In Phaedo, plato writes the following:

And the brave among them face death, when they do, for fear of greater evils?

That is so.

Therefore, it is fear and terror that make all men brave, except the philosophers. Yet it is illogical to be brave through fear and cowardice.

How to understand the first and the third quotes? What ideas does Socrates want to express?

1 Answer 1


Socrates through Plato, wants to demonstrate how fear can lead to bravery (a distinct dialectical schema of opposites, used by Plato).

That is, fear can lead one to be brave in order to avoid an even greater evil.

However, philosophers, at least according to Plato, have conquered fear through philosophising and accumulating virtue so this schema cannot work for them. They cannot be forced to be brave by fear. If they are brave they are purely by virtue and not out of fear for something else.

Historical note :

Socrates himself, when younger, had taken part in battles and was distinguished for his bravery.

Plato in Phaedo, wants to present Socrates as a hero who even in his last hours is loyal to his philosophy and full of virtue, condemned unjustly by cowards. Plato also wants to show how a true philosopher, like Socrates, approaches death. There is a contradistinction of Socrates, as a true philosopher, and those who condemned him.

Plato distinctly mentions how some friends of Socrates have conspired to help him escape so he can save his life, yet Socrates will instead be faithful to what has stood for in his whole life. A true philosopher.


The central theme of Platonic philosophy and metaphysics, is the eternal realm of Ideas, everything else being in some sense ephemeral and non-real.

Knowing this, the true philosopher, having Socrates as archetype, understands that death is nothing to fear, since is only illusory.

The true philosopher, having conquered the fear of death, has in fact conquered all fears, since the fear of death is the greatest fear.

Thus the true philospher is then brave, not out of fear, but out of virtue gained by true knowledge.

  • I still do not see how "fear can lead one to be brave in order to avoid an even greater evil" in Plato's arguments. Before this, Plato writes that "you know that they all consider death a great evil? Definitely, he said." What is the greater evil? So, those brave people fear a greater evil than death, and hence they choose to face death, which is a great evil? However, philosophers face death gladly because they are firmly convinced that they will not find pure knowledge anywhere except in Hades?
    – user546106
    Oct 31, 2021 at 21:17
  • 1
    The meaning Plato wants to express, through Socrates, is that common men may endure death, but for earthly material reasons, that is based on fear of losing something, whatever that may be. While the true philosopher, has no such earthly and ephemeral attachments, thus his bravery is pure from fear according to Plato
    – Nikos M.
    Oct 31, 2021 at 21:54

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