Plato: The Soul and The Theory of Forms Term Paper

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The Relationship Between

Plato's Theory of Forms

and the

Immortality of the Soul


In the Phaedo, Plato set out to show many things, including that the Soul is Immortal. Through the aid of the Theory of Forms Plato proved that the soul is immortal.

This paper will show that Plato fell short in determining the fact that the soul is immortal. This will be shown, by analyzing the arguments that Plato used to show this fact. It will become clear that the arguments fall short in proving his theory. This paper will use as its reference the Phaedo, written by Plato. All following references will refer to the Phaedo.

Plato would have us believe that the soul is immortal. Although it would be nice to accept this fact, we must instead look at the arguments presented in order to establish this as fact.

Plato first defines what is called death. In order to determine whether the soul dies, it is necessary to define what death is. Death is defined as "the separation of the body from the soul" (64 c). This definition assumes the existence of a soul. That assumption is valid, as the topic of this paper is to show that the soul is not immortal. If souls did not exist, then they would not be immortal, and the question would be irrelevant.

Before it can be determined whether the soul survives what is called death, it must be determined what the soul is. The soul is defined as that which makes a man living (105 d). Now that the items in the thesis have been defined, we can examine the thesis itself.

Plato uses his theory that learning is recollection to show that the soul pre-exists the body. By showing that true knowledge cannot be learned while the mind has the distortion of bodily senses, Plato concludes that the mind acquired that knowledge prior to sensory perception. If this were to occur, the soul must pre-exist the body (72 e). This seems to be a circular reference though. If learning really is recollection, than the soul would have to have life before it became one with the body. But, if the soul had life before fusion with the body, then learning would be recollection. Each theory uses an assumption that is proven in the other as a premise.

Plato then must prove that the soul survives death. Plato uses the analogy of hot and cold, their forms, and particulars, namely snow and fire (103 d). It is also important to note that an object cannot have two opposite forms shared in its nature. Snow is cold, because it shares in coldness. A fire is hot because it shares in hotness. When fire is brought to snow, the coldness either retreats or is destroyed. Snow is still cold, so coldness was not destroyed. This is then paralleled to the soul and death. A man is alive because it has a soul. Death is the separation of the body and the soul. As death approaches man, the soul either retreats or is destroyed, as the soul cannot share in both life and death. Since coldness retreats, the soul retreats. However, it is this point that I refute. I think the Theory of Forms fails the argument here. Plato loses track of the Form and the particular. Coldness, as an idea is not destroyed when the fire is brought to it, but the snow that exhibits the coldness does. I believe it is this way with the soul and death. When faced with death, the idea of living is not destroyed, but the soul that exhibits life is destroyed. Destruction being defined as the total annihilation of an object, leaving nothing behind. This way what was once a soul, is now nothing, and death does not occupy it, it is simply gone.

Plato uses another argument to show that the soul survives death. Plato says that unchanging, non-composite things are unlikely to be broken up (79 b). The Forms are unchanging, non-composite. Yet the particular items that portray the Forms are composites and vary over time. A beautiful man gets old, and is no longer beautiful, yet The Beautiful is always the same. It is the senses that perceive the beautiful man, but the mind that knows The Beautiful. Plato then divides things into visible and invisible. Things can be visible, seen by the senses, like a beautiful man. Whereas The Beautiful is invisible and can only be known by the mind. Visible things are changing; invisible things remain in the same state always. Plato then places the body into the visible category, as it can be seen, and the soul into the invisible, as it cannot be seen. So since the soul acts like the Forms in this way, the soul is immortal. Again, this is the point in which I disagree. The soul acts like a form in being invisible, but that is all. If this were true, than a blind and deaf man would be able to recognize the forms, as he had no senses to get in the souls way. This, of course, is not true. A blind man still cannot truly know the forms. So the soul is not like the invisible unchanging forms.

Plato also ties in causality and the difference in being and becoming (97 b). This strongly aids the fact that the soul is as mortal as anything else is. As an example, what is the cause of two? Which of the ones become two? Is it the one that is added to one, or the one to which one was added? This is a problem that cannot be answered. A theory is that both ones are being one, and as they come together, they are becoming two. At the moment they change to two, the oneness is destroyed, and together they are being two, because they share in twoness. This is the same with the soul and death. The soul is alive, and will never admit death, as one is one, and will never admit twoness. The soul is being alive, and as death approaches, it becomes dead. The soul is destroyed, and never admits death, as one is destroyed and never admits twoness. The product of this is nothing. As the soul was destroyed, there is nothing to take its place, only the body that is left and remains dead.

Through this reasoning the soul is not immortal, and dies when the body does.

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