Monday, April 9, 2012

Platonic Reincarnation

In the Phaedrus Plato gets to dialog on the love for beautiful boys.  But before he does, he develops a full-scale myth on the reincarnation of souls, the so-called Chariot myth.

Souls, of course, are immortal.  There is something about a self-mover that cannot be created or destroyed, because it never starts or stops or anything like that.

But how does the soul work?   Plato conjures up the notion of a charioteer driving two horses.  That's no problem for the gods, because they have two good horses.  But everyone else has a mixture: one good horse and one bad horse.  "This means that chariot driving in our case is inevitably a painfully difficult business."  This gets ugly when the soul is in love with a beautiful boy.  That bad horse starts causing problems, big time.

Life in heaven is a parade of chariots, with Zeus first in the procession.  When he leads the procession up to the rim of heaven for a banquet, things get tricky for the folks with a bad horse.  Some few, some lucky few keep up with the gods and get a "view of Reality, just barely."  Those lucky ones get to partake in the godly feast, "seeing what is real and watching what is true" They get to see Justice as it is, and Self-control, and Knowledge.  On earth we get to see "knowledge that is close to change", the contingent knowledge that we know down on earth.

But most fail in acquiring knowledge like this. With bad horses and the incompetence of the charioteers, "the result is terribly noisy, very sweaty, and disorderly."  If you don't keep up with the gods then you shed your wings and fall to earth. Oh yes, up in heaven you have wings--with feathers.  What did you expect?

Fortunately, on this first fall from heaven, the soul is not incarnated into a wild beast, but into one of nine sorts of men, depending on the amount of Reality it got to see.  Tier One is your philosopher and lover of beauty; Tier Two is a king or general; Tier Three is a statesman, householder, or financier, and so on all the way down to Tier Nine, a tyrant.  If you live your incarnate life with justice then you get to return in heaven to a better one, to live as their manner of their human life has earned them.  Of course, you spend thousands of years in between lives, discarnate, charioteering and banqueting with the gods, or "condemned to go to places of punishment beneath the earth and pay the full penalty for their injustice."

Then, of course, you could return to earth as a wild animal.  For here is the judgment of the gods. A "soul that never saw the truth cannot take a human shape".  A human being "must understand speech in terms of general forms, proceeding to bring many perceptions together into a reasoned unity.  That process is the recollection of thing things our soul saw when it was traveling with god" seeing the "truly real".  A soul acquires its knowledge in heaven while traveling with the gods, and recollects it in mortal life as a soul-and-body.

You can spend a lot of time in heaven, waiting for your wings to grow, for only wings only grow for "the man who practices philosophy without guile or who loves boys philosophically.

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