The Soul in the Phaedrus and the Republic

The Soul in the Phaedrus
In Socrates’s second speech in the Phaedrus, a dialogue whose theme is of speeches concerning love, he gives an account of the immortality of the soul to the young Phaedrus. Recall, the bucolic setting of the dialogue, outside the city walls of Athens, along a stream in the shade of a tree, where Socrates is “most out of place” and is guided by Phaedrus who believes it is healthier to walk outside the city walls. Socrates claims that trees cannot teach him anything.

Socrates gives a demonstration in consideration of the truth of the immortality of the soul and all it experiences (245c). The soul bears the origin of motion inside itself -it is its own unmoved mover. Every body which is moved by an outside source is soulless, but every body whose motion originates within and moves itself is ensouled. This is justification for the soul’s immortality.

Although a god can best describe the form of something, the best humans can do is conjure an image. There, Socrates likens the soul to “the innate power of a winged team of horses and a charioteer” (246a). For human souls, a charioteer guides a pair of horses, one good and one bad. When perfect, a soul roams among the stars and governs the cosmos, but when she has lost her feathers a soul descends until landing in an earthly body. We cannot reason about immortality, and similarly for the gods, because we cannot see them sufficiently we fashion them as immortal creatures with a body and a soul. A soul grows feathers by virtue and loses feathers by vice. Eventually the virtuous soul, like gods tending its own business (as is just in the city in speech), the soul rises high enough to receive a vision of the forms in the realm of being. Most human souls are unable to reach this Great Plain of Truth. As the soul falls to earth it is implanted in nine successive types beginning with a lover of wisdom and ending with a tyrant. These souls are burdened by forgetfulness and wrongdoing. It takes a soul 10,000 years to return to its original spot. The process of growing wings occurs through recollection. Meanwhile a body imprisons us “like an oyster shell”. Those souls who were in the company of Zeus are able to bear the striving but joyous experience of love with dignity but those in the company of Ares become homicidal and will want to sacrifice themselves and their beloved. Each soul searches for a lover after their accompanying god.

The Soul in the Republic
In the Republic we encounter a “tripartite soul” that is comparable with the caste system of the “city in speech”. There is the reasonable, wisdom-loving, and ruling portion; the spirited, warrior-type portion of the soul; and lastly there is the craftsman and productive portion. According to the argument, Justice occurs when each portion minding their own business and not being a busybody. A perfect harmony of each. There is a corresponding soul to each type of regime (Book IV and Book VIII): Aristocrat/Monarchy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.

In Book X, Socrates delivers the famous “Myth of Er”, which he directly compares to Odysseus’s venture into Hades by contrasting it to Alcinous. The story is of Er of Pamphylia. He died in war but his body did no decompose, and on the twelfth day he returned to consciousness while on the pyre. He came upon four openings in a “daimonic place” and judges sit in the middle to determine if the just may continue upward and the unjust continue downward. Socrates gives a similar account of the soul as in the Phaedrus, an immortal soul that is still able to move upward or downward, depending on actions in life. One lingering question for the Republic: if there are particular natures for each man, and the soul is immortal, how does a man improve his fate? Book VII suggests a compulsory philosophic education is the path toward a better life, a just soul. This requires a teacher. It is incumbent upon the teacher to recognize soul types, and select the best and most worthy.

For this reading I used the Stephen Scully translation of Plato’s Phaedrus and Allan Bloom’s essential translation of Plato’s Republic.

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