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The opposite ought to be expected: that the sections of the dialogue concerning rhetoric and writing would lend support to the philosophical credibility of the Great Speech. Besides, we should recall that the Great Speech consists of argument as well as myth. While the argument to the effect that the soul is necessarily always in motion and therefore is immortal is an unusually dense and rigorous proof, 43 Socrates indicates that myth is more appropriate for the task at hand. Furthermore, a myth may well be the best device available for exploring a subject which lies beyond the realm of ordinary reason and experience, namely the nature of the soul; 44 the same holds for explaining eros in terms of an extra-rational condition, a kind of madness cf.

Turning to doctrinal matters, on the one hand, it is arguable that the palinode revives some views that may have been criticised in earlier dialogues or had disappeared long before. On the other hand, in some cases it is not certain that Plato has abandoned the relevant views on the basis of previous criticism, whereas in other cases the reemergence of certain positions in the Great Speech can plausibly be explained by reference to the dramatic and philosophical context.

For instance, while it is true that paradigmatism is criticised in the Parmenides , there is no decisive evidence that the Parmenides predates the Phaedrus. And in any case, assuming that the Timaeus was completed after the Parmenides , it constitutes strong evidence that paradigmatism was not abandoned on the basis of the criticisms in the Parmenides which, as Parmenides himself says, can be answered.

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Besides, in the dramatic context of the palinode, paradigmatism seems to be a fairly intuitive way in which Socrates explains to Phaedrus how love for a beautiful youth can lead towards Beauty, and the same consideration applies to recollection. On another matter regarding the structure of the soul, it is true that the tripartite soul of the palinode does not exactly match the three parts of the soul in the Republic 46 or elsewhere. Importantly, there does not seem to be a one-to-one correspondence between the two lower parts of the soul in the Republic and the two winged horses in the Phaedrus and one difference is that in the latter dialogue the roles of the two horses remain underdetermined.

On the other hand, there does not seem to be any real conflict between the Republic and the Phaedrus on this point. Moreover, as will become clear, the metaphorical imagery of the myth suits well its philosophical purpose.

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In particular, the partially defined roles of the horses and especially of the white horse successfully convey the idea that in erotic love impulse cannot be easily distinguished from appetite. On the one hand, he asserts that he is by divine gift an expert at love a , thus implying that he has the relevant kind of knowledge to be able to give a truthful or approximately truthful account of eros. On the other hand, he has a rhetorical goal, namely to convince Phaedrus to direct himself towards living a life devoted to eros and philosophy b.

As we learn from the second part of the Phaedrus , the only kind of rhetoric able to persuade the wise is truthful rhetoric, i. Socrates claims to know the truth about eros and at the same time follows the rhetorical convention of telling his audience that he will speak the truth. And although he disavows expertise in both rhetoric and dialectic cf. Here is not the place to decide whether Socrates is the only true rhetor or whether he identifies philosophy and rhetoric.

In other words, the enquiry into eros is an enquiry into the nature of the self and in particular the human self. From the start, Socrates rejects the assumption on which his previous speech was based, namely that eros is madness and madness is bad. Although the thesis that the real self is the soul is, by the date of composition of the Phaedrus , standard Socratic or Platonic doctrine, nonetheless it is not as explicitly stated in the palinode as it is stated, for instance, in the Apology , the Crito , the Phaedo , and the Alcibiades. Since the body is the thing that dies while the soul is the immortal surviver of that union, it is reasonable to infer that selfhood and personal identity reside in the soul, not in the body.

The same inference is strongly suggested by the contention that the soul consists of higher and lower elements, of which the former the charioteer of the simile rules the latter; 50 one of the lower elements the black horse of the simile which roughly corresponds to the appetitive part pertains specifically to the body and its needs cf. However, it must be noted that although selfhood pertains peculiarly to the ruling element corresponding to reason, nonetheless the two lower parts of the soul, the horses of the simile, are not irrelevant to the self. It is worth quoting the passage in full.

Justice and Temperance and the other objects which are precious to souls do not shine through their images here on earth; only a few people, approaching the images through the murky senses, are able to contemplate, though with difficulty, the form of what they imitate. If this contention is correct, the palinode differs in that respect from the Alcibiades and perhaps also the Charmides 52 for, unlike those dialogues, it suggests neither that the individual self eventually becomes one with universals such as wisdom and god cf.

And something similar holds for the characteristics that the myth ascribes to the eleven choruses of souls following the eleven gods as they patrol the heavens: the features differentiating each chorus apply to each and every soul in that chorus. Every soul has the form cf. In sum, to speak of the experiences and deeds of the soul there is need to focus on the soul as an individual. And since the soul is the self, the myth narrates the travels and travails of the self considered individually more than in a collective manner. The gods, who are driving their winged chariots each leading his or her own procession, are each identical with himself or herself, i.

As mentioned, the characteristics of each god are also shared by the souls who have chosen to follow him or her in the heavens, and especially by those who attend closely the god of their choice, making themselves most godlike a. The souls are further individuated by reference to their experiences during the supra-celestial procession. The degree to which each soul contemplates the Forms also depends on accidental factors, which may burden the soul to the point of bringing it from the heaven down to earth c. So, while some souls fly high enough for the charioteer to keep his head raised and take a look at the realities beyond the heaven a , others see Forms only intermittently a , and many do not see Forms at all a-b.

This last group of souls can be differentiated further in accordance with the opinions that each of these souls holds, mistaking them for knowledge b. Thus, unlike the gods all of whom lead a similar kind of life in heaven, each of the other souls has its own supra-celestial history, which is determined by a set of factors relevant only to that soul. These factors also influence the lives that each soul lives on earth during the reincarnation cycle. At least in the first incarnation cf.

For they could insist that, even if the soul can be individuated in the above respects, nonetheless it becomes non-individual and impersonal in the very act of contemplating the Forms ; for contemplation, they could maintain, involves the assimilation of the knowing soul to its object and hence the abolition of what we commonly consider the self. To meet that objection I wish now to argue that, in fact, individuality constitutes a necessary presupposition for both the contemplation of the Forms in the heavens and their recollection by embodied souls on earth.

Recall that the avowed purpose of the palinode is to praise eros and that Socrates has defined eros as a most beneficial kind of madness that the soul of an older man experiences when it sees a particular instance of Beauty, a beautiful boy, and begins to recollect Beauty itself.

And the converse, which holds for most men: their souls have not seen much of the Forms in their discarnate state and therefore are unable to see the Form of Beauty in a particular, so they are unable to truly fall in love.

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On the one hand, all true lovers have a common experience in so far as they see the Form of Beauty in the particular object of their eros cf. On the other hand, eros also remains a powerful desire of one individual for another. Every soul is numerically distinct, the same as itself and different from every other soul.

It is marked by its own tendencies and makes its own choices. It has its own history and its own experiences. It determines its own future and in particular the nature and duration of the reincarnation cycle.

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It has the power of recollection, and it can be transported by love. In virtue of these last two features, I shall now maintain, it has also the power to transcend itself. The peculiarly close association of the black horse with some individual body is conveyed by the description of its properties. The upshot is that appetite makes it difficult to drive the soul upwards towards the Forms. For appetite can find its full expression and fulfillment only if the soul lives the life of the body and caters to its needs. Although they are still in heaven, their lower element has got its way; 70 their individuality is already very much determined by reference to the body.

And that situation acquires additional poignancy when human beings fall into the throes of eros. Here too the physicality of the language is unmistakeable. While the noble lover pursues the beautiful youth of his choice because he sees Beauty in him and that sight causes the wings of his soul to grow cf. Even the lovers of honour the second best kind of lovers must yield somewhat to its urges cf. What of reason? This question brings us back to our starting point: the issue of transcendence and the debate between the universalists and the particularists.

The position that I wish to advocate is this. Reason must retain its individuality because it is yoked together with the non-rational elements of the soul and hence cannot become entirely Form-like. But it also must break, albeit temporarily, its own boundaries in order to seek its proper sustenance. Socrates alludes, I think, precisely to the relevant kind of transcendence when he poses the question whether there may not be something divine in us.


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The degree to which each incarnate soul can transcend its own boundaries varies. Mostly, it depends on the causal history of the soul before birth and, to a lesser extent, on the training of the lower elements.

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To substantiate these claims and, especially, to clarify further that concept of transcendence I propose to revisit the myth of the palinode for one last time. The Charmides develops its central contention, that sophrosyne is a kind of knowledge, on the grounds of an apparently unwarranted shift from something individual and personal, the self, to something universal and impersonal, knowledge. It remains open, I think, whether the soul which effects this transcendence preserves its own individuality or, alternatively, becomes one with divine wisdom. There is no doubt that every team remains the same as itself whether it is moving upwards or downwards — in other words, it retains its own individual identity.

However, when the charioteer manages to pull the entire team up to the rim of heaven, the Forms are not seen by the entire individualised soul, but only by its driver: only he can engage in contemplation, whereas the other two parts of the team cannot. From the standpoint of the individual, then, the contemplation of Forms can be said to involve a movement of the mind up and outwards : up with regard to the earth and the concerns of the body; outwards perhaps with regard to accepted views that one tends to presuppose without further reflection.

First, transcendence presupposes the cooperation of all three parts of the soul. Whether the lower elements are gently induced to align themselves to the goal of reason 78 or violently compelled to do so, 79 the fact is that reason cannot see Forms without them. Second, the gods alone can effect completely and perfectly the act of transcendence which consists in contemplating the Forms, whereas human souls can perform that act partially and imperfectly in various degrees depending on their individual condition.

As mentioned, even the human souls that are godlike cannot have a full and unimpeded view of the Forms but barely see them cf.


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Third, while the metaphor of nourishment might point to some sort of assimilation of the mind with the Forms, as I indicated, that possibility is precluded by several elements of the myth. In fact, the myth preserves all the way through the distinction between the knower and the objects of knowledge, and that distinction holds for the souls of the gods as well as for the souls of men.

And even if the mind were assimilated to the Forms, the other parts of the soul would not be able to do so, for they do not feed on Forms. The horses of the divine souls feed on nectar and ambrosia e , which are divine substances to be sure, but not Forms. As for the horses of the human souls, the metaphor suggests, I believe, that there is a kind of nourishment appropriate for them too which, however, does not consist in Forms.

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Fourth, the black horse is both an obstacle to and a precondition for transcendence, as is shown by the analysis of eros. The explanation of eros shows how the struggle between these two elements is severe and why the stakes are so high.

If the worse element gets its way, transcendence is impossible: the lovers will live the life of animals cf. If, on the other hand, the better element controls the worse completely or almost, transcendence is possible and the better souls can have access to the Forms. Moreover, there emerges a new conception of rationality, which focuses on the transcendental activity of the mind, and also makes room for certain conditions that fall outside the realm of ordinary reason.

Eros is the most beneficial of these conditions, a form of madness uniquely capable of aiding reason to recollect Beauty and the other Forms. As the palinode makes clear, the only persons who have that ability are the philosophers, the lovers of beauty, or those with a musical and erotic nature d. Whatever the relation between these categories, it must be an intimate one.

We are both beasts and men, both more complex and simpler, both human and divine. Our humanity is eminently related to the activity and rule of the divine element in us, whereas our body pertains to our animal nature.