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The most inescapable question in philosophy is that of the relationship between

the mind and the body. Before one can venture into what is death, life, love, knowledge
or anything that can be discussed, you must address what the ‘mind’ is and how it relates
to the body (and thanks to Descartes whether or not a physical world even exists).
Socrates and Descartes refuse to believe that what we call ‘the mind’ is something that
can be entirely reduced to the movement of (albeit very intricate) “levers and pulleys”,
preferring to attribute the “mystery and splendor” of the mind to some abstract concept of
‘God(s)’. Nagel states that while it may never be possible for us to ever fully understand
all the intricacies and nuances of the brain, it is copping out to say that, since we can’t
understand them, some supernatural or even divine force is necessarily involved The
question taps into our place as a species and as individuals in the universe. This most
fundamental question of “what ‘I’ am and how ‘I’ relate to what I perceive to be the
world” is made even more daunting by the fact that one must not simply adopt the
answers others have given
In Phaedo, Plato tries to explain how Socrates answered this question. He states
that he, like any true philosopher, welcomes death. The discourse which follows deals not
so much with whether it is right or wrong to kill oneself, but rather deals with the
soul/mind and what it is and what happens to it. Socrates gives four arguments for what
he believes: the argument from opposites, the theory of recollections, the argument from
affinity, and the theory of forms. The argument from opposites uses the
Pythagorean/physicist approach that “everything must come from something”. So since
death must come from life, life must come from death.
The second argument is that from the theory of recollection. The theory says that
what we would call reason (though Socrates calls it knowledge) is innate and we are born
with it and that “learning” is in truth remembering what we already knew but have
forgotten. This theory not only proves that there must have been a before but also
supports the reason the whole argument started – that the true philosopher should
welcome death as the end to all the distractions of senses (or world). This fits into the
whole ‘deny the body cultivate the mind’ theory onto which the religions of Abraham
have latched. The only problem is that Socrates doesn’t follow through in supporting the
theory of recollection. He never states that this recycling of the soul is perpetual. If it is
not perpetual, then at what point did we obtain this ‘knowledge’ that we forgot, and if it
can begin, why it can’t end? The third argument is that of affinity. Here Socrates
separates the world into the “immaterial, invisible, and the immortal” and those that are
“material, visible and perishable”. Without any further support, he puts the soul in the
first category and the body in the second. So, by definition, while the body perishes the
soul remains immortal.
The last argument is that of forms/ideas. This concept is so abstract that it cannot
really be argued against in the same plane that it is ‘proven’. The argument is so abstract
that one can’t come up with an argument against it. The theory states that “all things
possess what qualities they have only through participation in these Forms. The form of
life is an essential property of the soul…and so it is inconceivable to think of the soul as
ever being anything but alive. Since life is the essential property of the soul, whereas it is
an accidental property of the body, the soul is immortal and the body is so only as long as
the soul is “imprisoned” by it. Why not ‘free’ ourselves and commit suicide then?
Socrates answers this question with, that since men are, in effect, the “creations” and
thereby in a state of servitude to the Gods, it would be wrong, “ungrateful” and, more
important, poorly rewarded for man to disobey the gods and ‘free’ his soul from his body.
The body is “variant and subservient” while the soul is “incomposite and divine-like”, so
to live a good life one should shy away from the aesthetic pleasures and seeks only the
furthering of the soul/mind by asking questions to remember what knowledge you lost in
being born.
During the course of the dialogue only two objections, are raised, that of
Simmias and that of Cebes. Cebes argument is heraclitean and it asks why can’t the soul
like a river run dry and in effect die? Socrates toys with this idea but points out that if
they truly believe in the theory of recollection {picture the sheep nodding}, then this
cannot be so. It there were to be a “beginning” that comes from a “end” then the cycle
cannot be broken because how then do you have a point of origin for the cycle. So if you
believe the theory of recollection you cannot believe that it is possible for a soul to “run
out” after a certain number of bodies. The second objection is put forth by Simmias and is
actually what I believe (as a materialist) is the best explanation for that which we call the
‘soul’. Simmias makes an analogy between the soul being a quality of a body and the
attunement being a quality of a lyre. The attunement only exists as long as the body
exists. Socrates attacks it on the basis of the theory of recollection, for the same reasons
he disproved Cebes. He moves on to state that an instrument can be more or less in tune,
and that this is not so for a soul. One has only to look at the vacant stares of the flowing
mobs to see that this is wrong then Socrates turns around and argues that some souls are
good some souls are bad. Lastly he argues that while the soul commands the body to act,
the attunement of an instrument does not command it to act. I disagree with this, if we
consider the sound the “act” then just as the soul controls how the body will act the
tuning of an instrument controls what sound. Furthermore this would explain the
discrepancies that so worry Descartes, for the instrument with all its frailties (deceiving
senses) will interfere with the tuning(perfection of the soul) of that instrument(body).
This would also satisfy the question of how we obtain knowledge (even if in an
empiricist’s manner) for innately the instrument has the opportunity to have (near) perfect
attunement it can only obtain this through tuning which requires experimentation and for
the instrument to be played. This would also answer the argument of opposites, since it is
only an ‘accidental’ arrangement of pulleys and levers (electrical and chemical impulses)
that makes being “alive” any different from being “dead”. However Socrates died sure
that what awaited him was an eternal reward, we should all be so lucky.
Descartes who began his “meditations” so noblely and adopting what seemed like
a fool- proof way of discerning what is true, trips in the third meditation and stubbles
through the rest of his meditations. In the first meditation, Descartes sets out after the
“general demolition of my opinions” and goes straight for the “basic principles” for
”once the foundations of a building are undermined anything built on them collapses of
its own accord”. Having cleared the slate, he sets out to find something “solid” with
which to begin building his new foundation of beliefs. First, he decides that anything he
has gained knowledge of or can only contemplate through the aid of the senses cannot be
trusted. “Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from
the senses or though the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses
deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even
once.”. As the meditation progresses, it becomes apparent that the only thing he can be
certain of is that he thinks and because he thinks he must exist at some instant in time, a
fact can never be undone. Next, he sets up his criteria for deciding whether something is
true and can be trusted or not. This is where he trips and commits the inexcusable sin of
circular reasoning; at first the definition is “that whatever I perceive very clearly and
distinctly is true”, but then he runs into the question of whether he could be tricked. He
can only be sure of his clear and distinct perceptions if God exists. Yet, he can only know
that God exists because he clearly and distinctly perceives the idea of God. He cannot
trust his ‘clear and distinct perceptions’ unless there is a benevolent and non-deceiving
god. This cannot be proven without his ascertaining that God exist, which in turn, can
only be accomplished through those same ‘clear and distinct perceptions’. Clear and
distinct perceptions cannot be trusted unless god exists and god cannot exist unless
proven by these clear and distinct perceptions. He ignores many questions that would
come from his reasoning because he claims to “not now have time to waste on subtleties
of this kin.”. So in over generalizing, he neglects to answer some of the questions which
his theory raises. His theory that there is a physical world and that the reasons for the
occasional discrepancies between what is real and what the senses lead us to believe can
be explained through occasional miscommunications between the body and the mind. He
had imagined the mind “to be something tenuous like wind or fire or ether which
permeated my more solid parts He ignores the question of why allows for its creations to
be deceived, (i.e. allows there to be discrepancies between the real and the perceived
Nagel has the advantage of a time where it is easier to believe with all the
advances of science and philosophy that the mind is a mere physical thing and not tied in
to some abstract concept of god, in fact his argument consists largely of arguing that its
naive to think that we’ll ever be able to fully explain it. Nagel deals more with the
question of the subjective and the objective He argues that while there is most defiantly
“something that it is like to be something” not only can one not get past one’s own
species (‘What’s it Like to Be a Bat?’) but one cannot even get past oneself. For if one
somehow enters another’s body and consciousness it would be contaminated with the
knowledge and thoughts that make up you. Yet if you were able to somehow extract this
then you would no longer be yourself. It will never be possible he states for humans to
full understand the human mind for it is too intricate and too complex to be able to handle
It is my belief that our minds consist of nothing more then electrical and chemical
impulses as well as things yet to be discovered, and all are of unfathomable intricacy.
Perhaps it is that we must not be capable of understanding ourselves fully – the concept
alone is hard to grasp, that a human mind could understand itself fully…. I believe that all
that we attribute to this mysterious ‘soul’ is truly just the result of a certain arrangement
of the physical which, like the attunement of an instrument, encompasses who we are I
have yet to find reason to believe that there is an “other” even if the cost is the hope of
the “after”. This would mean that there is no greater purpose, no higher aim, and
accountability only in ones need to conform to society so as not to be ostracized exiled or
executed. We should not however despair in this new God-less world view, we may be
alone, without purpose or reason but we are, and it is not that I am but rather a chorus of I
am’s. This is all we have.

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