Pictured above is the ancient road to Plato's Academy. This road was very important because along its sides were the dead of the rich and important people of Athens. This is also where Pericles made his Funeral Oration, honoring the dead of the Peloponnesian War; he too was buried the next year along this road. If you were to look at our original layout of Ancient Athens, the Academy was located on the northern side, just outside of Athens' city limits. In general, the academy was the field of land named for the hero Academus. Plato's Academy referred to the specific grove in which he preferred to teach. It is also thought that Socrates frequented this spot and also sometimes taught here. Later, buildings would be erected in order to better contain the ancient lecture halls in which they would teach. For a bird's eye view of the ruins of Plato's academy (located more centrally in modern Athens), click here. If you would like to see an ancient depiction of teaching in Plato's Academy, click the picture above.
The Phaedo was known alternatively as On the Soul, while the Republic had the alternative name On Justice. This likely reflects the difference in subject matter of the two books. However, in many ways the description of a just society in the Republic is an analogy for how the just person should think and behave.
Is the just person happier than the unjust person? Let's develop this argument as Plato does:
- "anything that has a function performs it well by means of its own peculiar virtue" (353c)
- "Is there some function of a soul that you couldn't perform with anything else, for example, taking care of things, ruling, deliberating, and the like?" (353d)
- "a bad soul rules and takes care of things badly and that a good soul does all these things well" (353e)
- "justice is a soul's virtue, and injustice its vice"..."a just soul and a just man will live well" (353e)
- "anyone who lives well is blessed and happy"..."a just person is happy, and an unjust one wretched." (354a)
- The conclusion then is that a just person is always happier than an unjust person.
What does this tell us about the soul's purpose and of the pursuit of knowledge?
Clearly we are left with the position that the soul accounts for all of our knowledge and drives our pursuit for knowledge of the true Forms. By focusing on this pursuit and not living materialistically (in Plato's terminology) our soul can ensure we live well. Although Plato typically ascribed many cognitive and intellectual faculties to the body, he does recognize that it is the soul's purpose to ensure we live well. To the extent that we are not living well, it is because our soul (in this case very much like the modern conception of Mind) is in a state of disrepair or neglect. Therefore, although specific cognitive functions may be carried out by the body, it is the soul's responsibility to ensure they are only done in the noble pursuit of knowledge.
|Higher-Order Faculties of the Mind|
Glaucon: The praise of a wisdom-lover and argument lover is necessarily truest.
Parts of the Soul : Plato deals with the soul's treatment of the concept of ego by dividing the soul into component parts (ironically this is opposite of the Argument from Affinity). He argues there is a spirited part, whose natural attachment is to honor and esteem by others ("appropriate for us to call it learning-loving and honor-loving" - 581b). In a way, Plato is taking Socrates conception of the soul and adapting it to meet his own concerns. It would seem to Plato, that if the soul is to be the ruler of the body and its purpose is to ensure the good life, then surely it must control all aspects of the body related to such a life. It stands to reason then that the soul is responsible for our emotions, our intellect, as well as our appetite. Unfortunately for Plato, Socrates has already assigned these faculties to the body. However, he is able to circumvent this problem by specifying a division within the soul. The appetitive part, for example, is concerned with such needs as food, drink, and sex. Plato is now finally assigning to the soul the faculties which we think of as mental. When Socrates initially laid out the Theory of Forms and of the soul, he did not have any divisions. The soul, like the Forms, was pure and had no component parts. Plato, however, seemed to recognize the problem inherent with assigning feelings to the body and not to the soul. Thus the only way he could rectify the situation was to subdivide the soul and assign these processes to various parts.
Odysseus: Ironically the same example is used in both the Phaedo and the Republic to illustrate a conflict between soul and body in the former and between parts of the soul in the latter.
Phaedo: "Endure, my heart, you have endured worse than this." (94d) - This line is quoted from Homer's Odyssey and is used to show that even Homer recognized the conflict between soul and body. Odysseus is essentially facilitating communication between his soul and his body.
Republic: "He struck his chest and spoke to his heart." (441b) - Once again this example is used, only it has been slightly altered from the previous occurrence to represent the difference in meaning. Plato says this represents Odysseus' struggle with two parts of his soul.
|Origin of the Psyche|
"Now when the Creator had framed the soul according to his will, he formed within her the corporeal universe, and brought the two together, and united them centre to centre. The soul, interfused everywhere from the centre to the circumference of heaven, of which also she is the external envelopment, herself turning in herself, began a divine beginning of never ceasing and rational life enduring throughout all time."
--Timaeus, subsection 6
The interpretation of this quote is fairly straightforward. Essentially Plato is agreeing with Socrates' notion that when the world was created the Psyche, or soul, was created to be all-knowing and immortal. He goes further to say the soul is in every way connected to every aspect of the supernatural, and thus can never be destroyed, nor can it cease to have pure knowledge when it avoids the perils of the flesh.
|Sensation & Perception|
"In the first place, the bodies which I have been describing are necessarily objects of sense. But we have not yet considered the origin of flesh, or what belongs to flesh, or of that part of the soul which is mortal. And these things cannot be adequately explained without also explaining the affections which are concerned with sensation, nor the latter without the former: and yet to explain them together is hardly possible; for which reason we must assume first one or the other and afterwards examine the nature of our hypothesis"
--Timaeus, subsection 31
Plato makes several analogies related to false belief, one of which is the famous Wax Tablet (Theaetetus, 190e5-196c6). In this analogy Plato describes objects of perception as dynamic awarenesses. We constantly change what we are aware of and this constitues the objects of sense. Furthermore, objects of thought are those objects of sense that we have reified by engraving them into the wax table that is our mind.
Origin of False Memory / False Belief?
Because there are both objects of perception and objects of thought, occasionally a mismatch occurs when trying to attend to them both. When an object of thought is confused for an object of perception, you will have false belief. An example of this could be the following: Waiting outside the psychology building you see two people approaching. When trying to match your current perception of the two people with the impression you have on the wax tablet (mind), you may mistake one for the other. Theaetetus readily accepts the wax metaphor to explain all further false knowledge but the character Socrates is not content. Always the observant critic, Socrates points out that the wax metaphor does not explain confusion in the absence of perception, i.e. confusing 5 + 7 = 11 instead of 12. A new metaphor likening the mind to an aviary is proposed to adress this problem.
Note: This explanation is reminiscent of a concept in modern Cognitive Psychology. Source monitoring (e.g. Marsh, R. L., Clark-Foos, A., Cook, G. I., & Meeks, J. T., Under Review) is a term used to explain how we remember how we learned information (e.g. Who said it, where it was said, etc.). A related concept is reality monitoring, which is the process of identifying whether information was truly experienced or simply imagined. It appears to me that Plato was describing reality monitoring when he correctly identified the error as arising between a confusion of external (objects of perception) with internal (objects of thought) experience.
This metaphor is meant to correct problems with the wax tablet metaphor but as Plato explains, it only complicates things further (Theaetetus, 196c7-200d4). The mind is explained as an aviary full of birds where the birds represent units of knowledge or memory. In this model, to give away a bird to someone else is to teach them something. Furthermore, to stock your aviary is to learn. The interesting part about this metaphor is the description of remembering. We have the ability to enter our aviary and catch birds. Whenever we catch a bird, we have the potential to remember that item. Plato is not clear on this distinction but it is expounded upon later by Aristotle as the difference between actuality and potentiality. It is interesting however to note how similar this explanation is to Nelson Cowan's Embedded Process Model of Working Memory (1988, 1999). In this model, Cowan uses several metaphors to describe his belief in the connection between working and long term memory. One of these is a dark room with a single spotlight shining. Wherever the spotlight is shining is working memory and everything in the dark is long term memory. In this way he resembles Plato's division between birds in the aviary and birds that one has caught (remembered). Presumably this would be retrieving a long term memory into working memory. Fault is soon found with this metaphor as well however and the character Socrates attributes this to their hastily rushing towards an answer without first understanding the true nature of knowledge. Theaetetus and he continue to debate the essence of knowledge but no satisfying answer ever arises.
Proceed to Aristotle
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