Transmigration Of The Soul: Plato’s Theory Of Human Knowledge Essay, Research Paper
Plato contended that all true knowledge is recollection. He stated that we all have innate knowledge that tells us about the things we experience in our world. This knowledge, Plato believed, was gained when the soul resided in the invisible realm, the realm of The Forms and The Good.
Plato’s theory of The Forms argued that everything in the natural world is representative of the ideal of that form. For example, a table is representative of the ideal form Table. The form is the perfect ideal on which the physical table is modeled. These forms do not exist in the natural world, as they are perfect, and there is nothing perfect in the natural world. Rather the forms exist in the invisible realm, the realm of The Good.
When the soul resided in the invisible realm, it experienced these perfect forms and retained that knowledge. However, when the soul is born into the natural world, it forgets that knowledge. In this world, the soul has no experience of perfection, and, therefore, cannot remember the forms. Yet, when the soul is confronted with something resembling the forms, it recollects what it once knew. We call this learning, but Plato believed it is actually recollection.
For example, when we see two sticks that are the same length, we say that they are equal. Yet, there is nothing in the natural world that shows us true equality. Therefore, we must have had knowledge of the idea of equality before we entered this world. When we see the two sticks of the same length, it triggers the recollection of the idea of equality.
Hence, Plato argues that our soul, before it entered this world, had knowledge of the form of equality when it was a part of the invisible realm. Upon entering this world, this knowledge was forgotten and had to be recollected. Thus, all knowledge of the forms, such as equality, justice, etc. is recollected.
However, in proving that what we call learning is actually recollection, Plato also proved that the soul is immortal. As was stated, there is no example of true perfection in our world. Yet, we can imagine the idea of perfection. Where could this idea come from if we have not experienced it in our world? We must have experienced it at some point if the idea is within us.
Thus, Plato argued that the soul must have existed outside of the natural world. In order for this to be so, it must be immortal, living before it came into this world. It only stands to reason, Plato contended, that it must continue to exist after it leaves this world. How else would it have been in existence before it came into this world? Plato believed that it was a rational assumption that our soul must continue to exist even after our death.
Whether Plato believed that the soul migrates from one lifetime to another, one body to another, some would say is unclear. However, I believe that the idea of recollection leans heavily on the assumption that the soul is residing within the invisible realm before it comes into existence in the physical realm.
If the soul migrates from one body to another at one person’s death and another’s birth, then we would still have no explanation for the soul’s knowledge of the forms. For wouldn’t the previous life have been spent in the natural world, just as this life is? As has already been argued, there is nothing perfect in this world and, therefore, no way of discerning the true forms. Thus, if the soul resided in this physical world in its previous life, where would it have gained knowledge of the forms?
Therefore, I believe that Plato’s intention was that the soul resides within the invisible realm until its birth into the natural world. It is while it resides within this realm and experiences the perfection of the forms and The Good, that it gains true knowledge. This true knowledge is remembered when the soul experiences, within the natural world, something resembling the ideal forms.
It follows, therefore, that when the soul leaves the body at death, it must return to the invisible realm, the realm of the Forms and The Good. Plato argued that this was the desire of every soul, to regain knowledge of the perfect realm and to be reunited with The Good.
Therefore, in arguing his theory of recollection, Plato proved that there is no true learning in this world; there is merely recollection of the knowledge the soul had previous to this life. He also proved that the soul is immortal, in that it must have existed before this life in order to have knowledge of the forms. Finally, Plato showed that the soul does not permanently reside within one body and die when that body dies. It must exist separate from that body and continue to exist after that body’s death. Taken together, these three points make up Plato’s theory on the transmigration of the soul.
Plato. “Phaedo.” Plato: The Last Days of Socrates. Translated by Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant, 108-191. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1993.
Plato. Republic. Translated by G.M.A. Grube, revised by C.D.C. Reeve. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1992.