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Plato’s Socrates and Aristotle on the Soul

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    (384 BC – 322 BC) was a philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great.

    He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. Together with Plato and Socrates (Plato’s teacher), Aristotle is one of the most important founding figures of Western philosophy. (Wikipedia) . Aristotle defined the soul as a physical and spiritual part of the body.

    He believed all beings, vegetable, animal and human, share an appetitive soul responsible for bodily functions such as breathing, reproduction and eating. He believed animals and humans also have a corporeal soul which accounts for the ability to reason, think, experience sensations and remember. Plants do not have the corporeal soul. Only humans possess the highest soul which is the rational soul.

    He did credit certain beasts with a small portion of the rational soul. But only humans had the ability to rationalize, contemplate, use abstract thought, and exercise free will.Aristotle believed the brain was the “refrigerator’ for the blood and the soul resided in the heart. Aristotle believed there were three souls.

    All three souls combine to form the human condition. Unlike Socrates, Aristotle believed in multiple levels of nested souls. Aristotle explains his theories of the soul in the dialogue: Aristotle on the soul. Aristotle believed a living thing’s soul is its capacity to engage in the activities that are characteristic of living things of its natural kind: Self- nourishment, growth, decay, movement and rest, intellect, and perception.

    These are his degrees of soul: Nutritive (Plant life), Sensitive (All animals) and Rational (Humans) These are nested in the sense that anything that has a higher degree of soul also has all of the lower degrees. All living things grow, nourish themselves, and reproduce. Animals not only do that, but move and perceive. Humans do all of the above and reason, as well.

    There are further subdivisions within the various levels of soul. (Cohen, 2004) Socrates Socrates lived from (469-399 B. C. ) He was roughly forty years older than Plato.

    He was accused of corrupting Greek youth. He is called the “Philosopher of virtue. His life was a search for virtue and he died for his beliefs. Socrates believed that the human soul was invisible, immortal, and directs the physical body.

    Socrates argued that the soul is what gives life to a body. Death occurs when the soul ceases to animate the body. Socrates believed the soul was eternal. Ordinary man could not harm the soul; only the owner of the soul could harm or improve his soul with his actions.

    His philosophy is very similar to the beliefs of most Christians today about the soul. Several of Socrates ideas correlate to the Bible. Socrates was obsessed with righteous living like no other philosopher in history. His life was a quest for righteousness.

    Socrates discusses his beliefs on the soul in the dialogue with Phaedo. The Phaedo begins with Cebes questioning Socrates about various issues while he (Socrates) is imprisoned. He questions why Socrates is imprisoned and Socrates responds by explaining that he was led to certain actions in a dream.He goes on to discuss suicide with Cebes and the discussion leads to a definition of the soul.

    He states that the essence of the philosopher is his soul and the soul lives on after the body is dead. Unlike Christians, Socrates believed good deeds led to immediate improvement of one’s soul and immediate reward as well. Many Greeks, like Plato were influenced by Socrates’ ideas. His thoughts persisted in schools of philosophy over the years.

    These have been carried through history and shaped western philosophy into what it is today.The main difference between these two philosophers as evidenced in the Phaedo and Aristotle on the Soul is their difference of ideas on plurality of the soul. Socrates believes in one singular spiritual soul and Aristotle believes in more than one soul which controls the physical as well as the spiritual being. He believes the physical and spiritual are interconnected.

    Socrates draws a clear distinction between body and soul. Both believe in the one all important spiritual being of the human. Aristotle attributes bodily functions to the soul rather than regard it as only a spiritual state as Socrates did.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    How did Plato Aristotle and Socrates understand the soul?
    Pythagoras held that the soul was of divine origin and existed before and after death. Plato and Socrates also accepted the immortality of the soul, while Aristotle considered only part of the soul, the noûs, or intellect, to have that quality. Epicurus believed that both body and soul ended at death.
    What are the 3 parts of soul according to Plato?
    According to Plato, the three parts of the soul are the rational, spirited and appetitive parts. The rational part corresponds to the guardians in that it performs the executive function in a soul just as it does in a city.
    What does Aristotle say about the soul?
    A soul, Aristotle says, is “the actuality of a body that has life,” where life means the capacity for self-sustenance, growth, and reproduction. If one regards a living substance as a composite of matter and form, then the soul is the form of a natural—or, as Aristotle sometimes says, organic—body.
    What does Plato say about the soul?
    Plato said that even after death, the soul exists and is able to think. He believed that as bodies die, the soul is continually reborn (metempsychosis) in subsequent bodies. Plato divided the soul into three parts: the logistikon (reason), the thymoeides (spirit), and the epithymetikon (appetite).

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