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PSYCHE IN ANCIENT GREEK THOUGHT MICHAEL F. FRAMPTON* Introduction: The Two Paradigms The importance of psychiatry in Western society indicates that we care a great deal for our psyche or soul. I assume this without question, despite the suggestion of early behaviorists that we might better do without psyche [I]. But the question as to what the psyche might be is more controversial. There are discernible, however, two basic paradigms —the physicalist and the mentalist—that have divided thinkers from the time of the ancient Greeks to the present day. The physicalist paradigm of psyche assumes that psychological phenomena are reducible to, and a function of, biological events. This is the assumption of biological psychiatry, which is currently experiencing a resurgence after its eclipse by psychoanalytic psychiatry. The intellectual ancestors of biological psychiatrists today are the pre-Socratic philosophers and Hippocratic physicians, who fashioned the psyche—originally a vague life-force in Homer—out of an identifiable material substance. The behavior of this substance was thought to determine mental phenomena . The mentalist paradigm posits an autonomously functioning psyche that is incompletely reducible to its biological substrate. Psychoanalytic psychiatry assumes such an autonomy, and so formulates rules of psychological functioning that have little connection with known physical processes. The remote intellectual ancestor ofthe psychoanalytic psychiatrist is not Freud, but Plato, who formulated the first mentalist psychology . Plato believed that the psyche is a unique incorporeal substance that obeys its own laws and can determine the behavior of physical substances , such as those of the body. This was in response to inadequacies he perceived in the physicalist formulations ofhis contemporaries, much as the deficiencies in nineteenth-century physical science led Freud to ?Resident, Department of Psychiatry, University of Rochester Medical Center, 300 Crittenden Boulevard, Rochester, New York 14642.© 1988 by The University of Chicago. AU rights reserved. 0031-5982/88/3102-0566101.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 31, 2 ¦ Winter 1988 \ 265 abandon current neurophysiological models in favor of his psychodynamic model of the psyche. Utilizing for the most part ancient texts that use the word "psyche," I propose to trace the origin and development of these two archetypal paradigms from Homer to Plato. The die having been cast in ancient times, these paradigms have continued to act as intellectual templates for succeeding ages up to and including our own. This later influence will also be touched on here. I hope thereby to give the reader a better idea of the extraordinary persistence of these paradigms through time, as well as how and why they arose in the first place. The perspective gained will enable a more sound (certainly a more sober) assessment of the "new" developments in psychological medicine. (See Comments on Readings.) Homer, Archaic Poets, and Pre-Socratics: The Physicalist Paradigm Psyche appears for the first time on the battlefields of Homer's Iliad (c. 800 b.c.), upon which occurred time and time again a phenomenon that was at once ordinary, embittering, and puzzling, that is, the transition of a vigorous, living human being into a dead one. "Anger be now your song, immortal Muse, Achilles' anger, doomed and ruinous, that gave to the Greeks loss on bitter loss, sending the many brave psychae of heroes to Hades, while leaving the heroes themselves as prey for all the dogs and birds" [2, 3, 1.1-5]. Paradoxically, in Homer the psyche is devoid of psychological functions (e.g., perceptions, thought, emotion, or consciousness) that it would accrue through later Greek thinkers. Potentially lost, destroyed, stolen, risked, or gained, it is an undefined life-force that goes away in death and leaves an inanimate body behind. The psyche might best be thought of as the sine qua non of life, or that without which life is not. At the moment of death, the psyche flees the body from the mouth or perhaps a spear wound and therefore does not appear to have a particular physical embodiment such as air or breath or blood. It survives in Hades as an eidolon or ghost of the once-living person, and is compared to a shadow, a dream, smoke, a twittering bat. It lacks substance, strength, speech, and wits, all of which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 265-284
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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