Plato About Spirits

Although it was Anaxagoras who, being a spiritualist philosopher, discussed the physical and metaphysical dimensions of human existence under the titles of the spirit, intellect, and carnal soul for the first time in the history of philosophy, Socrates and his pupil Plato developed this philosophy and made it known worldwide. Their works were translated into many languages, including Arabic, and came to be known by Muslim scholars at a very early period in the history of Islam, being widely discussed among Muslim philosophers and theologians. Therefore, based partly on Shahristani and partly on Şemseddin Günaltay, a twentieth-century Turkish researcher, I will provide a summary of Plato’s considerations concerning the spirit, which in fact are a developed amalgamation of the ideas of Anaxagoras, Pythagoras, and Socrates.

Plato mentions a third soul, which he calls “the speaking soul,” in addition to “the soul of lusts” and “the soul of anger.” He regards the soul of lusts as the source of carnal desires and appetites, and the soul of anger as that of the feelings and attitudes like wrath, violence, and aggression. As for the speaking soul, which Plato also calls the spirit, it is the origin or center of perception, reasoning, and understanding. Being a simple, invisible, and indivisible substance which causes movement, it has been created directly by God Almighty, and inserted in the mold of the body. Since it is from God, it does not die or cease to exist. Having been created before the creation of the body, it continues to exist after its death. The intellect and intelligence are thus two profound dimensions of the spirit, which itself is the source of the body’s movement.

lost souls

lost souls

According to what Shahristani writes, Plato divided the universe into two worlds: (1) the world of ideas, which comprises “ideas” or metaphysical entities, and (2) the sensed world of bodies. Before coming to this sensed, corporeal world, humans were honored with the observation of truths in the world of ideas. When humans were sent to this narrow world of physical bodies, they were engulfed in the darkness of corporeality.

We can summarize Plato’s considerations of the speaking soul as follows:

  • The spirit is an immaterial, immortal element of perception and reflection. It thinks, reflects, perceives, judges, and decides.
  • The spirit sets the body into motion and it was created before the body.
  • The spirit is the source of all good and virtues. Its worst enemy is moral corruption, which extinguishes it.

Neo-Platonism, which appeared in later centuries, would be based on these thoughts of Plato’s.