Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Soul as the Sole Determinant of Human Personality in Plato and Yoruba Traditional Thought

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Soul as the Sole Determinant of Human Personality in Plato and Yoruba Traditional Thought

Article excerpt


The soul, as a concept, has been a subject of philosophical inquiry in ancient, medieval and modem history of ideas. There is no universal agreement on the nature or purpose of the soul. Thus, the term "soul" has been given various definitions according to the philosophical theories and cultural perspectives in which it is defined. Soul, according to many religious and philosophical traditions, is the "self-aware essence" unique to a particular living being. In these traditions, the soul is believed to incorporate the inner essence of each living being. Both Plato and the Yoruba consider the soul as the immaterial element that, together with the material body, constitutes the human individual. Plato in The Republic presents a tripartite soul which harmonious interaction produces an esteemed human personality. This Plato's idea mirrors the notion of the Yoruba that a man's soul is the reflection of his personality. The word 'soul' has been investigated from divergent thematic perspectives - invisibility, intangibility, immortality and reincarnation - but this paper sets as its task to examine the Platonic and Yoruba presentations of the soul as the sole determinant of human personality.

Key words: Soul; Human Personality; Plato; Yoruba


The Greek word y/vxr\ (psyche), translated as soul in English, is originally derived from a Greek verb which means "to cool", or "to blow", denoting animating principle in man and animal. Although the root of the word translated as soul denotes life in general, the term "soul" in Classical and modem context carries the meaning of an undying, immaterial essence that continues in conscious existence after death. The Homeric Age marked the beginning of different stages in the meaning of the term "soul" and other Greek words, such as Qvpos (breath), jcvsvpa (Pneuma), and vous (mind), began to be used to represent the idea of soul.

The pre-Socratic philosophers present different ideas of the soul. For instance, Thales, who was the first philosopher of historical record, explains his philosophical thought of soul in a term known as panpsychism, which is a philosophical view that the soul is a universal feature of all things, and primordial, from which all others are derived. Thales believes that the soul is the motive force. He uses as an example, magnet, which can move iron or metal. He claims that owing to this, the magnet possesses a soul. Anaximander gives the soul an aeriform structure, while Heraclitus depicts it as a fire. Pythagoras, on the other hand, describes the soul as a harmony of perfect mathematics ratio and declares the soul to be immortal, maintaining that the highest purpose of humans should be to purify their souls by cultivating intellectual virtues, refraining from sensual pleasures, and practising special religious rituals. Democritus sees the soul as constituted of atoms. Both Plato and the Yoruba conceive the soul to be a spiritual entity that determines the personality of an individual.


With the various developments in the Greek context of word 'soul', Plato views and describes the soul from angles, proffering different theories in explaining what the soul is, ranging from its immortality to its function as the keeper of the person and as the moulder of human personality. In the Laws, he defines the soul as "selfmovement" and "self-initiating motion" (896a-b). Plato describes man as being constituted of body and soul and considers the soul to be an independent, substantial reality and the essence of a person since the soul is prior to body, body secondary and derivative. Plato proves this through the process of elimination. There are three suppositions, one is that the human person is essentially a soul or a body or a combination of body and soul. The body does not rule itself; therefore, it cannot be a body. And if the body does not rule itself it cannot be in combination of the body and soul ruling. …

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