One of my favorite parts of Plato’s, “Phaedo” where the last days and hours of Socrates are recounted is Socrates proof of reincarnation.
Here we find Cebes agreeing with Socrates that the soul leaves the body when it the body dies but brings up the point that many believe when the soul departs there is nowhere to go and all is lost.
Socrates then eloquently lays out his proof of reincarnation using the principle of opposites and the metaphor of sleeping.
Socrates & Reincarnation
Cebes answered: I agree, Socrates, in the greater part of what you say. But in what relates to the soul, men are apt to be incredulous; they fear that when she leaves the body her place may be nowhere, and that on the very day of death she may be destroyed and perish-immediately on her release from the body, issuing forth like smoke or air and vanishing away into nothingness. For if she could only hold together and be herself after she was released from the evils of the body, there would be good reason to hope, Socrates, that what you say is true. But much persuasion and many arguments are required in order to prove that when the man is dead the soul yet exists, and has any force of intelligence.
True, Cebes, said Socrates; and shall I suggest that we talk a little of the probabilities of these things?
I am sure, said Cebes, that I should gready like to know your opinion about them.
I reckon, said Socrates, that no one who heard me now, not even if he were one of my old enemies, the comic poets, could accuse me of idle talking about matters in which I have no concern. Let us, then, if you please, proceed with the inquiry.
Whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below, is a question which may be argued in this manner: The ancient doctrine of which I have been speaking affirms that they go from this into the other world, and return hither, and are born from the dead. Now if this be true, and the living come from the dead, then our souls must be in the other world, for if not, how could they be born again? And this would be conclusive, if there were any real evidence that the living are only born from the dead; but if there is no evidence of this, then other arguments will have to be adduced.
That is very true, replied Cebes.
Then let us consider this question, not in relation to man only, but in relation to animals generally, and to plants, and to everything of which there is generation, and the proof will be easier. Are not all things which have opposites generated out of their opposites? I mean such things as good and evil, just and unjust-and there are innumerable other opposites which are generated out of opposites. And I want to show that this holds universally of all opposites; I mean to say, for example, that anything which becomes greater must become greater after being less.
And that which becomes less must have been once greater and then become less.
And the weaker is generated from the stronger, and the swifter from the slower.
And the worse is from the better, and the more just is from the more unjust.
And is this true of all opposites? and are we convinced that all of them are generated out of opposites?
And in this universal opposition of all things, are there not also two intermediate processes which are ever going on, from one to the other, and back again; where there is a greater and a less there is also an intermediate process of increase and diminution, and that which grows is said to wax, and that which decays to wane?
Yes, he said.
And there are many other processes, such as division and composition, cooling and heating, which equally involve a passage into and out of one another. And this holds of all opposites, even though not always expressed in words-they are generated out of one another, and there is a passing or process from one to the other of them?
Very true, he replied.
Well, and is there not an opposite of life, as sleep is the opposite of waking?
True, he said.
And what is that?
Death, he answered.
And these, then, are generated, if they are opposites, the one from the other, and have there their two intermediate processes also?
Now, said Socrates, I will analyze one of the two pairs of opposites which I have mentioned to you, and also its intermediate processes, and you shall analyze the other to me. The state of sleep is opposed to the state of waking, and out of sleeping waking is generated, and out of waking, sleeping, and the process of generation is in the one case falling asleep, and in the other waking up. Are you agreed about that?
Then suppose that you analyze life and death to me in the same manner. Is not death opposed to life?
And they are generated one from the other?
What is generated from life?
And what from death?
I can only say in answer-life.
Then the living, whether things or persons, Cebes, are generated from the dead?
That is clear, he replied.
Then the inference is, that our souls are in the world below?
That is true.
And one of the two processes or generations is visible-for surely the act of dying is visible?
Surely, he said.
And may not the other be inferred as the complement of nature, who is not to be supposed to go on one leg only? And if not, a corresponding process of generation in death must also be assigned to her?
Certainly, he replied.
And what is that process?
And revival, if there be such a thing, is the birth of the dead into the world of the living?
Then there is a new way in which we arrive at the inference that the living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and if this is true, then the souls of the dead must be in some place out of which they come again. And this, as I think, has been satisfactorily proved.
Yes, Socrates, he said; all this seems to flow necessarily out of our previous admissions.