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THE IDEALISM OF PLATO

But if the self-moving is proved to be immortal, he who affirms that self-motion is the very idea and essence of the soul will not be put in confusion. For the body which is moved from without is soulless; but that which is moved from within has a soul, for such is the nature of the soul. But if this be true, must not the soul be the self-moving, and therefore of necessity unbegotten and immortal?

(Plato, 1937, Phaedrus, 245a, p. 250)6

The Soul and the Body

And besides,

If soul immortal is, and winds its way Into the body at the birth of man,

Why can we not remember something, then,

Of life-time spent before? Why keep we not Some footprints of the things we did of, old?

(Lucretius, Of the Nature of Things, 1998, III. 670-674, translated by William Ellery Leonard7)

It Is More Comfortable to Think with Fables than with Baseless Speculations

To describe what the soul actually is would require a very long account, altogether a task for a god in every way; but to say what it is like is humanly possible and takes less time. (Introduction to Plato, 1937, by Cooper, Phaedrus, 246a, p. 524)

To present his version of Idealism, Plato (Athens, 427-348 BC) uses stories halfway between the fables and myths that he invented.8 A theory is generally a succession of formulations that constitute a logical and coherent development. In antiquity, many writers preferred to use a parable that allowed the reader to acquire an intuitive sense of the general outline of a way of thinking. It permitted the expression of an intimate conviction on a subject without having already acquired the means to refine the details of what one understands. On the other hand, it makes it difficult to differentiate between reasoning and an emotional commitment. That partly explains the confusion between forms of thinking (knowledge, ideology, belief, etc.) that characterizes Idealism9 Aristotle, Plato’s student, tried to transform Idealism into an explicit system10 That obliged him to make pronouncements on a number of questions that could not yield any useful answers at that time. His way of thinking became one of the bases of the debates as vain as the ones by Byzantine theologians as to the sex of angels.

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