Plato's Theory of Ethics: The Moral Criterion and the Highest Good

By R. C. Lodge | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VII
SOUL--BODY--WEALTH

ONE of the most frequently mentioned scales of goods, a scale not only current throughout the Hellenic world, but definitely accepted by Plato and emphasized as of the first importance for moral living, is the scale of soul-body, or soul-body-wealth. In the present chapter we shall first attempt to discover precisely what Plato understands by "soul" and "body," so as to realize upon what grounds the one is ranked higher than the other in the scale of valaes,1 and shall then consider "wealth" in relation to the soul-body scale. Finally we shall attempt to consider more thoroughly its significance for Platonism by relating it to a number of the other scales accepted by Plato.

By "soul," then, in the first place, Plato, like any other Greek, understands life, i.e. the vital principle manifested in all entities which are regarded as living, such as plants, animals, human beings, higher orders of beings.1a Not all these living entities have quite the same functions, and for the purpose of studying the value-scale in Platonism it is, at present, seldom necessary to leave the central point in the above list of entities endowed with life, i.e. human beings. As the chief functions of such organisms, according to Plato, are (1) biological, (2) social, and (3) cognitive, we shall proceed to investigate the nature of the vital principle in relation to these vital functions.


1. The biological functions.

These are summed up in the terms nutrition and reproduction. We shall first investigate the meaning of these terms for Plato, and shall then ask what the soul does in relation to these biological functions. For Plato these are the most universal functions of the living organism, and are uniformly regarded as reactions of an instinctive nature. Hunger, thirst, and sex are "necessary" appetites, fundamental instincts.2 As forces which impel to action, they are without equal in respect of intensity, and so wide is the scope

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