The Sacred Journey: Searching for your Soul Mate – An Allegory of Truths

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Nor is such confidence unreasonable. These flaws vary greatly in kind and gravity: Socrates shows that enumerations of examples are not sufficient to capture the nature of the thing in question.


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Definitions that consist in the replacement of a given concept with a synonym are open to the same objections as the original definition. Definitions may be hopelessly vague or miss the mark entirely, which is to say that they may be either too wide, and include unwanted characteristics or subsets, or too narrow, and exclude essential characteristics.

Moreover, definitions may be incomplete because the object in question does not constitute a unitary phenomenon. Given that the focus in the early dialogues is almost entirely on the exposure of flaws and inconsistencies, one cannot help wondering whether Plato himself knew the answers to his queries, and had some cards up his sleeve that he chose not to play for the time being. This would presuppose that Plato had not only a clear notion of the nature of the different virtues, but also a positive conception of the good life as such. Since Plato was neither a moral nihilist nor a sceptic, he cannot have regarded moral perplexity aporia as the ultimate end, nor regarded continued mutual examination, Socratico more , as a way of life for everyone.

Perplexity, as is argued in the Meno , is just a wholesome intermediary stage on the way to knowledge Me.

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But if Plato assumes that the convictions that survive Socratic questioning will eventually coalesce into an account of the good life, then he keeps this expectation to himself. There is no guarantee that only false convictions are discarded in a Socratic investigation, while true ones are retained. For, promising suggestions are often as mercilessly discarded as their less promising brethren. It is therefore a matter of conjecture whether Plato himself held any positive views while he composed one aporetic dialogue after the other.

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He may have regarded his investigations as experimental stages, or have seen each dialogue as an element in a network of approaches that he hoped to eventually integrate. The evidence that Plato already wanted his readers to draw this very conclusion in his early dialogues is somewhat contradictory, however. Plato famously pleads for the unity of the virtues in the Protagoras , and seems intent to reduce them all to knowledge. This intellectualizing tendency, however, does not tell us what kind of master-science would fulfill all of the requirements for defining virtues, and what its content should be.

Though Plato often compared the virtues with technical skills, such as those of a doctor or a pilot, he may have realized that virtues also involve emotional attitudes, desires, and preferences, but not yet have seen a clear way to coordinate or relate the rational and the affective elements that constitute the virtues. In the Laches , for instance, Socrates partners struggle when they try to define courage, invoking two different elements.

His comrade Nicias, on the other hand, fails when he tries to identify courage exclusively as a certain type of knowledge e—a. The investigation of moderation in the Charmides , likewise, points up that there are two disparate elements commonly associated with that virtue — namely, a certain calmness of temper on the one hand Chrm. It is clear that a complex account would be needed to combine these two disparate factors. In his earlier dialogues, Plato may or may not already be envisaging the kind of solution that he is going to present in the Republic to the problem of the relationship between the various virtues, with wisdom, the only intellectual virtue, as their basis.

Courage, moderation, and justice presuppose a certain steadfastness of character as well as a harmony of purpose among the disparate parts of the soul, but their goodness depends entirely on the intellectual part of the soul, just as the virtue of the citizens in the just state depends on the wisdom of the philosopher kings R. Nicias is forced to admit that such knowledge presupposes the knowledge of good and bad tout court La.

But pointing out what is wrong and missing in particular arguments is a far cry from a philosophical conception of the good and the bad in human life.

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But the evidence that Plato already had a definitive conception of the good life in mind when he wrote his earlier dialogues remains, at most, indirect. First and foremost, definitions presuppose that there is a definable object; that is to say, that it must have a stable nature. Nothing can be defined whose nature changes all the time.

In addition, the object in question must be a unitary phenomenon, even if its unity may be complex. If definitions are to provide the basis of knowledge, they require some kind of essentialism. This presupposition is indeed made explicit in the Euthyphro , where Plato employs for the first time the terminology that will be characteristic of his full-fledged theory of the Forms. Despite this pregnant terminology, few scholars nowadays hold that the Euthyphro already presupposes transcendent Forms in a realm of their own— models that are incompletely represented by their imitations under material conditions.

No more than piety or holiness in the abstract sense seems to be presupposed in the discussion of the Euthyphro. Given that they are the objects of definition and the models of their ordinary representatives, there is every reason not only to treat them as real, but also to assign to them a state of higher perfection. And once this step has been taken, it is only natural to make certain epistemological adjustments.

For, access to paradigmatic entities is not to be expected through ordinary experience, but presupposes some special kind of intellectual insight. It seems, then, that once Plato had accepted invariant and unitary objects of thought as the objects of definition, he was predestined to follow the path that let him adopt a metaphysics and epistemology of transcendent Forms. It would have meant the renunciation of the claim to unassailable knowledge and truth in favor of belief, conjecture, and, horribile dictu , of human convention. It led him to search for models of morality beyond the limits of everyday experience.

This, in turn, explains the development of his theory of recollection and the postulate of transcendent immaterial objects as the basis of reality and thought that he refers to in the Meno , and that he presents more fully in the Phaedo. We do not know when, precisely, Plato adopted this mode of thought, but it stands to reason that his contact with the Pythagorean school on his first voyage to Southern Italy and Sicily around BC played a major role in this development.

Mathematics as a model-science has several advantages. It deals with unchangeable entities that have unitary definitions. It also makes a plausible claim that the essence of these entities cannot be comprehended in isolation but only in a network of interconnections that have to be worked out at the same time as each particular entity is defined. For instance, to understand what it is to be a triangle, it is necessary — inter alia — to understand the nature of points, lines, planes and their interrelations.

The slave finally manages, with some pushing and pulling by Socrates, and some illustrations drawn in the sand, to double the area of a given square. In the course of this interrogation, the disciple gradually discovers the relations between the different lines, triangles, and squares.

That Plato regards these interconnections as crucial features of knowledge is confirmed later by the distinction that Socrates draws between knowledge and true belief 97b—98b. And that, Meno my friend, is recollection, as we previously agreed. After they are tied down, in the first place, they become knowledge, and then they remain in place. And the Beautiful, and the Good? How does it work? The hypothesis he starts out with seems simpleminded indeed, because it consists of nothing more than the assumption that everything is what it is by participating in the corresponding Form.

But it soon turns out that more is at stake than that simple postulate. First, the hypothesis of each respective Form is to be tested by looking at the compatibility of its consequences. Second, the hypothesis itself is to be secured by higher hypotheses, until some satisfactory starting point is attained. The distinctions that Socrates subsequently introduces in preparation of his last proof of the immortality of the soul seem, however, to provide some information about the procedure in question d—b.

Socrates first introduces the distinction between essential and non-essential attributes. This distinction is then applied to the soul: because it always causes life in whatever it occupies, it must have life as its essential property, which it cannot lose. The viability of this argument, stripped here to its bare bones, need not engage us. The procedure shows, at any rate, that Plato resorts to relations between Forms here.

The essential tie between the soul and life is clearly not open to sense-perception; instead, understanding this tie takes a good deal of reflection on what it means to be, and to have a soul.

To admirers of a two-world metaphysics, it may come as a disappointment that in Plato, recollection should consist in no more than the uncovering of such relationships. Plato does not employ his newly established metaphysical entities as the basis to work out a definitive conception of the human soul and the appropriate way of life in the Phaedo. Rather, he confines himself to warnings against the contamination of the soul by the senses and their pleasures, and quite generally against corruption by worldly values. He gives no advice concerning human conduct beyond the recommendation of a general abstemiousness from worldly temptations.

But as long as this negative or other-worldly attitude towards the physical side of human nature prevails, no interest is to be expected on the part of Plato in nature as a whole — let alone in the principles of the cosmic order but cf. But it is not only Platonic asceticism that stands in the way of such a wider perspective. Socrates himself seems to have been quite indifferent to the study of nature. If Plato later takes a much more positive attitude towards nature in general, this is a considerable change of focus. In the Phaedo , he quite deliberately confines his account of the nature of heaven and earth to the myth about the afterlife d—c.

This is as constructive as Plato gets in his earlier discussions of the principles of ethics. If Plato went through a period of open-ended experimentation, this stage was definitely over when he wrote the Republic , the central work of his middle years. The aporetic controversy about justice in the first book is set off quite sharply against the cooperative discussion that is to follow in the remaining nine books. Of these disputes, the altercation with the sophist Thrasymachus has received a lot of attention, because he defends the provocative thesis that natural justice is the right of the stronger, and that conventional justice is at best high-minded foolishness.