'What is the conception of soul for Plato?'
“It was suggested by Whiteman that the whole history of Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato” and to me if something after thousands of years of trying cannot be altered then maybe it does contain a little bit of what we humans strive to look at as the “absolute truth”. When this separation between soul and spirit became obvious to me, then the world started making sense in an absolute way. I would like to note that in Thailand as I am doing my final project I discovered that they have no concept of soul and spirit as being differentiated and that to me is fascinating. It makes me want to delve deeper into understanding the Pali form of Buddhism to see where the similarities between the Western view and the Eastern view lie, or if there are any disparities as well. In his writing Plato writes the dialogues of Socrates, a person that we only know existed through the writings of his students.
Plato in Alchibiades I (translation R.W.L. Lamb 1955) first writes “the soul is different from the body, is in fact the user and the ruler of the body, so man is one of three things: soul, body or both together as one whole”. Does the combination of the two rule the body so we can regard it together as man? “Either man is nothing at all or if something he turns out to be nothing else than soul” In the above passages the distinction between soul and body is evident.
Plato in the Republic (translation Shorey 1937) writes “the just is happy and the unjust miserable”, thus providing a moral characteristic to the soul manifested in man.
In Meno (translation R.W.L. Lamb 1937) Plato further explains that “the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. Consequently one ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness.” “Seeing then that the soul is immortal and has been born many times, and has beheld all things both in this world and in the nether realms, she has acquired knowledge of all and everything; so that it is no wonder that she should be able to recollect all that she knew before about virtue and other things.” This entity that is separate from the body has multiple visits in this realm and is here to learn seems to be this idea of the soul.
In Pheado (translation H.N. Fowler 1914) the question of “pure knowledge” is approached, whether the body is a hindrance and when truth is attained. The elusive concept of “absolute justice” is approached although admittedly to describe that there is no such thing visible in this world. For “if pure knowledge is impossible while the body is still with us, one of the two things must follow, either it cannot be acquired at all or only when we are dead; for the soul will be by itself and not with the body”. This view coincides with my understanding so far or the nature of the soul and the perfection of the universe, the mind for me does not seem to have enough capacity to hold that truth immovable. For me of course the absolute can be experienced in this lifetime as a vision outside the body and the mind, and unfortunately so far bringing back the knowledge has eluded me. I have been happy to discover that in Buddhism they describe that state where knowing the absolute truth as enlightment so I have now a place to start moving towards. For “hope exists for every man who thinks and his mind has been purified and made ready”. “death is simply a release and separation from the body” In my concept of the world I am looking forward to this transition, and until such time of course I am enjoying life.
In the Republic Plato states again “the true philosophers are those enamored by the truth” so in that sense my quest is very much a philosophical quest.
“In Republic, Socrates asserted that the ψυχή is composed of three parts; the λογιστικόν (logical), the θυμοειδές (high-spirited) and the ἐπιθυμητικόν (appetitive). δικαιοσύνη (justice) is declared to be the state of the whole in which each part fulfills its function without attempting to interfere in the functions of others. The function of the ἐπιθυμητικόν is to produce and seek pleasure, often being linked to the love of money.” (Wikipedia) It was an interesting thought when I read in the excerpt assigned that all war is fought for money I could not help but think of Marx’s theories. “The function of the λογιστικός is to gently rule through the love of learning. The function of the θυμοειδές is to obey the directions of the λογιστικός while ferociously defending the whole from external invasion and internal disorder. Whether in a city or an individual, ἀδικία (injustice) is the contrary state of the whole, often taking the specific form in which the θυμοειδές listens instead to the ἐπιθυμητικόν, while they together either ignore the λογιστικός entirely or employ it in their pursuits of pleasure.” As so it remains a subject of inquiry to see if transcending all those three parts of the soul one can remain alive in this world nonetheless.
'What is the conception of soul for Descartes?'
Descartes is one of my favorite French philosophers. I grew up with this idea in my mind pertaining to the distinction of the mind and spirit so when I was first introduced to Descartes it was an absolute pleasure to see that he would make it his thesis in explaining this world. In a way that is similar to Plato’s views he describes that the soul is distinct from the body and only animates it, effectively establishing the dichotomy”.
Descartes’s view can be summarized as the “ghost in the machine”: “If there were machines that bore resemblance to our body and imitated our actions as far as it was morally possible to do so” we still would be able to recognize that they were not men by two tests “the first is that they would never use speech or other signs that we do” and “the second difference […] is that they would not act from knowledge but only from a disposition of their organs” So in this manner the soul is the animator.
Descartes main thesis and absolute distinguishing factor is the thesis of “cogito ergo sum”, “I think therefore I am” for years made me very intellectual advocate of the nature of the soul although these days my views are relaxed to include the spirit as a separate entity, distinct from the soul. I wonder if the soul is more than the simple thinking animator and therefore is more than just the point of intelligence as defining man, although if you asked me years ago I would absolutely agree with Descartes that it is the ability to think rationally that makes us men. “I am. I exist. Is necessarily true every time I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it” is a beautiful statement. The only argument I have for Descartes does not come from my mind because the logic in that statement is beautiful and absolute. My objection comes again from my life experiences. I had experiences where I was outside my body and was able to think and move while I was simply observing my immovable body beneath me, so it would certainly seem that thinking is a function of the soul, not just of the mind. Yet there was a period after an accident in 2004 that I could not think. I was barely observing and I could not say that I remember much for long periods of time, yet I was certainly alive. So “I am not more than a thing that thinks, that is to say a mind or a soul, or an understanding, or a reason, which were terms whose significance was formerly unknown to me. I am however a real thing and really exist, but what thing? I have answered: a thing that thinks” whereas beautiful is objectionable because there are many ways to experience the world and what is outside the world and it is the function of the soul to experience this and it is not possible for me to constraint the concept of the soul simply to thinking.
'What do these conceptions imply for the relationship between soul and body?'
I look at both Plato and Descartes who are proponents of the idea of separation of the soul and the body. It is an absolutely fundamental part of their understanding and teachings and it is a statement that absolutely has to be true. I agree with this since it has been my view through my personal experiences that the soul is separate from the body and that the body is really like a car that houses the soul. It also has been my view that the whole reality is in a constant state of flux and that in this state of flux we can observe, or stop and partake in the happenings around us.
For Plato Socrates was trapped in his body and was in fact was almost looking forward to escaping the body and attaining what is absolute truth as a true philosopher would. I remember having that view for years in my life, because I knew that this life could not be simply what we experience, what we feel, what we think. In my experience this occurred when I had a NDE and after coming back I had the memory of many lives and many points of truth and it was this that made me want to fully engage in life. I believe that this life is an absolutely beautiful experience and in contrast I do not feel trapped in the world, rather I am enjoying this play of consciousness. And in those times when emotions overwhelm me and I am in contrariety I remember that this is only a game and I wonder what it is that I need to still experience that I have not yet had a chance to experience and understand.
For Descartes this view that the distinction between mind and body makes the body a smart machine that operates into this world whereas enticing, does not seem complete. For Descartes takes thinking and experiencing and feeling and living as one and the same experience. I look at this and realize that for me the distinctions are subtle and yet are fundamental. I cannot limit the experience of life simply to thinking. I do have great respect for the mind and I was given a beautiful mind to play with in this world, for which truly I am grateful. Yet I have experienced the limitations of the mind and thus I look at all this with the curiosity of a child that wants to simply play and experience and the thinking can sometimes take a secondary position.
I believe that thinking things through is a fun game that we play yet we cannot limit ourselves to only one modality of experiencing the world. I am of the view that there is so much to experience and so much room to play, that I would like to continue doing just that.