Life After Death - Plato, Descartes & Aristotle Views

Not the full topic, just the views of these philosophers on the distinction between body & soul & after life.



Mind determines personality, body outer shell of real self

Body contingent, mind associate with higher realities of truth, goodness & justice is immortal

If life spent in contemplation of higher realties, soul enters eternity after death = immortality of soul

PLATO = dualist = soul belongs to level of reality higher than body - Form prior to particular & more real

Soul grasps realm of Forms by recollection (remembering what once knew when resided in world of forms)

Material world gives partial truth + misleading, lead by sense experiences

Soul immaterial, capable of knowing eternal truth

Soul = simple / without parts but has different aspects 

3 parts: reason, spirit & mercenary 

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Argument from Cycle of Opposites - Plato

  1. Argument put forward in Phaedo to show soul exists, & there is an after life.
  2. Everything in nature exists in states of opposites 
  3. Life and death must be generated from one another as e.g. hot & cold, light & darkness
  4. Dead must come from living & living from dead. 
  5. If living come from dead, Plato argues souls must continue to exist in another world, if did not, then could not contunue to exist = living could not come into existence from dead = cycle of opp. demonstrates must 
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Problems with Arg. 1

  • What is alive or dead?

Not soul, because it is immortal, just embodies and disembodies

not body because how can dead bodies come to life? - will go against Plato's thinking of body as contingent & perishable.

Arg. suggests coming alive again after being dead involves eternal soul - which means must be encased again in a body & not free to contemplate forms of all eternity 

= no freedom from cycle possible? 

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Argument from Recollection - Plato

We have an understanding of such a thing as absolute equality or goodness

Understanding cannot have come from experience of world b/c never experiences

See examples and compare to our internal conception of absolute equality. 

Knowledge must be prior, before birth. = Learning recollection of knowledge known but forgotten @ birth.

Soul has to pre-exist in order to gain knowledge.

If soul pre-exists body, taking into account arg. from opp, soul must also continue to exist after death 

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Problems with Arg. 2

Argument from recollection demonstrates only that soul pre-exists birth, not that it contunues into exist after death

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Problems with Plato's view of the soul

Peter Geach questions coherence of argument by asking what it means for disembodied soul to 'see' Forms, quality attributed to body & senses.

Learning = recollection --> how do we know?

Theory relies on World of Form, which is already flawed:

Lack of evidence, what about Forms of bad things? 

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Dualism of Descartes

Mind = feelings & sensations that can be descrobed but not located physically.

"I think, therefore I am" - distinction between world of matter known to senses & world of thought, known to oneself directly. 

2 realms = distinct, but interacting 

Mental reality not empirical, t/f not in world of space. 

Mind = not located in body, not same as brain

Ground thought in himself alone & in God-given reason; reason gives genuine certainty & knowledge ought to be gained from this. 

Cogito Argument establishes self as starting point of knowledge

From self we arrive at God, & from God we arrive at full knowledge of mind & body

Mind is:

Noncorporeal (Mind & Body different)

Every substance has a property, mind-substance's property is consciousness & property of bodily substance is length, breadth or depth. 

Mind-substance's whole essence is to think & takes up no space, body material's essence is to take space.

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Res Cogitans & Res Extensa


Things whose complete nature consists in thinking

Human minds identitifed uniquely by their thinking esences. 

Ability to think & reason intellectually is what we require to recognise that we exist


Matter is all of a kind, matter is all the same - all has extension (size, shape etc) not other essence of qualities.

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'Mind-body problem' - if separate, how do they interact?

Descartes = body could affect one's state of consciousness & vice versa.

E.g. increased heart rate when excited or frightened = emotion gives rise to physical change 

= Interactionism 

Achieved through pineal gland (discredited)

Essential understanding: mental reality not empirical, t/f not in world of space

Mind not located in body - not the same as brain 

Cartesian different from Greek dualism:

- Forms of Plato out there in world (idea in other words)

- Ideas for Descartes not out there, contents of mind.

Plato = soul originated in & belongs to world of Forms.

Descartes = ideas are in the mind 

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Views on After Life - Descartes


  1. I can conceive losing parts or all of my body & continuing to exist
  2. I cannot conceive losing my thoughts & mind & continuing to exist
  3. Therefore I must be a thinking thing separable from my physical being
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Views on After Life - Aristotle

Aristotle = 


Soul is to the body what the form is to the matter = inseparable

Cannot isolate 'material' from 'rationale' as Plato insists

Implies no afterlife 

Soul gives shape to matter which is body

Soul is the principle of life or activity of body 

E.g. car - form of car is both shape & activity = driving, for Descartes.

Person regarded as whole - what it is made of and what it is functioned to do (think)

So both parts together make up a 'whole', 'holistic idea' of a person -> inseparable

Although sounds materialistic, Aristotle thinks they are different, but not really sure what soul is like 

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Types of Soul - Aristotle

Plants = vegetative sort of soul, powers of nutrition, growth & reproduction

Animals = all above & perception (seeing world through different senses) & desire

Humans = all above & power of reason - develop intellect & ethical character

So generally claims no life after death because body & soul inseparable t/f both die together

BUT, in writings there is some indication that suggests that contemplations of the Prime Mover, tho is 'thought of thought' might be closest we can get to state of rest, only fully enjoyed by Prime Mover = heaven? 

Suggets impersonal life after death, without recognisable identity

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