Philosophy Word of the Day — Plato on the Soul

“The human soul is considered by Plato to be an immaterial agent, superior in nature to the body and somewhat hindered by the body in the performance of the higher, psychic functions of human life. The tripartite division of the soul becomes an essential teaching of Platonic psychology from the Republic onward. The rational part is highest and is pictured as the ruler of the psychological organism in the well-regulated man.

“Next in importance is the “spirited” element of the soul, which is the source of action and the seat of the virtue of courage. The lowest part is the concupiscent or acquisitive element, which may be brought under control by the virtue of temperance The latter two are often combined and called irrational in contrast to the highest part.

“Sensation is an active function of the soul, by which the soul “feels” the objects of sense through the instrumentality of the body. Particularly in the young, sensation is a necessary prelude to the knowledge of Ideas, but the mature and developed soul must learn to rise above sense perception and must strive for a more direct intuition of intelligible essences.

“That the soul exists before the body (related to the Pythagorean and, possibly, Orphic doctrine of transmigration) and knows the world of Ideas immediately in this anterior condition, is the foundation of the Platonic theory of reminiscence (Meno, Phaedo, Republic, Phaedrus). Thus the soul is born with true knowledge in it, but the soul, due to the encrustation of bodily cares and interests, cannot easily recall the truths innately, and we might say now, subconsciously present in it.

“Sometimes sense perceptions aid the soul in the process of reminiscence, and again, as in the famous demonstration of the Pythagorean theorem by the slave boy of the Meno, the questions and suggestions of a teacher provide the necessary stimuli for recollection. The personal immortality of the soul is very clearly taught by Plato in the tale of Er (Repub. X) and, with various attempts at logical demonstration, in the Phaedo. Empirical and physiological psychology is not stressed in Platonism, but there is an approach to it in the descriptions of sense organs and their media in the Timaeus 42 ff.”

— Vernon J. Bourke, “Platonism,” in Dictionary of Philosophy, ed. by Dagobert D. Runes

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The Missing Links – Sept. 9, 2011

Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King’s College London, takes listeners through the history of Western philosophy, “without any gaps.” Beginning with the earliest ancient thinkers, the series will look at the ideas and lives of the major philosophers (eventually covering in detail such giants as Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant) as well as the lesser-known figures of the tradition.

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The purpose of this site is to set [the] contemporary ‘God Wars’ in their historical context, and to offer a range of perspectives (from all sides) on the chief issues raised by the ‘new atheists’. We hope this will encourage more informed opinion about the issues, discourage oversimplification of the debate, and deepen the interest in the subject.

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Edgar Andrews answers this question in an article written for the Christian Apologetics Alliance.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Abstract Entities

Mathematics

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“Metaphysical objects that are not actualized somewhere in space and time, that is, non-particulars such as numbers, properties, relations, propositions, and classes.  They stand in contrast to spatio-temporal physical objects.

“Whether these entities actually exist—whether we should ascribe reality to them—is a question of persistent dispute in philosophy.  Empiricists and nominalists try to conceive of abstract entities as having merely a linguistic basis.  However, if mathematics embodies general truths about the world and has abstract entities as its subject matter, abstract entities would be objects of reference and hence real existents.  This is the claim of Platonism and is also a position admitted by Quine’s criterion of ontological commitment.  The discussion of abstract entities is related to problems of being, to the problem of universals, also to the theory of meaning.”

The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy (Wiley, 2009), 4.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Gregory of Nyssa

Gregory of Nyssa (fresco in Chora Church)

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“(335-398).  Greek theologian and mystic who tried to reconcile Platonism with Christianity.  As bishop of Cappadocia in eastern Asian Minor, he championed orthodoxy and was prominent at the First Council of Constantinople.  He related the doctrine of the Trinity to Plato’s ideas of the One and the Many.  He followed Origen in believing that man’s material nature was due to the fall and in believing in the Apocatastasis [for a short discussion, see here], the universal restoration of all souls, including Satan’s, in the kingdom of God.”

— Louis P. Pojman in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 354-355.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Omnibenevolence

Whereas classical Greek religion ascribed to the gods very human foibles, theism from Plato onward has affirmed that God is purely good and could not be the author of anything evil (Republic). . . .

As to our knowledge of divine goodness, Aquinas separates the order of being from the order of knowing: all goodness derives from God but we understand divine goodness by extrapolating from the goodness of creatures. For Aquinas, this requires an analogical (as opposed to an equivocal) relationship between divine and human goodness. For Kant, divine goodness is known as a postulate of pure practical reason: God must be there to reward virtue and punish evil.

The greatest challenge to belief in divine goodness has been the fact that evil exists, or more recently, the amount and type of evil rather than the mere fact of it. The problem is lessened if it is acknowledged that divine goodness does not require that each creature always be made to experience as much happiness as it is capable of experiencing. Reasons may include, for example, that: it is impossible that all creatures collectively experience maximal happiness (e.g., because the maximal happiness of one precludes the maximal happiness of another), or that there is some higher good than the happiness of all creatures (e.g., John Hick’s view that maturity is that higher good, and acquiring it may entail some displeasure), or that some forms of good are manifested only when certain types of evil exist (for example, forgiveness requires wrongdoing . . . ); or because God’s favor is undeserved and not given in response to merit, it cannot be owed and God cannot be faulted for not giving it. (See full article)

— Brian Morley, “Western Concepts of God,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Dialectic

The portrait of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831); Stee...
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“In ancient Greece, dialectic was a form of reasoning that proceeded by question and answer, used by Plato.  In later antiquity and the Middle Ages, the term was often used to mean simply logic, but Kant applied it to arguments showing that principles of science have contradictory aspects.  Hegel thought that all logic and world history itself followed a dialectical path, in which internal contradictions were transcended, but gave rise to new contradictions that themselves required resolution.  Marx and Engels gave Hegel’s idea of dialectic a material basis; hence dialectical materialism.”

—  Peter Singer, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 198.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Cardinal Virtues

(Latin, cardo, a hinge) The four classical cardinal virtues, as listed in Plato’s Republic, are [justice, wisdom (or prudence), courage, self-control (or moderation, being sensible)].  St. Ambrose (339-97), using Cicero as the immediate source, assimilated them to Christian doctrine, and seems to have been the first to use the word (Latin: cardinalis) for these four pivotal virtues (in his commentary to Luke chapter 6).  In medieval philosophy, the three theological virtues faith, hope, and charity were added to this list.

The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, 95.

St Ambrose

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