Missing Axioms VI – Philosophy as Death

November 23, 2020

In order to be examined a thing must have a contrary, against which it can be contrasted. In knowledge of this tautological statement, philosophy, as the examination of life is also an examination for death.

Running away when there is a position to be held, or perhaps a war that should be fought or even a reckoning that calls out for judgement is ultimately an admission that one’s explicit mask has to be abandoned through lack of implicit strength. When this happens, the disguise becomes unbearable and every instance of retreat further fractures the constructed explicit self and sends the undeniable implicit self into weaker association. Upon retreat a lighter mask is adopted, a less convincing mask, one that is most importantly fraudulent to the defector. This causes our potential for the expression of genuine character slip towards an early conclusion. What’s more, the abandonment of our inevitable masks as opposed to embracing them in a union with our character leads to a value of misology which, for Socrates, takes the form of the ultimate impiety. To deny the truth of his inability to convince the court would be to fracture the irreducible sanctity of dialog: “the highest music”1.

For a philosopher, life is a preparation for death as their thought is normatively closest to the ulterior state2. As a martyr Socrates is no object of pity, instead, he strikes Phaedo as “fortunate” in virtue of the lucidity of his final discourse and his fearless nobility in meeting his end3.

[…] there’s probably nothing more fitting for someone who’s about to make the journey to Hades than to ask questions and tell stories about what kind of journey we think it will be. What else would one do in the time between now and sunset?4

Humanity has an obsession with sunsets springing from a primordial appreciation of its rays as the mother of all life on earth. This obsession can, however, be interpreted blankly as being due to the sun’s abnormal and extreme colouration for this brief point on our daily rotation. However, there is an intuitive aesthetic of the end which is associated with the expulsion of the light. Socrates’ ideal, his light, was discussion and examination. It is fitting that he departed with the beauty of the setting sun, thereby giving the collision of his intersection of value that required aesthetic component to preserve itself within the cultural memory. Socrates’ values, like the setting sun, would return in later days through both his students and the canon he invoked as catalyst.

Socrates makes a point of the apparent determinism of his situation as being a necessity produced by divine proclamation5. This, like much of what Socrates said, shouldn’t be taken literally. It isn’t a causal necessity (he could have easily fled) but rather a destiny of his authentic character. The alignment of his explicit and implicit universe resulted in a martyrdom emerging from a humanly-projected guiding principle.

Socrates’ lack of concern in the material substrate is expressed in his indifference, and ironic social constructivist outlook, towards the fate of his earthly remains:

You should be more cheerful, and talk of burying my body. Which you can do in whichever way you like and think most in line with custom.6

This is Socrates’ final embodied rebuke against any primacy of material concern.

  1. Plato. (2010) The Last Days of Socrates (trans C. Rowe), Penguin,Phaedo 61a, p.91
  2. Ibid. 67e,Phaedo p.100
  3. Ibid. 58c,Phaedo p.88
  4. Ibid. 61e, Phaedo p.92
  5. Ibid. 62c,Phaedo p.93
  6. Ibid. 115e-116a, Phaedo p.166
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