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Plato on the Limits of Human Life

Sara Brill

Publication Year: 2013

By focusing on the immortal character of the soul in key Platonic dialogues, Sara Brill shows how Plato thought of the soul as remarkably flexible, complex, and indicative of the inner workings of political life and institutions. As she explores the character of the soul, Brill reveals the corrective function that law and myth serve. If the soul is limitless, she claims, then the city must serve a regulatory or prosthetic function and prop up good political institutions against the threat of the soul’s excess. Brill’s sensitivity to dramatic elements and discursive strategies in Plato’s dialogues illuminates the intimate connection between city and soul.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: Studies in Continental Thought


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

I am indebted to my parents, Pam and Bob, and brother Rob, for creating an environment in which eccentricities are warmly accepted, supported, and treated as sources of amusement. I would also like to acknowledge my wonderful colleagues in Fairfield University’s Philosophy Department for providing a welcoming and friendly environment in which to work; ...

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pp. 1-14

Near the end of Alcibiades I, Socrates proposes an image for attaining the knowledge of soul that he and Alcibiades have agreed is necessary for self-knowledge. Just as the eye, in attempting to see itself, must look at itself in another eye (133a) and at the image of its seeing reflected therein, so too, the soul, if it is to know itself, “must surely look at a soul, ...

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Part I. Phaedo

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pp. 15-18

From a zoological perspective, the Phaedo contains a bestiary to be reckoned with. References to swans and swallows, bees and bulls, ants, frogs, and dogs, to name just a few, appear throughout its pages. This profusion of living beings is matched in the Phaedo by a profusion of kinds of accounts. During the course of the dialogue we encounter the musikē of poetry and song, ...

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1: Socratic Prothumia

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pp. 19-36

Socrates’s defense of the calmness with which he confronts his death unfolds within a theological framework with which he has a vital, if also uneasy, relationship. Indeed, he is granted the opportunity of giving this defense because of a delay in his execution due to a religious observation: the citywide observance of a vow to Apollo, ...

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2: The Body-like Soul

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pp. 37-63

Socrates’s and his interlocutors’ extended investigation of the soul’s immortality begins as a more thorough telling, a (διεθνολὀγος)(70b), of an opinion about death that Socrates playfully presented as his apologia of his confidence in the face of death (63b). That it is the defense’s conception of the soul that is particularly problematic is suggested by Cebes, ...

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3: Psychic Geography

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pp. 64-82

When Socrates concludes the four logoi about immortality with the observation that it is to the care of the soul that they must turn, “not only for this time in which we call ‘being alive’ goes on, but for time as a whole” (107c), it would seem as though he simply passes over the need to give an account of “being alive.” ...

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Part II. Republic

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pp. 83-92

In the tenth book of the Republic, Socrates concludes the discussion of the immortality of the soul and introduces the myth of Er with a powerful, if also ambiguous, qualification. The study of soul that he and his interlocutors have conducted in order to judge what form of life is best has discerned the conditions of soul in its human life, but has, Socrates notes, failed to grasp soul in its true nature (612a). ...

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4: City and Soul

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pp. 93-105

The majority of the conversation that comprises the Republic occurs because Socrates is trapped by his own piety: unable to hear justice slandered, he agrees to defend the just life by showing the effects of justice and injustice on the soul. Glaucon and Adeimantus offer a number of formulations of this task. ...

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5: Psychic Fragmentation

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pp. 106-122

While books 2 and 3 provide an account of the vehicles through which city and soul affect one another, books 4 and 5 elaborate upon the complexity that is interior to soul and identify the tense interaction between desire and other elements of the soul as decisive for the unity or fragmentation of both soul and city. ...

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6: Philosophy in the City

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pp. 123-137

As we have seen in the previous chapter, in book 5 Socrates explores the forms of fragmentation and unity to which soul and city are subject and introduces a distinction between desiderative orientations that illuminates two courses of life, that of the lover of wisdom and that of the lover of opinion. ...

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7: Politics and Immortality

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pp. 138-164

Book 10 opens with Socrates’s observation that their most recent comments have illustrated the correctness of their earlier critical assessment of poetry. He then levels a charge against the imitative arts as such: they “seem to maim the thought of those who hear them and do not as a remedy have the knowledge of how they really are” (595b). ...

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Part III. Laws

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pp. 165-170

The Laws is often treated as Plato’s illegitimate child—awkward, crude, embarrassing, a progeny best kept upstairs and out of sight when company is over. Although some of this attitude can be attributed to a variety of prejudices about who Plato is and what his work means, the generally negative reception of the dialogue is not simply a function of scholarly foibles. ..

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8: Psychology for Legislators

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pp. 171-178

In the first book of the Laws, the Athenian Stranger and his interlocutors turn to discuss the best form of civic education, one that would provide for the well-being of citizens. They conceive of education in terms that merit comparison with Republic: education is a matter of becoming good (634e, 644a), and requires a training in pleasures and desire (643c) ...

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9: Psychology for the Legislated

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pp. 179-191

The Athenian’s turn to penal law begins with a lament that such legislation is necessary in Magnesia (853b). However, he quickly acknowledges that they are humans legislating for humans, and that the account of human nature and the human soul they have been developing reveals the necessity for laws of the sort they are about to create. ...

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10: Psychic Excess

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pp. 192-208

Early on in the lengthy prelude addressed to the would-be atheist, the Athenian makes a statement about soul whose ambiguity and profundity beg comparison with that fateful description of the good from Republic 6 as “beyond being” (῾επἑκεινα τἢς οὐσἱας) (509b). If, observes the Athenian, soul can be shown to be generated prior to things like fire and air, ...


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pp. 209-248

Works Cited

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pp. 249-256


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pp. 257-260

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About the Author

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p. 272-272

Sara Brill is an associate professor of philosophy and the director of the Classical Studies Program at Fairfield University.

E-ISBN-13: 9780253008916
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253008824

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Revised Edition
Series Title: Studies in Continental Thought