The realm of the reasoning man, according to Plato in his work Phaedo, is extrapolated by Socrates, that is, a man who is within reason also must admit to the fundamental truths regarding life after death (the viewpoint of Plato in this paper will be seen through Socrates as Phaedo was written to express Plato’s viewpoint through Socrates, so, henceforth, whenever Socrates is mentioned it is Plato’s perspective).
That is to say, in Socrates explanation of immortality, there remains the outlook that the body and the soul are not eternally combined; but the soul is grounded in the body through emotions, and feral states of humanity.
When the soul is released from such torpor, it then reclines back into its previous non-corporeal state to either rest, or to transform and reinvent itself in the world. The soul, according to Socrates, is that which is in us that commands and it is the body that serves. The following paper will explore the nature of good and evil as it is expressed through Plato/Socrates and Augustine.
There will be comparing and contrasting points on this issue.
Augustine believes in the essential goodness of humanity; thus, with the incorporation of the soul as mentioned in Plato’s writing, it seems that both philosophers are in agreement thus far about the nature of humanity. There are however varying degrees of good and evil. In either philosopher it is not merely a question of good and evil but of reason in a man.
It is reasong that leads to the choice of good or evil. Augustine believes for a reasonable person, the pursuit of power would be a safe action. However, one who served their own passions would be apt to sin. By maintaining, Augustine suggests, a well managed ideology and conception of moral value, the pursuit of power would be just as viable an option as piety.
Augustine intended to explain the principle source of sin was, in fact, intention. Through his interpretation of the fall of man, Augustine rationalized that the acts committed by Adam and Eve, the eating of the apple, were not the actual sins – but instead, the decision to eat the apple, and the commitment to the act was the point at which the sin occurred. However, with Plato’s writing, there is redemption for humanity. With the idea of redemption being in need, both philosophers are admitting the proneness that humanity has for evil. Plato suggests that the human soul is created out of divine will, and that anything created out of divinity is good.
Thus, while St. Augustine’s intention marks humanity as evil, Plato’s soul marks them as capable of being good. Plato believes that the soul is the image of divinity; in the soul there is found an unceasing existence of transformation. The reasonable man must then accept the dichotomy of the body and soul, as well as accept their harmony he must distance the idea that the body and the soul are one. The body is mortal, and can succumb to dissolution, but according to Plato, the soul is indissoluble. Thus, according to Plato the human body is evil while the soul is good making a dichotomy of good and evil and the capacity for each in each human.
The body commands emotions, and its fate lies within those external circumstances, that is nature, but the soul, in Socrates’ view is above nature. The soul is a higher self. As the introduction to Phaedo states, “The human being alone has the consciousness of truth and justice and love, which is the consciousness of God. And the soul becoming more conscious of these, becomes more conscious of her own immortality” (23). The soul hinges upon the realization that she is immortal. In that consciousness, and in that state of being, there exists God, and all that is immortal and the goodness of humanity.
Therefore, Socrates is trying to define the perimeters of immortality, and the fact that a reasonable man cannot indubitably believe that the body and the soul will perish, but must in fact take credence to the soul existing at a higher level of existence, that is, at the level with God. Socrates is placing a belief system in his dialectic, and in so doing he goes into analyzing the existence of God, or the intangible being that is the divine. In Phaedo Socrates circulates his ideas around the immortality of the soul and the acceptance of this by the reasoning man on the basis of the dimension that God portrays.
By dimension, suffice it to say that God, in divine right, is perfect. It is in that perfection that man may find allusions to his reasoning, and by so doing, reason that since the soul is of God, then man himself is immortal, as Plato wrights, “An evil God, or an indifferent God might have had the power but not the will, to preserve us…But is he is perfect, he must will that all rational beings should partake of that perfection which he himself is” (23). Life after death then is a certainty on a celestial level.
On this argument in Phaedo, Cebes states, “…knowledge is simply recollection, if true also necessarily implies a previous time in which we have learned now what we recollect. But this would be impossible unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man; here then is another proof of the soul’s immortality” (Plato 60). Knowledge is something that is acquired through a previous experience. A reasoning man can deduce that because he is of a reasonable mind he gained knowledge through previous experience. The idea of mutating and changing, and being in a semi-transcendental state while in one’s body is something that is prevalent in Socrates’ philosophy.
Augustine created this same room for a shift in the combining good and evil of the human body and the divine soul. By suggesting that intent was the source of sin, rather than actions themselves, one would be able to absolve himself of sin by believing that he was following a righteous path. Thus Augustine’s philosophy suggests, as Plato suggests that there is redemption for humanity. Both philosophers then meet an agreement point by expressing the truth of the evil nature of humanity. Both philosophers agree that human nature is evil and it is only the soul which is found to be pure and by following that pure pathway of the soul/God, the evil nature, the body or intent, can be expiated.
However, while Augustine admitted to redemption for humanity through following the soul he also stated that, “apparently virtuous acts, like prayer, sacrifice, or the risk of one’s life could in fact stem from vicious, self-regarding motives” (Augustine).
This understanding called into question the root motivations of all people. However, looking at the actions of another, one could not see these motivations, and therefore, could not place judgment on their righteousness or validity. It seems that as Augustine progressed in his philosophy he became more ambiguous as to whether or not humanity could be saved from their own evil intent because of their incapability of selflessness.
Augustine spoke on this as well. There was no rational process by which one could judge the actions of another – other than one’s personal reason. Reason, therefore would become the most important of the human virtues. Augustine felt that reason, in the mind of any man, could not be corrupted by the passions of evil or by the sinful motivations of others.
Thus, the division point for each philosopher became whether or not humanity wanted to be good, as it were. Plato states that the soul is good and that every person has a soul and thus a pathway to goodness and God, while Augustine also admitted to their being a soul he suggests that the human race was too selfish to follow that pathway because their evil intentions overruled their desire to be good.
Augustine. “Confessions”. R.S. Pine-Coffin. Longman. New Impression Edition. 2005.
Hundert, E.J. “Augustine and the Sources of the Divided Self”. Political Theory. 20 No. 1 (1992): 86-123
Plato. Phaedo. <http://olldownload.libertyfund.org/EBooks/Plato_0407.pdf>