Long, A.A. Greek Models of Mind and Self

By Frey, Christopher | The Review of Metaphysics, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Long, A.A. Greek Models of Mind and Self


Frey, Christopher, The Review of Metaphysics


LONG, A. A. Greek Models of Mind and Self Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015. 248 pp. Cloth, $25.95--We are embodied, individual, human beings and, as such, we experience ourselves as living emotionally rich, reflective, and purposive lives. To conceive ourselves as selves--as individuals whose affective, emotional, and rational capacities allow us meaningfully to engage both our inner conscious lives and the populated world in which we are situated--is central to what it is to be a human being. But despite this self-understanding's importance, an incisive description of all it comprises is difficult to provide.

In Greek Models of Mind and Self, A. A. Long explores three "salient ways of describing and prescribing the way we experience, or might like to experience, the world and ourselves." These models are found in the works of Homer, Plato, and the Stoics. Long does not present these models as offering competing scientific theories. Instead, he thinks each model reveals an aspect of our selves to ourselves; each model, in its own way, aids us in our attempts to "make sense of living in the world."

According to Long, Homer offers a psychosomatic model of human identity. His poetry focuses on the passions and emotions that permeate our "embodied and time-governed existence." On this model, we are not composites of bodies and souls; we are complete and undifferentiated unities. Our mental lives are as bodily as are our nutritive lives, and it is as unitary, embodied individuals that we think, feel, deliberate, and act. When we die, a shade may survive us, but this is only a "ghostly replica of the living person" and is not the seat of our emotional, mental, and moral lives.

Plato's model differs from Homer's on almost every point. Plato maintains that (1) there is a strict dualism between souls (imperceptible, incorporeal, divine) and bodies (perceptible, changeable, impure); (2) souls are superior to and well-suited to govern or rule bodies; (3) we are to identify our moral and mental selves with our souls; and (4) the soul is immortal and exists as a complete person both before and after it is embodied.

How does this transition from the Homeric psychosomatic model to the Platonic psychic model occur? Long argues that "notions of an independent existence for the soul were encouraged by the hopes of an afterlife, which would reward good conduct or make up for unjust treatment, and mitigate the finality of death." Long also argues that the specific variety of body-soul dualism that Plato advocates is in large part a response to the rise of rhetoric. Gorgias, perhaps the most famous rhetorician, argues that the soul is unable to resist either rhetorical persuasion or bodily desires and attractions. Plato argues for the converse orientation: the soul, through the application of reason, can resist both the power of rhetoric and one's bodily appetites. To resist the body successfully, the soul itself must be in a state of well-being, and "the equivalent of health for the soul, the condition that the soul requires in order to possess order, harmony and structure, is a combination of justice and moderation. …

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