Socrates, Death, Dualism, and Christianity

(Below is a paper I wrote for my philosophy class. I decided to publish it because there are Christians who consider man to be a dualistic creature. Often the body is considered to be a great evil and the soul the only thing that matters. However, as I argue in the paper, that is not what the Bible teaches, rather that is the influence of pagan Greek philosophy on the Christian faith.)

This paper will examine Socrates’ view and philosophy of death and refute his views from a Christian perspective.  In considering his views, three things will be looked at. First, his attitude toward death and the justification of that mindset will be reflected upon. Second, the implication of his dualistic view of the body and soul will be considered with respect to Socrates’ own life. Finally, a repudiation of his view from a Christian stance will be given.

Let us first look at Socrates’ attitude toward death. Socrates, quite remarkably, has a very positive view on death. He believes that philosophers should be ready and willing to die, as they will go onto a better life than the one they lived on earth. Philosophers will go to the wise and good gods as Socrates says (Phaedo, 63c). Not only that, but Socrates believes that he will be able to talk with all the heroes of the past, such as Achilles and find out the true meaning of courage. That is one of the reasons why Socrates does not resent death, but fully embraces it.

Second, it is only when the soul is separated from the body that the philosopher will be able to learn true knowledge. That is because whenever, “it [the soul] attempts to examine anything with the body, it is clearly deceived by it (Phaedo, 65b)”. It is impossible to truly grasp Justice, Beauty, Piety, and all the forms by looking at something with your eyes, or hearing something with your ears. One must only use his thoughts and reasoning to arrive at the proper definition of the forms.

Further, Socrates says that, “. . . the aim of those who practice philosophy in the proper manner is to practice for dying and death (Phaedo, 64)”. That is because it is only possible to gain knowledge when the soul is separated from the body. Thus, the philosopher, practices his whole life to be free from the body. Socrates does not think it is the duty of the philosopher to be concerned with the carnal and the physical pleasures of life such as sex, food, and drink. The body is nothing but a hindrance to the gaining of true knowledge and wisdom precisely because it has all these wants and cares. The cares of proper nourishment and shelter all keep the true philosopher from being able to devote all his time to the pursuit of wisdom.

Therefore, death is simply the path that leads the philosopher to knowledge. If the philosopher has been preparing for death all his life, there is no reason that he should fear it when it comes. It would be absurd if one who prepares for death all his life resents it when it comes.

Having said all that, now it is time to consider what implications such a dualistic view of the body and soul actually mean in practical terms. An excellent example of a man who lived such a life is found in Socrates himself. All Socrates seemed to care for in his life was the pursuit of wisdom, apart from the needs of the body. When the Oracle of Delphi said that there was no one wiser than Socrates, Socrates determined to find out what the Oracle meant. He quit his work as a craftsman of idols and went around seeing if there was anyone wiser than he was. Needless to say, he found no one wiser than himself and he set himself to the task of trying to make Athens see that they were not wise at all. In doing so, he lived a life of abject poverty with his wife and children. It also seems that his wife plays very little role in his life. He sends her away in the last hours of his life, preferring to discuss philosophy with his pupils. His dualistic view means that everything is secondary in one’s life, expect for the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge of the forms. Caring for one’s family is only secondary to the search of knowledge. So if Socrates’ dualistic philosophy is properly followed, relationships and families must become subordinate.

Further, Socrates’ view of death means that one must have a very negative view on life and living. That may be exactly why he acted so arrogant and rude during his trial. He wanted to die, so that he could reach a higher plateau as a philosopher. He pushed the jury to use capital punishment. If that is not the case he would be a hypocrite in demanding that the city of Athens rather than kill him, supply him with high-class meals and take care of all his physical wants (Apology, 36d). He would be a hypocrite because he says a philosopher must not pursue after the pleasures of food and drink (Phaedo, 64e – d).

Also, with Socrates’ view of the “evils” (Socrates does not view them as evil in themselves, but the wrong desires of the soul make the body evil) of the body and sensual pleasures, means that one must almost live like a hermit or a monk. He must deprive himself of good food, hearty drinks, and romantic companionship. Only the bare necessities are crucial for life. Those, therefore, are some of the implications living out such a viewpoint.

Let us now proceed with arguing against his dualistic views. First, from a merely logical perspective, if anything that is examined with the body is deceived by it, how does one know Socrates is correct? He made that statement with his own body, he spoke with the words of his mouth, and as he says hearing is inaccurate (Phaedo, 65b). If hearing is inaccurate, one cannot trust what he hears from the mouth of Socrates.

Coming from a Christian background the author of this paper does not agree with Socrates’ dualistic view of mankind for several reasons. First, God created man in the beginning with a soul and a body and He called it very good. If God created Adam and Eve with bodies and said it was very good, that means that both the human body and soul are part of a perfect creation. Therefore, the idea of a battling dualism between the two units is wrong.

Further, God created them with bodies so that they would enjoy the creation. The Lord explicitly tells them that they are, “to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Not only were Adam and Eve to enjoy their relationship as husband and wife, but they were also to enjoy the fruits and the herbs of the Garden of Eden. God says in Genesis 1:29, “I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” Therefore, Socrates’ philosophy that relationships are not important and only the bare necessities are required is contrary to what the Bible says. Man is supposed to enjoy food, drink, and relationship.

Further, his view of death is contrary to what the Bible teaches. While the Bible certainly teaches that death is just a pathway to our eternal destiny, the Bible does not teach that only the soul will be part of our afterlife. Certainly, for a while our souls will just be in either heaven or hell, as it is not until Christ comes again in judgment that the body will be raised. Christ was not raised bodily, immediately after He died on the cross; it was not until the third day that His body arose. Yet, Christ still declared to the thief, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)”. This means the soul must rise by itself. However, this does not mean a dualism exists between the body and soul. Dualism implies a warring and a battling between the two parts. There is no battling against the soul and body in the Christian view.

Also, the bodily resurrection is absolutely necessary to Christianity as Paul says in I Corinthians 15:12 – 14, “Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.” If there is no resurrection, then Christ did not arise, and there is no salvation. Christ would only have arisen if His work on earth was finished, for God would not have accepted Him into heaven if His work was not done.

In conclusion, while Socrates’ views on death and the dualism between the soul and body are certainly interesting, they must be rejected from a Christian perspective. The Scriptures say that man is to enjoy the pleasures that his body affords him (within the proper moral limits, of course), not cast them off. Also, the Bible teaches that both our soul and body will be united in either heaven or hell. Although, both units may be separated for a while, they are to be united when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. The Christian looks forward to the resurrection of the body and life everlasting, because it is a reward of grace, obtained by Christ when He suffered the torments of hell. Therefore, the Christian has no reason to fear death.

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