Plato on the Soul A History of Western Thought 11

this is a history of western thought number 11. we are talking about plato on the soul we'll be doing this by speaking about three specific aspects of plato's idea of the soul first plato's dualism second the three parts of the soul and third the soul's relationship to human knowledge and how it is that humans acquire knowledge so let's start with the first of those this is the notion of dualism now dualism is a term that is used in philosophy to describe a view of the human person that says that there is both an immaterial and a material aspect of what people are what constitutes a human person this is what is commonly known as the distinction between the body and the soul this is in contrast to the view known as either physicalism or materialism which says that the human person can be described purely in terms of physical processes and the physical objects that make up the human person ideas in opposition to this are often labeled dualism and there are various forms of dualism that we'll explore as we go through this series including that of aristotle and later that of descartes which is important for modern philosophy but of the duelist philosophers plato is the first that is really important and significant in order to understand how it is that the ancient greeks believed that the soul and the body interacted with one another so what's important to understand about the soul in plato's perspective and its relationship to the body is in connection with what we've already talked about which is the idea of the forms remember plato is what's called an idealist meaning that that which is most real that which is most true that which has the highest level of goodness is that which is immaterial in other words the realm of ideas and we spoke about plato's idea of the forms looking at his allegory of the cave and this idea plays into how plato views the person and the relationship between the body and the soul and as you might expect then the body being the physical aspect of the human person is not the most essential or most real aspect of what makes up a person that instead would be the immaterial object or what we commonly know as the soul now for plato the soul is necessary in any object that has motion in and of itself physical objects are moved by other things anything that is in any sense self-moving such as a human has to have something that gives them motion and for plato that is the immaterial reality behind the physical object itself now it's important to note that in plato this is not just true of humans but this is also true of animals because animals also have the power of motion so plato and many of the other ancient philosophers as well are going to speak pretty consistently of souls that are included in animals because they too have an immaterial aspect of who they are as we talked about with plato in his notion of the forms there is an immaterial aspect of nearly all reality so humans are not accepted from that now along with this we have to understand some of the things that plato has already said about the forms and how that applies to the human person for one we talked about how the forms are something that is unchanging whereas the physical world is a world of continual change and decay and that means for plato the soul is something that in its essence is inherently unchanging and therefore for plato the soul is immortal it's important to distinguish plato's view of the immortality of the soul from that which is later a conception of christianity as well as some other religions which teach that the soul is immortal not in its essence but it is eternal in that god has given it eternality as gift for plato the soul is inherently by its nature immortal and thus for plato the soul has always existed and is trapped at a time in a human body during the human life escapes from that body and is then at a later point reincarnated into another body so this leads to ideas that are expanded upon by some later groups grabbing onto these ideas in plato that speak about the body as a kind of prison for the soul or the body as a negative thing that needs to be escaped from through the process of the acquiring of knowledge or something else now plato doesn't entirely negate the goodness of material world as some would seem to think that plato does or at least certain interpretations and schools of thought coming from plato do nonetheless there is in plato a clear superiority of the soul or the immaterial aspect of the human person over that which is physical the second aspect of plato's idea of the soul to be discussed here is his approach to the soul as tripartite in explaining exactly what that immaterial aspect of the human person is plato had to reckon with the fact that there are many aspects of our own life of thought and desires that are inherently internal so in doing that plato discussed three particular aspects of the soul and he makes an argument that to live the proper life or to live the ethical or moral life one must have the proper ordering of these various aspects of the soul so what are these aspects of the soul well the first is the logos or the rational soul for plato this was literally located in the head as we know is largely true speaking about the function of the brain but this is the human reason this is what distinguishes humans from animals we would see with aristotle later who speaks about man as the rational animal and so humans are uniquely capable of rationality and the soul is the seat of that rationality or reason the second aspect of the soul is the thymos this is often referred to sometimes as the spirited soul from which we get the idea of being spirited or having a spirited debate or conversation it is this aspect of the soul that deals with things like anger oftentimes that anger can be for something good like a desire for justice and frustration when justice is not done the third aspect of the soul is the eros or also known later in aristotle as the appetite of soul now the appetite of soul is the aspect of the soul which has desires just for human appetites there are things that we want that we desire we have feelings that we want to have fulfilled in various ways now for plato each of these three aspects of the soul are good they're just necessary parts of who we are however if there's a wrong ordering of those aspects of the soul there can be immense problems for example if we let the appetites rule then we don't make decisions based on the outcome we don't make decisions based on what may result from it or whether it will be beneficial to us or beneficial to others but instead we simply do that which we desire which is not necessarily always good for us also if you are acting according to the thymus if you're acting according to your anger sometimes that anger can be just but sometimes that anger can be very much unjust or wrong and we can make foolish decisions when we are in a fit of rage i think just about all of us know that we have made foolish decisions at times because of our anger so what needs to happen is that the logos or the reason of the person in order to have a just and moral and properly ordered life in plato's perspective the logos must rule so it's not that the other aspects of the human person are unimportant or not good or valuable but the reason for the individual who was living the proper life the happy life the well-ordered life they must use their reason to guide and guard the other aspects of the appetite so we don't just act according to our desires but we order those desires rightly according to what we see is reasonable and good the third important aspect of the soul that we are going to talk about here is plato's theory of knowledge and how knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge relates to the soul this is the realm of philosophy called epistemology or the question of how it is that we come to know things and plato presents one particular view of this that is known sometimes as the recollection approach to knowledge and so this idea is in contrast to what is later known as empiricism things that we find in philosophers like john locke who says that the mind is a tabula rasa or a blank slate that knows nothing at birth and the various impressions that we get through our senses are then imprinted on to our intellect and that is essentially how we come to knowledge but for plato knowledge is something that is innate and inherent in other words we are born with knowledge we are not born with a blank slate and then go about to acquire knowledge throughout our experiences this idea has to do with plato's conviction that there is a pre-existence of our soul and so our souls exist prior to and apart from our bodies because they are by nature immaterial and so they are by nature within that realm of forms or ideas which in plato's view if you remember is eternal and unchanging therefore our souls are eternal now if our souls have existed eternally and our souls are in this eternal realm of ideas and this realm of ideas is that which is most real therefore the knowledge that we have comes really through our intellect and our knowledge comes by way of our acquaintance with the forms now as the human person is in a physical body they do not know absolutely everything according to their conscious mind nonetheless it is plato's view that as the individual learns from various experiences as they are educated when they acquire knowledge in various ways what they're doing is not acquiring knowledge that they did not have previously instead it is those innate ideas that the soul already has that are coming to the forefront so we are not learning things that we did not know previously and this is said to be demonstrated in a dialogue that plato describes with socrates and a child who's discussing the issues of geometry and socrates tries to demonstrate that this individual already knows many of those truths of geometry whether or not he's actually studied geometry specifically which he hadn't and so he tries to use this to demonstrate that there are these innate ideas and so learning is through a process of recollection not through a process of gaining knowledge that we did not have previously so with that this is our brief summary of plato's notion of the soul in the next program we are going to be discussing plato's idea of god