‘Trial’ Essay, Research Paper
Title 1: Preparing for the ultimate “trial”
“On their arrival the souls had to go straight before Lachesis. And an interpreter?.took from the lap of Lachesis a number of lots and patterns of life and?proclaimed: “This is the word of Lachesis maiden daughter of Necessity. Souls of a day, here you must begin another round of mortal life whose end is death”?Then (he) set before them?.different patterns of life , far more in number than the souls who were to choose them?”
Plato, The Republic, Part 11/Book 10
In order to write this essay, I first had to understand Plato’s stand point on life and death, body and soul. What was his idea of a healthy way of leading your life? The very essence of Platonic thinking comes down to Plato’s definition of philosophy, which he simply puts as the vision of truth. This truth is revealed to a focused mind in a moment of ecstasy, as if a mist is suddenly removed. He strived to appreciate beauty for more than just it’s face value. What he means by this is that philosophy is about the distinction between reality and appearance, between knowledge and opinion, between mortality and immortality.
This distinction is what I want to explore in this essay as that is what would prepare me for the ultimate Krisis, the final judgement (using the word ‘final’ in the loosest of terms). According to Plato, the philosopher is the highest of the “patterns of life”, so to achieve this opitome, one would have to live the life of a philosopher, and this is what I want to write about in my essay. “Till Philosophers become kings in this world, or until those we now call Kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers and political power and philosophy came into the same hands ? there is no other road to real happiness either for society, or the individual.”
I want to explore Plato’s views and theories so as to understand better the life he, Socrates, and their followers lead.
Basically I will be looking at Plato’s views on love, because from love spawns all goodness and beauty. This will be explained further later. Plato’s theory of forms (the two world theory- one sensory world of objects, and another world of forms and ideas), wisdom and justice as necessary factors in a happy life, and the nature of the soul (Immortality). Plato placed a lot of importance on beauty, the true appreciation for beauty. Plato’s circular dogma comes in into play in a lot of his theories, so this too will be investigated.
Let us start with the death of Socrates, Plato’s mentor and lover. Illustrated in the Phaedo, Plato shows us an insight into this great man’s teachings, of which there are no copies. He was thought to be the wisest man in Greece at the time of his execution. Socrates would be considered the epitome of Platonic man; he had achieved the highest levels of wisdom and goodness, the absolutes of beauty. But how did this man achieve these degrees of understanding and insightfulness? He simply lived his life following the motto he set for himself, “Become what you are”. There is the knowledge and beauty there for the “taking”, it is up to us to find our path.
If Socrates is the ideal platonic man then he is a good role model for me as I prepare myself for my “ending” day. I would strive for the “Good” which in Platonic terms is a totality of perfection. The emphasis is on the achieving of wisdom instead of the wisdom itself. According to Plato, man’s highest purpose is to strive towards openness of mind so as to appreciate the harmony of the cosmos. Knowledge = openness of the mind leading to eternal order. Plato’s philosophy is about a vision of truth. To acquire this vision one must be able to prize true knowledge, not mere opinions.
Reaching “enlightenment” through a separation of intellect and empirical experiences, later Plato developed his two world theory based upon this thinking. He didn’t have much faith in the world of science, as discussed in the next paragraph, he believed that you could learn more through contemplation, then actual experimentation. Plato deduced that math could not possibly exist in the material world, the sensory world of objects.
Consider that no triangle that we see is exactly a triangle but an approximation of one. The only “real” triangle, perfect triangle, would be the triangle that the pythagorean theorum creates, which only exists in the world of forms or ideas, the other world in his two world theory. Our visual world is merely an illusion based on the world of ideas, what I mean by this is that the exterior appearance means nothing, it is inconsequential with respect to the world of ideas. Take for instance this example, a pig and the idea of a pig, only the latter is “real”.
Plato thought a theory of forms was necessary in order to account for the possibility of wisdom. Plato proposed that because wisdom is static, “eternal” (whereas physical objects are subject to constant change) it is proper to posit eternal ideals are grasped by the intelligence but not the senses. The senses are defective because they can only percieve imperfect instances of what “pure thought” grasps in an unadulterated state. The best part sensory perception can play in “understanding forms” is to remind the “soul” of the forms the soul has already grasped independently of, and prior to, the senses.
Plato discusses his ideas of these two worlds in the “Allegory of the cave”. The prisoner is finally released from his shackles and let free into the world, “?.his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, — will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?” (Book 7 Republic 515d) This just shows that perception has no meaning, Life in the cave symbolises the material world, where the shadows and noises heard with in are only images and sounds of the true objects outside. Plato was known to say that Fine art is the lowest form of art as it is only a copy of a copy of the “real” world. So, a step closer to preparing for death is realising that the world we live in is merely a “shadow” of the world of forms and ideas.
Plato’s world view included his two world theory, how society should be governed in the sensory world of objects and the “ideas” behind it all in the world of forms. His theory of the utopian society, explains how he thought life should be lead. This is illustrated in the Timaeus, it explains how society should be structured. He had a vision of the perfect society. This society is to be made up of three elements, the guardians, the Auxiliaries, and the productive worker. The reason for this seperation of the populace is the theory that all men have certain talents, and these talents can only be truly utilised if they are concentrated on, with out distraction from everything else. Plato determined that this is the way man would work to the best of his ability. This thinking accounts for the productive workers.
The Guardians on the other hand are the peace keepers of the city, they are the Philospher rulers, who are chosen at a young age based on talents that they possess. “Till Philosophers become kings in this world, or until those we now call Kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers and political power and philosophy came into the same hands ? there is no other road to real happiness either for society, or the individual.”
The Auxiliaries are basically a subdivision of Guardians, who carry out the decisions made by the Guardians and assist wherever possible.
The whole society works on the theory that if every has the same then there is no jealousy or greed, every one is equal. Men and women live as equals, there are no offspring of determinable roots, every child born, is a child of the society. Therefore eveyone is a brother or sister. This world view could not be employed, realistically, in todays society with out a huge change in modern thinking. Nowadays money is too important, it held above the acquiring of “truth”. So this is already one way I could not fulfill the Platonist ideal.
Because man is a social animal what he will become is influenced by his social environment in such a way that it is difficult to decide whether he makes his own environment or is made by it. There are two existences: unseen = unchanging, seen = changing. A soul is in the body it is dragged through the changeable world, and therefore influenced by it. This is where Plato’s Circular dogma is employed. He believed that the sphere is the most perfect of all geometric forms therefore the cosmos is modeled around this, leading to the idea that life too is modeled after this. There is a harmony in the motion of the spheres, which can be related to the life cycle of man.
A man is born, he then goes through his life, leading it as he wishes, one day he will die, and then will be born again; A cycle that continues until the soul has reached a level of enlightenment that it is given “wings” and joins the gods. “That the living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and if this is true, then the souls of the dead must be in some place out of which they come again”. Plato suggests that all things do not exist as individual entities but as continuing themes. The soul would move through the unchanging world into the changing one, in a cycle until it reaches the heights of enlightenment. “every body which derives motion from without is soulless, but that which has its motion within itself has a soul, since that is the nature of the soul” (Phaedrus 246a) The cycle must have a starting place and would therefore end at the same place, and would also therefore be indestructible (see Hackforth, Plato’s Phaedrus, p. 64, n.3).
There are a number of things needed to be understood and appreciated before one can approach this subject of a final judgement, death. One of which is the soul. We need to understand the nature, behavior, and destiny of the soul, in order to understand what happens after death. These are all written about in Plato’s Phaedrus, Republic, and Phaedo, respectively.
Let us start with the nature of the soul. Plato believed that there are two parts to the soul. The lower part, the epithumiai, and the higher part, the logos. The logos is considered the immortal part. The epithumiai is chiefly concerned with the visible world, i.e. desires, passions. These are derived from love, or eros. So the soul is directly linked to love. Plato emphasised this point many times as to him Philosophy was love! It can be said that to him Philosophy was like a religion for only with that much devotion could he truly reap the rewards of truth.
Platonic “love” is frequently misunderstood as meaning non-carnal love. In this point of fact, not only carnal love compatible with platonic love but it is also a necessary stage in the development of a true appreciation for beauty. We are meant transcend or outgrow this first stage of Platonic love. Plato says “it is great folly not to acknowledge that the beauty exhibited in all bodies is one and the same?.(he) will relax the intensity of his passion for one particular person” (Symposium 211a).
Plato placed, in my opinion, the most importance on this understanding of absolute beauty. As a Platonist I think this acquiring of knowledge through the appreciation of beauty is what I should be doing to prepare for the “end”, it is the MOST important factor. An example of this importance is again shown in the Symposium 211a, ” when a man starting from this sensible world and making his way upward by a right use of his feeling of love of boys, begins to catch sight of that beauty, he is very near his goal.” He goes on to talk about how this is the right way to start life, to use “examples of beauty?.as steps to ascend continually with that absolute beauty as one’s aim.” One’s aim in life! The order is to begin with one beautiful form and from that to a couple of beautiful things to beautiful practices to beautiful notions then to one single form of knowledge, the knowledge of beauty. The last step in this chain of events however would be death, “While in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems to follow – either knowledge is not attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in herself alone and without the body?And then the foolishness of the body will be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls.” (Phaedo 66e-67a)
This “beauty” is absolute, separate, and everlasting. It “is the region where a man’s life should be spent, in contemplation of absolute beauty” (Symposium 211a). I think this explains quite well what a Platonist should be striving for when living out his life.
Love is always of beauty, or the good. (They are the same to Plato) Accordingly, love is to be viewed as having no part in either goodness or beauty. It is between being mortal and immortal. Thus love is said never to be altogether in or out of need, halfway between wisdom and ignorance (i.e. Philosophers)
Beauty and logos are closely linked, they aren’t one and the same, as said before the logos is influenced by the changing world whereas beauty is untouchable. You can not change absolute beauty. ” as we are always repeating, there is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and essence in general ?There can be no doubt that if these absolute ideas existed before we were born, then our souls must have existed before we were born, and if not the ideas, then not the souls.” (Phaedo 76d)
Our very birth is proof that we lack moral innocence. (The wheel of life in Platonic terms is for those who are too “impure” to be extricated from it). Plato considered that procreation is but man’s way of being immortal, or as close as he can get to it. In this life, Plato stresses the point that we should always see the “truth”, for if we act other wise, He explains, “men who have followed after gluttony, and wantonness, and drunkenness, and have had no thought of avoiding them, would pass into asses and animals of that sort.” (Phaedo 81c) The soul that has failed to “follow the train of the gods”, and sees nothing of truth, comes to no good end. “Because of the burden sheds her wings and falls to earth” being reincarnated in successively worse lives starting from that of the Philosopher and degenerating to that of a tyrant.
Rebirth should be an opportunity to be born into a better life, but this ascending depends on the decisions we make now, in this life. We should live in justice, as justice is described by Plato as the ultimate “form” of man. Justice is understood by Plato and Socrates as not merely a social virtue, but the all encompassing virtue that alone can reconcile mind and matter, inner life and social life, giving man unity with in and with out. Therefore making it possible for him to build his own being, shape his soul, and attain happiness. No man can bring order in social life if he doesn’t put order in his soul first. Our goal in life should be to build harmony and unity of purpose within the parts of our own souls.
As you can see Platonic views on rebirth contrast with Christian views. Christians believe that souls either go to heaven or hell, and there is no rebirth, just eternal bliss, or torment. I happen to believe the Platonic view is closer to the truth however, heaven is when the soul attained the highest of truths and can ascend to level of the gods.
Plato’s Republic, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Apology