Plato's metaphysics of soul

Sophia A Stone, Purdue University


This dissertation addresses the issue of Plato's metaphysics and his account of soul from the Apology to the Phaedo. Scholars disagree about what soul is for Plato. Some argue that soul is a form; others argue that soul is a particular. I argue that soul is in a third metaphysical category: soul is an intermediate, between forms and particulars. The soul moves in and out of a changing and unstable reality while also maintaining the ability to grasp knowledge and acquire virtue. This role for soul is possible only because it has an intermediate status. The main argument of the dissertation clarifies a long-standing debate in Platonic philosophy: what soul is, fundamentally, for Plato. It also contributes to several other problems in Platonic scholarship, including the Socratic question, Socratic intellectualism and whether Plato held views about intermediates. In chapter one I contrast two portraits of Socrates from Aristophanes and Plato. While the portrait of Socrates in the Apology shows a philosopher honestly searching for truth and virtue and makes claims about the soul, the portrait is a response and a correction to the comedic portrait from Aristophanes. The Apology is not only a defense of Socrates as a philosopher; it is also a diagnostic dialogue that exposes the corruption in Athens. The Apology sets the program for Plato's philosophical development. In chapter two I analyze Socrates' claims about the soul in the Apology: the best life is a life of examination and caring for the soul. Though we translate both epimeleia and therapeia as 'care' in other dialogues, I argue that the terms should not be conflated—epimeleia means 'concern,' having an intellectual conscience, therapeia means 'tending to,' an activity. In chapter three these two aspects of 'care' clarify a problem in Socratic intellectualism: whether the charge against Socratic intellectualism is true, that Socrates ignores the emotional and volitional side of human motivation. I argue that the charge is false and that we need to include these two aspects of care when rethinking Socratic intellectualism. In the final chapter, I analyze the claims about soul in the Phaedo and argue that soul is an intermediate; its metaphysical status is between a form and its particulars. For Plato, a soul is altered by the life it lives (Republic 618b3-4). So, soul cannot be a form, since forms are unchanging ( Phaedo). Yet souls are eternal and intelligible, aspects they share with forms. Human beings are particulars and can have knowledge through grasping forms. Because soul is eternal like the forms but mutable like particulars, soul has an intermediate status between forms and particulars. Evidence for this claim is in the Phaedo. In the final proof, Socrates argues that there are entities that endow forms with characters. For example, 'the number three,' which I argue is not a form, endows oddness on any three particulars (e.g., three apples are odd in number). Likewise, soul endows aliveness on a body. Consequently, we can infer from Plato's account of these special entities that when a soul knows a form, it endows the character of that form on a human. Moreover, an embodied soul has additional capacities such as desire, emotion, perception and reason—capacities that may hinder or help one's pursuit of knowledge. Thus the concern and tending to the soul remain to be necessary conditions for virtue. While this dissertation is grounded in philological and philosophical analyses of Plato's dialogues, my research extends beyond the field of philosophy. As an interdisciplinary work, the dissertation contributes new analyses in the fields of classical literature, Greek medicine and mathematics. The need to care for the soul is grounded in the best way to live; it is Plato's defense of Socrates and the life of philosophy. The ancient medical writers are critical for understanding the move from care of the soul to the status of soul. They view disease as a symptom of an imbalance of elements in the body and one's environment. Thus climate and altitude played a role in treating disease in addition to diet, medicine and exercise. Doctors tended the body based upon what the body is, fundamentally. Plato treats the soul in a similar way.




Curd, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Classical studies|Philosophy

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