Platonic Formulations

Plato is the father of foundational impressions of the soul up to this very day. Plato’s mouthpiece, Socrates, insisted that not only is the soul immortal, but also that it contemplates truths after its separation from the body at the moment of death. Soon afterwards, for the whole of the West “the soul was identified with our consciousness when it thinks and acts with our reason and with the source of our thinking activity and our ethical activity. In short, for Socrates the soul is the conscious self, it is intellectual and moral personhood.” (Giovanni Reale, A History of Ancient Philosophy: From the Origins to Socrates, pg. 202.)

Plato systematized these Socratic notions into the very fiber of his philosophy wherein he [form]alized that eternal ideas were the fabric of supersensible dimensions that stood in transcendent array to physicality and all sensate phenomenalizations. What mattered to him were “eternal realities” that represented what was the essential element of all the composed: as above, so below. Nous is a key element in his philosophy, more commonly known as the energy of the soul. Here Psyche is the life-force that animates. This is also considered to be the active dynamis, or inner-power that animates the whole organism. A representative work of all this is his Phaedo:

In the Phaedo, Plato presents a reconstruction of the last days of his beloved master Socrates. Condemned to death by the Athenian tribunal, Socrates spends his final days in prison with his close friends, discussing the nature of death, the soul and wisdom. Here he declares that the soul and the body are two separate and separable things, that the soul survives bodily death, and moreover that the soul is immortal. Here he asserts that the core property of the soul is intellect (nous), and the body is a tomb or prison. (Paul S. MacDonald, History of the Concept of Mind Vol One, pg. 43)

Socrates insisted that his trial had not come about by accident; in fact, his ‘inner voice’ (daimon) had not counseled him against the event, since it was quite clear that his time to die had come. This “inner-voice” parallels “The Primordials” which we make reference to throughout these blogs.

The correct view of philosophy is to conduct one’s life as a preparation for dying and death, Socrates tells his distraught friends, and thus there is no reason for the lover of wisdom to fear death (64a). A proper understanding of the nature of soul will lead to a better grasp of what death means. If you think that the soul is like smoke or vapor dissipated on the wind when the body dies, then you would have a childish fear of death. But if you come to understand that the soul is incorporeal, intellectual and immortal then death is seen as a release (or return) to its original, pure state. Death, he says, is ‘the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition by itself of the soul when released from the body’. (ibid, pg. 44)

Socrates made use of various stories that highlighted his philosophy. One such story incorporates the Doctrine of Recollection, or anamnesis:

There is an old story that the souls of the dead exist in another world, Socrates continues, that they return again to this world, and come into being from the dead. The argument that follows attempts to show that everything comes to be from its opposite, the living from the dead, the dead from the living; that a living being has soul, and that the dead are without life but not without soul. Socrates imports the doctrine of recollection (anamnesis) from the Meno to show that truths of reason, grasped by the intellect alone (nous) could only be achieved if the person’s soul had once been in contact with the Forms, before its birth (that is, entrapment or imprisonment) in the body, whose sense organs provide diminished images of these forms: ‘Our souls had a previous existence, Simmias, before they took on this human shape. They were independent of our bodies and they possessed intelligence’ (ibid, pg.45)

It’s interesting how this old Doctrine of Anamnesis is utilized to this day, in particular during the Catholic Mass—i.e., recollecting Christ’s death and resurrection. In our own Lankavatarian foundations we utilize anamnesis in the Recollective Resolve as the state of Eternal Vigilance wherein the awakened Mind continually recollects the Source of its Self-nature while not moving an inch within the realm of created time, thus holding at bay the ramifications of samsara.  To sum-up:

Plato’s conception of the soul is the crown of his philosophy of knowledge, and it could not have taken such definite shape without his theory of ideas. If we understand him correctly, this is what he tells us himself in his Phaedo, where he declares that the belief in the immortality of the soul stands or falls with this theory. The more he came to visualize the ideas as the only true being beyond the world of sense-perception, which Heraclitus had in mind when he said that everything is in perpetual flux, the more Plato was led to believe that the knowledge of the ideas, which springs from the soul itself and not from our senses, exists in the soul because it remembers what it once knew in a former life. This way of thinking was suggested to him not by Socrates but by the old Orphic myth about the origin and migration of the soul through several lives, and he expressly mentions the old formulations, which for him takes on a new meaning. (Michael L. Morgan, article “Plato and Greek Religion” in the Cambridge Companion to Plato, pgs. 143-144)

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