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The Immortal Soul: Ideas of Socrates, Plato & Augustine

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  • 0:01 Dualism
  • 1:10 Socrates
  • 1:33 Plato
  • 2:04 Augustine
  • 3:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

Expert Contributor
Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

This lesson will explore the concept of the soul as an immortal object. In doing so, it will highlight the theories of Socrates, Plato, and Augustine. It will also define dualism.

Dualism

Starting things off on a rather morbid note, we are all going to die. Regardless of status, gender, or beliefs, one day each of us will cease to exist as we do today. For this reason, the question that's been keeping philosophers busy for thousands of years is not death. Instead it's, 'is there a soul that sticks around once the body has checked out?' To delve into this query let's take a look at Socrates', Plato's, and Augustine's views of the immortal soul.

For starters, all three of these guys held to dualism. Stated pretty simply, dualism is the belief that reality or existence is divided into two parts. When speaking of humanity, these two parts are usually identified as the body and the soul. Today, we'll focus on the soul.

When speaking of the soul, dualists see it as a real substance that exists independent from the body. Unlike our bodies, which are subject to decay, the soul is not subject to natural law. For many dualists, the soul is what separates us from animals. It's the seat of human consciousness. It's our intellect, our will, and our emotion.

Socrates

Keeping this dualistic base in mind, let's take a look at our three philosophers. Being the earliest of the three, we'll start with Socrates. Admittedly, much of what we know about Socrates is conjecture. Keeping our summary of his views rather general, he believed the soul is immortal. For this reason, he asserted that death is not the end of existence. Death is simply the separation of the soul from the body.

Plato

As a supposed student of Socrates, Plato agreed that the soul is immortal and separate from the body. However, he upped the ante a bit. He believed the soul was eternal. According to Plato, the soul doesn't come into existence with the body; it exists prior to being joined to the body.

Sounding a whole bunch like reincarnation, Plato believed the soul exists within a body until that body dies. It then sets up house in another body. For this reason, Plato called the body the prison of the soul.

Augustine

As our last dualistic thinker of the day, Augustine also believed the soul to be immortal. However, he believed the soul AND the body make up a human. The body isn't just a prison for a soul that jumps from body to body. Instead, one body and one soul make up one person. Yes, he agreed that the soul is immortal, he just didn't buy into the idea that it hops from body to body.

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The Immortal Soul: Ideas of Socrates, Plato & Augustine

Further Research

1. One of the key elements separating Socrates and Plato from Augustine is the element of Christianity. For the Ancient Greek philosophers, the underlying belief behind all philosophies is a belief in a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Augustine lived centuries later after the advent of mainstream Christianity. How does this difference relate to their ideas about the soul and its fate after death? Look up the Gnostic Gospels and you will find some evidence of a belief in reincarnation in early Christian thought.

2. In this lesson, you read about the concept of dualism as it applies to views about the body and soul. What other ideas are there about where our spirit, or the part that isn't physical, resides? Some terms to research for this information are monism, materialism, and idealism.

3. Part of Plato's concept of dualism is related to his teachings about the difference between what we see in the physical world and what really exists. Read Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" or read about it online. How does this idea connect to dualism regarding the existence of the soul.

4. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion that believes in reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. Read about the Hindu faith and their beliefs about the nature of the soul. Do you think that a polytheistic tradition like Hinduism or the Ancient Greek pantheon lends itself more readily to a dualistic view of the soul?

Possible Responses

1. Christianity is basically monistic in the view of the soul. In other words, the soul and the body are united and what the body does in life affects the soul after death. For the Gnostic Gospels, The Gospel of Thomas is a good source, as is The Secret Teachings of Jesus.

2. Monism: the soul and body are one

Idealism: the mind and spirit are the real person

Materialism: the physical body is the real person

3. Plato's Allegory of the Cave appears in the text called Republic. The connection to dualism is the separation between the real and the physical.

4. Polytheistic faiths generally have some belief based in dualism. For example, in Hinduism, the body is temporary while the soul is eternal and must experience several physical lives. Monotheistic faiths like Christianity can support dualism, with the caveat that there is only one physical life and the actions of the body affect the fate of the soul.

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