The Phaedo’s Recollection Argument and the Soul's Disposition to Know

Speaker: Matthew D. Walker (Yale-NUS College)

The recollection argument in Plato’s Phaedo is among the most famous of the 
various arguments for psychic immortality that Socrates spends his final day 
discussing with his friends. The argument (Phd. 72e-76d) moves from the 
hypothesis that learning is recollection to the conclusion that our souls 
existed before birth, possessing wisdom, and that our souls may be immortal. 
Some scholars have proposed that the argument assumes that the soul possesses 
either innate knowledge states or innate cognitive contents; other scholars 
have proposed that the argument assumes only that the soul once possessed 
knowledge prenatally, but subsequently lost it at birth, with the result that 
the soul lacks any innate knowledge at all. Against such interpretations, I 
sketch an alternative account of the recollection argument, according to which 
the argument holds that the soul innately possesses a specific potentiality for 
knowledge, and, indeed, for wisdom. If Socrates accepts such dispositional 
innatism, then the sort of immortality that the recollection argument supports 
may differ radically from what usual readings -- and Socrates' friends -- 

Bio: Matthew D. Walker is an Associate Professor of Humanities (Philosophy) at 
Yale-NUS College, Singapore. He works principally in ancient Greek philosophy 
and comparative ethics. He is the author of Aristotle on the Uses of 
Contemplation(Cambridge University Press, 2018); “Aristotle’s Eudemus and the 
Propaedeutic Use of the Dialogue Form” (winner of the 2021 Journal of the 
History of Philosophy article prize); and other articles and chapters on 
Aristotle, Confucius, Hume, Mengzi, Plato, and Zhu Xi. He is currently at work 
on a book on immortality in Plato’s Symposium and Phaedo


24th April 2023




Kensington Campus, room 209 Morven Brown


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