Plato?S Five Dialogues And Descartes Six Meditations Essay, Research Paper
One of the odd yet interesting ideas that philosopher’s demand be debated is that of the true nature of the human being. Even though probably each philosopher has his own unique perception of the true nature of the human being, philosophers tend to share some of the same basic attributes in their definition. After reading Plato’s five dialogues and Descartes six meditations, I am lead to believe that both philosophers commonly share the idea that the human being is able to exist without the physical body; Plato through the soul and Descartes through the mind. Besides the common thought of the existence of the human being separate from the body, Plato and Descartes also strongly teach that human beings come with certain knowledge of higher powers that need to be merely recollected throughout life. Besides these two similarities in the thoughts of Plato and Descartes, Plato believes that humans need to spend their life pleasing the gods and preparing for death in hopes of obtaining a clean soul that will flourish in the afterlife.
“For there is not a single consideration that can aid in my perception of the wax or of any other body that fails to make even more manifest the nature of my mind” (Descartes 23). As Descartes examines the information that he receives from his senses, mainly that from the wax experiment, he observes his senses can be deceitful and full of doubt so he can not rely on it to determine whether things truly exist. Rather, his mind is behind his knowledge of the existence of things and therefore he is able to exist distinctly from the physical body.
Although Plato does not feel exactly the same way as Descartes, Plato does believe the human being exists distinctly from the physical body in the form of the soul rather than the mind. Plato teaches that “Philosophy then persuades the soul to withdraw from the senses in so far as it is not compelled to use them and bids the soul to gather itself together by itself, to trust only itself and whatever reality, existing by itself, the soul by itself understands…” (Plato 122). After reading this, it is extremely evident that Plato agrees with Descartes in saying the senses deceive the mind, and the human is therefore able to exist separate from the physical body.
Besides the two philosophers agreeing about the distinct existence of the human being outside the body, both philosophers seem to believe humans are born with certain ideas present within their minds. Plato teaches that after the physical body “dies,” the soul lives on by entering Hades where it will eventually be given a new physical body in the real world. Which form of a new body this soul takes depends on its last attempt at a pure, clean life. Since this soul has already lived a past life, its’ mind knows everything needed to survive life. It is up to the body to recollect this previous knowledge; meaning learning is truly recollection. Plato argues his point in saying, “As the soul is immortal, has been born often and has seen all things here and in the underworld, there is nothing which it has not learned; so it is in no way surprising that it can recollect the things it knew before, both about virtue and other things” (Plato 70).
While Plato believes learning is truly recollection, Descartes teaches that a supremely perfect being, namely God, grants him his knowledge and perfection as he sees fit. Descartes argues, “For I am not free to think of God without existence, that is, a supremely perfect being without a supreme perfection…” (Descartes 44). In Descartes’ beliefs, he feels God is the supreme and he gives us the knowledge and perfection that he feels we need in our lives.
Along with these two similarities in the true nature of human beings, Plato feels that humans need to spend their lives trying to please the gods and acting piously in hopes of obtaining a clean soul for it’s journey to the underworld. Plato explains, “If it is pure when it leaves the body and drags nothing bodily with it, as it had no willing association with the body in life, but avoided it and gathered itself together by itself and always practised this, which is no other than practising philosophy in the right way, training to die easily” (Plato 119). He continues by saying, “A soul in this state makes its way to the invisible, which is like itself, the divine and immortal and wise, and arriving there it can be happy, having rid itself of confusion, ignorance, fear…” (Plato 120).
As we can clearly see, both Plato and Descartes teach that the human being can exist separately from the body and that knowledge is merely a form of recollection or a gift from a Supreme Being. I tend to lean more towards believing in Plato’s argument. Although I strongly disagree with knowledge is recollection because I am paying twenty thousand dollars to “learn” right now I do agree that the soul lives on after the body dies and eventually reincarnates into a new body after experiencing the after-world. Death is a given in today’s society but I do not feel that our lives need to be spent preparing for it because God gives us the ability to do many more constructive, useful things rather than prepare for our death. In ending, Plato and Descartes teach us numerous ideas of the true nature of the human being. Some similarities exist as well as some differences, but I believe in the end, the true nature of the human being is left up to the ideas of every individual person.