ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

27. Anthropology. -- In no other part of Plato's writings do we encounter a closer or more misleading mixture of myths and facts than in his anthropology. His teaching on man may be said to centre around a theory of intellectual cognition: self-consciousness and will occupy a very secondary place. And then, finally, his whole ideology is subordinate to, and inspired by, his dialectic of the Ideas.

Since the Ideas are not immanent in the sense-world, the mere consideration of sense phenomena can never give rise to a knowledge of immutable reality. Still, we do in fact possess such knowledge. Whence, then, does it come? Plato answers in this wise: The soul previously enjoyed a term of existence apart from the body, and while in that state it could contemplate the world of Ideas face to face; but it forgot them at the time of its migration or banishment to earth; and now sense-perceptions are required to awaken its memory of them and thus to arouse the soul from its lethargic slumber. Our knowledge, then, is only reminiscence; sense-perception is the occasion of thought, but exerts no real causality in its genesis: here we have the germ of occasionalism. If the soul's knowledge is obscured and clouded, if sensation is needed to arouse it from its lethargy, this is because the body is an obstacle to the free contemplation of the Idea. Here below, the soul is in an unnatural state of duress. It is like the sea-god, Glaucus, impossible to recognize under the grimy accretion of sea-shells and creeping things that adhere to his monster body (Republic x., 611 ). This is why the soul longs to be freed from the burden of its bodily encumbrance.

Though the union of soul and body is considered artificial and extrinsic, Plato is forced to admit the evident mutual intercourse there is between them, and more especially the influence of the merely organic functions on the intellectual and moral life of man. To explain this rather complex interaction Plato has recourse to a division of the soul into two, or even three parts: the intelligent and immortal part, or nous, and the perishable portion. This latter comprises, in turn, the better element, or thumos, embracing all those appetitive and emotional factors that are summed up in the sentiment of personal dignity, and the lower or less noble department of purely organic activities. The intellectual soul has its seat in the brain, the nobler part of the mortal soul in the breast, and its lower element in the abdomen. It is mainly with the first or intelligent soul that Plato's dialogues deal. They aim at establishing its immortality by arguments drawn almost exclusively from metaphysics.

In short, there are in man three souls; and though one of them may conceivably predominate, still their coexistence in one and the same being destroys unity of consciousness and is fatal to personality. And so, Plato's anthropology, like his dialectic and his general physics, leads him in the end to a self-contradictory dualism.

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