Absolute ideas and the Soul Icon

September 27, 2015

There is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and an absolute essence of all things.

If to this, which is now discovered to have existed in our former state, we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them, finding these ideas to be pre-existent and our inborn possession—then our souls must have had a prior existence, but if not, there would be no force in the argument? There is the same proof that these ideas must have existed before we were born, as that our souls existed before we were born; and if not the ideas, then not the souls.

Simmias Yes, Socrates; I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity for the one as for the other. The argument retreats successfully to the position that the existence of the soul before birth cannot be separated from the existence of the essence of which you speak. For there is nothing which to my mind is so patent as that beauty, goodness, and the other notions of which you were just now speaking, have a most real and absolute existence; and I am satisfied with the proof.

Well, but is Cebes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.

Simmias I think that Cebes is satisfied= although he is the most incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is sufficiently convinced of the existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul will continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction. I cannot get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring—the feeling that when the man dies the soul will be dispersed, and that this may be the extinction of her. For admitting that she may have been born elsewhere, and framed out of other elements, and was in existence before entering the human body, why after having entered in and gone out again may she not herself be destroyed and come to an end?
Very true, Simmias. About half of what was required has been proven; to wit, that our souls existed before we were born:—that the soul will exist after death as well as before birth is the other half of which the proof is still wanting, and has to be supplied; when that is given the demonstration will be complete.

But that proof has been already given. If you put the two arguments together—I mean this and the former one, in which we admitted that everything living is born of the dead.

For if the soul exists before birth, and in coming to life and being born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death continue to exist, since she has to be born again?—Surely the proof which you desire has been already furnished.

Still I suspect that you and Simmias would be glad to probe the argument further. Like children, you are haunted with a fear that when the soul leaves the body, the wind may really blow her away and scatter her; especially if a man should happen to die in a great storm and not when the sky is calm.

Cebes answered with a smile= Then, Socrates, you must argue us out of our fears—and yet, strictly speaking, they are not our fears, but there is a child within us to whom death is a sort of hobgoblin; him too we must persuade not to be afraid when he is alone in the dark.

Socrates said= Let the voice of the charmer be applied daily until you have charmed away the fear.

And where shall we find a good charmer of our fears, Socrates, when you are gone?

Hellas is a large place, Cebes. It has many good men. There are many barbarous races. Seek for him among them all, far and wide, sparing neither pains nor money. For there is no better way of spending your money. You must seek among yourselves too. You are the best people able to make the search.

We must ask ourselves what that is which, as we imagine, is liable to be scattered, and about which we fear? and what again is that about which we have no fear?

And then we may proceed further to enquire whether that which suffers dispersion is or is not of the nature of soul—our hopes and fears as to our own souls will turn upon the answers to these questions.

Now the compound or composite may be supposed to be naturally capable, as of being compounded, so also of being dissolved; but that which is uncompounded, and that only, must be, if anything is, indissoluble.

And the uncompounded may be assumed to be the same and unchanging, whereas the compound is always changing and never the same.

In the dialectical process, we define idea or essence as true existence. The true essence of equality, beauty, etc are unchangeable.

Each of them are always as they are. They have the same simple self-existent and unchanging forms. They do not admit of variation at all at anytime.

The beautiful are always changing – horses, garments, etc.

These you can touch and see and perceive with the senses. But the unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind—they are invisible and are not seen.

There are two sorts of existences—one seen, the other unseen. The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging.

One of us is part body, another is part soul. The body is the seen and the soul is the unseen by the human eye.

The soul uses the body as an instrument of perception. It uses sight or hearing. Perceiving through the body is perceiving through the senses. The soul too is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable. It wanders and is confused. The world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard, when she touches change.

But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom?

That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.

And to which class is the soul more nearly alike and akin, as far as may be inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding one?

I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of every one who follows the argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable—even the most stupid person will not deny that.

The body is more like the changing.

Yet once more consider the matter in another light= When the soul and the body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern, and the body to obey and serve. Now which of these two functions is akin to the divine? and which to the mortal? Does not the divine appear to you to be that which naturally orders and rules, and the mortal to be that which is subject and servant?

The soul resembles the divine. The body resembles the mortal.

The soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable. The body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintellectual, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable.

The body is liable to speedy dissolution. The soul is indissoluble.

After a man dies, the body is called a corpse. It would naturally be dissolved, decomposed, and dissipated after some time. For the body when shrunk and embalmed, as the manner is in Egypt, may remain almost entire through infinite ages. Even in decay, there are still some portions, such as the bones and ligaments, which are practically indestructible.

The invisible soul passes to the place of the true Hades which is also invisible. The pure and noble soul goes to the good and wise God. If God wills it my soul is also soon to go. The soul, I repeat, if this be her nature and origin, will be blown away and destroyed immediately on quitting the body, as the many say?

That can never be, my dear Simmias and Cebes. The truth rather is, that the soul which is pure at departing and draws after her no bodily taint, having never voluntarily during life had connection with the body, which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself;—and making such abstraction her perpetual study—which means that she has been a true disciple of philosophy; and therefore has in fact been always engaged in the practice of dying? For is not philosophy the practice of death?

That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world—to the divine and immortal and rational= thither arriving, she is secure of bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and for ever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods (compare Apol.).

But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always, and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the truth only exists in a bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste, and use for the purposes of his lusts,—the soul, I mean, accustomed to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy;—do you suppose that such a soul will depart pure and unalloyed.

She is held fast by the corporeal, which the continual association and constant care of the body have wrought into her nature.

Very true.

And this corporeal element, my friend, is heavy and weighty and earthy, and is that element of sight by which a soul is depressed and dragged down again into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible and of the world below—prowling about tombs and sepulchres, near which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions of souls which have not departed pure, but are cloyed with sight and therefore visible.

That is very likely, Socrates


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