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  • The Embodied Soul in Plato's Later Thought by Chad Jorgensen
  • Chiara T. Ricciardone
Chad Jorgensen. The Embodied Soul in Plato's Later Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. x + 217. Cloth, £75.00

Binaries are bad: false, distorting, hierarchical—or worse. This postmodern axiom has been widely accepted in scholarship and culture, and Plato is frequently blamed for promulgating some of the most enduring binaries of thought: being and becoming, truth and illusion, and, not least, body and soul. In this book, Chad Jorgensen argues for a more integrated picture of body and soul in Plato's later dialogues than Neoplatonism has left us, especially via the doctrine of separation as seen in Phaedo. Focusing especially on the first books of Republic, on Timaeus, and on Philebus, he emphasizes the "equilibrium" or "harmonious mixture" of the parts of soul in its interrelationship with the body.

The first half of the book advances Jorgensen's argument step by step, treating the parts of the tripartite soul individually. Jorgensen begins with thymos. He defines it as a drive to excel, and argues that it is best understood as an ally and intermediary of the rational part. Whether a soul seeks to overtake others physically, financially, or in its own self-mastery, he argues, the thymos is always directed by a concept of goodness determined by the rational part. For him, this means that the thymos "represents an extension of reason into the bodily realm," and therefore indicates a more positive and connected relationship to the physical than seen in Phaedo.

In the next chapter, "Appetitive Soul," Jorgensen pursues a dual strategy. Firstly, he argues that the appetitive soul is fundamentally sub-rational, associated with the pleasures and pains of the body, and affected by images rather than reason. Secondly, he emphasizes the dialogues (chiefly Philebus, Timaeus, and Protagoras) and ways in which pleasures are coopted into Plato's account of the good. Jorgensen's point is never to dispute the sovereignty of the rational soul, to which he turns in chapter 3. Rather, he wants to remind us that the human good involves a synergy of the separate parts, and thus an acceptance of the bodily.

The fourth chapter, "Measuring Pleasure," is the hinge of this account of the interrelationship of body and parts of soul. Jorgensen casts Plato's calculus of pleasure and [End Page 340] pain as replacing the paradigm of purification in Phaedo with an "equilibrium" approach. On this view, the problem is not that bodily pleasures sometimes overmaster and pollute the rational soul, but that we are not always able to calculate the proper good/bad proportion. Jorgensen rightly points out that medicine is one of the primary modes by which Plato mediates between the rational soul and the body.

In the last three chapters ("Eudaimonia," "The Political Sphere," and "Eschatology"), the reader can evaluate the consequences of Jorgensen's argument for broader questions about Plato scholarship and human flourishing. Of special interest may be the chapter on politics. What does the interrelationship of body and soul have to do with Plato's contentious politics? There is a case to be made that politics entails the intersection of bodily needs (for food, security etc.) with the needs of soul (for competition, beauty, and truth), but Jorgensen falls in line with Plato's preference for defining politics in terms of the care for the soul, and the body seems to drop out of this chapter. Does this absence help Jorgensen when he defends the philosopher's disengagement from politics? Contra Plato, Jorgensen wishes to offer an apologia for democracy because it allows the already-philosophically-virtuous to flourish, but his defense crumbles when one considers Plato's statements about the corrupting effects of rhetoric in democracy.

Overall, Jorgensen's main argument depends on the accuracy of the developmental view of Plato. Though a common strategy, the greatest risk of this framework is the missed opportunity to break new ground. For example, in the final chapter on Plato's eschatological myths, Jorgensen hardly mentions the way Plato discusses the disembodied soul in deliberately bodily terms. I wonder: what if Jorgensen had not depended on a received...


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pp. 340-341
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