Did Socrates believed in reincarnation or did he believed in heaven and hell concept?

And if he did, did he justify his beliefs and how?

  • 1
    No heaven and hell (in the Medieval sense) in Ancient Greece. May 24, 2021 at 12:32
  • See Greek underworld for the original Greek idea of afterlife. May 24, 2021 at 12:33
  • No reason to assert that Socrates believed in reincarnation. May 24, 2021 at 12:34
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA: Elevation to Olympus as a demigod, is just like the original conception of heaven in Jewish thought, as a place for prophets & the very most exceptional - others have to await The Resurrection. Sheol is extremely like Tartarus. Christianity is very much a combination of Hellenic and Jewish culture.
    – CriglCragl
    May 25, 2021 at 9:50

3 Answers 3


According to reference of Phaedo's recording of Socrates here:

Socrates concludes that the soul of the virtuous man is immortal, and the course of its passing into the underworld is determined by the way he lived his life. The philosopher, and indeed any man similarly virtuous, in neither fearing death, nor cherishing corporeal life as something idyllic, but by loving truth and wisdom, his soul will be eternally unperturbed after the death of the body, and the afterlife will be full of goodness... Socrates grows aware of their doubt and assures his interlocutors that he does indeed believe in the soul's immortality, regardless of whether or not he has succeeded in showing it as yet. For this reason, he is not upset facing death and assures them that they ought to express their concerns regarding the arguments... Socrates pauses, and asks Cebes to voice his objection as well. He says, "I am ready to admit that the existence of the soul before entering into the bodily form has been ... proven; but the existence of the soul after death is in my judgment unproven.

So Socrates seems to justify the existence of the soul after death even he admits he hasn't any empirical or theoretical proofs, but we can assert that Socrates’ view of death is there are two possible outcomes, either eternal sleep or an afterlife, and we can see that he implies death brings the soul to a better place. Here's another paper sharing similar views here:

Among other things, he declares that he has no reason to fear death, but that, on the contrary, the death penalty he received only moments before may well be considered a blessing. Socrates supports this claim with an argument in the form of a constructive dilemma: either death involves the cessation of consciousness, in which case our afterlife existence will resemble a single night of dreamless sleep, or after our death we will go to a place where all the dead are ruled over by just judges. Since either scenario constitutes a good state, death should be considered something good.

  • Thanks for the answer May 24, 2021 at 17:11

If i am not short-read, of socrates' own views on the subject we almost know nothing, but if you want a discussion of this topic using socrates as a character, then a good source is the Phaedo; a dialogue that proposes that philosophers are learning to die, for they strive the separation of body and soul in order to fully focus on the undying realities that the forms are. then as is necessary to make the soul something that will live without the body, socrates presents a theory of reincarnation based on an also proposed circular cycle everything follows.

so the soul is inmortal, how to prove it? well we all know certain abstratc things, such as comparison relationships, for we know if something is equal to another thing or similar, also if it's greater or smaller, faster or slower, well, one must ask, when have we learned this?, so socrates goes to say that the soul has learned that before birth, thus giving proof that the soul was before the body.

short answer: the soul is inmortal, so are certain objects


From the final passages of The Republic, Plato has Socrates tell the myth of Er:

All the souls had now chosen their lives, and they went in the order of their choice to Lachesis, who sent with them the genius whom they had severally chosen, to be the guardian of their lives and the fulfiller of the choice: this genius led the souls first to Clotho, and drew them within the revolution of the spindle impelled by her hand, thus ratifying the destiny of each; and then, when they were fastened to this, carried them to Atropos, who spun the threads and made them irreversible, whence without turning round they passed beneath the throne of Necessity; and when they had all passed, they marched on in a scorching heat to the plain of Forgetfulness, which was a barren waste destitute of trees and verdure; and then towards evening they encamped by the river of Unmindfulness, whose water no vessel can hold; of this they were all obliged to drink a certain quantity, and those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary; and each one as he drank forgot all things.


And thus, Glaucon, the tale has been saved and has not perished, and will save us if we are obedient to the word spoken; and we shall pass safely over the river of Forgetfulness and our soul will not be defiled. Wherefore my counsel is, that we hold fast ever to the heavenly way and follow after justice and virtue always, considering that the soul is immortal and able to endure every sort of good and every sort of evil. Thus shall we live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward. And it shall be well with us both in this life and in the pilgrimage of a thousand years which we have been describing.

From this paper:

But how was it saved? Not merely by Er being brought back to life. It was preserved by him telling what he had seen. And it is saved by Socrates retelling Er's story. If it is not told and remembered it perishes. The telling of it is it's 'life'. Each time it is told (or read) it comes to life - as Er himself and the souls he had seen return from death to life.

Socrates is in The Republic telling a story, in a story, which is keeping his memory alive.

The spindle of the fates, represents the highest level technology widely found in ancient Greece. The Grottasongr in Finland describes creation from mill stones. Newton's era saw a clockwork universe. The earning of kleos, immortal renown, is a major preoccupation of ancient Greeks, immortality through stories, so storytelling as another key framework to understand the cosmos, in a world that still had an oral storytelling tradition of memorising poems like the Illiad, seems a reasonable interpretation of this passage in The Republic. The path across forgetting.

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