Plato: aesthetics and psychology
- Plato: aesthetics and psychology Christopher Rowe Plato’s ideas about literature and art and about beauty (his ‘aesthetics’) are heavily influenced and in part actually determined by his ideas about the mind or soul (his ‘psychology’).1 It is therefore appropriate to deal with the two subjects in proximity to one another, and the second before the first. THE SOUL Preliminaries Giving an account of any aspect of Platonic philosophy is made especially difficult by two facts about the way in which he wrote: that he did all his writing, not in treatise form, but in the form of dialogues, from which the direct authorial voice is absent (so that it is always in principle an open question how much of what is contained in them he might have wanted to endorse, and how firmly); and that each dialogue —if we discount occasional cross-references—is in principle separate from every other. It is nevertheless reasonable to suppose, especially since there are some ideas which recur repeatedly, that we can gain a fair idea from the Platonic corpus about how and what Plato thought, and that the separateness of individual dialogues does not constitute an absolute bar against using them jointly in an attempt to understand that thought. But it remains a moot point how we are to treat apparent differences between the ideas presented to us in different works: whether perhaps as the response of a flexible mind to issues and problems, which nevertheless leaves untouched an underlying unity of doctrine; or rather as changes of mind, which betray the author’s philosophical development. The issue is particularly important in relation to Plato’s ideas about the psuchē, which appear to exhibit considerable variation between, and even within, individual dialogues, and to fit particularly well—at least in some respects—the hypothesis of a development in his thinking. In general, the developmental or evolutionary view of Plato has become almost standard among his interpreters (especially in the Anglo-Saxon world), partly because of an apparent coincidence between the results of investigations into the chronology of the dialogues and what has been seen as the gradual maturation of their ideas and arguments. A typical overview will describe the Platonic corpus as falling into three parts: early, middle, and late. The early period, on this account, broadly represents that of the ‘Socratic’ dialogues, when Plato was by and large occupied with representing and preserving the intuitions and arguments of his master Socrates; the middle period shows him constructing those positive ideas which we most closely associate with the name ‘Plato’ (‘Forms’, ‘philosopher-kings’, and so on); while in the late period, he moves into a more critical and reflective phase, perhaps rejecting or heavily modifying some of his earlier ideas. The pattern at first sight fits quite neatly and easily in the case of Platonic ‘psychology’. In the Apology, which all are agreed belongs to a time early on in Plato’s writing career, we find Socrates at his trial expressing an agnostic attitude towards the fate of an individual after death: either death is annihilation, or the soul is translated to another place, where it will encounter the wise men of the past (if, as he says, the stories are true). By contrast, in the Phaedo (assigned to the ‘middle’ period), Socrates spends his last hours arguing rationally but committedly for the immortality of the soul. It is in the Phaedo, too, that—on the account in question —we begin to see the formation of a detailed theory about the soul and its nature, which is developed further in the Republic (usually treated as the middle dialogue par excellence) and elsewhere. Finally, in the late dialogues, signs of a retreat have been detected from some aspects of the ‘middle’ theory, and there is a reduction in emphasis on the immortal nature of the soul, even if the idea itself is plainly not abandoned. There are, however, a number of points on which a developmental interpretation of Plato’s treatment of the soul looks vulnerable, or unhelpful. In the Apology, where Socrates is (fictionally) addressing a general audience of Athenian citizens, his description of the ‘other place’ to which the soul may be translated after death is formulated in mainly traditional terms, which may reflect more about what Plato considered appropriate to the dramatic audience than about either his own or Socrates’ views.2 Again, the fact that the Symposium manages to discuss immortality at length without once referring to the soul as immortal cannot reasonably be supposed to indicate that Plato has temporarily given up the idea, which is heavily canvassed in other dialogues apparently written at about the same time. This looks like a clear case of what we may only suspect in the case of the Apology, namely of Plato’s deciding what to include and what to exclude by reference to a dramatic audience—in this case, a tragic playwright and his guests at a dinner-party.3 In the Phaedo, he has Socrates carefully skirt round the question whether the soul has parts, which becomes central in other dialogues but in this context would impede the argument. This does not mean that we must adopt a strictly unitarian approach; what it does mean is that chronological arguments need to be used sparingly, and that there are likely to be other factors at work in determining the content of any particular dialogue. Plato was probably the first Greek thinker to articulate a theory of the soul. Socrates had a concept of it, but not a fully-articulated theory; and the same is true of other pre-Platonic thinkers. Two of the main ideas on which Platonic thinking on the subject is predicated are, first, the traditional notion that the ‘souls’ of the dead are in Hades (so that something of us, however insubstantial, continues in existence), and second, the idea—found for example in the medical writers—of a fundamental contrast between ‘soul’, on the one hand, and body on the other.4 Socrates’ way of conceiving of the soul as the moral self can be seen as building on the second of these ideas, developing it into something like our familiar opposition between the bodily or carnal (as in ‘carnal pleasures’) and the spiritual; Plato combines this with the first, but in a version which owes much to both Pythagoreanism and mystery religion, and—for a selected, philosophical few —reverses the relationship between life and death: for those who have lived philosophically, it is death which is preferable to life, and which allows the true fulfilment of their goals.5 However it is probably as correct to talk of Plato’s appropriation of Pythagorean and other religious ideas as of his being influenced by them. It is reasonably clear that he believes in the immortality of the soul (since he goes on returning to the question of how to prove it), and in the general proposition that the wise and the good6 will enjoy a better existence after death than the ignorant and bad; and beliefs of this general type7 were evidently quite widespread in the Greece of the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC. He also shows more than a passing interest in the distinctively Pythagorean notion of the ‘transmigration’ of the soul, after a suitable interval, from one body to another (whether human or animal). But each of these beliefs seems to be rooted in a deeper one, about the primacy of goodness in the explanation of the world we inhabit, and about the possibility of squaring that with the evident corruptibility of human motivation. Moreover Plato usually himself raises questions about the way his descriptions of ‘Hades’ and of the fate of the human soul are to be taken, by casting them in the form of ‘stories’. As he has Socrates say at the end of one of the most famous eschatological myths, in the Phaedo: to insist that these things are as I say is not fitting for a man of intelligence; but that either this or something like it is true about our souls and their habitations, if indeed the soul is evidently immortal—to risk thinking so, in my view, is fitting. (114d) On such occasions, his use of the language of Pythagoreanism, or of initiatory religion, appears to hover tantalizingly between the literal and the metaphorical. A large part of the problem here is that Plato’s dialogues are no ordinary philosophical works, but—some of them—highly literary pieces, apparently written for a relatively wide reading public (at any rate one wider than his immediate circle or school), and designed above all to persuade the reader of the value of philosophy itself. This they attempt to do by a variety of means, but especially by portraying philosophy in action, and by showing it playing a large role in, or even taking over for itself, normally distinct spheres of activity. Thus the philosopher may be the ideal statesman, orator, poet, even lover; to see the truth is to join the divine feast, or to be initiated into the highest mysteries. And yet at the same time to do philosophy is to be involved in hard, often prosaic, argument. The common thread is a commitment to the importance of rationality: whatever is worth achieving in human life is for Plato achievable by the exercise of reason, and by the assertion of the rational over the irrational. Through this means the authentic Platonic philosopher would simultaneously realize his—or her8—full human potentialities, and begin to resemble the (rational, Platonic) gods. If Plato does indeed genuinely believe in the immortality of the soul, then there is no reason to think of this latter goal as a mere façon de parler. In some sense, the ultimate fate of the soul in a Platonic universe lies beyond its present temporary conjunction with a body. But there are clear signs that for human souls actually to become divine is either in principle or in practice impossible, and that as in Greek poetry and myth, to be godlike is the most that we can attain.9 It is probably this which is part of what the doctrine of transmigration is meant to express. Unlike the gods, we are ultimately bound into the cycle of birth and death10—and yet we share in their rationality. If this is so, then we need to steer a middle course: neither should we assume that Plato takes literally all the many ideas that he develops through his characters in the dialogues (which would be dangerous on any account), nor should we attempt to eliminate altogether what may seem to us the more fantastic and apparently poetic elements among them. (Indeed, for some Neoplatonist and Renaissance interpreters the latter probably take us closer to the core of Platonism.) We must remain aware that Plato’s philosophical writing is a complex matter, and that his motives as a writer may sometimes directly affect the content of that writing, as indeed may his chosen literary form. Thus, for instance, particular dialogues will often follow out a particular line of thought to the exclusion of others, which it is difficult to bring in within the fiction of a particular conversation (the treatment of immortality in the Symposium is one clear example; see above). The Phaedo The exercise of our reason matters for Plato because of what it can do for us. Reason enables us, most importantly, to recognize what is best for us, which is also what we desire; and this is one reason why even the driest discussion can be described in terms of passionate emotion; philosophers are lovers of the truth,11 because truth is the only sure guide for the conduct of life, and a successful life is something that we all want. This kind of passionate attachment to reason is nowhere more evident than in the Phaedo,12 in which Plato represents Socrates in his last hours justifying his optimism in the face of death. He claims that it is in death, if anywhere, that the philosopher will be able to achieve the wisdom he sought but was unable fully to achieve while alive. We cannot ‘see’ the truth in its purity when in our embodied state, because of the confusion created by the body and its desires; death is our—our souls’—final separation from body (if we have ‘trained’ ourselves to have as little traffic with the body as possible); it is therefore ‘reasonable to suppose’ that it is then that all will be revealed to us.13 This informal argument is then followed by four more tightly constructed ones for the underlying assumption that the soul can be relied upon to survive death (and remains intelligent, unlike the witless shades of the Homeric Hades). The supreme importance of wisdom is thus illustrated on both the theoretical and the practical level: Socrates both argues, and shows by his behaviour, that it is something the philosopher desires to the exclusion of everything else. This is a hard and unattractive doctrine (and one that does not recur in quite the same form elsewhere in Plato); it is also somewhat paradoxical, in so far as the wisdom in question seemed originally to be valued—as it is at least in part, even according to the Phaedo14—for the sake of living a good life. On the other hand, if the soul is immortal, then Socrates’ position is intelligible enough (even if no more attractive); a single life in a body will have a vanishingly small importance, except in so far as it affects the quality of the soul’s future existence. In any case, the general point is clear enough: that it is wisdom that counts, or wisdom with the virtue that flows from it. This framing argument of the Phaedo, together with the four arguments for immortality, tells us a good deal about what Plato means, or can mean, by ‘soul’. Does this not turn out to be purification [for the soul]… separating the soul as far as possible from the body, and habituating it to gather and assemble itself together from all quarters of the body, and to dwell so far as possible, both in the present and in the time to come, freed from the body as from fetters? (67c–d) It is certainly a separate entity in itself, and itself invisible and ‘bodiless’ or incorporeal (as is confirmed later in the dialogue: cf. 85e); it is in its proper state, not when it is in the (or a) body, but when it is out of it —if the body is like a pair of leg-irons;15 and it is essentially the rational, thinking element in us. But since what Socrates attempts to demonstrate, in the main part of the dialogue, is evidently personal immortality (the fear of death would hardly be assuaged by a rational assurance that something impersonal, something other than us, will survive), this immortal ‘soul’ must also represent our essential selves. If we put these last few points together, the result is that we are fundamentally rational (and incorporeal) beings, who become distorted or perverted by our association with the body, and are only fully ourselves when we are ‘purified’ of ‘its’16 desires, lusts and fears. Any irrational behaviour we may display is on this account simply a consequence of our enforced union with the body, though its effects will normally outlast our deaths—that is, unless we have ‘purified’ ourselves through philosophy, and ‘practised dying and being dead’ (64a). Something like this view of the soul also emerges elsewhere in the corpus, but in competition with the essentially different view of it as partly rational and partly itself irrational, in the more or less literal sense of having irrational parts (as well as a rational one). As I have suggested, the Phaedo does not commit itself to saying either that the soul does or that it does not have parts;17 and the coexistence of the two views in the Republic—which treats tripartition as (perhaps) a way of describing what the soul is like in consequence of its association of the body—shows that they are not wholly incompatible. But in the final analysis they represent two quite different conceptions of human nature, which in turn reflect Plato’s ambivalence about the value of our life here on earth: one view emphasizing our (potential) kinship to the divine, the other our difference from it. In the context of the Phaedo, the unitary view is clearly more at home. Yet there are clear problems with it, and particularly about its compatibility with the demand for individual immortality. If any two souls were fully ‘purified’, then they would apparently be indistinguishable from each other, since they would both be purely rational and knowing beings, and what they knew —given the Platonic model of knowledge—would actually be the same. (Just so, at the end of Book II of the Republic, the argument seems to lead to the —admittedly unacknowledged—conclusion that there exists a multiplicity of identical, rational gods.) There are difficulties about identifying the individual with his or her soul, on any interpretation of ‘soul’, but these are at their greatest if our ‘souls’ are supposed to be coextensive with our rational faculties. Who would wish to be remembered as their ability to think, and nothing else—not even the content of their thought?)18 But soul also has at least one other role to play in the Phaedo. It is not only our true, rational self; it is also a life-principle, or as Socrates puts it in the last argument for immortality, what ‘brings life’ to the body (105c-d). The idea of soul as an originator of motion, indeed, as the only self-activating source of movement anywhere in the universe, is widespread in Plato. In the Phaedrus (245e), Socrates suggests that ‘what is moved by itself is the ‘essence and definition’ of soul; in the Laws (896a), usually agreed to be Plato’s last work, it is ‘that movement which is capable of moving itself by itself. Now for someone, like Plato, who is apparently happy to think of the universe itself as fundamentally rational, i.e. both as ordered, and as actually a living and thinking being, the idea that the ultimate source of motion should be a rational entity makes a certain sense, on that macrocosmic level; but it makes rather less sense at the microcosmic level of human beings, compounds of soul and body, most of whose activities are necessarily irrational in nature. Functions like ingestion, digestion or excretion may be aspects of a rationally-designed system (or what resembles such a system), but it looks distinctly odd to put them under the control of the faculty of reason, when they are by their nature unthinking. It seems obvious enough that the tripartite model of the soul will work better in this context, as it will in the previous one: if the soul which survives death retains its emotions and its irrational desires, it will have a considerably greater chance of standing in for the original person. In fact, this will turn out to be the case even in the Phaedo for all except the purified, philosophical soul. Whatever we suppose to be the non-mythical equivalent of the fates of non-philosophical souls which Socrates describes (living on the shores of lake Acheron, or being swept along in the appalling rivers of the underworld), there will be little point in punishing them unless they are recognizably the same souls, dominated by irrational impulses, which motivated the unsatisfactory behaviour for which they have been condemned; and indeed the Phaedo openly acknowledges the point, describing the unpurified soul as ‘interspersed with what belongs to the category of the body’, however it may be that something incorporeal can be ‘interspersed’ with anything (81c). To this extent the two models for understanding the soul, unitary and tripartite, will be practically indistinguishable.19 But on either account virtually all individuality must be lost as soon as a soul enters another body. There will certainly be no memory of any previous bodily existence, and so even if it is the same soul-stuff that animates the new body, it might as well be a new soul; no one will recognize Socrates in his new existence, and he (if it is a he) will not even recognize himself.20 What he will have a memory of is of the Platonic Forms, though his memory will remain latent from birth unless and until he is able to ‘recollect’ it.21 This is the Platonic doctrine of anamnēsis, which is brought in as the basis of the second argument for immortality in the Phaedo, and which claims that ‘learning’ in the important cases is really a matter of rediscovering knowledge of things we knew before we were born. We are nowhere told, except in a mythical context,22 exactly when and how we came to know the Forms; we have simply had acquaintance with them in the past, and this is sufficient to guarantee our access, given the right conditions, to a collection of objects which are not themselves objects of direct experience in our bodily lives.23 Once again, we are brought back to the essential unworldiness of the soul in Plato’s thinking. His is an extreme form of dualism: the soul is not just a separate entity from the body, but one that, despite its function as originator of movement and change, seems to belong—by its essential nature—outside the body, and outside the world24 in which that movement and change occur (though it still remains an open question whether any non-divine soul can remain permanently in a discarnate state). Only in the Phaedo is dualism allowed to be challenged, when one of Socrates’ interlocutors brings forward the view that ‘soul’ is merely a kind of epiphenomenon of the mixture of physical constituents in a body (the ‘harmony’ theory of soul). But Socrates gives this rival account short shrift, dismissing it by means of arguments which with a little reformulation it might easily evade. Plato had evidently not seen the true strength of the competition to his own view. The Soul in Other Dialogues One question which is likely to occur to any reader of the Phaedo is why, if the soul’s true place is outside the body, it is ever incarnated in the first place, and especially if everything in the world is for the best. An answer, which emerges from the Phaedrus and the Timaeus, is just that the scheme of things demands living things, and living things require souls to animate them.25 In both dialogues, these souls have three parts: one higher and rational, and two irrational, respectively responsible for the higher and the lower emotions. In the Timaeus, the story of the creation represents the first and immortal pan as being created by the divine craftsman out of the same stuff as the soul of the universe, while the other two are the products of lesser divinities, specifically to meet the requirements of bodily existence (to survive, we shall need, for example, an impulse to assert and defend ourselves, and a desire to take in food and drink).26 In the Phaedrus, the three parts are compared to a charioteer and his two horses, one his natural ally, the other—the lusting, lecherous one—in permanent opposition to him; but unlike normal chariot teams, this one, including the charioteer, is a single whole, ‘grown together’.27 Out of the body, the most fortunate souls will be able to control their horses, and will join the gods, if only temporarily, to feast on reality and truth; in it, they will struggle against the lusts of the second horse to regain their memories of the feast. This opposition between the highest and lowest parts is a fundamental feature of the tripartite model of the soul. It expresses what the Phaedo describes in terms of the opposition between soul and body, the ‘lower’ desires being precisely those which are there treated as belonging to the body itself. Plato’s basic position is in a way bipartite rather than tripartite; that is, in so far as he sees the human soul as a battleground between the rational, on the one hand, and the irrational or ‘bodily’ on the other. The rational part is as it were the ‘eye’ of the soul, which will ‘see’ the truth, on two conditions: first, that it is itself fully developed; and second, that it is not prevented from doing so by the irrational in us.28 This is the view which underlies the Phaedo, and it is also what we find in the Laws. But elsewhere we find the more complex tripartite model, which recognizes that some aspects of the irrational are not only necessary for our survival, but can contribute positively towards the good life. By splitting the irrational element into two parts, one of which is the natural ‘ally’ of reason, while the other tends to disrupt it, Plato is able to make this concession while still maintaining the sense of a basic opposition between rational and irrational. However he also has independent grounds for this move. In Book IV of the Republic, he has Socrates argue at considerable length for the existence of three soul-parts. (In fact, Socrates introduces the term ‘part’ only with considerable hesitation: at first he prefers eidos, ‘kind of thing’, ethos, ‘character-type’, or plain ‘something’, as in, for example, triton ti, ‘a third something’ (435bff.). But the Phaedrus and the Timaeus show no such reluctance, and the Timaeus actually locates the three parts in separate parts of the body.) Socrates has argued that the virtues of wisdom, courage, self-control and justice are attributable to a community or city in virtue of the qualities of, and relationships between, the groups who perform, respectively, the functions of rulers, soldiers, and producers; now he raises the question—since the ultimate aim in the context is to define the virtues (and especially justice) in the individual— whether the individual person has ‘these same kinds of thing in his soul’, so that the results on the larger scale can be carried over on to the smaller. Using the basic principle that ‘the same thing will not be disposed to do or have done to it opposite things in the same respect and in relation to the same thing at the same time’ (436b), he establishes to the satisfaction of his immediate audience, first, that we need to distinguish something in us in virtue of which we experience physical desires, e.g. the desire for drink, from something else which may on occasion cause us to resist a particular object of desire, e.g. this drink now, for a reason (it is contaminated, or poisonous); and second that we must equally separate ‘spirit’29 or the ‘spirited part‘ from both of the other two. This part is naturally or ideally30 the ally of reason, and never sides with the desiring part against reason, although we discover later that it may itself oppose reason. The individual will possess justice and the other virtues when each of these three parts is performing its proper function, in harmony with the others. This means, above all, that both of the two lower parts are properly under the control of reason. If they are, then he will have only the right physical desires, and in the right measure, policed by the ‘spirited’ part;31 if not, then either of the lower parts may dominate and distort the reasoning part and its judgements. This gives Plato a kind of theory of imperfect types, which offers a further explanation of the division of soul into three parts. The person who is dominated by the love of profit, on Plato’s account, is ‘oligarchic’ man (oligarchic states being those run for the material benefit of the rulers); ‘democratic’ man is ruled by different sorts of desire in succession, and none in particular; and ‘tyrannical’ man, the tyrant himself, is controlled by a single, all-consuming master-lust. But there is also the person dominated by the love of honour, and the desire for self-assertion: the one Plato calls the ‘timocratic’ individual, the warrior of the Iliad, or the ambitious politician who is his counterpart in the democratic city-state.32 This picture of human nature as it should be, with reason ruling over unreason, may seem to be disturbed by some aspects of the Pbaedrus, and in particular by Socrates’ apparent readiness, in his central speech, to treat the philosopher as mad (244aff.). The beginning of the process of recollection of the Forms is described in terms of an encounter between lover and beloved: the beauty of a particular individual stirs the memory in the lover of Beauty Itself, and he is driven out of his wits by it, behaving in all the usual ways that lovers do— except that he manages to curb his lusts (in the shape of the black horse). The eventual outcome is a common life of philosophy, in which both older and younger partner recognize the real source of their original passion. Thus, paradoxically, a life of reason has its source in the opposite state, a kind of god-given madness which Socrates compares to that of the seer and prophet, of the religious initiate, and of the divinely inspired poet. But the paradox is clearly deliberate, and in fact the overtly crazy behaviour of the philosophical lover is restricted wholly to the first stage, when he first falls in love, as he supposes with the beloved himself; after that, he recovers himself, and only appears crazed to the outside world, for neglecting ordinary concerns.33 Yet at the same time the context shows that we are supposed to imagine him still in an ‘inspired’ state, still ‘in love’, since his mind remains directed towards, among other objects, the one—Beauty—which originally stirred him to passion. In the Symposium we find what is recognizably a variant of this picture of the philosopher as lover. Having begun by falling in love with a particular beautiful individual, he will be led (by a mysterious guide)34 ultimately to acknowledge the splendour of the Form from which that individual and all other beautiful things derive their beauty, and transfer his allegiance to that. What emerges with particular clarity from the Phaedrus is that it is reason itself which longs for Beauty. What is stirred by the vision and the memory of beauty (and Beauty) is primarily the charioteer himself, though the second horse, from the philosophical point of view unfortunately, also responds in its own way. In fact, Plato consistently treats the reasoning part as having its own desires and its own pleasures. The lower parts of the soul cannot redirect themselves towards higher objects, since they just are those parts of the soul with which we desire respectively food, drink, etc., or honour. A horse cannot become a charioteer, nor can what we might call an instinct, unrefined by thought and reflection (a description which at least fits the ‘appetitive’ part), be turned into a rational wish, though both spirit and appetite may be trained to desire and enjoy those things in their respective spheres which reason determines to be right for them.35 Of course, any time and energy spent on those things which are attractive to the lower elements mean less time and energy for higher things, and vice versa; and this makes it natural for Socrates to use the image of the diversion of a stream, as he does in the Republic, ‘we recognize, I suppose, that if a person’s desires incline vigorously towards one thing, they are by this degree weaker in other directions, like a stream which has been diverted into that other channel’.36 But the desires themselves remain distinct. The desire for, and impulse towards, Beauty and the other Forms, the objects of reason and intellect, must therefore belong to the reasoning part itself. In that case the opposition in Plato between rational and irrational is not a simple one between reason and desire, except in so far as ‘desire’ is identified with the lower or bodily desires. This point coincides with the consistent way in which (as we have seen) philosophy is described in the dialogues, as above all a passionate pursuit. If philosophy is not literally erōs, passionate sexual love, because that must be directed towards people, it is nevertheless like it, and—so Socrates claims, on Plato’s behalf—it provides a degree of fulfilment far greater than what we can expect from ordinary erōs. The way in which the Symposium puts the philosopher’s goal, as a kind of union with the forms, at first sight suggests the sublimation of sexual passion. But if that entails the desire for one thing, sexual union, being satisfied by another, ‘being with’ Beauty, such a scenario is —as I have already argued—incompatible with Platonic tripartition, and it is equally incompatible with any other conception of the soul which is represented in the dialogues (in the Symposium itself Socrates says nothing about what the soul is, or is like, just as he says nothing about its mortality or immortality). In terms of tripartition, the model for the soul adopted by that other dialogue on love, the Phaedrus, the ‘ascent of love’ would rather be a matter of the disguised substitution of the fulfilment of one sort of desire for the fulfilment of another.37 But so remarkable will the experience of the philosopher’s ‘erotic’ initiation be, on Socrates’ account, that he will never miss what he once left behind. The idea of reason as itself desiring and passionate also not only fits, but is demanded by, the sort of view of the soul which we found Plato favouring in the Phaedo, and to which he returns at the end of the Republic, even after having argued at length for tripartition.38 If soul is in its essence rational and unitary, and capable of floating free through the universe, and perhaps especially if it activates and animates bodies, it cannot be pure rationality; thinking about things, even including doing them, by itself moves nothing. That is, without desire a unitary rational soul does not look like a remotely plausible candidate as a selfmover or source of movement for other things; it would, as we might put it, just lack a motive for doing anything. Of course, the more reason appears like a separate agent, the greater the problems for the tripartite model. Similarly also in the case of the other parts: it will not be particularly helpful to analyse the soul, as a spring of action, into three more.39 Perhaps that should encourage us to take seriously Plato’s hint at the end of the Republic, and to suppose that he ultimately prefers a Phaedo-type view. But this is a less than completely satisfactory solution. The prominence of the idea of the tripartite soul, both in the Republic and elsewhere, reflects Plato’s interest in the fact of internal conflict which it purports to explain, and makes it hard either for us or for him to set it aside. A better conclusion might be just that he finds the arguments for the two conceptions of soul equally balanced, and veers between the two as the context demands, just as he does between the different conceptions of humanity which they imply. LITERATURE AND ART Plato returns repeatedly to the subject of literature, particularly poetry, and his treatment of the poets is always hostile. One important passage which is often taken as an exception, and as marking a softening in his attitude, in fact includes some of the main themes of his attacks elsewhere. The passage is the one in the Phaedrus briefly referred to earlier, where Socrates is introducing the idea of erotic madness, and comparing it to other forms of madness. Third among these is ‘possession and madness from the Muses’, which issues in ‘lyric and the rest of poetry’, and ‘by adorning countless achievements of past generations educates those who come after’ (245a). Socrates contrasts this inspired poetry with poetry produced by someone not affected by the Muses’ madness, who ‘has been persuaded that after all skill will make him a good enough poet’; the poems of the mad leave those of the sane nowhere. We should not be misled by the fact that Socrates here claims to be supporting the proposition that ‘the greatest of good things come to us through madness, provided that it comes by the gift of the gods’ (244a). There are clear signs of playfulness in the context as a whole, and the structure of the passage about the poets echoes the central argument of the little dialogue Ion, whose polemical intentions are not in doubt.40 The poets claim to educate people, which implies that they have something to teach: they know something. But in fact—Socrates argues against Ion—those who are any good are out of their minds, and their poetry has its real source not in them, but in the Muses. In Republic X, Socrates reports an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry, on the basis (or so it seems) of what the poets have said about people who claim to be wiser than them (607b-c); in Plato’s hands, philosophy gives as good as it gets. The attack on the wisdom of the poets is carried out nowhere more extensively than in the Republic itself. Large parts of three of its ten books (II–III, and X itself) are written against poetry, arguing for the conclusion that the poets should be expelled from the ideal city as corrupting influences on the citizens, young or old. So the charge is even stronger: not only do they themselves lack wisdom, but so do their products. Now if these are the products of the Muses, then (since on Plato’s view the gods are good and without jealousy or malice) we should expect them to contain the wisdom that the poets, according to the Ion and the Phaedrus, themselves lack. But in fact, it seems, the argument there is an opportunistic one, whose point is just about the poets’ ignorance, and therefore their lack of qualification for a teaching role. ‘If, as you say,41 your poems are inspired,’ Socrates asks, in effect, ‘won’t that mean that they come to you from outside?’ To which they would presumably reply that they mean nothing of the sort, only that their poetry either is or seems to be a joint product of skill and something else which they cannot explain; in other words they would simply reject Socrates’ simplistic assumption that ‘inspiration’ excludes human skill. However there is a serious point behind the strategy of the Ion.42 This is about the way in which poetry works on its audience, and, as it happens, on those who perform it: Ion is a ‘rhapsode’, a professional performer specializing in Homer, who also lectures about him. Socrates uses the image of a chain of iron rings suspended from a magnet. Each successive ring holds the next, and is held by the previous one, not through any contribution of its own, but in virtue of the force emanating from the original source. Similarly (Socrates claims) poet, performer and audience are simply carried away by the poetry of the Muses; it is in each case a passive process, and an irrational one, which none of them can therefore explain. What gives the simile much of its purchase is that Socrates and Ion agree that the experience, for performer and audience alike, depends on the emotions: the rhapsode feels sorrow and fear with and for the Homeric heroes, and is able to make his listeners do the same.43 It is this tendency for poetry to speak to the emotions, or to the irrational part in us, which Plato seems to want to identify as the underlying cause of its faults. The chief evidence for this is in the Republic. Socrates’ criticisms of poetry— along with the other parts of ‘music’, in the Greek sense44—in Books II–III have to do with the capacity which it has for instilling beliefs and forming charactertraits, i.e. those dispositions to behaviour which are referred to under the headings of the virtues and vices. The discussion is about the early education of future philosopher-rulers, and begins with the sorts of stories (muthoi, ‘myths’) which they should be told. The chief purveyors of stories, which are by definition ‘untrue’ or ‘false’ (pseudeis), either because simply fictional or because actually lying, are the poets, beginning with Homer and Hesiod, and many of their productions peddle seriously damaging ‘untruths’, particularly about the nature of the gods: that Kronos castrated his father Ouranos; that Zeus maltreated his father Kronos; that the gods fight and quarrel with one another. Gods must be represented to children as what they are, namely good, causes only of well-being (for our unhappiness, we are ourselves responsible), unchanging, telling only the truth. Only so will our future rulers grow up with the right attitudes towards gods and others who require their respect. Poetic descriptions of Hades constitute another category of untruth: to portray our fate after death as Homer does (and as Plato himself does, in his myths) is ‘neither true…nor beneficial for those who are going to be good fighters’.45 Descriptions of great men, and especially of gods, lamenting for the dead are also to be outlawed, on the grounds that if young people fail to laugh at them as they should, they’ll be more likely to break into tears themselves; excessive laughter is to go too (in Iliad I, Homer has the gods bursting their sides with laughter as the lame Hephaestus bustles about: that won’t do). Truthfulness, self-control, endurance—these are the qualities our poets should, and even occasionally do, encourage. The last parts of Socrates’ treatment of ‘music’ in this context turn out to offer a kind of bridge to his further, and crucial, defence of his position in Book X. The issue is first about how poets should address their audiences: through narrative, where the author speaks as it were for himself, or through mimēsis, which here seems to mean something like ‘imaginative recreation’ (the poet, and then the audience, take on the character being portrayed). The right mode, Socrates suggests, is combination of the two, but with a much greater proportion of straightforward narrative, because the only case where mimēsis will be acceptable is when the character involved is that of a good man, and one behaving as a good man should, failing in a few minor respects.46 Finally, a choice is made about the modes of music which the young should hear, which turn out, unsurprisingly, to be the simpler ones, which contribute either towards the inculcation of warlike traits or towards a disciplined, harmonious, evenness of mind.47 Both of these sections are essentially about the way in which literature (‘music’ in the wide sense) reaches into our souls, which is what will form the main plank of the argument in Book X. The allegation is, and will be, that the effects of poetry are insidious; that the poets, through the use of music and of mimēsis, sneak past our reasoning selves undetected.48 The rulers of a good city will take advantage of this powerful instrument, and turn it to good. But this would involve a major reform of poetry. Existing poetry is powerful and dangerous.49 This explains the space which is devoted to the criticism of literature in the Republic, and specifically the way in which Socrates returns to it in the last part of this mammoth work: it is a subject of vital importance. Book X begins with a direct reference back to Books II–III: ‘we were absolutely correct in the way we proposed to found our city, and I say this not least with the subject of poetry in mind’ (595a). More precisely, Socrates means ‘our complete refusal to allow in all that part of it which is mimetic’. This is somewhat puzzling, since that was not what was proposed (some ‘mimetic’ elements were to be allowed), and it rapidly becomes clear that the target is going to be all existing poets. Thus a little later we find him saying ‘So shall we lay it down that all poets [or “experts in the poetic art”, poiētikoi], beginning from Homer, are mimētai of images of virtue and the other things they write about, and don’t grasp the truth?’50 This sentence, however, suggests a solution to the puzzle: Socrates is now attacking poets in so far as they are involved in ‘imaginative recreation’, but at the same time he is treating them as if that were the whole of poetry. The point that poetry could, ideally, contribute to the good life, or even sometimes actually does contribute to it, is now set aside, in favour of all-out attack. The attack in large takes its start from a negative reassessment of the whole idea of mimēsis: it is not now a neutral process, taking its colour from what is represented (or represented), but is itself something to be suspected and deplored. It is as if the stress had shifted from ‘recreation’ to ‘imaginative’. At any rate, the mimētai, the poets, deal in images (eidōla), by which is clearly meant insubstantial and false images;51 and these images, Socrates suggests, they present to one of the inferior elements in us. That this is the basis of his argument in Book X receives confirmation from the continuation of the opening exchange, referred to above. We were absolutely correct in refusing to allow poetry into the city; ‘and that we mustn’t allow it in seems to me even more evident now that we have divided the soul into its categories’.52 The complex argument that Socrates now mounts has the sole purpose of relating the effects of poetry to the lower part or parts of the soul, and marking them as bad for that reason.53 (The usual view is that there are several different arguments involved; but the signs are that Socrates himself regards it as one long argument including a number of subsidiary ones.) We begin from the question about what mimēsis in general is. To find an answer to the question, Socrates takes the case of the painter, and contrasts his productions with those of the carpenter, and the Forms which (for the sake of the argument at least) are supposed to be in the carpenter’s mind when he makes his bed or his table: the Bed Itself, the Table Itself. These are said to be ‘in nature’, and if anyone made them, it would have to be a god; by comparison with them, there is something counterfeit even about the carpenter’s beds and tables, let alone those that the painter reproduces in his paintings.54 By Greek counting, this puts the painter’s products at third remove from the real thing, and the same will go for all other cases of mimēsis. Because mimētai (now including the poet) are not dealing with reality, or how things really are, they must inevitably relate to how things appear to be. People say that in order to write well, poets must know the truth, but in fact they do not. If they did, they would not be satisfied with recreating mere images (mere surface views of things), but would prefer to try to recreate the real thing: thus if Homer really knew about medicine, he would have been a doctor, and if he knew anything about virtue, he would have been a lawgiver rather than a poet.55 This is the route by which we reach the conclusion about ‘all poets’, that they are ‘mimētai of images of virtue’, without grasping the truth, for if they do in any way represent good men in their poetry, saying and doing ‘virtuous’ things, it cannot be because of their knowledge of virtue itself. But they have the techniques which enable them to convince anyone else who is ignorant56 that they do know something. Then, after another piece of persuasive description57 to establish the poets’ lack of knowledge, we reach the last stage of the argument. If mimēsis operates at third remove from the truth, Socrates asks, to which aspect of the human being does it direct itself? Things may appear to have different shapes and sizes from the ones they really have (so, for example, a stick will appear bent if seen through water); in such cases, reason tells us one thing, which is contradicted by appearances. If we use the principle we used before, in the case of the soul, that the same thing cannot act or be acted upon in opposite ways at the same time, then it follows that the part58 of the soul which thinks things are other than they really are must be different from the one that ‘relies on measure and calculation’ (603a), which is of course the best, reasoning or calculating, part; it must therefore be one of the low-grade59 parts. So any sort of art concerned with mimēsis (so, again, poetry too) will be a low-grade sort of mistress, consorting with the low-grade. There are some problems here: it looks as if we shall need some subrational part which is nevertheless capable of having beliefs (e.g. that ‘this stick is bent’), and neither the ‘spirited‘ nor the appetitive part, from descriptions of them in other contexts, looks particularly well suited for having this capacity. In that case, we shall need an extra ‘part’ of the soul, which is different both from the part that is reasoning or calculating successfully, and from both of the other parts which were argued for in Book IV. In the event, when he comes to the question of which aspect of the mind60 is affected by poetry, Socrates at first avoids identifying it with either of these original two lower parts, and again simply talks about something which is different from what is best, though it does also take on the features of an individual: ‘as for the part which draws us towards recollections of our suffering and towards lamentations, and is insatiable for these —shan’t we say that it is unreasoning, and lazy, and fond of cowardice?’ (604d). Eventually, however, when he passes on to what he calls ‘the greatest charge’ against poetry (that it can corrupt even the best), he comes clean: ‘And in relation to sex, too, and anger, and all those aspects of the soul which have to do with desire and pain and pleasure,61 which we say accompany every action, it’s the case that poetic mimēsis works similar effects [namely, carrying us away, so that we experience violent feelings of the kind that in ordinary life, outside the theatre, we forcibly repress]; for it nourishes these by watering them, when they ought to wither, and sets them in control of us when they themselves ought to be kept under control’ (606d). We might fairly conclude that the problems which we saw affecting the original division of soul into ‘parts’ are back with a vengeance. Even if we allow the general point that poetry appeals to our feelings and emotions, Plato’s own case—in Books II–III, but also as reinforced in the early part of Book X—is that it also instils beliefs; and in the sort of case which would parallel that of the straight stick which looks bent (while another part of us protests, ever more faintly, that it’s straight), those beliefs will apparently have to be attributed to the irrational, unreasoning parts.62 But the Timaeus, for example, located the appetitive part in the belly: can the belly have beliefs? In the Greek context, that is not quite so absurd a suggestion as it might sound to us, for even Aristotle was prepared to take seriously the suggestion that the heart might be the organ of thought (and if Plato places reason in the head, it may be for peculiar reasons).63 But on the whole Plato does not seem to want to locate beliefs in the ‘irrational’ parts; rather he prefers a model according to which our reasoning part is distorted and perverted, ceases to reason clearly, and so begins itself to harbour false notions. That, at any rate, appears to be what is entailed by the idea of the domination of the individual soul by the lower parts—which is precisely the idea which seems to re-emerge in the final stage of the argument (‘sets them in control of us’). In terms of this model, poetry would work on, encourage, and ‘water’ the irrational parts, so that they came to shake the beliefs held by the reasoning part. In other words, it is not a case of contrary beliefs at all,64 except in so far as poetry, in addressing the emotions and encouraging their expression, can be said to teach something (‘that it is appropriate to give oneself over to violent emotions’) which is contrary to what reason itself would teach. Whether that is, philosophically, a good position to adopt is another matter; what is clear is that it is the one Socrates finally reaches. Plato’s most prominent targets are usually, as in the Ion, the ‘tragic’, or ‘serious’, poets,65 with Homer in first place because of his dominant position in Athenian culture. (Socrates speaks—again in Republic X—of the loving respect for him that he has had since his childhood; even the greatest poet of all, and teacher, is not to be exempted.) But comedy gets its share of attention too; and of course, Socrates specifically claimed to be talking in Republic X about all poets, poets of all kinds. Paradoxically, comedy gets a warmer welcome than tragedy in the the imaginary city of Magnesia constructed in the Laws. The tragedians would come in and set up in the agora in competition with the lawgivers (in this imaginary case, the philosophical participants in the conversation), using the fine voices of their actors to say about the same practices and institutions, ‘not the same things as we do, but for the most part actually the opposite’ (Laws 817a-c). They would be allowed in only if they could show that they were saying the right things. Comic playwrights, on the other hand, will be useful, even necessary, to provide the citizens with an insight into the ridiculous. At first sight this allows the possibility of a distancing, an intellectual detachment on the part of the audience from dramatic productions, which Plato rarely acknowledges elsewhere.66 His standard interpretation of audience reaction is exclusively in terms of emotional involvement; and in fact the Laws passage is no exception. The question is about how comedy would give us its insights. We get an answer to this question from the Philebus, in which Plato develops what may be termed a theory of the dramatic emotions. Socrates is involved in establishing the posssibility of pleasures which are mixed with pain, and finds one of his star examples in tragedy: ‘Shall we not find [anger, fear, longing, sorrow, love, envy, spite67 and so on: i.e. the feelings in general] full of inexpressible pleasures?’ So anger is undeniably pleasant, as is wailing and lamenting similarly when audiences watch tragedies, and ‘enjoy weeping’ (Philebus 47e—49a). (It is because we enjoy them, of course, that such experiences have the capacity to draw us in.) With comedies too, Socrates goes on, our state of mind is the same: a combination of pleasure and pain. The feeling that comedy arouses in us is ‘spite’ (phthonos),68 which along with other feelings has been agreed to be a ‘pain of the soul’ (or, as we might put it, a ‘mental pain’: one which does not have its source in the body). What we find comic or absurd is other people suffering misfortune, and especially the misfortune of not knowing their own limitations. They can think they are richer than they are, or better physical specimens than they really are. But the commonest delusion they suffer is about ‘the things of the soul’, especially wisdom. Now those in this last condition, if they are strong and powerful, are not objects of amusement at all, but dangerous and frightening, whether we encounter them in real life or in the theatre; it is only if they are weak and unable to defend themselves that they are amusing. So, Socrates concludes, ‘our argument now indicates to us that in laments, in tragedies and in comedies,69 not only on the stage but in the whole tragedy and comedy of life, pains are mixed in together with pleasures.’70 By this point, it has become obvious that what he is talking about is not actual comedy and comic audiences, but what comedy should be, and what its audience can and should get from it. By learning to laugh at the right things in the theatre, we will laugh at them, and avoid them, in life itself (and for Plato’s Socrates, nothing is more to be avoided than ignorance and the pretence of wisdom). We will learn it through our feelings, by the same sort of process of habituation that the children of Callipolis in the Republic learned how to react to death and loss. But this will entail a new kind of comedy, which actually knows what is truly ridiculous. So also in the Laws: the comic play-wrights will have to change their act as much as the tragedians would have to change theirs. But there is no need for them, as there is for their comic counterparts, because a substitute is available: ‘we are ourselves poets, according to our ability,’ says the Athenian who leads the conversation, ‘of the finest and best tragedy there is; so our whole constitution is established as a mimēsis of the finest and best life, the very thing we for our part say is genuinely a tragedy of the truest kind.’71 No existing poet, then, whether tragic (or ‘serious’) or comic, knows the truth which his medium is potentially able to convey. This is one of the themes of the Symposium, in which Socrates meets, among others, two playwrights: Aristophanes, on the one hand, pre-eminent among writers of comedy, and Agathon, who has just won a victory with his tragedies (the occasion for the dinner-party). By the end of the proceedings, most of the company is asleep, but Socrates is still talking to the two poets, and ‘compelling them to agree that it belongs to the same man to know how to write comedy and tragedy, and that the one who has the expertise to write tragedy will also be able to write comedy’ (Symposium 223c–d). He has to ‘compel’ them to agree (by means of argument, of course) because, by and large, tragedians of the day did not write comedies nor comic writers tragedies,72 and Agathon and Aristophanes were certainly cases in point. What lies behind Socrates’ proposition is that anyone who knows about one member of a pair of opposites or contraries in a given sphere will know about the other. In just this way, he argues against Ion (in the Ion) that if he is an expert on Homer, best of poets, he ought to be equally expert on those who handle the same things in an inferior way; good and bad poetry must be objects of the same knowledge. The implication is that neither Agathon nor Aristophanes really knows his trade, and this has been demonstrated at length in the course of the dialogue, both through the juxtaposition of their speeches with Socrates’ (every person at the feast has to make a contribution on the subject of erōs) and, in Agathon’s case, through the demolition by Socrates of virtually everything he says.73 This represents a striking and paradoxical extension of the argument of the Ion and Republic. Socrates’ claim—and since it seems to be given special emphasis, it is a claim that Plato evidently wants us to take seriously—is not only that poets are ignorant about the sorts of matters about which they pretend to teach, but that they do not even know about poetry. In fact, this second point follows directly from the first: existing poets are ignorant about poetry just because they are ignorant about the things they ought to be teaching. Poetry, for Plato, cannot avoid its teaching role, because it is so powerful; it must therefore get things right (for there is only one way of being right, certainly in the most important matters), and if it does not, then it must be at best bowdlerized and at the worst rooted out and replaced with something more reliable. What that might be is directly indicated by the Athenian in the Laws, when he describes the account that he and his partners in the conversation have given of the constitution of Magnesia as ‘the finest and best tragedy we can write’. The Symposium itself will be a mixture of tragedy and comedy: comedy, because it puts comic figures like Aristophanes and Agathon on the stage,74 and ‘tragic’ to the extent that, through its portrayal of Socrates (both as a character in the dialogue and as the object of Alcibiades’ encomium) it is a ‘mimēsis of the finest and best life’, which the Laws passage declared to be the truest kind of tragedy. The consequence is that Plato himself is the true poet—not that he himself ever claims it, since he was not there to claim anything (he is mentioned only twice, with apparent casualness, in the whole corpus, and never appears as a character). But this in itself raises a familiar question. If poetry is such a bad thing, and he attacks it so regularly, why does he so regularly borrow (or appropriate) its methods? That he does so will be true even without the argument just derived from the Symposium and the Laws, if it is an essential feature of poetry that it appeals to the irrational in us,75 since the dialogues themselves frequently combine reasoned argument with techniques which rely directly on an emotional response from the reader (stories, persuasive descriptions, analogies, and so on).76 The answer is straightforward enough: Plato uses such methods precisely because he recognizes their power, and because he is in business to persuade us. In any case he repeatedly suggests that poetry itself might be useful. It is only because existing poetry embraces ideals and teaches notions which are so different from his own that he must reject it (reluctantly, if he is anything like his Socrates). In particular, it portrays life in all its complexity and plurality, when—as he sees it —it should be describing the single, simple, best life.77 In the Phaedrus, Plato formulates a theory of philosophical writing in terms of ‘rhetoric’, the art of addressing audiences through the spoken and written word. In the ideal Platonic world, rhetoric too— normally the property of politicians and others allegedly more interested in style than in substance—would be reformed and become the ally rather than the opponent of philosophy.78 The ideal writer will be someone who knows about both his subject and the nature of the soul, who is able to ‘discover the form [of discourse] which fits each nature, and so arrange and order his logos [i.e. what he speaks or writes], offering a complex soul complex logoi containing all the modes, and simple logoi to a simple soul’ (Phaedrus 277b–c). The ‘simple’ soul here appears to be the one dominated by reason, while the ‘complex’ or ‘variegated’ (poikilos, ‘many-coloured’) soul for its part recalls the democratic type of individual in Republic VIII, in whom no single element or desire is in firm control; for the latter, Plato acknowledges that a purely rational mode of address will not be sufficient, and will need to be supplemented by other means. Playing on the emotions of one’s audience will cause nothing but trouble in the hands of the ignorant, whether he is an orator or a poet; for the knowledgeable writer and teacher, it is an indispensable tool if he is to address any but those already persuaded of the value of philosophy. A distinction of the sort in the Phaedrus passage, between the simple and the ‘many-coloured’ is central to Plato’s thinking about literature and art in general. The simple, straightforward, and unmixed tends to be identified as good; the varied, and especially what is innovative, as bad. The most extreme statement of such an idea is probably in the Philebus, where Socrates is identifying ‘true’, i.e. pure and unmixed, pleasures. These are related to beautiful colours and shapes; they include ‘most pleasures of smell, and those of hearing’, all those cases where there is no antecedent or concomitant pain. He then explains what he means by a beautiful shape in this context. It is not what ‘the many’ would mean by it, pointing to a living creature or a painting, but rather something straight—so my account goes—and (something) round, and then from these the planes and solids that are produced with lathes and with rulers and squares. For these I say are not beautiful in relation to something, like other things,79 but are always beautiful in themselves, and have their own peculiar pleasures…and colours too which have this characteristic… (Philebus 51c–d) Also included are smooth, clear sounds, which issue in some single pure tune; these too are beautiful ‘in themselves’. This simplicity is what delights the rational mind, the mind of the Platonic mathematician; to it are opposed the intense and numerous pleasures of ‘the many’, the non-philosophical. Behind the whole idea is perhaps the contrast between the uniqueness of truth, in the Platonic view, and the multiple ways available for going wrong (we may think of the image in Republic X, which represents reason as a man, the appetitive part as a many-headed beast). It follows, of course, that innovation must mean deviation; the Laws deplores the decline in standards of literature and music at Athens, caused by too much attention to what the audience demands. But what ignorant people demand is no proper criterion of excellence in art of any kind. Art sinks deep into our souls;80 if we are to live in an ordered society, peopled by ordered souls, art must be controlled by the best element in us.81 NOTES 1 As will become clear, our word ‘mind’ and the Greek word traditionally translated as ‘soul’ (psuchē) are not synonymous. But they are closely related, and what Plato says about psuchai or ‘souls’ will often have equal plausibility if applied to ‘minds’; and both terms are in any case fairly elastic. 2 There is certainly a gulf between the conception of ‘soul’ with which Socrates operates in the ‘early’ dialogues at large and the ‘soul’ which, in the traditional, Homeric picture, flits off into the underworld at death. ‘Soul’, with Socrates, seems generally to refer to human beings in their moral aspect: so, for example, he urges us to ‘care for our souls’ by acquiring knowledge and virtue. A soul or ‘shade’ in the Homeric underworld, by contrast, is merely a mindless, insubstantial image of our physical selves. 3 In a traditional context, the idea of an immortal soul—one which continues to be alive, permanently, despite the intervention of death—has no place (see preceding note); and the exchanges between the characters of the Symposium, for all their intellectual and artistic pretensions, are firmly embedded in such a context: even Socrates frames his decidedly radical ideas in (deceptively) familiar language. 4 ‘Soul’ in this medical context covers the ‘mental’ aspects of the human organism, as opposed to those physical aspects which are more immediately accessible to the doctor’s art. For the evidence from the doctors, see Claus [12.4]; and for another, but somewhat different, philosophical development of this contrast, see Vlastos [6. 47]. 5 In Homer, the existence of the dead is famously unenviable; the Odyssey portrays the once proud Achilles there in the underworld, openly declaring that he would rather be alive and a hired labourer than a king and dead. But there is also an equivalent to the Platonic philosopher’s heaven, in the shape of the Isles of the Blessed; quite what the criteria are for entry is unclear, though Menelaus qualifies by having been the husband of a daughter of Zeus. 6 For Plato, as for Socrates, virtue—or at any rate premium grade virtue— probably always remains conditional on philosophical knowledge. 7 Mystery religions, such as the one associated with Eleusis in Attica, promised not so much immortality as something, and something desirable, for the initiated after death; but immortality, and an immortal soul, certainly played a role in Pythagoreanism, along with other ideas like that of the soul’s transmigration, after the death of the original organism, into another body. 8 Plato’s attitudes towards women are ambivalent: on the one hand, he has a low opinion of women as they actually are, comparing them for their irrationality with slaves and children; on the other, he is prepared to admit that some women have the potential to become philosophers, and there is some scattered, but good, evidence that women attended the Academy. 9 See especially Timaeus 89d–90d. 10 In some places, e.g. in the myth at the end of the Phaedo (114 c; see also 82 b–c), there are hints that exceptional souls may escape altogether. But it would be hard to distinguish between this kind of fate and becoming a god; and in general the dialogues seem to maintain a firm distinction between human and divine. One of the loci classici is at Phaedrus 278d, where Socrates says that to his mind, the title wise’ (sophos) belongs only to gods, and the most to which human beings can aspire is to be called ‘lovers of/seekers for wisdom’, i.e. philosophers (philosophoi). That appears to be contradicted by the Republic, which describes a city where philosophers have attained wisdom, and are thus qualified to rule; but that should probably count as part of the evidence for treating that central dialogue primarily—in its political aspects—as a thought-experiment. 11 Wisdom is ‘what we desire and say we are lovers of (Phaedo 66e), where ‘lover’ is erastēs, the person who experiences erōs or sexual love for someone else. 12 The Phaedo is subtitled ‘On Soul’, which is certainly of fairly late origin, but is a reasonable indication of the main emphasis of the dialogue; at any rate, no other Platonic work has more to say directly about the subject. 13 See especially Phaedo 66b–68b. 14 Thus at 68e–69d wisdom has value because of its role in the production of the (other) virtues; and in the myth at the end of the dialogue, the catalogue of the rewards and punishments of the dead includes philosophers at one end and the worst criminals at the other. 15 The idea of the body as the prison of the soul was evidently in origin Pythagorean; the negative view of life which it implies is certainly not maintained consistently in Plato’s dialogues. For him, the universe we know is not only the best of all possible universes, but also, in so far as it can be described as the work of reason, good (as the Timaeus tells us at length; cf. also Phaedo 98b–99c), and it seems to follow that life within such a universe must have positive value. 16 Although the Phaedo does include talk of the desires etc. ‘of the body’, it is unlikely that we should take this at face value. Without soul to bring life to it, the body is merely inert matter, and unable either to do or to feel anything. 17 The issue arises specifically in relation to the third argument for immortality, the so-called ‘affinity’ argument: see Rowe [12.18] and [12.2], 189. 18 In so far as that content would be memorable, in a Platonic world, it would be true; but in that case it would not distinguish any one excellent soul from another. 19 The chief difference will be that in the one case the soul can evidently lose its irrationality altogether, while in the other it must permanently retain it— if irrationality is part of its essence. Yet a soul which is both out of a body and has been trained to separate itself from ‘bodily influences’ might perhaps be said to have irrational elements only potentially, and then only if it is bound to be reincarnated. It might be partly this that Plato has in mind when in the Timaeus he calls the two lower parts ‘mortal’ (69e). 20 Republic 498d suggests that arguments heard in a previous life might affect a soul in a subsequent one; and evidently, if what was a human soul passes into the body of a donkey, that must have something to do with what that soul had become in its previous occupation of a body (i.e. donkey-like). But neither that soul nor any other will have any evidence to connect it with the earlier human person; it cannot even be inferred that Ned (the donkey) was previously Fred (a man), since donkeys’ souls may presumably also have previously animated donkeys. 21 Elsewhere (Phaedrus 249b–c) it looks as if Plato may envisage a partial recollection of the Forms, which explains the formation of concepts presupposed by the ordinary, everyday use of language; but in the Phaedo what is being talked of is an experience which is evidently restricted to philosophers. 22 Phaedrus 246dff. According to the Meno (86a), the soul is perpetually in a state of having learned the knowledge in question, which seems to imply that there never was a point at which we actually acquired it. 23 In the Meno, the theory of recollection is introduced to resolve the general question about how one can look for something one doesn’t know, or recognize it when one has found it. It is evidently the vividness of the experience in question, together with the way that what we remember allows things to make sense, which is supposed to rule out the possibility of false memory. 24 This expression should not be pressed too hard. The Forms, which are the objects of knowledge for the soul, are apparently ‘outside’ time and space altogether; divine souls (gods), on the other hand, appear to be part of the natural universe (except in the case of the creator god of the Timaeus—but whether we are supposed to believe literally in his existence is unclear), which is where all discarnate souls also seem to be located; on death souls simply move to some less well-known, but nevertheless physical, location. 25 An underlying assumption of the Timaeus is that if the world is as good as it can be, it cannot be any other way than it is, and will include all possible types of creatures. 26 From this perspective, the description of these two parts as ‘mortal’ (see n. 19) looks natural enough, in so far as their presence is a consequence of the soul’s function in relation to the body, and the compound of soul and body is itself mortal. They would be actually mortal if a soul finally and permanently escaped the bodily condition. 27 The word is sumphutos (246a). 28 As Johansen points out to me, on the account in the Phaedo it is perhaps only the presence of the irrational or the ‘bodily’ which prevents the full flowering of the rational soul. But elsewhere, e.g. in the Republic, the removal of (undue) irrational influences is only a necessary, not a sufficient, condition of the acquisition of wisdom; training is required, and even if this is translated into terms of anamnēsis, it is not obviously just a matter of seeing off the irrational parts. 29 This is the traditional, and unsatisfactory, English rendering of the Greek thumos, which is connected primarily with anger and indignation. 30 For Plato, what is natural is not what is normally the case, but rather what should be the case, even if it rarely or never is. 31 Spirit, it seems, can and may listen to reason, like an animal adapted for domestication, and yet speaks the same language as the appetitive part, pitching emotion (especially shame, the reverse side of honour) against emotion. (The appetitive part is summed up in the image of the many-headed beast in Republic IX: even if it has some tame or domesticated heads, it cannot be reliably domesticated as a whole, only restrained and cut back.) Yet reason too has its own desires (see later in this section), and if so, it can apparently control the appetites directly, by opposing its own drives to them. In that case, it is not clear why it needs its alliance with the spirited part, however appropriate the corresponding idea might be on the political level; there reason, in the shape of the philosopher-rulers, will need a police force, for fear of being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the lowest group in society. 32 This analysis, in Books VIII and IX of the Republic, may be compared with the simpler one at the end of the Statesman, where the king or statesman’s chief role is identified as the weaving together of the more aggressive and competitive type of citizen with the quieter and milder. 33 249d-e. It is in this sort of context that the description of Plato as appropriating other forms of discourse (see earlier in this section) seems particularly apt: the philosopher does everything the ordinary lover does (251dff.), but for entirely different reasons, and his experience is far more fulfilling than anything that ordinarily goes under the heading of erōs or sexual love. 34 The description—in the main part of Socrates’ contribution to the banquet, which he puts in the mouth of the imaginary priestess Diotima—is couched in terms of an initiation, and an initiate would no doubt have had an instructor. If we see the ‘ascent of love’ as in part an allegory of a philosophical education, the guide will be the master-dialectician (I owe this suggestion to Robin Hard). 35 The reasoning part, by contrast, seems to be adaptable: it can be corrupted, and be pressed into the service of either of the other two parts (cf. Republic 587a). On the possibility of a different model of the relationship between reason and the irrational, in the Symposium, see especially n. 37 below. 36 Republic 485d; Socrates is here talking of the philosopher, and the way in which his preoccupation with ‘the pleasure of the soul’ will lead him to neglect ‘those through the body’, i.e. those which reach the soul through the senses. 37 It may be objected (and Penner in fact objected) that if Socrates does not introduce the topic of tripartition in the Symposium, we have no particular justification for introducing it ourselves, apart from what we think we can derive from conclusions about the relative chronology of the dialogues (the Symposium is normally classified as ‘middle’, along with the Phaedrus and the Republic). If so, then we might in principle try interpreting the Symposium in terms of the (‘Socratic’) Lysis, which treats of erōs without bringing in irrational desires: there are only beliefs about what is good, together with a generalized desire for what is in fact good. This option is attractive, particularly in so far as the lover’s advance in the Symposium is described in strikingly intellectual terms (there is at any rate little blind passion in evidence in the context). However, since an alternative explanation of this feature is available, namely in terms of the chosen metaphor of initiation, there is ultimately no more justification for importing this model of the Platonic soul than for importing the other one. What the Symposium offers, through the figure of Socrates, is above all a picture of how an individual’s concerns may be redirected from (in Platonic terms) a lower to a higher level—a picture which is short on philosophy but long on persuasion. 38 ‘It is not easy…for what is put together out of many parts, and that not in the finest way, to be eternal’: so Socrates says, having offered another attempt at proof of the immortality of the soul. He then makes his suggestion that the tripartite analysis applies to the soul as it appears in this life, encumbered with a body and its accoutrements as the sea-god Glaucus is with barnacles and seaweed (611bff.). 39 As Crombie points out ([10.36] 1:354), it is a necessary consequence of the argument of Republic IV that the parts are genuinely independent, since otherwise the principle (that the same thing cannot act or be acted upon in opposite ways at the same time) will be broken. But in that case there will be no such thing as a person’s soul (in the singular), or even a person, or self. (In the next section, we shall discover a further problem with Plato’s use of the principle in question.) 40 The clinching point is the low position of the poet in the grading of lives at Phaedrus 248d–e (sixth, after e.g. the earthbound gymnastic trainer and doctor, only just before the craftsman and farmer, then the sophist and the demagogue, and finally the tyrant). Lyric poetry, singled out in 245a, also figured earlier in the dialogue, at 235c, in the shape of the ‘beautiful’ Sappho and the ‘wise’ Anacreon, love-poets whom Socrates identified as possible sources for his own (inspired, poetic: 238c–d) praise of the non-lover. So much for his view of their ‘divine inspiration’. 41 See e.g. Hesiod, Theogony 22–8. 42 The dialogue as a whole falls into three parts: (1) Socrates argues that Ion cannot perform or lecture on Homer through skill or understanding; (2) he must therefore be able to do it by divine gift (i.e. by being inspired or maddened); then (3) when Ion protests that what he has to say about Homer is anything but crazy, Socrates presses him to say what knowledge it is that he has about his subject, and when he cannot identify this knowledge, he has to choose between either saying he is no good at what he does, or that he does it in the way Socrates has suggested, i.e. by virtue of a kind of madness. 43 Ion 535d–e. There is a considerable degree of sleight of hand in Socrates’ handling of Ion at this point. He first asks whether ‘we should call sane a person who, adorned in colourful dress and golden crowns, weeps at sacrifices and festivals, when he hasn’t lost any of these [namely, valuable possessions], or who is afraid when he’s standing among more than twenty thousand people who like him, and no one has stripped him or done him wrong?’ I suppose you must have a point, replies Ion. Socrates’ next move is then to suggest that performers like Ion ‘do the same’ to the majority of their audience—which Ion understands to refer to his ability to move them to emotion, while Socrates takes it as referring to his making them mad. 44 I.e. mousikē, which is broadly that part of human culture which belongs to the Muses, though usually it covers poetry and music, with or without dance, all three of which might be combined in performance (as for example in the theatre). 45 386b-c. Given that Plato himself fails to follow the instructions he puts into Socrates’ mouth, e.g. to ‘throw away all the horrible and frightening names, like Cocytus and Styx’ (deployed to magnificent effect e.g. in the eschatological myth of the Phaedo), there must be more than a suspicion that the second criterion is more important than the first. 46 Or, alternatively, on those few occasions when a bad character happens to be behaving well. The asceticism of Socrates’ approach to literature is mitigated slightly at this point (396d-e), when he is allowed to acknowledge that the listener might adopt an unworthy persona ‘for the sake of amusement’. Occasionally, too, he hints at a feeling for the ‘poetic’ which is separate from the question about poetic ‘truth’: so e.g. at 387b, when he is talking about descriptions of Hades (though the concession ‘not unpoetic’ is immediately taken away by ‘and pleasant for the many, hoi polloi, to listen to’). 47 These are, interestingly, the two sorts of character that reappear at the end of the Statesman (cf. n. 32), but as two sorts of character-types, needing to be reconciled. 48 See especially 401c. 49 In 400cff., Socrates broadens out the argument to make it apply to all craftsmen: they must not make ‘bad character, lack of self-control, meanness or unshapeliness’ part of their productions, whether these are paintings or buildings or anything else; we must look for those craftsman who are ‘able by their natural disposition to track down the nature of the beautiful and the well-formed’ (401a). Growing up among beautiful things will encourage conformity with the true beauty of wisdom. All of this hints at, without fully articulating, a kind of theory of beauty. 50 600e. For the sense in which what the poets recreate are already images, see following paragraph. 51 They must be insubstantial and false because they are based on ignorance; poets go only by superficial appearances, Plato suggests—and by offering images of images (see following paragraph). 52 The word is again eidē, ‘kinds of thing’. 53 It is not that the lower parts are necessarily bad, of course (though the image of the human soul at ;88b might give one cause for doubt at least about the lowest part, which is represented as a many-headed monster with some tame heads). Rather it is that the effect of poetry is so strong that it encourages the development of the irrational in us, which it is our business to keep in check. 54 596e–597b. The Form of bed is somehow the bed (‘what [a] bed is’, which is represented as the real thing: 597d), while the carpenter simply makes a bed, which ‘something of the same sort as’ the Form; the painter only ‘makes’ his bed ‘in a certain way’. 55 Or again (600a), if he knew anything about generalship, he would have fought wars rather than writing about them. (That is, so Socrates implies, he would have been a truly expert general—or doctor, or lawgiver—who ‘looks to’ the relevant Forms, like the carpenter.) This is one of many clear echoes of the Ion in this part of Republic X: what finally induces Ion’s capitulation is his inability to explain why he hasn’t actually been elected a general, if he knew about generalship (from Homer). 56 I.e. the majority of mankind. Plato begins from the assumption that poetry appeals to a mass audience, not just to a few; Greek epic and drama are from his perspective (and, on the evidence, in fact) parts of mass culture. 57 The painter may paint a picture of something useful, like a bridle. Now in this sort of case, it is the person who actually uses the thing who really knows about it; the craftsman who makes it just follows the instructions of the user, and so—as Socrates puts it—has merely ‘belief about what makes a good example of whatever it is in question (we should call it ‘second-hand knowledge’). The painter, for his part, will be able to paint it without having either knowledge or ‘belief. Once again, the painter stands in for all mimētai, and what holds true of him is extended to all the rest; so the poet too, in so far as he is a mimētēs, will have a ‘charming (lack of) relationship to wisdom’, and his only criterion of success will be what appeals to the many. (But we know from earlier parts of the dialogue—see e.g. 590c–d—that the many are controlled by their appetites…) 58 In fact, Socrates works throughout without once using the term ‘part’ (meros or morion). Perhaps he is already looking forward to 611aff., when he will express doubts about whether the soul, in its essential nature, can really possess ‘parts’ at all. But it may also suit his purpose not to identify too precisely the element in the soul to which poetry is supposed to appeal; see following paragraph. 59 This translation of phaulos is borrowed from Waterfield [10.15]. 60 Literally, the Greek says ‘to this very (thing) of the mind (dianoia) with which the mimetic (art) of poetry associates’ (603b-c), where dianoia suggests some kind of rational or intellectual capacity. 61 I.e. as the context shows, the ‘aspects of the soul’ (‘aspects’ is supplied, for the plain neuter plural of adjectives in the Greek) to do with lower desires and pleasures. 62 ‘We said, didn’t we, that it was impossible to think (doxazein) opposite things simultaneously with the same (thing) simultaneously?’ ‘And we were correct to say it.’ ‘Then what in the soul thinks contrary to the (actual) measurements [i.e. the thing as measured by the reasoning part] will not be the same as what thinks in accordance with them’ (602e–603a), 63 Specifically, that reason moves in circles (or can be represented figuratively as doing so, on the model of the motions of the heavens), and that the head is adapted to containing circular movements in virtue of its roughly spherical shape; see Timaeus 34bff., 42eff. 64 Even with the bent stick, it seems unnecessary to insist that the soul at any point both thinks that it is straight and thinks that it is bent; either it is confused (tarachē, 602c), or one belief comes to replace the other. The capacity of the ‘best part’ to see that the stick is straight, if only the ‘appearance‘ were absent, seems to be treated as itself an enduring belief in its straightness. This is intelligible, in so far as the rational part is thought of as our essential selves. 65 These are defined, in Plato, primarily by contrast with the comic poets, who deal in the ridiculous or absurd (see following paragraph). 66 At Republic 396e, the concession that good citizens might sometimes impersonate inferior types ‘for the sake of amusement’ may refer to jesting in ordinary life rather than to the theatre. (For the idea that they must recognize inferior or aberrant behaviour, see Republic 396a.) 67 The term is phthonos, which normally means something like envy, jealousy, or the feeling of someone who begrudges something; later in the Philebus it will be used specifically to mean taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes. 68 See n. 67. 69 ‘And in comedies’ is not in the transmitted text, but seems indispensable to the sense of the argument. 70 Philebus 50b. Quite where the pain comes in is something of a puzzle; why should phthonos be treated as a ‘pain of the soul’, rather than simply a pleasure? 71 Laws 817b. The negative connotations of the term mimēsis which were present in Republic X are clearly absent here. 72 Cf. Republic 394e: ‘the same people, I imagine, cannot even produce good examples of mimēsis in those cases where the genres seem close to one another, such as when they write tragedy and comedy’. Tragedians certainly wrote satyrplays, which have strong comic elements but were evidently still regarded as a distinct form. 73 No such demolition of Aristophanes’ speech takes place, and many readers find his whimsical, moralizing tale so sympathetic that they look for a positive role for it within the argument of the dialogue. Its main point from Plato’s perspective, however, seems to be the way in which it stresses the incompleteness of mere physical union, while being unable to suggest anything to replace it. It is Socrates, of course, who fills the gap. 74 According to the criterion suggested by the Philebus, both are ridiculous or laughable (geloios) in so far as they lay claim to a wisdom which they in fact lack. 75 See earlier discussion of Republic X; cf. also 387b 76 The use of dialogue form is itself another case in point; even where its dramatic possibilities are not developed to any great extent, elements like the perceived relationship between the interlocutors help to shape our attitude to what is being said, and make it more than a matter of the simple assessment of the strength and weakness of the arguments. 77 See Gould [12.6]. 78 The new theory of writing in the Phaedrus cannot of course be developed explicitly in relation to Plato’s own writing, since from the perspective of the fiction itself it is a spoken and not a written context. But that the lessons taught do apply to the dialogues is assured by the generality of the terms in which they are framed. 79 I.e. in this context, relative to some preceding lack or deprivation. 80 Republic 401dff. (with reference to all forms of art, including ‘music’, painting, sculpture, embroidery and so on). 81 I am grateful to Thomas Johansen for his comments on an earlier draft of the first section of this chapter, and to Terry Penner for his, on a second draft of the whole. Both helped to remove some errors and infelicites; neither may be supposed to be completely content with the final version. BIBLIOGRAPHY Editions 12.1 Dover, K.J. Plato, Symposium (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980. Greek text with introduction and commentary. 12.2 Rowe, C.J. Plato, Phaedo (Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics), Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1993. Greek text with introduction and commentary. Studies 12.3 Bremmer, J. The Ancient Greek Concept of the Soul, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1983. 12.4 Claus, D.B. Toward the Soul: An Enquiry into the Meaning of before Plato, New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, 1981. 12.5 Ferrari. G.R.F. ‘Plato and poetry’, in G.A.Kennedy (ed.) The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989:92–148. 12.6 Gould, J. ‘Plato and performance’, in A.Barker and M.Warner (eds) The Language of the Cave (Apeiron 25(4), 1992): 13–26. 12.7 Griswold, C.L., Jr. (ed.) Platonic Writings, Platonic Readings, New York and London, Routledge, 1988. 12.8 Keuls, E.C. Plato and Greek Painting, Leiden, Brill, 1978. 12.9 Klagge, J.C. and Smith, N.D. (eds) Methods of Interpreting Plato and his Dialogues (Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy suppl. vol.), 1992. 12.10 Lovibond, S. ‘Plato’s theory of mind’, in S.Everson (ed.) Companions to Ancient Thought 2: Psychology (see [3.39]): 35–55. 12.11 Moravcsik, J. and Temko, P. (eds) Plato on Beauty, Wisdom, and the Arts, Totowa, NJ, Rowman and Littlefield, 1982. 12.12 Murdoch, I. The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1977. 12.13 Murray, P. ‘Inspiration and mimesis in Plato’, in Barker and Warner (see [12.6]): 27–46. 12.14 Nussbaum [11.11]. 12.15 Penner, T. ‘Socrates on virtue and motivation’, in Lee, Mourelatos and Rorty (see [3.43]): 133–51. 12.16 Price [11.14]. 12.17 Robinson, T.M. Plato’s Psychology, Toronto, Toronto University Press, 1970. 12.18 Rowe, C.J. ‘L’argument par “affinité” dans le Phédon’, Revue Philosophique 181 (1991): 463–77.
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