December 18, 2007

Questions concerning or involving soul(s) are as old as philosophy itself. What is a soul? What, if anything, is it capable of? Is it mortal or immortal? Material or immaterial? Such questions (then as now) have garnered a wide variety of responses. Pythagoras, for example, reportedly affirmed the transmigration of souls: “Once [Pythagoras] passed by as a puppy was being beaten, the story goes, and in pity said these words: ‘Stop, don’t beat him, since it is the soul of a man, a friend of mine, which I recognized when I heard it crying.’”[1]The Epicurean philosopher Lucretius understood the soul (along with the rest of reality) to be purely material, comprised of (eternal) atoms.[2]

The notion of the soul (psyche) is absolutely central to Plato’s thought. Though his treatment of the soul in other dialogues, especially the Republic and the Timaeus, is far more thorough, Plato’s Phaedrus contains a fascinating treatment arising in the context of love.[3] It is the purpose of this paper to consider Plato’s account of the soul as seen in Socrates’ speech, lines 244a-250c. Our understanding will be facilitated by references to some relevant portions of Plato’s other dialogues. Read the rest of this entry »