The Visual Soul

To Plato, the soul is separate from the body and is its own entity. He argues that when the soul searches for itself, “it passes into the realm of the pure and everlasting”[1]. Plato also argues about virtue, “virtue is something in the soul, and necessarily good”[2]. Therefore, I argue that when humans have virtue, or at least certain virtuous qualities, it is a connection between the soul and the body, in which the body achieves a quality apart from its usual debauchery. In the course of this text, we will examine this connection and what virtue truly is. We will learn that this connection can only be possible when the soul is the one to draw the body in, and initiate the connection; however, the body must prepare for this connection, and only when the body is ready will it be able to express the soul.

One of Plato’s main arguments in Phaedo is that the body is corrupt and variable. Plato argues that the body corrupts the soul when it draws the soul from its realm of the invariable. In Plato’s mind, the soul and body are completely different things, “…one to serve and be subject, the other to rule and govern”[3]. This theme is common in human thinking, the idea that there must be a ruler and a subject, and that the two are completely different. Moreover, the ruler must be supreme to the subject in all qualities. But aren’t there exceptions to this rule? Plato states (in the words of Socrates),

The soul is most like that which is divine, immortal, intelligible, uniform, indissoluble, and ever self-consistent and invariable, whereas body is most like that which is human, mortal, multiform, unintelligible, dissoluble and never self-consistent. [4]

If we look to this idea of “the divine” and man, we find a scenario in which the line between ruler and subject is blurred. See, in The Bible it is taught that God made man in his own image. The Bible teaches us that God is the ruler, and we the subjects. But aren’t there times when God connects with Man? God wasn’t a silent puppetmaster in The Bible; he interacted with Man when he felt he needed to. He created Man in his own image, and was there to steer the course in God’s own direction. Moreover, He did not interact with only the most pure of Man: no, he interacted with the worst of the worst. God, the ruler, made connections with Man, the subject.

This was even more true of the polytheistic Gods of Plato’s times. Their Gods interacted with Man even more than the Christian God, and even had children with mortals. This leads to the idea of the soul, the ruler, having a connection with the body, the subject. However, like the analogy of God and Man, this connection doesn’t happen frequently. There are several different connections the soul and body can make. There is the full connection, analogous to God choosing Moses, or a demigod, and then there are the small transient connections, analogous to the everyday “miracles” and “divine intervention.” This connection, I argue, is when Man is virtuous.

In Plato’s Meno, Socrates and Meno come to a conclusion that “…virtue appears present in those who have it only as a gift from the gods”[5]. Well, I disagree. If Plato argues so forcefully that wisdom is when the soul searches for itself in the realm of the pure and everlasting, moreover, that the soul is immortal and contains information from a thousand lives past, then wouldn’t the soul have found or at least investigated virtue?  Furthermore, Plato argues that virtue “ …must be a matter of mindfulness. For all other qualities of soul are in themselves neither good nor harmful”[6]. But what if the soul is pure, like Plato argues? Then whatever translates from the soul to the body must be pure.

It is important to note the order of the connection. When the body draws the soul out it is impure, and tears the soul away from its invariable state. This means that when the soul draws the body in, it is pure, and tears the body away from its variable state. This connection, when the soul draws the body in, has to be pure. Plato argues that the soul is easily corrupted by the body when it is drawn out, so shouldn’t the body be easily purified when it is drawn in? See? It isn’t mindfulness that draws virtue out of the soul, it is the very connection itself between soul and body that brings about virtue.

It is important to know my definition of virtue. I believe that virtue is the embodiment of the pure soul; it is simply the visibility of the human soul. Going back to my first argument, there are two different scenarios in which the soul expresses itself visually. The first is the full connection, in which the soul has drawn the body in to an extent where the soul is visible frequently. This would be considered a virtuous man. The second connection, however, only happens sparingly, and may happen to the normal man only a handful times in his life, or perhaps not at all. These are times when a man is virtuous, when he embodies his soul for a short time and exhibits virtuous qualities.

So how does one make this connection between soul and body? Plato suggests that wisdom is when the soul explores for itself, detached entirely from the body. I believe, however, that there exists a balance between the soul and body. I believe wisdom is living a life in which you acknowledge the body is only a servant to the soul, where one must train the body to live as one with the soul. In the Christian tradition, Man is said to have been created in the eyes of God, and living a religious life is embodying these divine qualities. For that to make sense, one must first acknowledge the presence of God and the idea that we are derivatives of God. I believe it is the same with the body and soul. We must acknowledge that the body is but a derivative of the soul. Only then can we begin to understand the soul and the connection between the soul and body.

However, it is still important to keep the body from drawing the soul out. The soul must be the one to begin the connection with the body. This is why I believe virtue is learned. However, it is not learned in the type of classroom setting where most knowledge is obtained. No, this is learned through years of thought. One must think of the soul and its purity to begin the process, just like Man must think of God and all of his divine qualities in order to embody them. Plato says,

…when the soul uses the instrumentality of the body for any inquiry, whether through sight or hearing or any other sense– it is drawn away by the body into the realm of the variable, and loses its way and becomes confused and dizzy…[7].  

Unlike Plato, I argue that the soul needs to use the body at certain points. Just like God uses Man in times of need, like Moses freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt, the soul must use the body. The soul must correct the body when it is straying from its path. This is a two way street, just like how Man must accept God and trust Him in order to receive Him, the body must accept and trust the soul. Only then, once the body has accepted the presence of the soul and trusted it, can one’s soul connect with the body.

We have come to three conclusions. First, the soul and body are not merely two separate entities but are inextricably linked in the complex relationship of ruler and subject. The soul and body are connected because of the fact that the body is a derivative of the soul. Second, virtue is when the body is drawn in by the soul. Virtue is not a quality or a moral: it is the visibility of the human soul through a connection with the body. Third, this connection will not happen by chance: the body must work to unlock the connection. The body must first recognize the presence of the soul as a higher power, and then trust the soul in order to open itself for connection.

But what does this tell us? Like Socrates gave to his students, it gives us an orthopraxy. It doesn’t give us strict guidelines on how to live, but merely an idea of how to exist and leads us to find the steps on our own. We must take the time to examine the relationship between the soul and body and that will lead us to a connection, and inevitably, virtue.



[1] Phaedo, 79 D

[2] Meno, 23

[3] Phaedo, 80 A

[4] Phaedo, 80 B

[5] Meno, 35

[6] Meno, 23

[7] Phaedo, 79 C