Logos and Psyche in Plato's Phaedo

Open Access
Author:
Bailey, Jesse Ian
Graduate Program:
Philosophy
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
September 12, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Dennis Schmidt, Dissertation Advisor
  • Dennis Schmidt, Committee Chair
  • Chris Long, Committee Member
  • Shannon Wimberley Sullivan, Committee Member
  • Mark Munn, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Logos
  • Soul
  • Phaedo
  • Plato
Abstract:
In this dissertation I argue that, according to the Phaedo, the ψυχή should not be understood as a reified, quasi-physical entity which can travel to another τόπος upon separation from the body; that is, the soul should not be understood as what came to be called a “spiritual substance.” Rather, I will show that the Phaedo presents the proper ontology of the soul to be based in an understanding of its characteristic activity. I will argue that this activity is revealed to be the gathering of multiplicities (‘parts’) into the intelligible unities (‘wholes’) which we experience. This gathering occurs in accord with the λόγοι in which the soul has been educated; that is, it is on the basis of our παιδεία that we gather the ‘many’ of bare perceptual experience into the meaningful ‘ones’ of our world. Attention to this characteristic ἔργον constitutes the root of virtue. Attending to this activity will reveal that, initially and for the most part, humans find themselves in a state of internal multiplicity, conflict, and cognitive dissonance. This internal dissent is not to be ultimately explained with reference to ‘parts’ of the soul. I will argue that the Phaedo reveals this internal multiplicity to be far greater than a ‘tri-partite’ theory can explain. Rather, we need to attend to the disharmonious nature of the λόγοι to which we adhere, and through which we gather the world into an intelligible order such that we are called to act. Ethical responsiveness to the world will be shown to be rooted in ontology. That is, it is in light of the way the world appears to us as a meaningful environment that we are called to act and respond ethically. When this world is fractured by internal dissent – that is, specifically, by conflicting opinions within the soul as to what is best – ethical action becomes difficult, and self-mastery is necessary. This self-mastery, however, is only necessary in the absence of internal harmony; when the self has undergone a process of gathering itself to itself – into a unified whole oriented toward the good – the soul as a unity is drawn toward the good, akrasia appears impossible, and the violence of self-mastery becomes unnecessary. The first step in the development of this harmony is a recognition of the essential, defining activity of the ψυχή. Only on this basis is it possible to ‘care for the soul.’ This basic ontology of the ψυχή must first be understood; the centrality of the condition of the soul to the way we experience the world must be recognized. On this basis we can begin to examine the λόγοι through which we gather the world, and our own selves, into intelligible unity; only then can we begin the difficult process of developing a harmony in these λόγοι which can give rise to unified, ethically and rationally directed actions and responsiveness to the world. The initial step in the development of the defining human ἀρετή is turning the soul toward itself. The development of this ontology, self-knowledge, and harmony of the self is the essential defining work of the philosopher; it is only on the basis of this proper ontology of the soul, and subsequent development of self-understanding, that care of the self can be grounded. That is: In order to know the self, it is essential to understand the nature of the ψυχή; to understand the nature of the ψυχή, it is essential to understand its defining activity. The development of excellence (ἀρετή) of the soul is rooted in a proper understanding of this ἔργον.