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The Place of Perception in Plato’s Tripartite Soul

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image of Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy

This paper considers the place of the capacity for sense perception in Plato’s tripartite soul. It argues, against a common recent interpretation, that despite being a capacity of the soul’s appetitive part, sense perception is not independent of the soul’s rational capacities. On the contrary, the soul’s ability to cognize the content that it receives through sense perception depends upon the objects and the activity of its rational capacities. Defending a position of this sort requires one to suppose that despite its partition, the soul, for Plato, is, with respect to the activity of its various parts, substantially unitary. There are, however, passages that suggest that the capacities of the non-rational soul parts, in general, and sense perception, in particular, enjoy a certain degree of autonomy and independence from reason such that they, without the input of reason, can form beliefs about and act on the basis of their content. These passages have been read as belying this supposition. It will be shown, however, that these passages are perfectly consistent with the idea that the content of the non-rational capacities of the soul depends, for its intelligibility, on the soul’s rational capacities.

Affiliations: 1: Trinity College Dublin


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