One of man’s quest since the beginning of time is the love of knowledge. This can be seen by the many philosophers that have existed in the world. Philosophers do not take any spoken word, theory or concept lightly (Broughton 24). They would love to prove the validity and authenticity of what laymen takes to be true without first testing and proving its truthfulness. Therefore philosophers have argued over concepts theories, and analogies. Through these philosophical arguments some theories and concepts have been preserved while others have been considered null and void. There are philosophers who existed in the ancient times and the modern philosophers. This paper compares and contrasts an ancient philosopher Plato and a modern one Descartes on the issue whether the soul and the body are separable or not.
These two philosophers have a lot in common concerning their theories about the body and the human soul. However some differences are also eminent in their theories and philosophical work.
Descartes and Plato both subscribe to in the dualistic philosophical view of human existence (Kenny 87). They both agree that man has a body and a soul. Therefore man is incorporeal according to their philosophical view. The soul or the mind does not live separately but live together. The soul is inside the body. The body is the tangible part of man while the soul is not tangible but exists and affects and determines the life of human beings.
Descartes and Plato also state that the mind is the thinking part of a human being. It is the self or the “I” and it is the one that gives life to a person. The soul or the mind is also the part that gives identity to a human being. It is the part of a human being that the character and personality of a human being. Without the soul, the mind or the self, people would not be different (Hart 98). There would be people with the same characters and personalities. People would also think the same. Despite the fact that our physique and race can help identify us. What can identify us within our races and tribe is people’s different souls, minds or the “self”.
Another key similarity in the dualistic theory of human existence by Descartes and Plato is the argument about the mortality or the immortality of the soul and body. Both philosophers agree to the fact that the soul is immortal while the body is mortal. They argue that the body can be wasted away but the mind and the soul will still exist. The body is affected by environmental factors. These factors may be environmental changes such heat, cold and diseases (Hart 99). When these factors severely affect the body it might cause death. When death occurs the body is made dysfunctional and is wasted away. The mind or the soul however continues to exist.
But even with the similarity of dual existence of man Plato and Descartes differ fundamentally on this theory. This is brought out well with a close scrutiny of the works. In these works meditation for Descartes and Plato’s “phaedo” this differences comes out very clearly (Broughton 28).
The central difference being the fact that Plato believes that the soul cannot live separately from the body while Descartes argues that is in fact very possible. Descartes and Plato differ in their usage of terms. Descartes uses the mind many times to refer to the thinking part of a human being. Plato on the other hand uses the soul quite often and it is quite clear in his work that the two words are rather synonymous and he uses them interchangeably. Plato therefore has criticized by critics including Descartes for using the two terms interchangeably while they have different meanings. Soul is a church phrase meaning a human without a body and therefore Descartes argues that Plato use a wrong term in his description of duality of human beings.
The Plato proponents however argue what he meant was “a thinking soul.”
But how did these philosophers come to shape their convictions about the duality of human beings? Descartes came to shape his principles of human dualism through his work on the meditation (Broughton 27). Descartes wanted to ascertain if he really existed. Therefore he assumed that he never existed. But he came to a conclusion that if he can think therefore he exists or not means that he exists. There is a part of him that thinks and he called that part the “mind.” He also concluded that he had a body since the mind cannot think on itself without a body. According to him it is the body which gives life to the mind.
Rather than interchange the words soul and body and use them synonymously Descartes decided to differentiate the meaning of the two words. According to Descartes it is the mind that commits sin and is liable to judgment on the last day as believed in many religions such as Islam and Christianity. Descartes also argues that as much as the mind is depended on the body neither of them refers to the other. Descartes through his meditations he argues that only things that he can perceive and distinctly know are true the other things he cannot approve their existence is merely as a result of appearance and association with the body (Broughton 29). Descartes also state that people can identify themselves conclusively without using their physical senses or imaginations. Because of this he therefore argues that the mind can exist on itself with depending on the body.
This is the point of conflict between Descartes and Plato. Plato in his work “phaedo” believes that human beings posses intelligence or a thinking soul which differentiates them from animals. Human beings can think as opposed to animals which act in response to stimuli or environment only. The thinking soul is and must be part of the body. The soul however works best when separated from the body. Plato also argued that human beings have a soul, a mind or a self which is unique. To prove these Plato demonstrated that person X and Y cannot think exactly the same thinks at the same time (Broughton 24). Even if they thought the same they cannot interchange the thoughts therefore the soul cannot exist without its specific body because people think differently.
It is clear from this discussion that philosophers have varied explanation on some common philosophical aspects of. Only the arguments that are logical and can be proved are considered viable. There can also a rise a situation whereby a theory is valid but has various loop holes. Like the case in this discussion where Plato uses a wrong term that is soul to mean mind. Therefore the modern philosophers can identify the mistake in theories of early philosophers and correct their philosophies because many times the theories are valid save for a few errors.