The soul can be defined as a perennial enigma that one may never understand. But many people rose to the challenge of effectively explaining just what the soul is about, along with outlining its desires. Three of these people are Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine. Even though all three had distinctive views, the similarities between their views are strikingly vivid. The soul indeed is an enigma to mankind and the only rational explanation of its being is yet to come and may never arrive.
Plato believes the soul is an immortal separate entity that is entrapped in the body until one dies. The soul is what possess knowledge and remembers what was known from previous lifetimes. He illustrates this with the story of Socrates and the slave boy. With this, he showed that while the slave boy was an unschooled individual, he was still able to solve the problem of doubling a square. Plato attributes this accomplishment to the soul as remembering a previous encounter with an eternal knowledge.
To Plato, the soul is a self mover that is not restricted to mortality. He also states that without the soul, the body would not be able to move; the soul is the provider of energy for movement in the body. Since the soul is a self mover, it is inherently a source of energy and life that depends on nothing else to exist; therefore, the soul is immortal.
Plato also believes that the soul is entrapped inside the body and for those who seek Shaw 2
wisdom; they need to separate their soul from their body because wisdom is of another world that only the soul may behold. But as afore mentioned, the body without a soul is dead; by default the only way to have true wisdom is analogous in preparation for death.
The nature of the soul is presented to us in an illustration of a story of a charioteer who has two horses to control: one is white and is good and noble, the other is black and frequently goes of course while it succumbs to temptations. This is how Plato describes the soul in three parts: the charioteer represents reason (which guides), the good white horse represents spirit (which animates and drives on towards glory), and the untamed black horse correlates with desire (which motivates). These three are also in competition with each other; however, for happiness to be obtained, a soul needs all three of these components to function harmoniously with reason as the main force.
Aristotle wants to extend the criteria of that which fits the description of an entity that has a soul. The word soul, which comes from the Greek word psyche, means "ensouled "or living things. So consequently, Aristotle must apply a soul to all living things including plants and animals. He recognizes that the soul is complex and attempts to explain its separate parts. It is distinguished on three different levels: the soul of plants, the soul of animals, and the soul of humans.
A plant has a "nutritive" soul because it has the ability to take in nourishment and convert it to life. It can also reproduce. But this is a basic attribute and can be found in all living things so the plant has the least important, or constructive soul. Animals on the other hand have a "sensitive" soul which is accompanied by sensations and desires in addition to the nutritive and reproductive aspects. Finally, a soul which possesses the ability to think and reason is only existent in humans; our soul has what the other two levels have with the addition of the ability to reason. Shaw 3
Aristotle believes the soul and the body are one. This can be illustrated with sight and the eye. The eye would represent the body while the soul would be sight. For sight to be of any use, it needs an eye to make actual actuality of its potentiality. Aristotle believes the soul is the essence of bodies that forms essential characteristics of a being. Without a body, a soul would serve no useful purpose.
Augustine believes the soul and the body are one; at the same time, the soul is superior to the body. He recognizes that it is inherent human nature to desire happiness, but only God can provide happiness for the soul; both happiness and unhappiness are desires of the soul. Generally, and in nature, the soul desires to be happy. But this happiness can only be attained if one's desires are met; these desires must be in accordance with wisdom. Furthermore, the objects of these desires must be things we cannot lose or things that may be taken away from us, this very thing is truth. So in short, for the soul to be happy, it must desire and obtain or attain truth. This truth Augustine recognizes as being God.
Like Aristotle, Augustine believes that the soul is a unitary being, but like Plato, he also distinguishes it from the body and accepts its immateriality. The thing that stands in the way of happiness-which is of the soul, is when the soul does not rule the body. It is also through the soul that we sin when we give in to the wrong wills or desires. Augustine recognizes the soul to be superior to the body with its very nature to rule the body when he wrote, "...It seems to me to be a special substance, endowed with reason, adapted to rule the body" (249). This is of course by virtue of possessing reason. So if the body does not have reason from the soul to guide it, happiness will never be obtained because happiness is obtained through wisdom.
The most convincing view of the soul seems to be that of Plato's. Personally I can relate to the three parts that he outlines with utter guilt. However, the only aspect I agree with is the Shaw 4
structure of the soul. I adamantly disagree that the soul had past lives and is just merely remembering things in this current lifetime. I recognize that the body does need a source to move it and that source must be energy. If the soul is immortal and energy, (by the laws of thermodynamics) cannot be destroyed, perhaps energy and soul are synonymous and there is no such thing as soul, but mere energy in our bodies. I also don't believe that what a plant has, whatever it is, can be defined as a soul as Aristotle claims. In whomever or whatever a soul dwells, that entity must be aware of its existence, and I don't think plants know it's alive. I also agree with Augustine that the soul genuinely desires happiness and that happiness is only the truth. A soul wouldn't desire that which is false, if happiness is a natural good thing as Plato holds, then of course the soul desires that which is good. And since that which is good is true, I must agree that our soul desires that true thing-or being.
Melchert, Norman. The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. 4th ed. Toronto: McGraw Hill Companies, 2002.