Searching for the Soul

I think there are two forms of prevailing ways to critique an Ancient Greek understanding of the soul. For me, the image that immediately comes to mind is Plato's Chariot Allegory in Phaedrus (sections 246a–254e). Similar allegories have also appeared in the Indian work Katha Upanishad and another in the story of Vajira.

God or Goodness, for us Platonic philosophers, doesn't have a soul in and of itself, meaning that the manifestations of God/Good have no collective idea, awareness, or consciousness in and of itself. Could it be that this explanation is a better answer to the Problem of Evil than any offered by Epicurus (341-270 BC)? In my opinion, it is because it's a consilient approach. At some point in the future, I might defend a position of divine providence (but not today). Coming from a recovering atheist, readers may be given the impression that I covertly slipping into the waters of born again-ery. However, this is far from the truth. It is my goal in life to die only once. No re-births for me or the donkey I rode in on.

The idea (ἰδέα) of Jesus is quite simple; he is supposed to be the ideal representation of the human with an emphasis on the ideal son, which, in a patriarchal power structure, this hegemony is the Golden Rule.  Bringing this back to the house of the Lord, the unknowable, unspeakable, all-knowing creator of everything, the Problem of Evil has persisted since the last paragraph. It will persist (more than likely) even after you finish reading this article.

We all know that Jesus rode into town on a donkey; my ass is close behind and an integral part of my daily routine. Where do you sit?

The Problem of Evil was popularized by David Hume and is essential to studying theology and ethics. It was Hume who gets most of the credit for the philosophical argument because there is no extant work from Epicurus that has survived. If you look carefully at Hume's response, which I will quote below, there is one fundamental flaw with the logic, p can not lead to q because the definition of p is incorrect. In the example below, "c" is the conclusion, which doesn't logically follow because, as I have already stated, the premise (p) definition is false.

P1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
P2. There is evil in the world.

C1. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

Hume summarizes Epicurus's version of the problem: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then from whence comes evil?"[1]

All I am saying is that we have to come to terms with evil in this world and accept that God has absolutely nothing to do with evil because it is either a) entirely man-made, or b) an interpretation of the life process viewed through the guise of anthropomorphism.  

The soul is the same thing. There is no world soul. Like the chariot rider, it requires a conductor and human intervention for the concept to emerge. You know, a tree falling in a forest philosophy. If there were no trees, nothing could fall, except for God and Goodness in itself. Do you see the problem?

You can read the entire Phaedrus online for free here. Plato/Socrates hit the subject from another angle and metaphor – that of a rational man, lion, and hydra-like beast – in Book IX of the Republic.

Illustration by Ted Slampyak


[1]: Hickson, Michael W. (2014). "A Brief History of Problems of Evil". In McBrayer, Justin P.; Howard-Snyder, Daniel (eds.). The Blackwell Companion to The Problem of Evil. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1-118-60797-8.

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