CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Guide to Sections 249 A - 250 C

Socrates: Of all these, any who have led their lives with justice will change to a better fate, and any who have led theirs with injustice, to a worse one.

The account that Socrates gives of metempsychosis suggests that one's behavior in life can affect the kind of person one will become in the "next life." In order to return as a human being at all, however, the soul must have had some view of the eternal Forms during its migration between bodies, because the foundations of human mental life--logic, language, conceptualization-- are dependent upon the soul's recollection (anamnesis in Greek) of those Forms. All human beings, therefore, have some capacity for anamnesis and can benefit from philosophical reflection.

Socrates indicates that the recollection of the Forms provides a kind of grid into which we organize the diverse sensory perceptions that come to us from world. We recognize that a circle is a circle, for example, because we have encountered the archetype of "circleness" in our transit through the realm of the forms. To use an example more relevant to Plato, we are able to recognize (and make) just decisions in our lives because we retain the memory of perfect Justice.

For Plato, philosophy is primarily an exercise in anamnesis, an effort to sustain one's recollection of the Forms of Justice, Goodness, Beauty, and other virtues in order to gain true knowledge and live a virtuous life. In an obviously self-referential passage, Socrates complains that those who achieve such an insight into truth are often not appreciated by society and are sometimes considered to be insane.

All objects of our sense perception, as well as abstract qualities such as "beauty" and "balance", are imitations of their corresponding Forms. We can potentially catch sight of the timeless archetype in the temporal particular manifestation of an object, but we ourselves are weighed down by the physical matter of our bodies and distracted by the materiality of the world, and only a few of us--the philosophers and, Socrates emphasizes, the lovers--manage to transcend the material world and perceive the true reality of the Forms.

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