Editor's note: After blind peer review, this paper was selected for reading at the University of Dayton's 10th annual Philosophy Colloquium, held Feb. 27-28, 1981.

There is a feature of Socrates' intellectual autobiography in the Phaedo that has not been sufficiently clarified by commentators on that passage. Most students of the dialogue have taken the text to describe Socrates' disenchantment with mechanical reasons or explanations, his disappointment with Anaxagoras' failure to provide sound teleological explanations, and his eventual turning to explanations involving the separated Forms. In very rough terms, to be sure, Socrates' tale is thought to be about his switching allegiance from one type of reason or explanation to another. In reality, however, the import of Socrates' autobiographical sketch is different from this. What Plato traces for us is not merely a set of changing convictions about specific reasons or explanations but rather an aborted attempt to come to know what it is to be an aitia or reason and an alternative method for arriving at a sufficiently strong belief about what an aitia is. Similar in purpose, then, to the familiar definitional projects of the early dialogues, Socrates' inquiry into the nature of an aitia reaches an impasse. Unlike those stalled efforts, however, this one proceeds on an alternative course that results in a belief about what an aitia is. It is this belief, moreover, that constitutes the starting point for Socrates' subsequent argument in behalf of the soul's immortality.



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