Lucretius and Plato on the Mortality of the Soul

Patrick McCleery Essay I: Lucretius and Plato on the Mortality of the Soul In this essay it will be argued that the soul is mortal and does not survive the death of the body. As support, the following arguments from Lucretius will be examined: the “proof from the atomic structure of the soul,” the “proof from parallelism of mind and body,” the “proof from the sympatheia of mind and body,” and the “proof from the structural connection between mind and body. The following arguments from Plato will be used as counterarguments against Lucretius: the “cyclical argument,” the “affinity argument,” the “argument from the form of life,” and the “recollection argument. ” It will be shown that Plato’s premises lack validity and that Lucretius’ position is the more reasonable of the two. The first argument put forward by Lucretius is the “proof from the atomic structure of the soul. ” This argument states that the soul is a “fine material substance,” akin to an invisible gas (Lucretius 3. 425-44). When the vessel that contains a gas shatters, the gas escapes and dissipates.

Therefore, when the vessel (body) containing the soul shatters (dies), the soul dissipates. Plato argues that the soul partakes of the Form of Life, and that Forms are eternal and unchanging. Therefore, the soul cannot die. Plato’s argument lacks validity because there is no compelling reason to believe that the soul partakes of the form of life. It is simply taken for granted that “the soul (mind) is what brings life so the soul (mind) partakes of the form of life. ” Plato could be accused of “begging the question,” or assuming the existence of that which he should be proving.

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This is also called “arguing in a circle” (Earle 262). It is also worth noting that many of the problems of the ancient arguments regarding the soul result from equivocating “mind” with “soul. ” The existence of the soul is presupposed as a result of this equivocation. Since people think, they must have souls. For now, we will ignore this problem and focus on Plato and Lucretius’ arguments. A: The soul is a fine-material substance like a gas B: When the vessel containing a gas shatters, the gas dissipates C: When the body shatters (dies), the soul dissipates

A ? B ? C A ? B???????? ?C The second argument put forward by Lucretius is the “proof from parallelism of mind and body. ” This argument is based on an observation that both mind and body follow a similar path in life: “both move from weakness in youth to growth and strength, then to weakness again in old age” (Lucretius 3. 445-58). The implied conclusion is that because both mind and body follow a similar path in life, the soul dies because the body dies. Plato’s “cyclical argument” could be used as a counterargument to the “proof from parallelism. The cyclical argument is also sometimes called the “opposites argument,” because it states that those things which have an opposite and also “come to be” are caused by their opposite. The opposite of “life” is “death,” and the opposite of “coming alive” is “dying. ” If dying and coming alive are opposite processes, they are also the cause of each other, since both “coming alive” and “dying” are things that “come to be. ” Plato concludes from this that the souls of the living must come from the souls of the dead and vice versa. Souls are constantly “recycled,” and therefore they must be immortal.

Plato could be accused of equivocation when making this argument. When Plato asserts that all things which have an opposite and “come to be” are caused by their opposite, he is referring to concepts. Conceptually, this statement makes sense: it is impossible for a person to conceive of “hot” without something either less hot or hotter to compare it to. Thus, the concept of hot will always make its appearance alongside the concept of cold and it is impossible for either concept to occur in the mind in isolation from its opposite.

However, this doesn’t mean that “hot” and “cold” will always occur simultaneously and in equal amounts in reality. Plato could be accused of equivocation because he acts as if the behavior of concepts is the same as the behavior of the concrete objects which they describe, but he does not demonstrate that this is necessarily the case. A: The soul and the body are parallel to each other B: The body moves in one direction C: The soul moves in the same direction A ? B ? C A ? B???????? ?C The next argument from Lucretius is the “proof from sympaethia of mind and body. The argument from medicine is an example of this type of argument. The argument from medicine states that the mind can be cured by medicine just like the body, which is mortal. Since that which is immortal cannot be altered in any way, it could not be cured. Since the mind can be cured, the mind (soul) is not immortal. The “affinity argument” from Plato could be seen as a counterargument. The affinity argument states that the soul resembles that which is invisible and divine, while the body resembles the visible and corporeal.

Since the invisible and divine outlasts the visible and corporeal, the soul must outlast the death of the body. This argument fails in a number of ways, but in relation to Lucretius, no reason is given for why the soul cannot resemble the visible and corporeal, as Lucretius demonstrates in the sympaethia arguments. A: The mind can be cured with medicine B: To be cured requires alteration C: The mind (soul) can be altered A ? B ? C A ? B???????? ?C The final argument from Lucretius is the “proof from the structural connection of mind and body. This argument first states that if a part of our being were located somewhere other than where it was, it could not perform its function. Since the mind is a part of our being that affects and controls our bodies, it has a fixed location in our body. Since those things with a fixed location must necessarily be material, the soul is therefore material. Material things are mortal, therefore the soul is mortal. As a counterargument, Plato’s “argument from recollection” states that certain a priori knowledge, and therefore the mind (soul), must have existed prior to birth, and thus cannot have a fixed location in the body.

The first part of this argument is the “argument from interrogation,” which basically states that because people possess a priori knowledge, and because all knowledge must have been learned at some point, such knowledge must have been gained in a previous life. This argument fails because it is not necessarily the case that all types of knowledge must be learned, and it also fails because it is self-contradictory. This argument is really an argument stating that a priori knowledge does not exist; all concepts must have been based on experience either in this or a past lifetime.

Plato is guilty of begging the question; he should be seeking to prove that there is no such thing as a priori knowledge, but this violates his basic premise that forms are eternal and unchanging, as well as the implied premise that “nothing comes from nothing. ” Plato goes on to contradict himself with the second part of the argument, the “equality argument. ” This states that because no two sticks are of exactly equal length, but we are reminded of equality when we see sticks that are “striving to be equal,” that we therefore possessed the knowledge of equality prior to experience, and that such is the case with all forms.

This contradicts Plato’s implied premise in the interrogation argument that a priori knowledge cannot exist (all knowledge must be based on experience at some point). If we accepted the idea that our concept of equality was gained from experience in a previous life, we are led to the absurd conclusion that it is impossible for two sticks to be of equal length in this lifetime but that it was possible in a past lifetime. A: The mind is a part of our being that has a physical function; that is, it affects and controls our bodies.

B: Parts of our being that have a physical function can perform that function if located elsewhere in the body than where they are located C: The mind (soul) has a fixed location within the body A ? ~B ? C A ? ~B???????? ?C In conclusion, it has been demonstrated that the soul is mortal and that Plato’s arguments against Lucretius are false. It has been shown that the arguments put forward by Lucretius have more validity than those put forward by Plato. Plato’s counterarguments against Lucretius lack validity because the premises are false.

That which is immortal is unchanging, unmoving, non-physical and without a physical location in the body; while Lucretius has demonstrated the soul moves, changes, has a fixed physical location in the body, and is a material substance. A: The soul (mind) is a material substance (like a gas) B: The soul has a fixed location in the body C: The soul has movement D: The soul can be changed E: That which is immortal has movement F: That which is immortal can be changed G: That which is immortal has a fixed location in the body

H: That which is immortal is a material substance I: The soul is not immortal A ? B ? C ? D ? ~E ? ~F ? ~G ? ~H ? I A ? B ? C ? D ? ~E ? ~F ? ~G ? ~H???? ?I It should be noted that any of the above arguments by themselves would be sufficient to prove that the soul is not immortal, for example: A ? ~H ? I A ? ~H???? ?I Works Cited Earle, William James. Introduction to Philosophy. New York: Mcgraw-Hill, 1992. Lucretius. De Rerum Natura. Other reference material used “Phaedo. ” Wikipedia, 2010. Web. Oct. 2010.

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