Life After Death

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Plato - A Dualist View

Plato suggests that the soul is distinct from the body. The soul is immortal whilst the body is mortal. At the end of life the soul is set free from the body. Plato has a very negative view of the body, and in his book (Phaedo) he writes that the soul is 'imprisoned' in the body; he believes the ultimate goal is to reach the world of the forms, which can only be seen indirectly in the physical world.

He argues that the real knowledge of the Forms comes from the soul, and when we learn we are merely remembering the knowledge we had before the soul was incarnated into the body. 

He believes that the body distracts the soul from seeking knowledge of the world of the Forms. 

"The body is the source of endless trouble"

The true philosopher avoids any distractions from the body and concentrates all energy on gaining knowledge of the Forms. 

Plato gives the example of a chariot: He says the soul is like a chariot driver trying to direct the two horses. Both horses pull in different directions, one if the mind and the other is the body. 

Plato's description of the soul

The soul is described in The Republic as 'simple' and 'without parts'. It can't be divided up or split into different sections. However, when he talks about the soul in the body he describes it as 'complex'. There are different aspects of the soul e.g. like a diamond having different aspects or faces, but still being a single diamond. 

Plato identified three important aspects of the soul: 

  • Reason (searches for truth, rules the soul)
  • Spirit (aggressiveness, being honourable, emotion - all aspects that can be trained) 
  • Desire or mercenary (the idea of seeking pleasures for yourself)

Harmony of the soul is a virtue - lack of harmony in the soul means not all aspects are working together, this stops someone gaining knowledge of the forms.

Injustice comes from disharmony in the soul e.g. if parts of the soul do not work in harmony then desire, for example, may over power reason. People that commit crimes are driven by inappropriate desires and lack of reasoning.

Things like the habit of stealing are wrong as they destroy harmony in the soul and prevent one from seeking the truth (the Forms). 

Does the soul exist?

The soul is immortal and exists before incarnation in the body:

The argument from knowledge

  • Learning is a matter of remembering e.g. no one has ever seen the form of 'equal' but we know what it is

The argument from opposites

  • The physical world consists of opposites e.g. light and dark
  • The opposite of living is death
  • If there is such a thing as 'life' then there must be such a thing as 'death' - for death to be a thing rather than nothing then there needs to be a soul 
  • This supports the idea of reincarnation as the opposite of


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