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On the Soul:Plato, Aristotle, Augustine Essay

Psyche’ or the soul, is a intricate part of our being which many great thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle and Augustine aim to define and unravel. One should remain attentive to the fact that these great minds come to similar yet altered conclusions of the soul; for it is an intrinsic part of our being, aiding in our discovery and understanding of the world. Plato addresses in his novel, The Phaedo, the notion of soul and body being separate entities. Often, Plato depicts the soul as the cognitive facet of a being, in contrast with the body.

In the final rendition of Socrates death, Plato zeros in on the subject of immortality of the soul, along with the freedom and knowledge the soul obtains through death. It is evident throughout the reading that in order to reach a vast comprehension of the world, the soul must, “abstain from all bodily desires,” (Phaedo, 82c). Thus, self-denial of the material helps develop the purest connection with the immortal. Our soul according to Plato experiences life and death without ending.

Our souls work is to create the best possible understanding of the material and immaterial world until reunited with the divine. Additionally, Plato proclaims that the body is the house for the soul in the human realm. When he says, ”[the] soul uses the body to examine something…when body and soul are together, nature directs the body to be ruled as a slave, the soul to rule as master,”(Phaedo, 79c-80a). Plato credits the soul as being the celestial entity that is to synchronize with the body in order to acquire knowledge of the human world.

When listened to in isolation the body is able to learn from the souls innate knowledge. Socrates claims, “the body and its necessary upkeep presents endless distractions, and if we fall prey to disease, that too, hinders the hunt for what is… if we are ever to have clean knowledge of anything we must get rid of the body and observe the things themselves with the soul itself,” (Phaedo, 66e) In this regard Plato portrays the soul as reason, deciphering the important and the unimportant.

And when the body is in tuned with the soul one can clearly analyze the world. Interestingly, Plato illustrates the body as a hindrance of learning that counter acts the souls purpose. When Socrates says, “So whenever you see a man resenting his imminent death, isn’t it proof enough that he’s no lover of wisdom but a lover of the body? I suppose the same man will love money or honor, or both. ” (Phaedo, 68c)

The body in context hinders human comprehension of the divine for fear of losing the known pleasures it has attained. With that being said, Plato paints the soul as tainted with material and until it is fully rid of the mortal, it cannot completely obtain godly wisdom. Irrefutably, Plato depicts the soul as an entity derived from the divine and when detached from the material the soul will lead the body to the ideal path of life. Plato advises not to fear death, as it is the time when the soul will once again regain the fullest wisdom.

In other words the soul is caretaker of the body, recollecting what it once knew, in search of obtaining the same wisdom it lost through rebirth. In contrast to Plato, Aristotle argues that a natural object must be explained in terms of essence since the human consist of two parts, body and soul. The body is matter, the physical nature of a being. The soul is the form of a being, the essence of what the subject is and will become. Both body and soul according to Aristotle cannot be separated when analyzing the nature of a being.

Nature of an object in to Aristotle is not merely being but also the becoming of ones entirety. To properly perceive ones nature, these fundamental questions of: Material, Formal, Efficient and Final causes must be answered. These standards are used in Aristotle’s rational for what constructs the souls purpose. Passionately devoted to believing that if a soul does not accomplish its ultimate reason for being, it is unnatural. Additionally, nature is the matter of the bodies’ condition for which final possibility of the soul is achieved.

Thus Aristotle would conclude that it is essential the Body and Soul work together to activate natures’ fullest potential, or the singular purpose of being. As Aristotle unveils in his work Physics, in order to understand the nature of a soul one must grasp the ‘why’ of its being. Aristotle states that, “Two sorts of thing are called nature, the form and the matter…neither independently of matter nor in terms of matter only” (194a, 15). Fundamentally, the evaluation of ones nature and understanding its’ being cannot be independent of body or soul, they must be analyzed in entirety.

To decipher form the material cause should be considered, “the our of which a thing comes to be” (194b, 24) or the matter of the subject. Next, one is asked to identify, “the form of the archetype, the definition of essence”(194b, 27), the shape of the subject its formal cause.

Then analyzing the efficient cause or, “the primary source” (194b, 30) in order to identify the origin from which the subject derives. Lastly, the final cause to Aristotle is what defines a being, “the sense of end of that for the sake of which a thing is done” (194b, 33). It is through this evaluation of ones purpose that defines the nature of it, the ultimate reason for existing. A key element to defining the final cause lies in the end stage of life, “where there is an end all the preceding steps are for the sake of that” (199a, 9).

Nature in this context has to be evaluated in wholeness with all actions preceding the end working towards an end. Every step taken must have a purpose to reach the subjects fullest potential and ultimate end, Eudemonia. Aristotle continues to elaborate that, “that nature is a cause, a cause that operates for a purpose”(199b, 32), and to not have a purpose is to not be natural or to be without soul. Quintessentially, Aristotle’s findings make one analyze the body and soul as a single entity.

Through the identification of the subjects matter and form, the answers of its being and becoming will define its nature. It is through close attention to the material, formal, essential and final causes, that give way to the nature of a thing. Therefore, if the final cause of a thing or being is not achieved the subject has not fulfilled its soul purpose. Augustine, a devout man of God, depicts in his own individual manner the way a human comes to an understanding of the relationship between body and soul.

Augustine writes about one night that he and his friends picked the fruit off a pear tree near his vineyard, with no intention of eating the fruit themselves; rather they threw the fruit to the pigs. When Augustine reflects on their act of thievery, he concludes that youths perform evil deeds because they do not understand the nature of beauty or goodness.

These are things one must learn from the word of God, through contrast of good and bad. Hence, the notion of Manichaeism comes to light, where the contrast of good and evil in each soul helps build a deeper understanding the souls components. Augustine acknowledges such when he says, “ So there are two wills in us, because neither by itself is the whole will, and each possesses what the other lacks, we must therefore have two minds of different natures, one good, the other evil” (172-173). It is from this particular conflict that humans experience will or the soul and is tempted to act according to the body.

Furthermore, Augustine believes the ultimate end in which the soul aspires is to be reunited with God and create one will. In the Confessions, he declares, “The life we live on earth has its own attractions ”(48). While on Earth Augustine depicts the conflict of the spirit and nature, “these two wills within me, one old, one new, one the servant to the flesh, the other of the spirit, were in conflict and between them they tore my soul apart…the impulses of nature and the impulses of the spirit are at war with each other,” (pg164).

These pulls on the will are the building blocks to prepare the soul for eternity, the afterlife, “ For all our learning, lie here groveling in this world of flesh and blood! ”(170) as the soul is perfect and one will when joined with God. Overall, the Soul and the Body work as companions to decipher the world and a greater purpose whether that is the ultimate afterlife like both Plato and Augustine, or simply eudemonia to Aristotle. Through questioning of the soul and its purpose these greater thinkers better develop our relation to ourselves and to the unexplainable presence of soul.


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