Volume 12, Issue 2, 2012
A Much Disputed “Whole” at Phaedrus 270
The article discusses several possible interpretations of Socrates’ suggestion that we cannot “understand the nature of soul satisfactorily without understanding the nature of the whole” (Phaedrus 270c1–2). Against those who take the “whole” implied here for the cosmic whole, it argues that nothing in the Phaedrus justifies this interpretation. In the light of both Socrates’ conception of rhetoric in this dialogue and his image of the tripartite soul in the palinode, the “whole” whose knowledge is prerequisite to knowing the soul’s nature is better understood as either the whole of the composed soul or the whole soul-body compound. The real problem of the passage, the article concludes, is that we lack any clear criteria that would enable us to decide between these two readings. At the same time, the dramatic progress of the dialogue makes it possible to argue that Phaedrus briefly misunderstands Socrates’ meaning by reading in it some cosmological connotations. This possibility notwithstanding, it is more likely that, from the perspective of the tripartite soul and its actions and passions, “the whole soul-body compound” and “the whole soul” are two equally defensible solutions to the puzzle.