In understanding the distinction that many philosophers make between body and soul (mind), it is important to define these key terms. The ‘body’ is considered to be the physical form of human or animal, ‘the complete material structure or physical form. ‘ It is the outer characteristic that generally people recognise us by; it is ‘matter’ and is both spatial and temporal. There are different interpretations of soul, which can be defined as the ‘non physical aspect of person’ (their internal characteristics), the spiritual part of a human being that is believed by some to survive death, and that which animates the body.
Many philosophers approach the problem of the mind body distinction from a dualist viewpoint, in this context the theory that human beings are made up of two independent constituents, the body and the mind or soul. The philosopher Plato, a dualist, held his concept of the Forms as central to his epistemology. Plato argued that, the empirical world is unreal, and can not be the object of true knowledge as it is constantly changing, but that the only thing that is real is the, separate, eternal, everlasting realm of the forms.
Plato believed that the body is physical. It is rooted in the dimensions of time and space. As such, the body is a part of the world of sensations and is subject to change and decay. For Plato the body (‘soma’) was a handicap that interfered with the soul’s pursuit of wisdom and was described by Plato as being the grave (semma) of the soul. Plato considered the Soul to be different, part of the realm of ideas, it is the Form of the human being, and is thus unchangeable, immaterial, pre-existent and immortal.
Plato considered the soul alone to be capable of comprehending truth and reasoned that Souls reincarnate until they finally find fulfilment in a type of heaven. Plato believed that the soul was pure (‘simple’), whilst the body was composite and disintegrated on death. Since disintegration means literally to remove the integrity of something, Plato reasoned that only composite things could disintegrate. Thus the soul, which was not composite, could not be reduced into constituent parts, it was ‘simple’ and so changeless.
In Plato’s account of the death of Socrates, Socrates (Plato), in response to Cebes, a friend of Socrates who suggests that the Soul might disintegrate into nothingness, offers four arguments in favour of the immortality of the soul. The first of these arguments concerning the immortality of the soul is the argument from paired opposites, the idea that everything that has an opposite comes into existence because of its opposite e. g. a sleeping person is one who is not awake and vice versa. Whatever comes to be comes to be out of its opposite, it is cyclical.
This as life ends in death; death in turn must give birth to life. This logic is not at all convincing and does not really establish the case either that the living comes from the dead or that the dead live again. The second argument is the Theory of Recollection (‘anamnesis’) the idea that learning is just recollecting what we already know. Thus although none of us have ever experienced in this life things that are perfectly beautiful we know what beauty is. We do so because we experienced ‘true beauty’ before birth. On this basis it is argued that the soul will continue to exist after death as it existed before birth.
However, most people reject the idea of a pre-birth soul and even if this was accepted the conclusion that life survives death does not necessarily follow. The third argument, The Argument from Affinity, is in some ways an ontological argument for the soul. As mentioned earlier Plato (voiced here through Socrates) believed that the soul is not a composite thing but is like the Forms, thus he concluded that the soul, like the Forms, must be eternal. This can be criticised as although it would follow if the soul were a Form, but the soul is a particular, whilst the Forms are universals.
The final and most complicated argument for immortality of the soul is that absolute essences cannot admit their opposite. This argument proposes that as the soul is the source of life for the body and thus life is an essential aspect of the soul, Life and Death are opposites so the soul can not experience death in the same way that “Heat” can not become “Cold”. However whilst it is true that the concepts of Life and Death are opposites and an individuals soul is individual, when one dies there soul can go out of existence yet life in general continues.
Even if someone and their soul dies that does not mean that life has experienced death. Plato’s most famous, philosophical disciple, Aristotle, adopted much of the thinking of his mentor, however, in some areas such as the body soul distinction his views differed “Plato is dear to me but the truth is dearer still. ” For Aristotle, a monist and materialist, any object is a unity characterized by; its form (its shape or arrangement) and the matter of which it was made. A person has a body (its matter) and a soul (its form).