DPhil Seminar (Wednesday - Week 6, HT23)

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Plato employs the concept of an original nature (archaia phusis) in several of his writings (Symp. 191d1–2, 192e9, 193c5 and d4; Rep. 611c7–d1; Tim. 90d5). In its original Hippocratic context, ‘archaia phusis’ denotes the body’s correct, normal, and healthy condition. This state is in accordance with the body’s nature, was typically present before the occurrence of a given disease or injury, and is the normative aim of the restorative treatment prescribed by the doctor. Plato’s ultimate interest in this medical notion, as especially Republic X and the Timaeus confirm, is in its possible application to the soul.

In my paper, I argue that the concept of the archaia phusis, although reference to it is absent from the Phaedo, presents an attractive way of reading the role which phronēsis plays in this dialogue. Phronēsis, the soul’s full and exclusive cognitive contact with the forms, is the soul’s correct, normal, and healthy condition, which it once possessed, is currently lacking, and desires or should desire to restore in the future. ‘Phronēsis’ seems a particularly apt expression to denote this state, as in Hippocratic medicine it denotes soundness of mind, the psychical analogue of physical health. I show that acknowledging the pervasiveness and centrality of the concept of phronēsis in the Phaedo helps to make better sense of the progression of the dialogue’s argument. It clarifies both particular and general issues, and underlines the central importance of the dialogue’s ethical concern.

See the DPhil Seminar website for details.

DPhil Seminar Convenor: Mariona Miyata - Sturm