“Then he will do this most perfectly who approaches the object with thought alone, without associating any sight with his thought, or dragging any sense perception with his reasoning, but who, using pure thought alone, tries to track down each reality pure and by itself, freeing himself as far as possible from eyes and ears, and in a word, from the whole body, because the body confuses the soul and does not allow it to acquire truth and wisdom whenever it is associated with it. Will not that man reach reality?” – Plato, Phaedo (66a).
Last time we finished our analysis of the pre-Socratic concept of ultimate reality settling on the one existing intelligible world governed by logos and pervaded by energy, thought, and opposites. Today we move forward to classical Greece where we learn of a different sort of ultimate reality developed by Socrates and refined by his pupil, Plato, famously known as the Theory of Forms (or Ideas). Chronologically they are first presented in Symposium, argued in Phaedo, expounded in Republic, and defended in Timaeus and Philebus.1
However, before we get ahead of ourselves, it is worth noting that three interlocking principles inform ultimate reality for Plato: “god,” “soul,” and the Forms. Plato’s deity is ill defined in Timaeus, simply designated as the ‘supremely Good’ responsible for bringing order out of chaos. Meanwhile soul is the incorporeal and immortal intelligence attendant to “god” and, in a lesser iteration, inhabiting the human body. For Socrates and Plato, this intelligence within us (or soul) cognizes directly the Forms which can be brought to consciousness by any of us as a ‘remembering’ through the process of contemplative thought. This human intelligence or soul likewise seeks to access virtue via knowledge or wisdom and, as such, is the locus within man which, Socrates teaches, requires particular care.
(continued next post)
1Edwards, Paul (editor), The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. & The Free Press, 1972. Volume 6, page 320.