16 September 2006

Truth and Immortality

If you've followed the last two posts, you may have wondered what TV (the thesis that truth is valuable) has to do with the Phaedo. Socrates defends the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo, not some claim about the value of truth.

Note that it's because he's defending immortality that his partisanship on behalf of that thesis looks like something less than a disinterested love of truth--after all, he's going to die that day, and he's staked his life (he claims) on a way of life that makes sense only if the soul is immortal (that's what 'philosophy is the practice of death' amounts to). And so he would have a strong interest in the truth of his soul's immorality.

And yet, I think, for Socrates the immorality of the soul, and the inherent value of knowing the truth, are part of one and the same outlook. He tells us, does he not, that the thesis of the immortality of the soul, and that of the existence of the Forms, stand or fall together. He takes himself, then, in defending the immortality of the soul, to be defending a complex picture of the world: the soul as having an orientation toward an eternal destiny in union with the Forms. Now, for Plato, it's just this complex picture that makes it such that there is truth (in any solid sense--the alternative he thinks is Heracliteanism) and that that truth is worth knowing just for the sake of knowing it.

The upshot: although it may look as though Socrates' partisanship toward the thesis of the soul's immortality is 'self-interested' merely, in fact for him this has a significance that goes far beyond narrow self-interest. His rallying to its defense is bound up, if not the very same thing as, his love of truth.

Thus, my question stands. Socrates is passionately committed to a view according to which knowing the truth has great value. He thinks that truth would have little or no value on alternative views. How, then, and in what way, does that sort of passionate commitment fall short of 'love of truth for its own sake'? Or: tell us what this ideal of 'love of truth for its own sake' is, which Socrates does not share, and which is admirable and appealing?

And one begins to think that the difference between Socrates and this attitude of 'loving the truth wherever one finds it, come what may' is not a difference in commitment to truth.