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Death and Limits of Truth in the Phaedo. Apeiron - Philosophyphilosophy/sites/default/files/... · Death and the Limits of Truth in the Phaedo Abstract: This paper raises a new interpretive

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  • Nicholas R. Baima

    Death and the Limits of Truthin the Phaedo

    Abstract: This paper raises a new interpretive puzzle concerning Socrates atti-tude towards truth in the Phaedo. At one point Socrates seems to advocate thathe is justified in trying to convince himself that the soul is immortal and des-tined for a better place regardless of whether or not these claims are true, butthat Cebes and Simmias should relentlessly pursue the truth about the verysame matter. This raises the question: Why might Socrates believe that he willbenefit from believing things about death irrespective of the truth, but thatCebes and Simmias will not? Why should they continue pursuing the truth?This paper argues that the relevant difference between Socrates and his friendsis that Socrates is a fully accomplished philosopher, while his friends are not.This, I argue, makes Socrates an epistemic authority, and it is in virtue of beingan epistemic authority that he is justified in not pursuing the truth about death.The upshot of this paper is that sometimes the demands of living well requirethat we abandon the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

    Keywords: Plato, Phaedo, Truth, Virtue, Knowledge

    DOI 10.1515/apeiron-2014-0047

    1 Introduction

    Socrates attitude towards pursuing truth is somewhat paradoxical in the Phae-do.1 At one point Socrates seems to say that he is going to try to convince him-self that his soul is immortal and destined for a better place regardless ofwhether or not these claims are true, apparently because believing these thingshas some sort of practical value (91ab). However, he also appears to tell Cebes

    Nicholas Baima: Washington University in St. Louis Philosophy, One Brookings Drive, SaintLouis, Missouri 63130-4899, United States, E-Mail: NichBaima@gmail.com

    1 The translations are my own; however, I have relied upon Grube (1997) and Rowe (1993) intranslating the Phaedo and Grube/Reeve (1997) in translating the Republic. The Greek texts arefrom Burnet (1900-1907).

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  • and Simmias to relentlessly pursue the truth about the very same matter (91c).This raises the question: Why might Socrates believe that he will benefit frombelieving things about death irrespective of the truth, but that Cebes and Sim-mias will not? Why should they continue pursuing the truth? This is especiallypuzzling since, presumably, these beliefs about death will have the same practi-cal benefits for Cebes and Simmias as they do for Socrates. Additionally, onemight worry that Socrates strategy undermines his general commitment to pur-suing truth. Hence, I call this interpretive problem the verity puzzle.

    In this paper, I first show how the verity puzzle arises in the text and then Ioffer a novel solution to it. I argue that the relevant difference between Socratesand his friends is that Socrates is a fully accomplished philosopher, while hisfriends are not. This, I argue, makes Socrates an epistemic authority, and it is invirtue of being an epistemic authority that he is justified in not pursuing the truthabout death. Moreover, it is in virtue of his friends not being epistemic authoritiesthat they must pursue the truth about death. The upshot of this paper, however,is not that the life spent pursuing truth is unimportant. Rather, it is that some-times the demands of living well require that we abandon the pursuit of truth andknowledge. For Socrates, the value of pursuing truth is limited in certain circum-stances, and facing death is one of these circumstances.

    2 A Puzzle about the Pursuit of Truth

    Throughout the Phaedo, Socrates maintains that he has striven in every way tobecome a philosopher (69b3-4, cf. 66b-c), which involves a commitment to truth,knowledge, and wisdom (66a-e, 84a, 91a). Nevertheless, at 91a-b, Socrates sayssome curious things which raise questions about his dedication to truth.

    Socrates has just offered three arguments in defense of the immortality ofthe soul: the argument from opposites (70c-72e), the argument from recollection(72e-77b), and the simplicity argument (77b-80c). Following this, Socrates offersa mythical description of the afterlife, in which the quality of afterlife that oneexperiences is in proportion to the ethical quality of life that one has lived. Forexample, those who have lived wickedly will experience the worst afterlife,while those who have lived philosophically will experience the best afterlife(80d-82b, cf. 107c-115a). Call this idea the proportionality thesis.2

    2 The proportionality thesis is not unique to the Phaedo, but is scattered throughout thecorpus of Plato; see especially, the Gorgias 523a527a, the Phaedrus 246d249b, the RepublicX.614b621d, the Timaeus 90a92b, and the Laws IX.870de, IX.872d873a, and X.903de.

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  • Cebes and Simmias are unconvinced by Socrates defense of the souls im-mortality; nevertheless they are reluctant to object because they worry aboutdistressing Socrates (84d). Socrates, however, encourages them to offer their ob-jections (85ab). After hearing their criticisms, Socrates warns them about thedangers of misology,3 or hating rational discourse and thought.4 According toSocrates, misology arises in a similar way to misanthropy. Misanthropy devel-ops from a lack of skill in dealing with humans. It arises when one trusts hu-mans when one shouldnt. Eventually such a trusting person will be deceived inhurtful ways and will conclude from this that all humans are wretched. This isregrettable because most people are decent and very few are actually deplorable(89de).

    Misology arises in a similar way. Without skill in reasoning, one will unjus-tifiably trust arguments and such trust will lead one to waver between contra-dictory positions. Eventually, one will become frustrated and fall into absoluteskepticism, thinking that there is no sound position whatsoever. Hating rationalinquiry is a pity because it deprives one of truth and knowledge of reality( ) (90d67, 90bd). To overcome the dangers of misology, Socratesadvises his friends that rather than thinking there is something generally un-sound about arguments or theories, they should believe that it is themselveswho are unsound, and that they must take courage and be eager to attainsoundness (90e34).

    Immediately following this, Socrates says some curious things about hispresent state of mind:

    I am in danger at this moment ( )5 of not being philosophical towards thisvery thing [viz. death], and of being like those who are quite uneducated ( -), as a lover of winning (). For whenever they [viz. the uneducated] dis-

    3 Misology is not a common word for Plato. For examples of other uses see Laches 188c6and Republic III.411d7. Also, it is interesting to note that at 89d14 Socrates asserts that onecould suffer no greater evil than misology, but at 83c29 he maintains that the greatest of allevils is taking the sensible realm to be real.4 Gallop (1975, p. 154) and Woolf (2007, p. 3) point out that the problem with using the wordargument to translate is that at 90b68 and 90c9, Socrates says that arguments canbe true and false. This makes for an awkward translation to the extent that arguments are notstandardly understood as being true or false. However, this worry might be anachronistic; So-crates often seems perfectly happy to speak loosely, according to which speech is true or false,see Republic II.382e8. Additionally, Socrates infamously speaks of pleasures as being true andfalse, see Republic X.582d586e and Philebus, esp. 40c41a.5 Rowe (1993, p. 215) suggests that Socrates assertion that he is in danger of being unphiloso-phical is a reflection of his earlier performance (cf. 84b), which contains more persuasive de-scription than hard reasoning. I am quite sympathetic to this reading.

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  • pute about something, they give no thought to the truth about the subject of discussion,6

    but are only eager that those present will accept the position they have set forth. And itseems to me that in this present moment ( ) I shall differ ()7 fromthem only to this extent: I shall not be eager that what I say seems true to those who arepresent, except incidentally, but rather I shall be very eager that it seems so to myself(91a1b1, my emphasis).8

    In a few lines, Socrates has identified four ways of being unphilosophical. Thefirst is dealing with arguments without skill (i.e. the cause of misology). Thesecond is hating rational inquiry altogether (i.e. misology). The third is trying toconvince others of claims without caring about whether or not they are actuallytrue (i.e. being a lover of winning or an eristic).9 The fourth is trying to convinceoneself of certain claims without caring for whether or not they are actually true(i.e. being a modified eristic).10

    Notice that the first two ways of being unphilosophical develop from a lackof skill with arguments but do not necessarily develop from not caring aboutthe truth. For instance, someone might care greatly about the truth but lack theskills needed to understand arguments, and his lack of skill might lead him toget so frustrated that he abandons rational inquiry altogether. In contrast, thelatter two ways of being unphilosophical do not necessarily develop from a lackof skill with rational inquiry but instead from not valuing the truth. This seemsto be why in Book VII of the Republic, Socrates is concerned about teachingyoung guardians dialectic; the worry is that they will develop skills in argumen-tation before they develop a firm and stable love for the truth. In turn, they willbecome eager to win arguments without caring about whether or not the posi-

    6 Literally, How [the things] are in relation to which the argument ( ) may be.7 Rowe (1993, p. 215) takes this I shall to signify a reversal in which Simmias and Cebestake on the role of philosophers. This reading is amicable to my interpretation and it is sup-ported by Socrates encouragement at 91c15, cf. 107b, 115bc.8 Consider the difference between Socrates attitude here and his attitude at Republic V.450e451a, in which he says, But to speak, as Im doing, at a time when one is unsure of oneselfand searching for the truth, is a frightening and insecure thing to do. Im not afraid of beinglaughed at...But I am afraid that, if I slip from the truth, just where its most important not to,Ill not only fall myself but drag my friends down as well. In the Republic passage, he is afraidthat the position he is defending might be false and that this might mislead his friends aboutthe truth. In contrast, in this passage, Socrates is willing to defend a position that might befalse and is not concerned or afraid that in doing this he might mislead his friends. Rather, at91c15, he tells his friends to be the philosophers.9 Examples of this might be Callicles from the Gorgias and Euthydemus and Dionysodorusfrom the Euthydemus.10 By modified I mean that, unlike the full blown eristic, or traditional sophist, the modifiederistic is only trying to convince himself, and is not trying to convince others.

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  • tion they are defending is true (539b). Despite these differences, each of theseunphilosophical positions share the common feature that they are epistemicallyvicious and threaten the possibility of obtaining truth and knowledge.11

    What is interesting about 91a1-b1 is that immediately after noting that he isrunning the risk of being unphilosophical, Socrates asserts that from this mo-ment he will12 adopt the position of a modified eristic who is eager to convincehimself of certain things regardless of whether or not those very things aretrue.13 Socrates goes on to explain why he is adopting such a position:

    For I calculate, my friends see how greedily ( ) I calculate! that ifwhat I say is true, it is a fine thing () to be convinced; if, on the other hand,nothing exists after death,14 at least for this time before I die I shall distress those pre-sent less with lamentations and my ignorance () will not continue to exist alongwith me that would be a bad () thing but will come to an end in a short time(91b17).

    Socrates is asserting that he is selfishly clinging to the claims that his soulis immortal and destined for a good afterlife because he benefits from believingthese claims whether or not they are true.15 For instance, if Socrates believesthese things about death and they turn out to be false, Socrates still benefitsfrom believing them because of the practical value of the belief. The practicalvalue of this belief is that it pacifies the fear of death and thus prevents himand his friends from grieving and violently lamenting about his death. This ideaaccords with the fact that earlier in the text, Socrates makes it clear that, if hedid not believe that death was a good thing, he would be wrong not to resentdying (63b59, cf. 68bc, 84b, 88bc).16 Moreover, even if these beliefs arefalse, his ignorance will not remain with him long, but will cease when he dies.

    11 By epistemically vicious, I mean a process that commonly or likely results in falsehood,such as believing on the basis of little evidence.12 Notice the future of in the passage ( ) (91a67).13 Dorter (1982, pp. 934) and Woolf (2007) share this interpretation. For an objection to Woolf(2007) see Wood (2007).14 Literally, Whereas if there is nothing for one who has died.15 See Rowe (1993, pp. 2156).16 Notice how Socrates attitude towards death differs from his attitude in the Apology. In theApology, Socrates maintains that death is not a bad thing because either it is like a long dream-less sleep or it leads to a good afterlife (40c-41c), see Austin (2010). In contrast, in the Phaedo,he maintains that if one does not believe that the afterlife is good, one should resent death.Additionally, consider how it differs from that of the Gorgias, in which Socrates says, For noone who isnt totally bereft of reason and courage is afraid to die (522e). I will not addresswhether Socrates attitude towards death in the Phaedo can be reconciled with these othertexts.

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  • On the other hand, if Socrates believes these claims and they are true, not onlydoes he receive the practical benefits already mentioned, but he also benefitsfrom having a true belief about something important: the nature of the soul andafterlife.17 That is to say, if such claims are true, then there are epistemic bene-fits to believing them.

    The table above is a visual representation of Socrates calculation.Immediately after Socrates seems to defend the merits of being a modified

    eristic, he encourages his friends to unrelentingly seek the truth like philoso-phers, saying:

    If you take my advice, you will give but little thought to Socrates but much more to thetruth. If you think that what I say is true, agree with me; if not, oppose it with everyargument and take care in my eagerness I do not deceive myself and you, and like abee, leave my sting in you when I go (91c15, cf. 107b, 115bc).

    Socrates seems to be saying some rather uncharacteristic things in thesepassages and because of this one might be tempted to resist interpreting him asa modified eristic. For instance, one might argue that Socrates is merely beingironic,18 or that Plato is applying a future more vivid construction, in whichSocrates is merely acknowledging that he is in danger of being unphilosophical,

    Table 1:

    Socrates Epistemic Value Practical Value

    S Believes Claims about Deathand the Claims are True.

    High Benefits (True Belief thatWill Extend Into the Afterlife).

    High Benefits (Belief Assuagesthe Fear of Death).

    S Believes Claims about Deathand the Claims are False.

    Low Costs (False Belief, ButOnly For a Short Duration).

    High Benefits (Belief Assuagesthe Fear of Death).

    17 Additionally, if these claims turn out true, in the afterlife Socrates will, presumably, reapthe rewards of having lived philosophically.18 This is the route Rowe (1993, pp. 2156) takes: ...although with his usual irony he pre-tends to be [like the eristic]. Rather, he is as complete a philosopher (see esp. 76bc), andtherefore as skilled in argument, as anyone living. Something which appears true to him willtherefore have passed the most exacting test available. However, the problem with eristics isnot that they are unskilled with arguments that is the cause of misology. Rather, the problemis that they do not care about the truth of the position they are defending. The fact that theyare usually good at arguing can make them all the more dangerous. Gallop (1975, p. 155) main-tains that Socrates is sincere when he is says he is only concerned with trying to convincehimself and not others and argues that this is the mark of a true philosopher, see Charmides166d. However, if we take Socrates at his word here, this is hardly the conclusion we shoulddraw because he is saying that he will act like the eristic, cf. 102d25.

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  • and if he were to act unphilosophically, this is how he would act. However,there are subtle hints scattered throughout the Phaedo that suggest that So-crates is not being his usual philosophical or Socratic self.19 There are threepassages in particular that highlight this.

    The first hint that he is pursuing unphilosophical or non-rational meth-ods comes at the beginning of the Phaedo, in which it is revealed that Socrateshas been practicing poetry (60b61b). This comes as a great surprise to every-one, since Socrates has never written poetry before (60d). Socrates explains thathe has been pursuing poetry as a backup plan, just in case the gods reallywanted him to practice and cultivate poetry instead of philosophy (60b61b).20

    The second instance occurs immediately following the argument of recollec-tion (72e77b). After hearing the argument, Cebes asserts that he is not per-suaded that the soul continues after death and wants to know why the souldoes not dissipate when the body perishes (77ab). In response, Socrates jok-ingly accuses them of having the childish fear that their souls will blow away inthe wind when they die (77de). At this Cebes laughs and says, Assuming thatwe were afraid, Socrates, try to change our minds, or rather do not assume thatwe are afraid, but perhaps there is a child in us who has these fears; try topersuade him not to fear death like a bogey (77e37). Socrates responds:

    You should sing a charm () over him every day until you have charmed (-) away his fears...You should search for such a charmer...sparing neither trouble norexpense for there is nothing on which you could spend your money to greater advan-tage. You must also search among yourselves, for you might not find people who coulddo this better than yourselves (77e878a9).

    What is particularly interesting about this passage is that Socrates considers thefear of death a serious problem and he emphasizes that the cure for this ailmentis not only philosophical inquiry but enchantment as well.

    One might object that in other texts, such as Charmides 157ac and RepublicX.608a, Socrates is quite comfortable calling philosophical argumentscharms.21 I have three responses to this objection. First, in other texts, such asLaws II.659e, II.664b, II.665c, II.666c, II.670e, VI.773d, VII.812c, and VII.944b,Socrates clearly uses and its cognates to describe myths and non-ra-

    19 Dorter (1982, p. 93) says, Accordingly, throughout the Phaedo Socrates assumes the role ofa partisan advocate rather than his more accustomed role of a disinterested inquirer. Dorter(1982, p. 94) points out that Socrates uses the terms convince and conviction more thanfifty times in the dialogue, which is unusually high for Socrates.20 Cf. Republic X.607b.21 Perhaps this is also true at Laws X.903b.

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  • tional means of persuasion.22 Second, that Socrates is using in the non-rational sense at 77e878a9 is suggested by the fact that he is talking aboutpersuading the child in us and children are unable to understand reason.23

    Third, Socrates uses in discussing the closing myth of the Phaedo at114d, which indicates that he has in mind non-rational enhancement. Thisbrings us to the third instance.

    After Socrates responds to his friends objections, he describes the structureof the earth, cosmos, and afterlife in the form of a myth (107c115a). The mythincludes both the particular details of the physical structures of the world andcosmos, as well as a detailed description of the afterlife, which includes a resta-tement of the proportionality thesis. Socrates concludes the myth by saying thatbecause of the things we have enumerated one must make every effort to sharein virtue and wisdom in ones life, for the reward is beautiful and the hope isgreat (114c68).

    Following this, Socrates says:

    It is not fitting for a man having intelligence ( ) to insist thatthese things are as I have described them, but I think it is fitting for a man to risk thebelief ( ) the risk is a noble one that this, or something like it, is true about our souls and their dwelling places, sincethe soul appears to be immortal ( ), and aman should sing () this to himself as if it were an incantation, which is why Ihave been prolonging my tale (114d16).24

    Socrates is advocating the use of non-rational methods in order to motivatethe belief in certain things about souls and their dwelling place, even thoughthere is insufficient evidence for these claims. Because there is insufficient evi-dence for these claims, believing in them is risky. Nevertheless, because thepractical value one gains from believing these claims outweighs the harms onesuffers if they turn out to be false, it is fitting for a man to risk the belief.25

    22 For a discussion on non-rational persuasion in the Laws see Stalley (1983), (1994) and Mor-row (1953). For a response see Bobonich (2002, chap. 2).23 See Republic III.401d402b and Laws II.653b. I am not alone in thinking that the applica-tion of and its cognates in the Phaedo indicate non-rational persuasion. For instance,Cobb (1977, p. 175) says The problem the dialogue addresses is an irrational fear, and, whilereason alone can see that seeking wisdom is the only thing worth doing, the child in us isapprehensive about where this may lead and does not speak the language of reason. Hence itmust be charmed. See also Dodds (1951, pp. 212 and 226, n. 20) and Dorter (1982, pp. 934).24 Cf. Meno 86bc. Also note that 114d will be discussed in more detail in section four.25 Wood (2007, pp. 212), in his response to Woolf (2007), argues that Plato is not advocatinga full belief in these claims. Rather, Socrates is merely recommending that one posit theseclaims as if they were true, as a kind of regulative ideal. However, this is mistaken for three

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  • These three passages provide compelling reasons to take Socrates at hisword and to interpret him as actually being a modified eristic, in which he isattempting to persuade himself of certain claims irrespective of the truth ofthose claims.26 If we interpret Socrates in this way an interesting interpretivepuzzle arises: Why might Socrates think that he is justified in unphilosophicallyclinging to certain claims about the soul and death and that his friends shouldcontinue pursuing the truth of those very same claims? What makes this all themore puzzling is that presumably his friends stand to reap the same practicalbenefits as he does in believing these very things. For instance, if his friendsbelieve in the immortality of the soul and the proportionality thesis, then theywill experience less sadness and pain in response to Socrates death. Further-more, such beliefs will allow them to fearlessly continue in the footsteps of So-crates pursuing philosophy even if it leads to death, which is what Socrateswants them to do.

    Thus, Socrates seems to have backed himself into an unhealthy dilemma inwhich: either (a) Socrates attitude is unjustified, in which case he is right toadvise his friends to seek the truth and wrong to think that it is beneficial forhim not to, or (b) Socrates attitude is justified, in which case he is wrong toadvise his friends to seek the truth and right to think that it is beneficial for himnot to. Both prongs of the dilemma are unattractive; the former makes Socrateslook psychologically unstable or cowardly,27 while the latter makes him a badteacher and leader of his friends. Let us call this puzzle the verity puzzle. Inthe next section, I examine possible answers to the verity puzzle.

    reasons. First, at 108113c, when Socrates describes the earth and the cosmos, he explicitlysays that he is convinced or persuaded of the things he is about to say. Persuasion and convic-tion suggest belief. Second, Socrates refers to this as an incantation and one does not reli-giously chant things that one merely wishes to posit, or assume for the sake of the argument.Rather, one sings and chants that which one wants to believe. Third, it is unclear how merelypositing these claims as if they were true could assuage the fear of death.26 This is how Dorter (1982, p. 94) reads this passage: Socrates has here abandoned his usualphilosophical role of a non-partisan examiner of things in favour of that of an advocate deter-mined to make what he believes to be true seem as true as possible. He believes that there is ameaningful sense in which we can be called immortal and he is determined not only to giveproofs of this (which could be compatible also with a non-partisan role) but also to make itseem as likely as possible by unphilosophical means as well, and thus his love of victory hereis contrasted with the disinterested love of wisdom, philosophy. Also consider Cobb (1977,p. 176): Socrates explicitly drops the role of the philosopher who seeks the truth for that of theadvocate, the champion who seeks to defeat the enemy. And the enemy is the philosophicalminotaur, identified as misology.27 Cf. Laws XI.922c.

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  • 3 Epistemic Authority

    What is the relevant difference between Socrates and his friends, such that So-crates is justified in behaving like a modified eristic towards issues concerningdeath, while his friends are not? The most obvious answer is that Socrates willdie soon, but his friends will likely continue living for a longer duration. Thus,one might argue that because Simmias and Cebes will continue living the po-tential epistemic costs of having a false belief are greater for them. For example,if they believe that the soul is immortal and this claim is false, then their ignor-ance will stay with them. This is not the case for Socrates because if he believesthat the soul is immortal and this claim is false, his ignorance will perish whenhe dies, which is soon (91b17).

    Undoubtedly, this is part of Socrates thinking; nevertheless, it cannot bethe full story. The problem with this explanation is that although the potentialepistemic costs are greater for Simmias and Cebes, so are the potential episte-mic gains. For instance, if they believe that the soul is immortal and this beliefis true, then they will benefit from having a true belief for a long duration. Ad-ditionally, they have strong practical reasons to attempt to convince themselvesthat the soul is immortal; for instance, such a belief will encourage them to carefor the condition of their soul and not to care about money, honor, or the thingsof the body (cf. 61bd, 63e64e, 66ae, 68bc, 84a, 107cd, 114c).28 Therefore,this answer to the verity puzzle cannot explain why Socrates would not wanthis friends to be modified eristics towards these beliefs concerning death.

    A related but more plausible explanation is that because Socrates will soonperish, he does not have time to develop epistemic vice, even if he acts in anepistemically vicious way before he dies. However, because Simmias and Cebeswill continue living, if they act epistemically vicious, they seriously risk devel-oping epistemic vice which could potentially ruin their lives. In other words,given the unique circumstance that Socrates is in, he is not at risk for develop-ing epistemic vice and thus can act epistemically vicious without suffering anyserious costs. However, because Simmias and Cebes are not in the same circum-stance, if they act epistemically vicious they face very serious costs.

    Although I think this explanation might capture part of Socrates rationale,it once again is not the full story. The problem with this account is that it as-

    28 Dorter (1982, p. 94) argues that 107cd and 114c suggest that Socrates believes that immor-tality is the basis for morality. I agree with Gallop (1975, pp. 2223) that these passages merelyshow that Socrates believes that if the soul is immortal, then the wicked do not escape theirwickedness (cf. 69a6c3, 81d682d8). This does not mean, however, that he believes that if thesoul is not immortal, there is no morality or that everything is permitted.

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  • sumes that ones epistemic vice cannot extend into the afterlife. This assump-tion is problematic because one of the core claims that Socrates is trying to con-vince himself of is the proportionality thesis, and in the proportionality thesisliving philosophically is the core criterion that determines the quality of onesafterlife (80d82b, 107c115a). Therefore, this answer to the verity puzzle can-not account for why Socrates would believe that he is justified in applying anepistemically vicious process.

    I argue that the relevant difference between Socrates and his friends is thatSocrates is a fully accomplished philosopher, while his friends are not. Socratesis an expert at pursuing truth, knowledge, and wisdom (61bd, 63e64a, 66a68b, 69b, 84a, 91a), and because of this he is an epistemic authority.29 AlthoughSimmias and Cebes have a good deal of philosophical skill and do, in fact, careabout the truth, they lack the philosophical expertise of Socrates and thus arenot epistemic authorities. Being an epistemic authority affords Socrates two ad-vantages over his friends who are not epistemic authorities: first, he is a goodjudge of when it is to ones advantage to not pursue the truth. Second, becausehe has devoted his life to achieving truth and knowledge (61bd, 63e64a, 67e68b), his epistemic dispositions are relatively stable. This means that there isless of a chance that being epistemically vicious at a given time will infect anddestroy his skill as a philosopher, or his love for truth, knowledge, and wisdom.

    However, because Simmias and Cebes lack the same degree of philosophi-cal skill, when they act epistemically vicious they risk becoming habitual wish-ful thinkers, or worse yet, completely self-deceived. This danger is very real;especially when one considers the fact that their philosophical teacher will nolonger be around to guide them. Without Socrates philosophical prodding, his

    29 One might worry that describing Socrates as an epistemic authority is incompatible withhis disavowal of knowledge. There are two reasons that this description should not worry us.First, Socrates description of himself does not necessarily represent his actual characteristics.Second, even if it is true that Socrates lacks knowledge of divine things, it is still possible thathe is better at reasoning and pursuing the truth than other human beings, and thus is an epis-temic authority.

    Additionally, it should be noted that in Socrates autobiography he admits to having aban-doned research into the natural sciences (96ad). However, the point of this passage is not thatSocrates has abandoned the pursuit of epistemic goods. Rather, it is that he has discovered thatsome truths are not worth pursuing, and that the road to wisdom and real knowledge is notempirical, see esp. 100b101a, cf. 68ac. Woolf (2007, p. 1) argues that this demonstrates thatSocrates does not value truth for its own sake, but values truth because its content expressesa state of affairs that we value. For instance, he says, For he [viz. Socrates] acknowledges, ineffect, that he will fight to defend the thesis of the souls immortality not out of a love of truthfor its own sake but because of the value he places on the state of affairs that would obtain ifthe thesis were true (p. 1). For a response see Wood (2007).

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  • friends seriously risk falling deep into the unphilosophical life of valuing bodilygoods over the goods of the soul (i.e. truth, knowledge, and wisdom) (68bc).

    Thus, despite the fact that Simmias and Cebes might receive some immedi-ate practical benefits from believing that the soul is immortal without givingthought to the truth of this claim, they will be better off in the long run strivingto become philosophers for philosophy is the best guide to ones life. This iswhy Socrates wants to avoid leaving his unphilosophical sting in them when hedies (91c, cf. 107b, 115bc). Therefore, Socrates is justified in not pursuing thetruth because he is an epistemic authority. In contrast, Simmias and Cebesshould not deviate from the philosophical path because they are not epistemicauthorities, and such a move would be costly.30

    In what follows, I defend my interpretation in two ways. First, I argue thatthe philosophical and psychological ideas underlying it are plausible. Second, Iargue that there is independent textual support for this position found in theRepublic.31

    My interpretation holds that ones epistemic skills, in part, determinewhether an epistemic risk is appropriate or not. The more epistemic skill onehas, the more risk it is appropriate to take, while the less epistemic skill onehas, the less risk it is appropriate to take.32 I call this position Skill-Based RiskAssessment (SBRA):

    SBRA: Agent As skill in a given field F, in part, determines whether a risk is appropriateor not for A with respect to F. The more skill A has in F, the more risk it is appropriatefor A to take with respect to F. The less skill A has in F, the less risk it is appropriate forA to take with respect to F.33

    I take SBRA to have great intuitive appeal. For example, the shot that isappropriate for a skilled golfer, such as Arnold Palmer, is very different fromthe shot that is appropriate for Duffer Hack, who only occasionally plays golf

    30 An anonymous referee suggested that another possible reason Socrates might not want hisfriends to unphilosophically cling to the immortality of the soul is that they will be ill-equippedto defend the view to others, and if being refuted leads to misology, then they need philosophi-cal practice in order to avoid misology later, or to avoid causing it in others as a result of theirphilosophical ineptitude. This demonstrates another way in which it is dangerous to act unphi-losophically if one is not an epistemic authority.31 I acknowledge that some people might object on methodological grounds to mixing thesetwo dialogues; however, I try to assuage these methodological concerns by arguing that thetexts are sufficiently similar with respect to the issues that concern this paper.32 Cf. Laws X.892d893a.33 SBRA is an application of thinking of virtue as a craft, which is a common Socratic idea,see Laches 185de, Hippias Minor 275d276b, Charmides 174e175a, Euthydemus 291b292d,Gorgias 460b.

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  • and is a novice. Arnold Palmer is capable of making difficult shots more oftenthan Duffer Hack. Moreover, because Arnold Palmer is a seasoned veteran onthe course, he understands when such difficult shots are worth attempting andwhen they are not. Since Duffer Hack lacks this experience, he lacks the aware-ness of when it is appropriate to take difficult shots and when it is not. In fact,if Duffer Hack were to make a difficult shot, this might actually hurt his overallperformance by giving him a false sense of confidence in which he thinks thathe is capable of making difficult shots all the time, when he clearly is not. Forthese reasons, Duffer Hack will be better off playing the course safely and notattempting the difficult shots that Arnold Palmer often makes. Now just as it isappropriate for Arnold Palmer to take risky shots that are inappropriate for Duf-fer Hack to take, it is appropriate for Socrates to take epistemic risks that areinappropriate for his friends to take.

    In the Republic there is evidence that ones epistemic skill determines whethertelling a lie is risky or not.34 In Book II of the Republic, Plato distinguishes betweentwo kinds of falsehood or lie, the true or real lie and the mixed lie (382ad).35 The true lie involves deceiving the most authoritative part ( )of oneself about the most authoritative things ( ) and becauseof this everyone fears and hates the true lie (382a79, 382b15, 382c34). In con-trast, the mixed lie is a kind of imitation in words ( ) of the condi-tion () in the soul, an image () that arises later (382b9c1).Although the true lie is hated by gods and humans alike, the mixed lie is not al-ways hated by humans, but is like a useful drug, which can be used for preventingthe ignorant or mad from doing bad (382c610).

    Before I explain how this passage supports SBRA, it will be helpful tobriefly comment on Socrates cryptic distinction. This passage is not saying thatthe true lie is any and all forms of deception or self-deception. Rather, this pas-sage is saying that the true lie, the lie that is hated and feared by all, involvesbeing deceived about and ignorant of very specific content: the most authorita-

    34 Support for SBRA is also found in Protagoras 350aff., in which Socrates asserts that skilleddivers are the ones who dive boldly into wells. I thank an anonymous referee for reminding meof this passage.35 At II.382a45 Socrates describes this as and at II.382c34 he uses ; it is clear from the context that he is using these terms interchangeably and iscontrasting them with , which literally means the not entirely un-mixed lie. Hereafter, I shall simply refer to the former kind of lie as the true lie and the latterkind of lie as the mixed lie. Additionally, I should note that the can mean lie orfalsehood. I shall use the term lie, although nothing important hangs on this translation.That Socrates is tolerant of mixed lies is evident in various places in the Republic, see I.331bd,II.377e378a, II.378cd, III.414d415c, III.416e417b, and V.459d460c.

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  • tive things. Hence, part of the reason why the mixed lie can be beneficial isbecause it does not mislead about the most authoritative things.36 This raisesthe question: What are the most authoritative things which Socrates has inmind at 382ad? Broadly speaking, scholars have put forth two different an-swers: some have argued that they concern the Forms, while others have arguedthat they concern ethical truths.37 Fortunately, for the purposes of this paperone need not settle this difficult issue here. Instead, one simply needs to keepin mind that at 382ad Socrates is not saying that all forms of deception (in-cluding self-deception) are always bad, but rather, he is expressing concernabout being deceived about very particular content content which Socratesdoes not appear to be attempting to make himself ignorant of in the Phaedo.38

    In Book III, Plato asserts that just as only doctors should prescribe drugs,only the philosopher rulers should tell lies in the city (389ac).39 That is, onlyphilosophers should utilize the mixed lie. The idea is that doctors know thingsabout medicine and disease that patients do not. For this reason, patients canbenefit from the medical advice of doctors. However, because patients are ig-norant about medicine and disease, they should not be issuing medical advicebecause such advice is likely to do more harm than good. Therefore, it is thedoctors epistemically superior vantage point that grounds her authority to pre-scribe drugs, and it is the patients epistemically defective vantage point thatdisqualifies her as an authority for prescribing drugs.

    Similarly, philosophers know things about goodness and ruling cities thatnon-philosophers do not know. This includes having knowledge of when citi-zens can benefit from believing falsehood, and thus, when it is appropriate tolie to citizens. For this reason, the citizens can benefit from hearing the lies ofthe rulers. However, since citizens are ignorant about these matters, it is dan-

    36 I say can because Socrates is clear that the impure lie is not always beneficial, but is onlybeneficial in certain circumstances. Additionally, Socrates explains that when discussing an-cient stories that one is ignorant of (cf. 376e378e), mixed lies can be useful when they are asclose to the truth as possible (382d13).37 For examples of the former see Simpson (2007) and Woolf (2009), and for examples of thelatter see Baima (forthcoming), Brickhouse and Smith (1983), Page (1991), and Reeve (1981,p. 210). I should also note that there is some overlap between these views because for Platoethical matters are related to the Forms. The most thorough discussion of this passage is foundin Woolf (2009). I hold that the true lie is a matter of being deceived about what you ought todo, or propose to do, here and now. Hence, it is fundamentally a practical matter.38 In fact, it seems to be just the opposite to the extent that in the Phaedo, Socrates is nottrying to ignore the Forms, but rather appears to be trying to convince himself of them in orderto overcome the fear of death.39 Cf. Laws XI.916d917b.

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  • gerous for them to lie; especially, if they lie to the rulers. Therefore, it is thephilosophers epistemically superior vantage point that grounds her authority toprescribe falsehood, and it is the non-philosophers epistemically defective van-tage point that disqualifies her as an authority to prescribe falsehood.40

    To highlight the dangers of non-philosophers lying to philosophers, So-crates extends his medical analogy (III.389c).41 Suppose, for instance, that a pa-tient lies to a doctor about the present condition of her health. This faulty infor-mation will lead the doctor to misdiagnose and mistreat the patients disease.Consequently, the patients disease will not be cured and the doctors prescrip-tion might actually harm the patient. Likewise, if a non-philosopher lies to aphilosopher about her present condition or the condition of the city, the philo-sopher will likely misjudge the non-philosophers needs as well as the needs ofthe city. This faulty information will cause the philosopher to issue the wrongprescriptions and the entire city will be harmed as a result.

    Plato is not, however, making the implausible claim that a non-philosophercan never benefit from lying to another citizen. There might be some particularcircumstances in which non-philosophers could receive some immediate benefitfrom lying.42 However, on the whole, this practice is extremely dangerous be-cause non-philosophers are likely to misjudge when it is appropriate to lie. Thisdanger is especially severe because, unlike philosophers, non-philosophershave not been raised to hate falsehood and love truth. Thus if they are per-mitted to lie, they might lie without restraint. In contrast, because philosopherslove truth and hate falsehood (Rep. V.474b475c, VI.485cd, VI.490ac), theywill only lie when it is truly beneficial.43

    Obviously, these examples are not perfectly analogous. According to my in-terpretation of the Phaedo, Socrates is making the point that a philosophersepistemic authority justifies her in risking false belief in circumstances when anon-philosopher is not justified in risking false belief. However, in the Republic,it is not the case that the epistemic ability of a philosopher justifies her in risk-ing false belief herself. Rather, it justifies a philosophers ability to tell false-hoods to others, and thus to cause them to develop false beliefs. Nevertheless,both examples share the same general principle that a philosophers epistemic

    40 Cf. Statesman 279d.41 Socrates also uses the examples of athletic trainers and athletes, and of captains and sailorsto illustrate this point (III.389c).42 Cf. Republic I.331bd.43 Speaking on this point, Schofield (2007, p. 148) maintains that because philosophers hatefalsehoods and love truth, philosopher rulers will hate telling falsehoods. For similar pointssee Brickhouse and Smith (1983, p. 84), Annas (1981, pp. 107, 1667). Cf. Phaedo 115e. Addition-ally, consider Platos concern about imitation in the Republic, see especially III.395.

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  • ability justifies her in doing something epistemically vicious, and that a non-philosophers lack of epistemic ability disqualifies her from doing somethingepistemically vicious.44 Additionally, Platos conception of philosophers in theRepublic is similar to his conception of philosophers in the Phaedo in the impor-tant respect that in both dialogues philosophers love truth, knowledge, and wis-dom, and despise falsehood, wealth, and the things of the body (RepublicIII.416e417a, V.474b475c, VI.485cd, VI.490ac).

    At this point, one might object that it is the non-philosophers, not the philo-sophers, who benefit from being epistemically vicious in the Republic; after all,it is the non-philosophers who benefit from believing false things in the Repub-lic. However, this objection is founded upon a mistake. It is certainly true thatin the Kallipolis, non-philosophers benefit from the false beliefs given to themby philosophers. It is also true that these false beliefs benefit non-philosophersbecause non-philosophers are in some ways epistemically defective, and thuscannot grasp the full truth. Nevertheless, it is not the case that non-philoso-phers develop these false beliefs through an epistemically vicious process, suchas through wishful thinking or self-deception. If anything it is just the opposite;non-philosophers develop these false beliefs from trusting and listening to thephilosopher rulers who are epistemic authorities. That is to say, they trust anepistemically reliable process.

    On the other side of things, one might worry that on my reading philoso-phers, such as Socrates, come across as excessive wishful thinkers about death.To be clear, I am suggesting that some of the beliefs philosophers form aboutdeath might be a result of a kind of wishful or hopeful thinking.45 However, Iam not arguing that philosophers form all of their beliefs about death on thebasis of wishful thinking; rather, I am arguing that in very particular circum-stances, philosophers can benefit from believing things not grounded in soundevidence. Additionally, I have tried to show that this kind of activity is not per-nicious for philosophers because: (1) philosophers understand when it is wiseor fitting to act epistemically vicious, and (2) this practice will not affect theirlove for and pursuit of truth, knowledge, and wisdom.

    44 For a discussion of why lying is epistemically vicious see Kawall (2002).45 For a discussion of hopeful thinking in the Apology see Austin (2010). Additionally, for aspecific discussion on what Plato thinks the dangers of wishful thinking are and are not seeVogt (2012, chap. 1).

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  • 4 The Verity Puzzle Redux

    In the previous section, I argued that the solution to the verity puzzle centersaround ones epistemic skills. I argued that Socrates is justified in not pursuingthe truth because he is an epistemic authority, and that Simmias and Cebes lacksuch justification because they are not epistemic authorities. However, a diffi-culty emerges for my interpretation at 114d16:

    It is not fitting for a man having intelligence ( ) to insist thatthese things are as I have described them, but I think it is fitting for a man to risk thebelief ( ) the risk is a noble one that this, or something like it, is true about our souls and their dwelling places, sincethe soul appears to be immortal ( ), and aman should sing () this to himself as if it were an incantation, which is why Ihave been prolonging my tale (114d16).

    At first glance, one might think that Socrates is being inconsistent, since at 114dhe is asserting that everyone should try to believe certain claims about deathirrespective of the truth, while at 91ac he defends this practice only for him-self. However, a careful analysis of 114d will reveal that there is no inconsis-tency.

    First, notice that the claims that Socrates is trying to convince himself of at91ac are different from the claims that he is recommending that everyoneshould try to convince themselves of at 114d. At 91ac, Socrates is interested inconvincing himself of both the immortality of the soul and the proportionalitythesis. In contrast, at 114d, he is advocating that everyone should strive to be-lieve the proportionality thesis, including the specific details of what he thinksthe afterlife would be like under this description.

    Relatedly, the risk involved in believing these claims differs because theevidence for these claims is different in two ways. First, at 91ac, Socrates hasyet to provide strong arguments in defense of the immortality of the soul.46

    Thus, at 91ac, Socrates is trying to form beliefs about his soul and its destinywith very little evidence. However, by the time we reach 114d, Socrates takeshimself to have established firm reasons for thinking that the soul is immortal.47

    46 For instance, Gallop (1975, p. 103) says, As the dialogue unfolds, the earlier arguments arecriticized, refined, or superseded until Socrates belief in immortality is finally vindicated. Dor-ter (1982, p. 33) disagrees, arguing that the earlier arguments are not superseded by the argu-ments that come later. Nevertheless, even if Dorter is right about this, it is still true that onehas more reason to believe in the immortality of the soul at 114 than at 91, because more argu-ments have been put forth and a more thorough discussion of this matter has ensued.47 Cobb (1977) argues that the Phaedo should be read as not putting forth rational argumentsfor the immortality of the soul. Rather, the philosophical arguments in the Phaedo are meant to

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  • This is reflected in Socrates saying that the belief is worth risking because this,or something like it, is true about our souls and their dwelling place, since thesoul appears to be immortal ( ).48

    Socrates use of the causal conjunction demonstrates that one of thereasons why everyone should risk belief in the proportionality thesis is that hetakes it to be quite plausible that the soul is immortal and that there is an after-life. This provides some evidence for the proportionality thesis because at thevery least this demonstrates that there is good reason to believe in the afterlife.In contrast, at 91ac, there was not much evidence for this claim.

    Second, the risk involved in believing the immortality of the soul differsfrom the risk involved in believing the details of the proportionality thesis be-cause these claims differ in terms of how strongly they can be established inthis life. In this life, we might not be able to fully determine the nature of thesoul and whether it is immortal. However, we can offer arguments or theoriesthat shed light on the truth of this claim, and we can evaluate these argumentsand theories with some degree of confidence. Nevertheless, the exact nature ofthe afterlife is much different; we can never be extremely confident about theparticular claims we make about it. We can only speculate through myth aboutthe specific details of the afterlife.49 Now as I just explained, Socrates believesthat Simmias and Cebes are justified in believing that the soul is immortal at114d. If Simmias and Cebes are justified in believing that the soul is immortal,then they are justified in believing that there is an afterlife. However, given themysterious nature of this subject, they cannot be certain of the exact nature ofthe afterlife while they are living. Thus, if Simmias and Cebes follow Socratesadvice and believe that the afterlife is a certain way, they risk false belief. But

    persuade ones emotions and strengthen ones confidence that the best life is the philosophicallife. Although I am sympathetic to this interpretation, I see no reason why the reader of thePhaedo is forced into an exclusive disjunction, in which either rational arguments are put forth,or it is a non-rational defense of philosophy.48 One might worry that this undermines the original verity puzzle because it suggests thatSocrates is not a modified eristic towards death. However, at 91ac, Socrates has yet to defendthe immortality of the soul soundly, and thus during this time he is behaving as a modifiederistic because he has insufficient evidence in support of this claim. However, this changes at114d because he takes himself to have soundly defended this claim. In other words, the evi-dence has changed significantly for the claim that the soul is immortal between 91ac and114d.49 Cf. Gallop (1975, p. 224). To be clear, I do think the general idea of the proportionality thesisis subject to rational inquiry. For instance, one can offer arguments in defense of a teleologicalafterlife. Nevertheless, the exact nature of this afterlife is not as amenable to rational discourse.For instance, it does not seem that we can access through reason whether there are rivers,demons, blue skies, and unicorns in the afterlife.

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  • the risk primarily stems from the nature of the subject matter and not from somedefect in reasoning. Therefore, Socrates is recommending much riskier behaviorfor himself at 91ab than he is for everyone at 114d.

    5 The Limits of Truth

    From this analysis, we see that there are three factors that determine whetherSocrates thinks an agent A is justified in trying to convince herself of a claimirrespective of the truth of that claim. They are: (1) the epistemic benefits orcosts in believing that p, (2) the practical benefits or costs in believing that p,and (3) As epistemic skill. The greater As epistemic abilities are, the more Acan wager, so to speak.

    On this model, the value of pursuing truth is limited to the extent that thereare some circumstances in which ones life can go better by forming beliefs onthe basis of insufficient evidence. That is, there are some contexts in whichbeing epistemically vicious will improve ones life, and in these circumstancesthe practical considerations of living well override the epistemic concerns ofreaching truth and achieving knowledge. As a philosophical thesis, we shouldnot find such a position that startling. After all, it is well-known that utilitariansprioritize practical considerations over epistemic concerns.50 Thus, it shouldcome as no surprise if a utilitarian argued that one should sometimes sacrificethe pursuit of truth for the sake of practical gain.51 However, it is surprising thatwe find such a position defended by an author who maintains that truth headsthe list of all things good, for gods and humans alike (Laws V.730c12). Addi-tionally, it is even more paradoxical that such a position is defended in a storywhere the protagonist dies for the sake of a practice that esteems truth andknowledge, and at times says things like, nothing should be done contrary tophilosophy (82d17).

    From this, we might wonder if Socrates endorsement of being a modifiederistic undermines the value of truth. The answer is a resounding no. Through-out the Phaedo and his entire corpus, Plato makes it clear that truth is the bestguide to ones life. After all, it is in part ones love of truth and skill in pursuingit that justifies one in engaging in epistemically defective forms of reasoning.Hence, it might be the case that there are some contexts in which one can bene-

    50 Or, in the case of the pragmatist, epistemic goods are defined by the practical.51 For example, consider Sidgwicks (Methods, pp. 48990) government house utilitarianismand Williams (1985, p. 1089) critique of it. See also Driver (2001).

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  • fit from not seeking the truth. Nevertheless, the majority of the time, ones lifewill go best if one relentlessly strives for the truth. This is why Socrates wantsto avoid leaving his unphilosophical sting in his friends at 91c and why Socratesreminds them of this again at the end of the text.

    For instance, after Socrates tells his friends that they should risk false beliefat 114d, Cebes asks Socrates how his friends might please him most (115b). So-crates responds:

    Nothing new, but what I am always saying, that you will please me and mine and your-selves by taking good care of your own selves in whatever you do, even if you do notagree ()52 with me now, but if you neglect your own selves, and are unwill-ing to live following the tracks, as it were, of what we have said now and on previousoccasions, you will achieve nothing new, no matter how much or how eagerly you agree() with me at this moment (115b4c10).

    Socrates point is that even if Simmias and Cebes remain unconvinced aboutthe immortality of the soul and proportionality thesis, he wants them to con-tinue hunting for the truth and striving to become philosophers because this isthe best life.53 However, this does not mean that one should always seek thetruth because sometimes the demands of living well require one to abandon thepursuit of truth and knowledge.54 This demonstrates that the value of pursuing

    52 Gallop (1975) and Fowler (1966) translate as promise. I agree with Grube(1997) and Rowe (1993) that it should be translated as agree.53 At 107b, Socrates offers similar philosophical advice to Simmias. For instance, in responseto Socrates concluding arguments in defense of the immortality of the soul, Simmias expressesthat given the importance of the subject and his low opinion of human weakness, he still hassome private misgivings about what has been said (107a). Socrates responds You are notonly right to say this, but our first hypotheses require clearer examination, even though we findthem convincing. And if you analyze them adequately, you will, I think, follow the argumentas far as a man can, and if the conclusion is clear, you will look no further (107b). Hence, justas he does at 91c and 115bc, Socrates concludes his discussion at 107b by giving his friendsphilosophical direction.54 Simmias speech at 85cd is quite fitting: I believe, Socrates, as perhaps you do, that it isimpossible or very difficult to acquire precise knowledge about these matters in our presentlife, but he is a very weak man, who does not examine in every way what is said about themand persist until he is exhausted by examining them on every side. For he must achieve one ofthese things; either he must learn or discover the truth about these matters, or if that is impos-sible, he must take whatever human account is best and hardest to disprove, embarking uponit as a raft, to sail through the dangers of life, unless someone should make that journey saferand less risky upon a firmer vessel of some divine account. In this passage, we find both afirm commitment to the value of truth and a concession that due to our own limitations, some-times beliefs that we are less than confident in are needed to guide us through the dangers oflife.

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  • truth is limited in scope, such that in certain circumstances, practical considera-tions override the value of truth.

    Acknowledgements: There are a number of people who have giving me helpfulfeedback on this paper: Nathan Adams, Anna Christensen, Michael Dacey, JuliaDriver, Sarah Malanowski, Felipe Romero, Shane Reuter, Katie Shanker, RoySorensen, Christopher Heath Wellman, and David Winchell. Thank you, EricBrown, G. Fay Edwards, Tyler Paytas, and Jason Gardner, for reading severaldrafts and for your critical comments. Lastly, I would like to offer a very specialthank you to an anonymous referee who gave very constructive and helpfulcomments this paper is much better because of you.

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