ManticMoo.COM All Articles Jeff's Articles Scholarly

Evaluation of the Argument of the Will
Review by Jeffrey P. Bigham

Simmias put forth the attunement theory in response to the affinity argument given by Socrates.  This theory attempted to show that Socrates' argument could be applied to the attunement of a musical instrument just as easily as it was applied to the soul.  If correct, it would show an essential connection of the body and soul, which would mean at the very least that the soul is not immortal and would suggest that the soul dies when the body does.

Simmias argued that the attunement of a lyre, for example, is something "unseen and incorporeal and very lovely and divine (38)," which were also characteristics used by Socrates to help show the similarities between the soul and the forms.  Attunement is located in a material object while it itself is immaterial, just like the soul.  If the affinity argument is taken to be correct and applied to this situation, when the instrument is broken, this attunement must still exist, but they agree that this is impossible.  Simmias proposed that the soul itself could be considered to be a type of attunement that helps to keep the body operating correctly and in harmony with itself.  When the physical body gives way, if the soul is some sort of attunement, it would be reasonable to think that it too is destroyed.  Today we might think of this as a program running in a computer.  When the computer is destroyed the program should no longer exists.  If the soul is like a program running on our body then it would be reasonable to think that when the body is destroyed so is the soul.

Eventually Socrates responds to this argument, by first convincing the people present that a person's soul is what rules him.  The parties present agree that if the soul is an attunement then it "would never utter notes opposed to the tensions, relaxations, strikings, and any other affections of its components, but would follow and never dominate them (49)," but Socrates shows that they actually find it working in the opposite manner.  The soul opposes the body in many ways and in many situations.  An example given by Socrates is when a person is thirsty but resists the urge to drink.  He says that if the body were truly an attunement of the body it would not oppose the desires of the body and would instead submit to them, just as an attunement keeps harmony with its physical parts.  Because of this, he says the attunement theory cannot be correct.

Although Socrates' reply to Simmias does seem to be a valid argument, it bases many of its claims on assumptions that the group agreed to but may or may not be true.  For example, Socrates' rebuttal relies on the premise that any attunement by its very nature would not object to the desires of the body, but this does not seem to directly follow from the idea of an attunement.  Tuning an instrument by definition is the manipulation of the physical elements of the instrument in such a way as to limit the natural tendency towards discord.  It should be apparent that the natural state of an instrument is to be untuned, for, if it were not, there would be little reason to tune it at all because it would be so naturally.  Tuning, therefore, can be seen as a type of restriction, much like the restriction the soul sometimes places on the wills of the body.  Just as the attunement of an instrument helps to keep away the unpleasant sounds inherent to its untuned parts alone, so might the soul act to keep the body from succumbing to the natural tendencies of the body.  Because of this reasoning, the soul can be thought of as an attunement and still act to oppose bodily feelings.

Socrates also uses the presumption that the soul is the thing that rules a person in his argument and to support this he gives the examples of not eating when one is hungry and not drinking when one is thirsty.  These are valid examples, but many examples can also be found that support the idea that the soul is ruled by the body and therefore may be a type of attunement.  One such situation in which the soul is ruled by the body is the case of someone attempting to hold their breath until they die of suffocation.  The soul cannot withstand the will of the body as time passes and will eventually submit to it and take a breath.  In the extreme case the body will almost completely silence the view of the soul by fainting before the soul is able to cause death.  Another similar situation occurs when one attempts to hold on to a scalding hot object for a prolonged period of time.  Before long, the body will disregard the will of the soul and let go.  These examples show that the body really is in ultimate control of the soul, although at times it will let the will of the soul take precedence over its own.  This reasoning helps to show that the examples on which Socrates' argument of the will is based are not fully correct, and, therefore, the argument itself cannot be considered completely valid.

Although Socrates' reply to Simmias was for the most part a sound argument, several of the assumptions that he made really don't hold when scrutinized closely.  While the attunement theory itself may also not hold true, this particular argument made by Socrates doesn't succeed in disproving it.

ManticMoo.COM All Articles Jeff's Articles Scholarly