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Title: Plato's Doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul
Authors: Miller, Thomas Marshall
Advisors: Wildberg, Christian
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: afterlife
Subjects: Classical studies
Issue Date: 2015
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Plato's doctrine of the immortality of the soul is one of his most influential ideas, one adopted, developed, and criticized by philosophers and theologians from late antiquity to the early modern period. On the basis of a careful reading of his dialogues, this dissertation argues that Plato is not in fact committed to a temporally everlasting postmortem existence for all individual souls, such as the later tradition generally took him to be asserting. This literal conception of immortality is certainly to be found in the dialogues, but ultimately Plato is more interested in a range of non-literal conceptions, in particular the attainment through philosophy of an earthly existence with an "immortal" (i.e. divine) quality of blessedness. The doctrine is thus best understood as a mythological metaphor for the human soul's peculiar ontological status in between perceptible things and intelligible entities (the Forms), but enjoying a privileged relationship of cognitive access to the latter. Plato does also suggest that belief in an afterlife can be beneficial, at least for some people, by promoting virtuous behavior or mitigating the fear of death. The first chapter supplies an introductory overview of Plato's intellectual context and ancient reception, followed by a survey of the rest of the dissertation. The second chapter argues that Plato did not hold the soul to be incorporeal, in contrast to later Platonists who made this the foundation of the soul's literal immortality. The third chapter examines the relationship between Plato's doctrines of psychic immortality and tripartition. The fourth chapter discusses the intention and status of his mythic portrayals of an afterlife involving rewards and punishments. The fifth chapter interprets Plato's doctrine of recollection as a psychological device intended to shore up confidence in the possibility of philosophical investigation. The sixth chapter discusses the status of Plato's "proofs" of immortality in general, on the basis of Socrates' warning against misology in the Phaedo. The seventh chapter gives a selective discussion of Christian responses to Plato's doctrine. A brief conclusion reflects on immortality as a human aspiration.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Classics

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