Psychology of Ancient Philosophers from Parmenides to Aristotle and a
Hole in Aristotle’s Argument on Psychology Regarding Hypothetical Comatose Patients
For thousands of years, philosophers have debated the relation between body and soul. The ancient philosophers built upon one another’s ideas, expressing multiple ideologies that still hold relevance in the debate on philosophical psychology to this day. The following essay will examine the psychology expressed by Parmenides and his atomists successors, Plato and Socrates, and Aristotle, observing that each provides a correction to a perceived imbalance in their conceptions of their predecessors regarding the relationship between body and soul. It will argue that Aristotle’s resolution is best, but introduce a hypothetical case of patients in comatose states with and without brain activity to illustrate the limits of Aristotle’s conception.
Parmenides, a monist, is one of the earliest philosophers of which one can study that produced a clear psychology regarding the topic of body and soul. As a monist, Parmenides believed there to be a singular, unbreakable, and everlasting being of pure existence that encompassed all. Being would repudiate the idea of empty space or void because if Being encompasses all, there can be no such thing as nonbeing. Due to this lack of void, there would be no room for motion and change to occur in the universe, ultimately suggesting that the physical world must be illusionary as it represents change and motion in every aspect of it’s physical existence.
Thus, if the physical realm is illusionary, the physical body must be as well, but what of the soul? To Parmenides, souls would be Being. In other words, soul would be an infinite and eternal substance that coincides with the rest of Being. Thus, Parmenides believed the soul to be the same as Being and significantly more important than the illusory physical world and body.
The next set of Philosophers found the idea of discounting change and motion in the physical world unsatisfactory and instead, adapted Parmenides’s theory to better fit the physical world in which they lived. By doing so, the psychology regarding the relation between soul and body changed drastically. These philosophers were the atomists.
The atomists theorized that singular, unbreakable, and everlasting particles called atoms moved around in a void, joining together and breaking apart to create the physical world one experiences. According to the atomist theory, atoms were different sizes and shapes which held different characteristics that worked together to create the different sensations that mankind experiences. Democritus, one of the atomists of this time explained that although the atoms allowed beings to experience the different sensations of the world, the sensations were unreliable as the sensory qualities were purely due to convention. To Democritus, the only realities in the world were the atoms and void as can be seen with the following...