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2nd January 2010, 16:15
Plato’s Belief in the Soul and True Philosophy

The first principle of Plato’s philosophy was the recognition of the existence of the soul. From there, Plato followed the edict of Socrates: if the soul of man exists and is immortal, then the soul has always been immortal; therefore, the soul has always existed, right from the beginning of Time (if Time can be conceived as having a beginning at all). From this simple premise, Socrates and Plato developed their model of the soul’s origin and destiny.

Plato According to Plato in Timaeus, the soul of man had originated in Heaven with the Demiourgos. It was he who had mixed the soul of man, dividing the mixture into the same number as the stars which he had created in the heavens. The Demiourgos had then introduced these newborn souls to their ‘companion stars’, and finally sowed them in the Earth, whereupon the Olympian gods took over and, in accordance with the Demiourgos’ instructions, wove the immortal souls to mortal bodies, thereby creating mankind.

A similar theory on the fall of the soul had been advocated by Socrates in Phaedrus (a book attributed to Plato but originating in all likelihood from earlier Socratic writers). In the beginning, said Socrates, all human souls had been circulating in the company of the heavenly gods. But then had come the moment of the fall from Heaven to Earth. Just before that moment, the souls had been shown a ‘spectacular vision’ and had been able to gaze for a moment at ‘sacred revealed objects that were perfect, and simple, and unshakeable and blissful’. But this heavenly glory had been lost. Upon their fall from Heaven, the souls had become imprisoned inside Earth-born bodies and many, in time, had forgotten their celestial origins, remaining only dimly aware of the perfect objects which they had once glimpsed there.

In accordance with these ideas, the human being was envisioned as comprising an immortal soul trapped inside a mortal body (hence the saying that the body was a tomb, soma sema). The body, for its part, ‘participated’ in the ideal of its heavenly Form, but its share of the ideal fell short of the original, as did the share of all material things on Earth. Thus the body was prone to corruption, decay and death. The soul, on the other hand, had received a full share of the heavenly Forms, and was thus pure and immortal by birthright. Moreover, since the soul had originated in Heaven, it belonged in Heaven.

The life of a man on Earth, said Plato, was no life at all because the Earth was an inferior, ever-changing copy of the heavenly ‘world of Forms’; it was a snare for mankind. True life, and true reality, said Plato, existed only in Heaven. Therefore, the purpose of a man’s life was to recognise the spiritual nature of his being and its fallen condition, and take all necessary steps to ensure the return of his soul to its birthplace in Heaven (as opposed to the usual fate of reincarnation on Earth).

This religious belief system was referred to by Plato as ‘true philosophy’ or ‘divine philosophy’ – a much higher kind of art than philosophy as we know it today.

The aim of true philosophy was not to gain knowledge of changeable things on Earth but rather to gain knowledge of ‘That which always exists’. And to do this, the true philosopher had to recognise that the whole Universe was an allegorical riddle, where everything visible was a coded allegory of ‘That which is’, which was invisible.

In line with Pythagorean thinking, Plato suggested that man should seek knowledge of ‘That which is’ by studying the principle of constancy wherever it occurred (or nearly occurred) in nature, notably in number, geometry, solids, astronomy and harmonic motions. But to see the truth beyond the cosmic allegory, one had to look with the soul or the mind, not with the eye, and this required remembrance of the fact that one’s true self was the soul. In Republic, Socrates suggested that the true philosopher might indeed obtain knowledge of ‘That which is’ during his lifetime by means of an arduous series of initiations in Pythagorean doctrines.

In his vision of the ideal state, Socrates proposed that true philosophy should be a necessary qualification for rulership of cities. The aspirant to kingship would become fully initiated in his fiftieth year, and would then use his skills to govern the city in accordance with the perfect heavenly archetypes of the ‘world of Forms’:

“Then, at the age of fifty, those who have survived the tests... must be led to the goal and compelled to lift up the radiant light of their souls to what itself provides Light for everything. And once they have seen the Good itself, they must each in turn put the city, its citizens, and themselves in order, using it (the Good) as their model.”

True philosophers were thus regarded as a series of messiah-like figures who would deliver an ideal era of peace and prosperity on Earth, but all the time preparing their own personal souls for an ultimate elevation to Heaven. In the story of Athens and Atlantis, Plato seems to have been hinting that true philosophers such as himself should be placed in charge of Athens in order to restore the city’s self-respect.

2nd January 2010, 16:17
Plato’s Account of Creation by the Demiourgos

According to Plato, everything in the Universe had to have sprung from some initial principle, which must, by definition, have been something capable of springing into motion by itself. This principle, he said, had been an aethereal fifth element called ‘soul’ (psyche), which could be defined as ‘motion capable of moving itself’. It had been ‘born long before all physical things’ and was therefore ‘the first cause to which everything owes its birth’. Accordingly, soul-substance was the original cause of all movement in the Universe, and had stirred into motion everything in the heavens and all life on Earth, including mankind.

In Timaeus, Plato had Timaeus (a Pythagorean character) elaborate on the theory of the soul-substance and build a whole cosmogony around it.

To begin, Timaeus declares that the Universe must have had an origin, and must have come to be by some agency or cause. This cause he then names as Demiourgos (literally ‘the craftsman’) whom he identifies as the ‘father’ of the Universe. Next, Timaeus declares that the Demiourgos must have used a model for his work, and he asserts that this model must have been something perfect, eternal and ever-unchanging: “It follows by unquestionable necessity” he states “that this Universe is an image of something.”

Of what was the Universe an image? The answer, says Timaeus, is the Demiourgos himself, who wanted everything to be as much like himself as was possible. Thus the Universe was created as a ‘living thing’ in the image of ‘the real Living Thing’, i.e. the Demiourgos himself.

To create the Universe, the Demiourgos carried out a number of tasks, more or less simultaneously. He mixed the body of the Universe, using the four proto-elements of earth, air, fire and water, and agitated it ‘like a shaking machine’, thus causing the elements to become separated and purified. In this way, he formed the Sun, Moon, planets and stars, which he set in seven concentric bands around the Earth.

At the same time, the Demiourgos mixed the soul of the Universe, which he planted in the centre, in the Earth, and then extended outwards, thereby energising the Sun, Moon, planets and stars. Finally, he wrapped this soul-substance around the outside of the Universe so that it totally surrounded the sphere, and he set the sphere of the Universe spinning upon itself, round and round in a circular motion.

All of these things the Demiourgos created according to ‘a symphony of proportion’, employing Pythagorean mathematical relationships as the basis for cosmic order.

As discussed earlier, the whole visible Universe was a cipher for the invisible realm of the ‘other world’, personified by the Demiourgos, and the challenge for man was to decipher the riddle in order to pave the way for the return of his soul to unity with God.