that the statement about the conversion of the oppositions is the logical mistake that presupposes the false replacement of the notions of possibility and necessity. The transition from one extreme to another is logically possible. However, the philosopher has to justify the actual possibility that has to exist in practice. Unfortunately, Plato does not demonstrate this concept.

Furthermore, considering the validity of the idea of souls immortality due to the argument of the theory of recollection, it seems to be vague because of the irrationality of this reasoning. The concept of knowledge as the recollection is mythological; the belief is its basement. Moreover, such an artistic justification of knowledge cannot depict its precise background and its epistemological status. Therefore, even though it seems to be logical that the existence of the abstract notions, which people has to recall due to the incompleteness of the empirical experience, leads to the idea of the immortality of the soul, this connection is implausible and irrational. Furthermore, the argument of the souls self-identity is tenuous as well due to the lack of the evidentiary support. Therefore, such a speculation is contradictory.

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To sum up, even though Socrates theory of recollection is the foundation of Platos concept of the souls immortality, it is an invalid argument for the theory of souls eternal being. The hypothesis about the innate ideas that exist in humans soul and have to become an object of recollection so as to supplement and generalize the empirical data does not logically presuppose the eternal essence of humans soul. Therefore, although Platos theory of recollection is significant for the history of philosophy and reflects the ancient views on the existence of the soul and abstract notions, it is not justified.


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