As we learn from Phaedo, Plato could not be present at the important philosophical conversation that took place on Socrates’ last day, because he was ill, just as the unnamed fourth guest missed Timaeus’ great speech because he was unwell. Starting from these two cases, and then by bringing in Plato’s remarks on illness in the Republic, the paper argues that for Plato illness is bad because it reduces the person’s agency in such a way that she cannot perform her key functions and tasks, and carry on with her long- or short-term projects. How can such disruptions be prevented and cured? In the Timaeus, the cosmos provides an example of an embodied living being who never gets ill, and whose body never disrupts the cognitive activities of its soul. The cosmos is eternally healthy because it constitutes a self-sustaining homeostatic system, in which the motions of the soul also guarantee the incessant well-balanced, metabolism of its body. This is unavailable to human beings, not only because we are not closed systems, but also because the motions of our rational soul do not directly regulate our metabolism. However, studying the cyclical physical processes in the cosmos, and their counterparts in the human organism, we can learn how to emulate, as far as possible, the regulated metabolism of the cosmos, and thereby become our own doctors.
The paper first discusses the metaphysical framework that allows the soul's integration into the physical world. A close examination of B36, supported by the comparative evidence of some other early theories of the soul, suggests that the word psuchê could function as both a mass term and a count noun for Heraclitus. There is a stuff in the world, alongside other physical elements, that manifests mental functions. Humans, and possibly other beings, show mental functions in so far as they have a portion of that stuff. Turning to the physical characterization of the soul, the paper argues that B36 is entirely consistent with the ancient testimonies that say that psuchê for Heraclitus is exhalation. But exhalations cover all states of matter from the lowest moist part of atmospheric air to the fire of celestial bodies. If so, psuchê for Heraclitus is both air and fire. The fact that psuchê can manifest the whole range of physical properties along the dry-wet axis guarantees that souls can show different intellectual and ethical properties as well. Moreover, Sextus Empiricus, supported by some other sources, provides us with an answer how portions of soul stuff are individuated into individual souls. The paper closes with a brief discussion of the question whether, and if so with what qualifications, we can apply the term 'physicalism' to Presocratic theories of the soul.
Brill’s Plato Studies Series aims to gather together the most recent and relevant contributions, in order to identify debates and trends within the study of Plato and to provide a holistic understanding of the wide range of issues related to Plato’s philosophy. Of special significance for the series will be the examination of Plato’s literary style and its relationship to his theoretical project as, perhaps, one of the central problems in the study of Plato and Ancient Philosophy as a whole. Even after two thousand years there is still no consensus about why Plato expresses his ideas in such a unique style and the series will aim to address this question. In addition, the Series will warmly welcome contributions focusing on internal and recurrent issues like the relation between myth and philosophy, language, epistemology and ontology in Plato’s work. Special attention will also be given to new interpretative challenges and recent hermeneutical trends, which have emerged from the globalization of current Platonic studies. These new approaches to Plato are likely to change the future frame of Platonic scholarship, providing instruments and renewed impulses for the generations of philosophers to come.