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A philosophical defense of myth: Josef Pieper’s reading of Platonic Eschatology

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eschatological myths, Socrates, Plato

Abstract (summary)

This paper is born of an observation: Plato seems interested in, if not worried about, the afterlife, what happens after we die. The Republic, Gorgias, and Phaedo all end with a story about the world beyond finite human experience, an eschatological myth, whereas other dialogues, like the Meno, Phaedrus, and Apology, allude to the same. Although the myths in the Republic and the Phaedo incorporate more in addition, including apparent accounts of the structure of the universe (Republic616d-617d and Phaedo108d-113c), each of these stories represents an ostensibly theological event: the judgment of souls by divine, which is also to say completely wise and just, judges. Put simply, these myths are about the afterlife. This seemingly theological feature occupies a prominent place in otherwise philosophical texts: in the Gorgias, Socrates shares the myth with Callicles, a moral relativist and crass political realist who is unwilling to be persuaded by philosophical arguments that an unjust life is never profitable and that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it; in the Republic, Socrates concludes his defense of justice as the best kind of good, namely as something good in itself and for its results, by recounting a story told by Er, a warrior who was permitted to bear witness to the judgment of souls and return to the world of the living to report it, which shows that justice is rewarded in the afterlife even when it is not beneficial in the here and now; and in the Phaedo, Socrates tells the story to his friends after attempting to persuade them that the soul is undying and shortly before drinking the poison that will end his life, as a way, it would appear, of assuaging his friends’ fear of death and worry for his soul. In each case, Socrates treats the content of the eschatological myth seriously and connects it to the arguments that preceded.

Publication Information

Edvard Lorkovic, "A Philosophical Defense of Myth: Josef Pieper’s Reading of Platonic Eschatology," The Heythrop Journal.


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