Plato's myths of the afterlife have, for centuries, puzzled scholars.
Author: Joseph Forte
Category: Future life
Plato's myths of the afterlife have, for centuries, puzzled scholars. This has been the case for a number of reasons, including but not limited to Plato's (perhaps intentional) lack of clarity about the function of those myths in their respective dialogues. This study provides a systematic account of this function: the psychagogy, or soul-turning, that these myths provoke in their readers, that is, the multifaceted ways in which souls are led out of the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge by these powerful image-rich passages. In the course of this account, new light is shed on the very concept of psychagogy in Plato, as well as on what exactly constitutes a Platonic myth of the afterlife, and also on the ways in which the Republic can serve as an illuminating lens through which to read the Phaedo and Gorgias. The study begins by laying out its foundation in chapter 1: an understanding of Platonic myth situated in secondary scholarship, a working conception of what constitutes a Platonic myth of the afterlife, and an understanding of psychagogy that incorporates both its description in the Phaedrus and its expression in the psychology, epistemology, and metaphysics of the Republic. The account of the Republic focuses in particular on the tripartite soul (rational, spirited, and appetitive) and on the simile of the Line and the Allegory of the Cave, which provide the interpretive tools for the subsequent study of the myths. The central chapters (2-4) examine the concluding myths of the Republic, Phaedo, and Gorgias: the myth of Er, the "True Earth" myth, and the Gorgias myth of judgment, respectively. Each chapter proceeds first with a literal reading of the myth, showing how such a reading engages each aspect of the reader0́9s tripartite soul, while also leading the soul from mere conjecture to belief or true opinion0́4that is, from the lowest stage of knowledge according to the simile of the Divided Line and the Allegory of the Cave to the second lowest. The second major part of each central chapter is a figurative or metaphorical reading that shows how such an interpretation, while engaging each aspect of the tripartite soul, leads it further than belief or true opinion toward knowledge in the vast realm of intelligible (as opposed to physical) realities. Chapter 5 considers other mythical passages in Plato regarding the afterlife, from the Phaedrus, Meno, Laws, Timaeus, Apology, and Theatetus, explaining why these passages are essentially different from the three central myths of the study and, thus, why those three, and not the others, properly constitute Plato's afterlife myths. The essential difference is the specific manner in which the psychagogy of the three central myths is carried out, which draws largely on the consummating function of these myths within their respective dialogues. The dissertation concludes with a chapter spelling out the contributions of the study in further detail.