Hello, folks. First post here. I fairly recently developed an interest in a rigorous course of self study in philosophy, and I've been utilizing your excellent suggestions of a) Going slow, b) Starting with Plato, and c) Sticking with first-hand source material. I've worked my way through the Apology/Crito/Phaedo, taking notes and such, and decided to post one mini-essay I wrote on the Theory of Attunement as expressed in The Phaedo. I've noted that when people post things such as this it doesn't usually get a great deal of a response, but any form of critique, from "you're wrong" to "your writing style is shit" would be much appreciated.
The prompt that inspired this essay is off MIT's Ancient Philosophy course. My intent is simply to explore the argument for and objections to the Theory of Attunement.
The primary focus of Plato's dialogue The Phaedo is the nature of the soul: The questions of its existence and immortality. After Socrates establishes the truth of the soul's existence to the satisfaction of his companions, Simmias and Cebes, he argues that the soul -- being most like the incorporeal, invisible, and divine -- exists eternally, and will thus remain despite the destruction of the body. This initial argument fails to convince both Simmias and Cebes, and they respond with their own arguments. Simmias proposes a different perspective on the soul, The Theory of Attunement, which uses the tuning of an instrument as an analogy for the soul's relation to the body.
Harmony, Simmias' counterexample to Socrates' clean division of all objects into the categories of unchanging/incorporeal and changing/composite, "is invisible and incorporeal, and very beautiful and divine in the well attuned lyre, but the lyre itself and its strings are bodies, and corporeal and composite and earthy and akin to that which is mortal." (86) Thus, in the same way that the destruction of the an instrument destroy its attunement, the destruction of the body necessarily destroys the soul. A tuning cannot exist independently of an instrument.
Socrates' first response to this objection rests upon his prior establishment of the concept known as anamnesis: That all knowledge is contained within the soul, but the shock of birth causes all to be forgotten. The attainment of knowledge then, is merely recollection. This belief, established thoroughly in another of Plato's dialogues, The Meno, is incompatible with Simmias' Theory of Attunement. Anamnesis requires that the soul exist prior to the creation of the body, but the opposite is true of attunement. "The lyre and the strings and the sounds come into being in a tuneless condition, and the harmony is the last of all to be composed and the first to perish." (92c)
Simmias, having already been convinced of the truth of anamnesis, is immediately swayed by this incompatibility, but Socrates continues, following the Theory of Attunement to two seemingly impossible conclusions, first showing that all souls must then be equally good, and then showing that the body would be the guiding, powerful hand that sways the soul.
"All souls of all living creatures will be equally good," says Socrates, because:
- Composite things, such as harmonies, cannot be in any state other than that in which the elements are composed.
- Harmonies follow the lead of that which they are composed of.
- No soul is "even in the slightest degree more completely and to a greater extent a soul than another."
- A well-tuned soul is a more virtuous soul, and a soul in discord is a wicked soul.
- "If a harmony is entirely harmony, it could have no part in discord."
- A soul is entirely soul.
- Hence, the soul can have no wickedness. Since all souls are equally souls, all souls are equally good.
The third premise, on the equality of souls, is accepted by Simmias without question. He might have asked, "How can one prove that all souls are equally souls?" The notion of a more or less perfect soul does not otherwise clash with the beliefs enumerated thus far. With the removal of this premise, the rest of this argument falls flat.
(Editorial note: This could be a language issue. If Socrates is simply saying "Souls are souls." [Objects are what they are], then I understand the lack of objection to this statement. But that still wouldn't hold up the argument. If a soul is an attunement, and attunements can be more or less attuned, then souls can be more or less souls.)
However, Socrates' next approach is more consistent. His conception of the soul -- as the conscious, rational entity that guides the body -- is directly in contrast with the attunement analogy. He argues that, since the soul can tyrannize the body, drawing it away "from eating when it is hungry" or drinking "when the body is hot and thirsty," it is necessarily the ruler of the body. As a harmony follows the lead of that which it is composed of, it stands in opposition to the view of the soul as ruler. Thus, the analogy breaks down. (94b-94d)
If one takes as an article of faith that the soul exists and is the source of man's will, Socrates' final objection to the Theory of Attunement is enough to refute it. As both Simmias and Socrates share this faith, Simmias is satisfied, and the dialogue moves forward undeterred.