Workshop in Ancient Philosophy (Thursday - Week 2, MT19)

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy

"One problem with Plato's dualism was that, though he speaks of the soul as imprisoned in the body, there is no clear account of what binds a particular soul to a particular body. Their difference in nature makes the union a mystery.” So concludes the brief discussion of Platonic dualism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on dualism. Is this complaint fair? In this talk, I argue that it is not. In fact, Plato offers, throughout his corpus, a sophisticated and complex account of what unifies body and soul. I begin my talk by proposing that we distinguish two challenges to Plato’s account of soul-body unity. According to the pairing problem, famously developed by Kim in the twentieth century, dualists, such as Plato, cannot explain why a given soul belongs to a given body and no other. According to the problem of unity, developed by Plato’s successors in the late antique through the early modern periods, Plato cannot give an account of why, once paired, a soul and a body constitute a unity. In the first part of my talk, I argue that Plato can account for soul-body pairing along two interrelated dimensions: in terms of the soul’s location within the body and in terms of its causal power over the body. In the second part of my talk, I argue that Plato would reject the problem of unity as ignoring the possibility that soul and body can remain distinct substances, yet still constitute one, composite, entity, the organism. The organism counts as a unity in virtue of the fact that body and soul are functionally suited to one another. In the final part of my talk, I propose that Plato in fact operates with two conceptions of unity—binary and scalar. Whereas binary unity is due to the soul’s being located within the body and having causal power over it, scalar unity is due to the soul’s self-identification as part of a corporeal substance and its causal interaction with the body.

If you would like to join the speaker for dinner after the seminar, please email the chair by Tuesday before the workshop.

Workshop in Ancient Philosophy Convenors: Ursula Coope, Simon Shogry and Luca Castagnoli