De Anima: Plato
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
As a pupil of Socrates, in Plato's early Dialogues it is really Socrates' comments that are expressed. Socrates was commenting "on the doctrine that is taught in secret about this matter (Phaedo 62B)." The origin of the secret doctrine and what it entailed is presented in Cratylus 400b-c:

Socrates: "I think this admits of many explanations, if a little, even very little, change is made; for some say it [the body] is the tomb (sema) of the soul, [400c] their notion being that the soul is buried in the present life; and again, because by its means the soul gives any signs which it gives, it is for this reason also properly called "sign" (sema). But I think it most likely that the Orphic poets gave this name, with the idea that the soul is undergoing punishment for something; they think it has the body as an enclosure to keep it safe, like a prison, and this is, as the name itself denotes, the safe (soma) for the soul, until the penalty is paid, and not even a letter needs to be changed."

Socrates makes the soul an object of consideration in philosophy. "Hereafter, alone by itself, freed from the body as from fetters' this is what we call death, is it not, a release and separation from the body' 'But, as we hold, the true philosophers and they alone are always most eager to release the soul, and just this--the release and separation of the soul from the body--is their study, is it not (Phaedo 67D)'" Socrates' soul is an object with substance, contained within the body, yet something that is distinct from the body itself. This notion is retained in Stoicism and among the Epicurians where the objective soul is more or less a material part of the body, and where among the Stoics the soul is thought to continue in existence after death, it still remains a part of and within the physical universe.

Where Plato breaks from Socrates is in considering the soul as not only distinct from the body but also as something other than body, and even prior to a physical form. This results from Plato's accounting for movement. That which moves another thing, and is itself moved by something else, may cease to be moved and therefore cease to move anything else; but what moves itself will never cease to move. The self-moved is the source and beginning of motion (arche kineseos). The self-moved cannot have a beginning for it is a beginning in itself, and therefore it cannot have come into being. Nor can the self-moved have an end as that would result in everything coming to a standstill. In the Laws (893B-896B) Plato distinguishes ten kinds of motion, the ninth being that which moves other things but cannot move itself; the tenth as that which is self-moved and moves other things. The self-moved is not observed in any material element ' water, fire, air, or earth, nor in any object composed simply of the elements, but is instead found only in living things; that is, things which are animated by a soul. All other forms of motion belong to body, but as each depends on another to be moved, that which is self-moved must exist prior to body. Plato identifies the self-moved within living things as the soul, and thus Plato's soul becomes immortal ' without beginning or end ' and other than physical body as it is not composed of the physical elements. The soul may be considered as a substance of some kind, but not in any sense as a physical substance. Plato thereby placed the soul into the realm of metaphysics. The critical passage is Phaedrus 246A-E:

"[246a] That which moves itself is nothing else than the soul, --then the soul would necessarily be ungenerated and immortal. Concerning the immortality of the soul this is enough; but about its form we must speak in the following manner'We will liken the soul to the composite nature of a pair of winged-horses and a charioteer. Now the horses and charioteers of the gods are all good and [246b] of good descent, but those of other races are mixed; and first the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome. Now we must try to tell why a living being is called mortal or immortal. Soul, considered collectively, has the care of all that which is soulless, and it traverses the whole heaven, appearing sometimes in one form and sometimes in another; now when it is perfect [246c] and fully winged, it mounts upward and governs the whole world; but the soul which has lost its wings is borne along until it gets hold of something solid, when it settles down, taking upon itself an earthly body, which seems to be self-moving, because of the power of the soul within it; and the whole, compounded of soul and body, is called a living being, and is further designated as mortal. It is not immortal by any reasonable supposition, but we, though we have never seen [246d] or rightly conceived a god, imagine an immortal being which has both a soul and a body which are united for all time. Let that, however, and our words concerning it, be as is pleasing to God; we will now consider the reason why the soul loses its wings. It is something like this. The natural function of the wing is to soar upwards and carry that which is heavy up to the place where dwells the race of the gods. More than any other thing that pertains to the body [246e] it partakes of the nature of the divine. But the divine is beauty, wisdom, goodness, and all such qualities; by these then the wings of the soul are nourished and grow, but by the opposite qualities, such as vileness and evil, they are wasted away and destroyed."

Here not only is the soul something immortal, other than body and imparting motion to body, it also is the repository of all that may be considered divine in a body. The attributes of body are length, breadth, and depth; to which is attached such "accidents" as are perceived by the senses such as colour, taste, and sound. But such other attributes as character, reasoning, goodness, exist beyond the body within the divine, and it is the soul that acts as a vehicle (Ochema) imparting the divine into a material form. Plato ascribes the form of the soul as two parts, one attaching to the material form, the other attached to the divine, so that the soul becomes something that is mediating between the physical material and the divine intellect. This notion of the soul would become expanded upon by later Platonists and Aristotelians, with the soul becoming even more of a vehicle for something else, here implied in embryonic form as the Charioteer who is the divine mind and pilot of the soul. As a vehicle the soul gains another function, not only to impart the divine into a material form but also to return it to its source. In the Myth of Er found in Plato's Republic he will later describe the travels of the soul in a revolution between two worlds, the physical realm below and the divine above. While in the upper regions "the mind, the pilot of the soul' beholds absolute justice, temperance, and knowledge, not such knowledge as has a beginning and varies [Phaedrus 247c-d]." Those souls which follow a path of the "guileless philosopher" regain their wings "when for three successive periods of a thousand years they have chosen such a life, after the third period of a thousand years become winged in the three thousandth year and go their way; but the rest, when they have finished their first life, receive judgment, and after the judgment some go to the places of correction under the earth and pay their penalty [249a]." The winged souls continue on into the divine realm, those souls polluted by materiality sink deeper into materiality, but for the rest there is only travel between the two realms until it is determined in which realm they will remain. The same idea appears in the Phaedo where Plato describes the Underworld of four rivers, "Those (souls) who appear to have lived neither well nor ill go on to the River Acheron and mount such conveyances (ochema) as they can (113)."

Implicit in Plato's thought is a new concept of reality. There is the divine and there is matter. This is explored further in Plato's allegory of the men chained within a subterranean cave [Republic VII. 514A, 515C; X. 619D]. While chained they see only the shadowy world of materiality. Unfettered they gaze into the light that is a reflection of the divine. Some slip back into the cave out of fear, others remain in the cave gazing out into the light, while still others ascend into the light. For Plato "reality" is neither physical reality alone nor the transcendent divinity, but rather a mixture of both. Soul is the agent that binds the two together. Attached to the Republic is Plato's Timaeus where he describes the World Soul as composed of "the same, the other, and being (or essence = ousia)." Indivisible being pertains to the eternal Ideas of the divine and they therefore possess a "sameness" with the divine in which they participate, while in the differentiated world an "otherness" is necessary to distinguish some things that "are not" others. Matter alone exists in chaos; turbulent, unformed, and arrayed in ever-changing disorder. The divine intellect (Logos) imparts order onto matter, giving it form. The reality we observe around us is that of matter ever-changing from one form into another form in an orderly manner that is divinely inspired. Therefore reality must be composed of both. It follows then that there must be an intermediary bringing them together. "In the center he put the soul, which he diffused throughout the body, making it also to be the exterior environment of it 'he made the soul in origin and excellence prior to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject [Timaeus 34b]." Here Plato is no longer speaking about the soul of an individual person as had Socrates. Rather he is speaking about the World Soul that engulfs, embraces, contains the Universe within herself as part of the creation of the cosmos out of chaos. This is a cosmological soul, one whose origin and location transcends the physical universe of space and time. Each individual soul is but a part of the cosmological World Soul, infused in each thing to give it its own individual form to distinguish it from all other things, at the same time held by soul in relation with all other things as part of the cosmological order.

Plato's soul is an integral part of the human form, yet distinct from body. It is composed of parts, so it can be said to be some type of substance, yet it is immortal and self-moved unlike bodies of a material substance. Each soul is part of the cosmos and originates in a cosmic World Soul that transcends physical reality, so each soul must be something that is metaphysical. Each individual soul moves between the physical and metaphysical, and what is more, each soul determines for itself in which realm it will remain, so that souls have free will. The cosmological order determines the destiny of every thing that exists within the physical universe and how it will be transformed into other things, yet the soul, while bound to a thing, is not itself subject to destiny. Plato's soul is a conveyance or vehicle (ochema) of something else which is neither body nor the soul itself, but is divine. Implicit then with Plato is that there is another part of the human form that was not previously recognized in Greek philosophy. This part of Plato's thought can be seen as an elaboration of Socrates' concept of the personal daimon. But where Socrates daimon was something adjunct to the individual self, acting more as a divine guide to the soulful self, Plato's line of thought will lead to the individual self being identified with the divine held within the individual soul.
HOME | FORVM | COLLEGIA | CHAT | MEMBERS | REGVLAE | CONTACT
© 2001-2017 Societas Via Romana