'The body/soul distinction is a myth derived from philosophers such as Plato.' Discuss.

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Gemma Dale        Theology Coursework        5/5/2007

Q. ‘The body/soul distinction is a myth derived from philosophers such as Plato.’ Discuss.

        To understand the distinction that many philosophers make between body and soul, it is foremost important to define what exactly they both are. Both segments of the being can be seen to exhibit specific characteristics that make them identifiable as what we call ‘body’ and ‘soul’. The majority of the world population would define ‘body’ as the physical portion of our being. This is the outer characteristic that people tend to recognise us by. It can be defined as ‘matter’, as it is spatial and temporal; it occupies a position in both space and time. ‘Soul’, on the other hand, can be determined as our internal characteristics. Personal awareness and consciousness are attributed to the mind, as it is ‘qualia’, or felt experiences. The mind has no physical form and is not spatial or temporal. John Puddlefoot described qualia as ‘properties of the inside-out world that cannot be seen from-outside-looking-in’. It describes qualitative experiences as opposed to quantitative ones. This could include everyday experiences such as walking down the road or eating an apple.

        Some philosophers manage the mind and soul problem by using a dualist approach. This theory sees the mind and body as two entities that are somehow interrelated. This notion can be most clearly seen in the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle. In Platonic thought, the body is finite and corrupt. Most Greeks held the body in contempt and saw it as a prison for the immortal soul.

“…So long as we keep to the body and our soul is contaminated with this imperfection, there is no chance of our ever attaining satisfactorily to our object, which we assert to be Truth… the body provides us with innumerable distractions in the pursuit of our necessary substance…”

-Socrates from ‘The Phaedo’

Plato saw that, upon death, the soul would be released from the body and would be free of corruption and thus spend eternity in the ‘Realm of Ideas’, contemplating the good and true. Plato most clearly illustrated this in his analogy of a chariot rider.

        Aristotle’s ideas concerning the soul do differ from Plato’s ideas. Aristotle was not considered to be entirely dualist, unlike Plato. Aristotle believed that ‘soul’ was essentially the ‘form’ of the body. It moulds the body and gives it form or shape. Although he did acknowledge that there were fundamentally two entities present – they were not separate. He claimed that body and soul could not exist independently of each other; when the body dies, the soul also ceases to exist. This view can be seen to be quite materialistic, however, I will deal with this idea later. Aristotle saw three distinct types of soul that could be seen. The first was the ‘Vegetative Soul’, the type of soul found in plants, with no rational thought or instinct. Instinct is found within the ‘Animalistic Soul’ – the type of soul usually seen in animals. The highest form of soul is the ‘Rational Soul’, which contains the same characteristics as the other two, but the added ability to form rational thoughts and contemplate the world. Because different levels of soul exist, the creature containing each type of soul will be guided by it. Their body and form will be guided by the soul. This is why the soul is often described as the ‘form’ of the body.

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        Quite apart from the Ancient philosophers, the French philosopher Rene Descartes had his own ideas concerning dualism. Descartes saw that everything that is not physical is part of the mind, this included sensations that he could not describe or locate. Descartes doubted that everything physical existed – he could question the existence of his body. However, one thing Descartes could not doubt the existence of was his mind, this led to the formation of his most famous saying, ‘I think, therefore I am’. Through this, he proposed that the mind could exist independently of matter. Thus, Descartes theory becomes unquestionably ...

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