Two Views of the Body in Plato’s Dialogues
In this paper, I identify two distinct positions on the nature of the body in Plato’s dialogues. One view, which I call the pessimistic view, holds that the body is evil and as such represents an obstacle to one’s epistemic and moral development. Another view, which I call the optimistic view, holds that the body is not itself either evil or good, but rather is capable of becoming either. The two views are, I argue, incompatible. Worse still, each view is individually incompatible with other claims that Plato is eager to advance in some dialogues. The pessimistic view, I argue, is (and is portrayed by Plato as being) incompatible with the thesis that one who has knowledge will not err. The optimistic view is incompatible with the thesis that no one errs willingly. Here I consider a number of passages in Plato’s dialogues where the nature of the body is featured, but focus particularly on passages from the Timaeus and Laws, which explicitly endorse the pessimistic and optimistic views, respectively. Plato’s views of the body, I suggest, have far reaching implications for his views on the sources of moral error and the power of knowledge in guiding right action.
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