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Neither the Body Without the Soul: Why does Medicine Matter?

Svetla Slaveva-Griffin

Florida State University

Neither the Body Without the Soul: Why does Medicine Matter?

In this paper, I propose to examine the Platonic understanding of healing as illustrated by two patients’ cases: 1) Charmides’ headache for which Socrates insists that in order for his remedy (φάρμακον) to work on the young man’s body, it has to be accompanied with an adjuvant incantation (ἐπῳδή) to his soul (Chrm. 155b–157d); and 2) the single living being of the kosmos (τὸ πᾶν) which is held together under the spell of Nature’s sympathetic bonds and is therefore a subject to the diversity of the many powers working on it (Enn. IV.4.40–45). According to Plotinus, magic (γοητεία) – with help from either incantations (ἐπῳδαί) or Nature itself – and the diverse nature of the living being of the universe are two of the ways in which spells work and make the universe itself a patient whose parts, like animal’s organs, are susceptible to disease and need to be treated with drugs (φάρμακα), amputated, or re-arranged. The first case opens Plato’s examination of temperance in the Charmides, the second closes Plotinus’ examination of magic, incantations, and man’s engagement with the practical life, benefitial or harmful, at the end of Ennead IV.4, the second installment in Porphyry’s division of Plotinus’ treatise Problems Concerning the Soul.

While scholars have scrutinized the top-down role of the soul in the psychosomatic compound of the individual, in Plato, or the universe, in Plotinus, the nature of the (Neo)Platonic understanding of healing, and the bottom-up role of the body and its accompanying art in the healing process have been left largely unexamined. This paper proposes to do just that. Through close examination of the above two examples, I will argue that the Platonic understanding of healing, despite the top-down architecture of its psychology, elicits and perhaps even redeems the importance of the body and the art of medicine in maintaining the health of the individual and the health of the universe.

From this perspective, the concept of health, although a specifically medical construct, acquires a genuinely Platonic facelift with two tributary ideas: 1) that the healing process is holistic in nature, involving both the body and the soul of the living being; and thereby 2) that the healing process includes both the art of medicine and the art of the Platonic way of living and its ensuing worldview.

The title above comes from the concluding thought of Socrates’ well-known analogy in the Charmides that we should not attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither should we attempt to cure “the body without the soul” (οὕτως οὐδὲ σῶμα ἄνευ ψυχῆς, Chrm. 156e1–2). The analogy has earned its reputation as Plato’s equation of “moderation” or “temperance” (σωφροσύνη) with the health of the soul. But the presence of the first, medical half, of the analogy suggests that there is more to Plato’s view of the analogy than the health of the soul. It presents, I conclude, his understanding of healing as a bipartite holistic process which includes the health of the body, attended by its accompanying art.

Plotinus, in his turn, problematizes the smoothness of the bipartite healing process in Plato by examining the dual, benefitial and harmful, role of incantations in this process and ultimately promoting the understanding that the single living being needs the help of the art of medicine, with its drugs, amputations, and adjustments, to maintain its health. He defines health as the state in which “the body is put together harmoniously” and disease as “a disturbed rational principle” (Enn. VI.9.1–2). In Enn. IV.4, before his discussion of magic, Plotinus presents a classification of the arts according to which the art of medicine, together with agriculture, is auxiliary to the natural processes. This definition of medicine puts the art in the felicitous position to be indeed the auxiliary art to the self-preservation power of nature and thus being a partner to the soul in restoring the health of the living being, individual or universal.

Plato and Plotinus offer two different, if not opposite, explanatory models of the Platonic understanding of health and healing in which the participation of the soul in the healing of the individual body matters as much as the participation of the body in the healing of the soul of the single living being. Instead of offering another example of the standard interpretation of the psychosomatic dichotomy in which the soul gets all the credit and the body gets all the blame, the Platonic understanding of health offers an ameliorative example. In it, the body and the art of medicine take the first step towards restoring and maintaining the health of the living being the second step of which is completed by the soul and its spell-bound agglutinative powers, influenced either by incantation, as in Plato, or by Nature’s binding charms or the arts of magic, as in Plotinus.

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Soul Matters: How and Why Does Soul Matters to the Various Discourses of Neoplatonism?

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