Phaedo is Plato’s literary and philosophical monument to the death, and to the life, of his master, Socrates. An excellent way to begin the study of philosophy is with this account of the end of the first member in the great trio in Greek thought, as written by the second. It describes the philosophic way of life as Socrates and, consequently, Plato saw it, explaining how the philosopher, so unlike other people in many ways, differs also in being unafraid of death. Its account of the soul’s immortality ranges from the fanciful myth about the various destinies of good and evil souls to what is perhaps Socrates’—and certainly Plato’s—most fundamental theory, the doctrine of forms. Although Phaedo must be complemented by the other Platonic dialogues in order to round out the picture of Socrates as a man and as a philosopher, it suggests powerfully the influence he and Plato jointly exercised in the history of Western thought.
The work consists of one dialogue within another: At the request of a friend, Phaedo recounts the conversation between Socrates and his companions and the final events of the day Socrates’ unjust death sentence is executed. The inner dialogue occurs chiefly between the master and two of the several followers present, Simmias and Cebes. Quite naturally the talk turns to the true philosopher’s attitude toward death.