An Analysis of the Harmony Theory

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  • Topic: Soul, Phaedo, Plato
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  • Published : February 25, 2013
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The Harmony Theory

In Plato’s dialogue Phaedo, Simmias outlines his theory that the soul is like a harmony. Essentially, this theory claims that a lyre—or harp—is to harmony as body is to soul. The lyre must be tuned and played in just the right way, and if it breaks then the harmony ceases to exist. Therefore, harmony—and also, therefore, soul—does not exist on its own. Simmias argues that the same goes for body and soul, in the sense that the brain must be functioning in a certain way for the soul to exist. Socrates attempts to convince Simmias and Cebes of the inaccuracy of this theory with three arguments: that it is incompatible with the Theory of Recollection, that every soul is equally soul—and thus there cannot be degrees of the soul—and that the soul guides and directs the body, while the harmony does not direct the harp.

Socrates’ first argument against the Harmony Theory is that it is incompatible with the Theory of Recollection. The Theory of Recollection argues that all of one’s learning is simply recalling and recollecting an innate, eternal knowledge and truth that our soul holds. In other words, we are born fully-loaded with all knowledge but forget, and thus spend life learning and recollecting these truths. Therefore, the soul must pre-exist the body. As the Harmony Theory claims that the harmony does not preexist the harp, and therefore the soul does not preexist the body, Socrates brings to light this contradiction in the beliefs of its philosophers. When Socrates asks Simmias to “consider which of [his] statements [he prefers], that learning is recollection or that the soul is a harmony,” Simmias responds that he “much prefer[s] the former” (Phaedo, line 92d).

Socrates’ second refuting argument against the Harmony Theory is that every soul is equally soul, and there therefore cannot be degrees of the soul. He says that the nature of each harmony depends on the way it has been harmonized, and if it has been more fully harmonized it...
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