Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Souls seeing

Imagine you are the kind of person who thinks that you are composed of a body and an immortal soul. You think that when you die the body and soul separate; the body decays but the soul remains alive. It goes off somewhere and communes with pure intelligible Forms. (So: imagine you are a Platonist.) What do you say the soul does when it is discarnate? More specifically, how do you describe the manner in which the discarnate soul cognises all those pure intelligible Forms? Does it see them? (It certainly doesn’t have eyes as a living person has eyes since eyes are part of the body.)

Well, it seems that it wasn’t always clear what a Platonist should say. I came across this interesting textual variant: Consider Phaedo 67b1, from part of Socrates’ early account of philosophy as a preparation for death and how it is in fact rather a good thing for the soul to be rid of the unfortunate effects of the body. Here Socrates is saying what the soul does once it is freed – indeed what we do once we are freed since as good philosophers we should come to identify ourselves with souls.

In the current OCT (and, for that matter, Burnett’s OCT and Rowe’s Green and Yellow) the line runs (a7–b1):
... ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς μετὰ τοιούτων τε ἐσόμεθα καὶ γνωσόμεθα δι' ἡμῶν αὐτῶν πᾶν τὸ εἰλικρινές, τοῦτο δ' ἐστὶν ἴσως τὸ ἀληθές. 
Grube (in Cooper 1997) translates:
‘... we shall likely be in the company of people of the same kind, and by our own efforts we shall know all that is pure, which is presumably the truth...’ 
When Plutarch cites this section of the Phaedo at Cons. ad Apoll. 108D, however, he writes:
 ... ὡς τὸ εἰκός, μετὰ τοιούτων ἐσόμεθα, δι' ἡμῶν αὐτῶν πᾶν τὸ εἰλικρινὲς ὁρῶντες· τοῦτο δ' ἐστὶ τὸ ἀληθές. 
 Babbitt’s Loeb translates:
 ‘... we shall, in all likelihood, be in the company of others in like state, and we shall behold with our own eyes the pure and absolute, which is the truth.’ 
 This includes an explicit reference to seeing all that is pure that the MSS of Plato omit. (And, as far as I can see, there is no sign in the app. crit. of ὁρῶντες.) The MSS of Plato, on the other hand do include a reference to knowing (γνωσόμεθα) rather than seeing what is pure. Plutarch’s reference to seeing, therefore, is something avoided in the MSS of Plato, perhaps because it sits uncomfortably with the general thrust of the passage and the liberation of the soul from the body. (I know, of course, that elsewhere Plato does use the language of sight to describe the way in which a soul is in cognitive contact with an intelligible Form.  Consider Phaedrus 248a-c, for example.  But there, Socrates is explaining the soul in terms of a charioteer and his horses.)

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