by Benjamin E. Park
In his Socratic dialogue Phaedo, Plato offered a multi-layered argument for the immortality of the soul, claiming that the human spirit belonged with the Forms—that is, the highest and most fundamental kind of reality, as opposed to the “shadows” that humankind dealt with in the temporal world. Plato implied that the soul existed before entering the body and that, if it properly purified itself from all attachment to bodily things, it would then return to the intelligible world of Forms after death. The body in early Platonism, therefore, served as a temporary prison for the immortal soul and, according to Phaedrus, came as a result of an undisciplined mistake and corresponding fall in humankind’s previous existence. While Aristotle challenged and nuanced his teacher’s demeaning of the world and human bodies, Western thought largely engaged Plato’s belief for the following two millennia.
More than two thousand years after Socrates’s death, Mormon apostle Parley Parker Pratt used the Greek sage as a strawman against which he presented a radically material afterlife.