The quoted passage is from Plato's Phaedo. Is it correct to group the sentence in boldface as "Then must (not existence) be revealed to her in thought, if at all?" ?

I think it means that Socrates asked, must the soul know nonexistence only by thought. Am I correct?

Then when does the soul attain truth?-for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.

Yes, that is true.
Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?


And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure-when she has as little as possible to do with the body, and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?

  • I will interpret it as Then, if [anything] at all, existence must not be revealed to her in thought. Dec 16, 2013 at 14:34

2 Answers 2


That's a Rhetorical question - a statement phrased as a question.

First, let's reroll this into modern syntax.

Then isn't the existence revealed to [the soul] in thought, if at all?

Next, let's remove rethorical question form:

If the existence is revealed at all, then it is revealed to the soul in thought.

The essence is that the ideas of existence can be only discovered through thought - introspection. That doesn't guarantee they will be revealed at all, but if a way exists, this is it. Self-discovery through bodily experiences is only misguiding.

  • 2
    +1 But I don't think it's quite fair to Plato to characterize his dialectic as "rhetorical". It's contrived, to be sure; but he at least makes an effort to contrive his essays as genuine inquiries. Dec 17, 2013 at 13:54

Must here has the ‘epistemic’ or inferential sense of follow by logical necessity, necessarily be true.

The not modifies must; but this is an interrogative not, so it does not really negate must so much as invite assent to must. Must not...? may be paraphrased “Does it not follow by logical necessity that...?” and the sentence may be paraphrased:

Then doesn’t it necessarily follow that existence is revealed to her [only] in thought, if [it is revealed to her] at all?

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