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5: Psychic Fragmentation

Sara Brill Indiana University Press ePub

WHILE BOOKS 2 and 3 provide an account of the vehicles through which city and soul affect one another, books 4 and 5 elaborate upon the complexity that is interior to soul and identify the tense interaction between desire and other elements of the soul as decisive for the unity or fragmentation of both soul and city. Thus, books 4 and 5 contribute to the multidimensional psychodynamics requested in the preceding books by deepening Socrates's and his interlocutors’ understanding of what it means for soul to become virtuous or vicious. They do so by focusing upon the general forms of fragmentation and unity to which the human being and human things (including cities) give rise in the course of their respective becomings.

Indeed, I will argue, books 4 and 5 lay the foundation for a catalogue of psychic division, one which seeks to take into account a broad range of manifestations of fragmentation and unity. These books look not only to individual human behavior and the psychic division that can be discerned therein, but also to collective human action and the political formations to which it gives rise—viewing the city as a field in which division and unity are made manifest—and beyond even human political activity to the varieties of beings themselves and the vision of dissolution and unity provided by an exploration of the ontological status of things.

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2: The Body-like Soul

Sara Brill Indiana University Press ePub

SOCRATES'S AND HIS interlocutors’ extended investigation of the soul's immortality begins as a more thorough telling, a (70b), of an opinion about death that Socrates playfully presented as his apologia of his confidence in the face of death (63b). That it is the defense's conception of the soul that is particularly problematic is suggested by Cebes, who objects that the soul's endurance beyond death is in need of further discussion (70a–b). Socrates's eager agreement to offer a more thorough story inaugurates the first of four logoi about immortality (70b).

This first logos inherits a definition of death which Socrates, as we have observed, gives in his initial defense with a noteworthy nonchalance: death is the separation of soul and body (64c). Throughout the discussions of soul's immortality, Socrates draws out and reframes a number of assumptions about the nature of this separation. However, the Phaedo's depiction of Socrates speaking with friends who are at once eager to philosophize and grieving the looming loss of their friend opens an investigation not only of assumptions about what death is, but also of how to properly comport oneself toward mortality, whether one's own or that of others. That is, the conversation about immortality is directed not only at death but also at grief, and at marking out what should be grieved and how. This dimension is perhaps made most explicit during the interlude on misology (88e–91c), but it is at work early on in the dialogue as well in, for instance, the care Plato takes to describe the curious blend of affect had by Socrates's interlocutors (58e–59a). With the first logos, Socrates begins to contend with his interlocutors’ assumptions about death and their attitudes toward grief by trying to wrest death away from an association with utter destruction.

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1: Socratic Prothumia

Sara Brill Indiana University Press ePub

SOCRATES'S DEFENSE OF the calmness with which he confronts his death unfolds within a theological framework with which he has a vital, if also uneasy, relationship. Indeed, he is granted the opportunity of giving this defense because of a delay in his execution due to a religious observation: the citywide observance of a vow to Apollo, involving a ritual mission to Delos in memory of Theseus, prohibits the civic pollution that accompanies executions. Further, Socrates's attempts to give both an account of himself and of the “true” philosopher are shaped by the need to determine both of these entities’ stances toward the theology he outlines very early on in the dialogue. With respect to the dialogue's psychology, this theological framework provides a number of the dominant conceptual and linguistic tools through which soul is investigated; consequently it will be necessary to outline this framework in detail. At the same time, Plato's depiction of the uneasiness Socrates feels about certain elements of this theology provides an important orientation toward this framework that neither rejects it nor uncritically appropriates it.1 Instead, the Phaedo illustrates that for Plato it is incumbent upon the investigator of the soul to make apparent the conceptual and linguistic apparatus through which soul is interrogated. Insofar as theology provides one such lens, this theology must be made explicit and subject to scrutiny, and this is precisely what Plato has Socrates do.

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7: Politics and Immortality

Sara Brill Indiana University Press ePub

BOOK 10 OPENS with Socrates's observation that their most recent comments have illustrated the correctness of their earlier critical assessment of poetry. He then levels a charge against the imitative arts as such: they “seem to maim the thought of those who hear them and do not as a remedy have the knowledge of how they really are” (595b). According to this assessment, the lovers of poetry1 are lovers of something that disfigures them, and moreover does so without announcing these effects. Indeed, it is precisely the lack of transparency regarding poetry's ontological status and effects, its lack of provision for knowledge of what it is and does, that Socrates attempts to remedy in the subsequent discussion of what mimēsis is. This is to say that book 10, which concludes with the myth of Er, begins with a call for a poetry that is able to account for itself, a dialectical and self-critiquing poetry.

Throughout the first half of book 10, Socrates's critique of poetry takes as its justification the tendency of poetry to foster2 one part of the soul to the detriment of others, even in the souls of the decent (605c). The figure he summons to illustrate this danger is that of a bereaved and decent father who, having lost his son, does battle with himself, struggling between a desire to deliberate and set his affairs aright, on the one hand, and a desire to indulge in lamentation, nourishing the part of him that wants to mourn, on the other (603e–604d). Even decent people, concludes Socrates, are tempted by the displays of lamentation in tragedy to luxuriate in mourning (605c–d).

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10: Psychic Excess

Sara Brill Indiana University Press ePub

EARLY ON IN the lengthy prelude addressed to the would-be atheist, the Athenian makes a statement about soul whose ambiguity and profundity beg comparison with that fateful description of the good from Republic 6 as “beyond being” ( ) (509b). If, observes the Athenian, soul can be shown to be generated prior to things like fire and air, then “it would be most correct to say it to be ” (892c).1 As the adverbial form of means primarily “differently from.” It is often used (in conjunction with a genitive) to indicate “above,” and this specification to its kind of “difference from” recommends the adverb's use to indicate “especially,” “pre-eminently,” or, as Bury renders it, “superlatively.” To claim that psuchē is is to suggest that psuchē has being as both surpassingly and superlatively natural, which is to attribute to soul a deeply ambiguous relationship to nature.

This is a fruitful ambiguity, one in keeping with the general tenor of the discussion of soul in book 10. The Athenian's characterization of the soul as exceedingly natural is contingent upon both a conception of phusis and a demonstration of soul's generation, a showing of its priority with respect to genesis. In fact, genesis and phusis are brought into an intimate relationship in this passage because the atheist's conception of phusis, as the Athenian describes it, is precisely as (generation or coming-to-be of things primary) (892c). As we have seen, the Athenian does not expressly challenge this general formulation of phusis; instead, as the prelude develops, he attempts to reconfigure the atheist's conception of the relationship between phusis and psuchē by asserting that soul is the primary cause of all motion. In doing so, the Athenian attributes to soul generative capacities whose magnitude and scope blur the distinction between psychology and cosmology.

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