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Plato’s Body/Soul Distinction

Tuesday, January 27, 2009
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The body is the physical component of each person, trapped in a constant state of flux

The mind possesses the ability and will to achieve an awareness of the realm of ideal forms – the outside world in the Allegory of the Cave

Duality refers to Plato’s belief that the body and mind exist separately and are independent of each other

The body and mind are often in opposition. The mind wants to gain real knowledge of the true forms; the body is interested in empirical pleasures and needs – it “takes away from us the power of thinking at all.”

This way of thinking is reflected in the way we speak of our bodies. If we say: “I have a cat,” we mean something different than “I am a cat.” “I am a cat,” means I am not a cat, separate/distinct form a cat. We say: “I have a body” not “I am a body.” This suggests that the real person is distinct from the body it inhibits.

For Plato, the soul is the directing force of the body. Plato compares this with a charioteer - the soul tries to guide the mind and body together like two horses rather than allowing them to contradict and be pulled in opposite directions. Most people never achieve this direction and allow their lives to be dominated by physical needs and sense pleasures.

The soul is immortal and can exist in the spiritual realm. It is unchanging thus pre-exists the body and cannot die

Plato uses the metaphor of sight to differentiate knowledge and opinion:
Sight needs not only the eye and the object but also light. Without light the object cannot be clearly seen. The light is compared with the form of good; knowledge of true goodness allows the eye (soul) to gain clarity of vision (real understanding).

Plato claims that practicing philosophy is a rehearsal for death. Thus in causing the death of Socrates his opponents didn’t win, rather his soul was released for re-entry into the world of the ideal forms to renew its knowledge of the form of the good.

Plato postulated that the soul is divided into three parts; reason, emotion and desire

Plato believed that each person has a soul that lives after the body dies. He said that this belief could be justified through logical argument.

Everything comes into being from its opposite being and would not exist without it.

Big things would not be bigger and small things would not be smaller without their opposites

Therefore death must come from life and life from death. People who are dead used to be alive but then experienced a change and people who are alive are people who were among the dead but experienced the change we call being born (i.e. an endless chain of death and rebirth – the theory of reincarnation).

When we come to understand something if the object of true knowledge, we have a sense of recognition, e.g. we know the square route of 81 is 9. This example cannot be known through the senses and thus is not a matter of subjective opinion, but is true for in all cases – universal and absolute. This is evidence that the soul pre-exists the body.

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