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  1. Jul 2022
    1. Death is a mystery. Maybe it is annihilation. One simply can’t know otherwise. Socrates is psychologically open to his physical death and possible utter annihilation. But still this does not unnerve him. And if we pursue the question: why not?–we do not have to look far in Plato’s portrait of Socrates for some answers. Plato understood, and captured in his Dialogues, a crucial element in the shaping of Socrates’ character: his willingness to let the fact of death fully penetrate his consciousness. This experience of being fully open to death is so important to Socrates that he makes a point of using it to define his way of life, the life of a philosophos–a “lover of wisdom.” Let us consider this life of the philosophos as Socrates understands it. It is – famously – “the examined” life. Meaning? That it is a life committed to the ongoing search for how best to live. Now in every society there are plenty of people–like the character Callicles in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias–who would say that the best life is having as much power and pleasure as possible, which of course means always being able to successfully protect oneself and one’s friends from any encroachment on their privileges, from discomfort, from pain, and of course from death. In the Gorgias Plato makes the character Callicles a wonderfully eloquent spokesman for this outlook. Callicles says: any way of life is shameful that doesn’t make its highest priority the ability to save oneself frorn suffering pain or death at the hands of other people. Plato has Socrates replying to Callicles: “My good sir, just reflect whether what is good and noble is not something more than saving and being saved. Perhaps the true man should ignore this question of living for a certain span of years and should not be so enamored of life. . . ” (Gorgias, 512d-e). Socrates is indicating to Callicles that really caring about goodness–genuinely desiring to do what is good, as one understands it—inevitably shifts the value of physical comfort and even physical survival, demoting them somewhat. Too much concern with avoiding pain or with physical survival gets in the way of doing the right thing. A real effort to become good means: keeping attention focused on the things that help one to be good, and learning to avoid distractions.

      Socrates is a lover of wisdom and is committed to an ongoing search of how best to live. This helps overcome his fear of death. This is worth unpacking.