Plato For Prisoners

Lisa Guenther, a philosophy profesor at Vanderbilt University, describes teaching Plato’s dialogues to death-row inmates in Tennessee:

Our last text in the Plato course was the Phaedo, the dialogue that recounts Socrates’ final hours before he is forced to drink the poison that will numb his body and stop his heart. The class was divided; some found Socrates’ arguments for the immortality of the soul compelling, and others thought he rejected the knowledge and pleasures of the body too harshly. Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman made a compelling case for transcendence: “If the way forward is blocked, then you’ve got to rise up.” Another prisoner argued that state execution twists the meaning of life and death: “They’ve stolen death. A perfectly natural thing has been taken and used as a tool… No one has the right to do that, to take death and use it for their own purposes.”