Plato Vs. Descartes Essay, Research Paper
Compare the arguments for the distinctness of body and soul [or psyche ] in Plato s Phaedo with Descartes arguments for the distinctness of body and mind [in the Meditations and elsewhere]
After reading Plato s Phaedo, we can see that there are many differences between the body and soul. Plato outlines these in some of the arguments given by Socrates. The first time the differences are brought to our attention, is when Plato talks about how a true philosopher would welcome death instead of being afraid of it. His reasoning for this is that a true philosopher who applies himself in the right way will not be concerned with worldly, material matters and would rather use his soul to understand and reflect. He tries to disconnect himself from his body in order to be free from bodily distractions. There can be no certainty with bodily sensations; they cannot be trusted to be reliable. The truest perception of the real nature of any given thing can only be discerned by the soul and its own investigations rather than by any bodily perception. Therefore in this way the body is distinct from the soul. It is only with the explorations of the soul itself that man can discover the true nature of a given thing. If he were to use bodily perceptions, he would surely be led astray.
This I believe to be a correct observation, as the body only serves to confuse the soul s interpretation of an event or object. The signals received from the body s sensory organs such as the eyes or the ears can be misunderstood by the soul, bringing about a false understanding of the event or object. When these sensations and perceptions are not relied upon and rather ignored, the soul is able to reflect upon the circumstance of the event or the nature of the object objectively, without any chance of being influenced by the biases that the body brings. It would be very difficult to attain such a state of independence in order to unearth the truth though.
The Cycle of Opposites argument also shows another main difference between the body and soul. This argument is based on the cyclical interchange by means of which every quality comes into being from its own opposite e.g. hot comes from cold and cold from hot: that is, hot things are just cold things that have heated up and cold things are just hot things that have cooled down. By the same analogy, death must come from life and life must come from death. People who are dead are just people who were alive but then experienced the transition to the state of death, and people who are alive were among those who were dead but then experienced the transition to the state of birth. This suggests that souls are brought back and forth from the dead to living and vice versa and therefore we can infer that our souls continue to exist after the death of our bodies and that our souls existed before the birth of our bodies. This again gives us a difference between the body and soul. The soul, according to Plato, exists before our birth and after our death and continually exists whereas our bodies are born and die and do not continue to exist. This is examined further in his later arguments.
This is a little harder to agree with, as there is no irrefutable evidence to prove that the soul can come back after the death of the body. I understand the argument that Plato has put forward and it is very well constructed one but it has little link to widespread religious beliefs.
Plato s Theory of Recollection follows on from the Cycle of Opposites and argues that all human knowledge is recollected from knowledge acquired before birth. It looks at the way in which a human s experience of forms such as Equality and Beauty is only a pale imitation of that which can be experienced by the mind and soul alone. This can be shown by the fact when people are reminded of something but conclude that it is only a poor imitation of that thing, they must have some previous recollection of that thing in its true form. Since we have this knowledge of supra-sensible realities that could not possible have been obtained through any bodily experience, it follows that this knowledge must be a form of recollection and that our souls must have had experience of these forms prior to its birth. In that case, the body is distinct from the soul in that the soul is immortal. Plato also reasons that just as a thing that is beautiful is beautiful because it partakes in the Form of Beauty, so the soul is living and must be participating in the Form of Life and therefore it cannot die. The soul is perfectly and certainly imperishable as opposed to the body, which is perishable.
Plato likens the soul to that which is divine, immortal, uniform, self-consistent and invariable but the body is likened to that which is human, mortal and inconsistent. He maintains throughout that the body and soul are two distinct entities, the soul being highly superior to the body in terms of intelligence and divinity.
Descartes also shows in his Meditations, a few ways in which body and mind are distinct. In the First Meditation, he indicates his desire to have only true beliefs. One way to accomplish this, he says, is to doubt everything that he can suspect of error. The main assumption that he brings under suspicion is the reliability of sensory information. He proposes to systematically doubt anything, which he has any reason to doubt. This system consists of articulating several reasons by which sensory information can be brought into question. When he presents the last of the reasons, there are virtually no items in which he can have any confidence. When he takes his doubts further, Descartes initially speculates that God is deceiving him about all of things in which he believes or perceives. He revises his doubt so that he proposes that an evil genius is deceiving him into believing that all external things actually exist. Once he is able to doubt all that is likely to be a deception, he will be able to reflect upon the nature of things with an objective mind. This is similar to the argument of Plato, where he says that only when we separate the body from the soul will be able to fully concentrate on reflecting upon the nature of things.
As aforesaid, this is an argument, which I believe to be true, the things that exist in the world around us may actually not exist, but maybe we are being led to believe by some super power that they do exist. We would have no way of knowing for sure unless we doubt their existence from the beginning.
Descartes opens his Second Meditation by describing the extent of his doubt; he now doubts virtually every item of knowledge that he had previously believed. He believes that if he finds one indubitable truth, he will have found some sort of foundation for his beliefs. The truth that he finds is his existence: I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind . Even an evil genius cannot deceive him in this matter. Once he has found his indubitable truth, he then attempts to further his knowledge by discovering what type of thing he is. He calls himself a rational animal but finds this unsatisfactory, as it would involve investigating the notion of rationality and animalism, so he recalls a more general view that he had, that he is composed of a body and soul. He cannot refer to himself as a thing with a body as this involves sensory perception. He must then investigate the qualities of the soul, which have he previously thought were nutrition and movement but again this would involve the body, which he doubts. Descartes concluded that the only attribute that he can claim at the moment is thinking. He says a thinking thing is a thing which doubts, understands, affirms, denies, is willing, is unwilling and also imagines and has sensory perception.
He then goes on to reflect upon the mental realm and the material realm. It seems that the material realm, which can be perceived via bodily experience, is easier to understand whereas the mental realm is harder to understand. But to Descartes the mental realm is clearer than the material realm and this he proves by giving the example of wax. Descartes argues that our senses alone cannot inform us of the continuity of the two states of the wax since none of the qualities remains the same. The continuity of wax cannot be established through the faculty of the imagination either, since we could imagine an infinite variety of changes the wax could go through. Descartes concludes that the continuity of the wax is established neither by sight, nor touch, nor imagination, but by an act of the mind alone. He then considers possible criticisms to his conclusion that we understand the physical world through an act of the mind. When we say we see the same wax in two states, it seems to suggest that the continuity of the wax is a function of seeing . But when we look out of the window and see people crossing the road, all that appears to the senses is the clothing. It is an act of judgement by the mind that allows us to conclude that it is people who are crossing the road and therefore, mental events are still prior to sensations. Therefore, although his judgement may still contain errors, this presupposes that he exists.
Descartes maintains that the fact that he can think, proves that he exists but how can he prove that the thought which are in his mind have not been put there by this evil genius? If the evil genius is prepared to go to such lengths as to deceive him about everything that he senses in the world, how can he be so sure that the evil genius has not deceived him about his thoughts? But then maybe it follows that if he did not exist, then why would the evil genius be deceiving him in the first place? The genius cannot deceive something that does not exist.
Descartes arguments therefore, serve to prove that the only thing that we can rely on is the fact that he has a soul and that he uses this soul to think. The body and its perceptions are something that cannot be relied upon. As Plato said, they only confuse the mind when the two are used in conjunction with each other. This is the nature of the distinction between the body and soul, the fact that we can be sure of one and entirely uncertain of the other. Also one is immortal and existed before our birth and exists after our death whereas the other is wholly mortal, has been born and will certainly perish. It would then follow that the soul can exist without the body, as it certainly does, yet the body cannot function without and is completely dependant upon the soul.