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The impressive contributions of Plato to Psychology

The impressive contributions of Plato to Psychology

July 14, 2024

Psychology also drinks from the contribution of many thinkers, writers and philosophers.

In this article we will explainthe contributions of Plato to Psychology : his vision on knowledge, the rational soul, the psychic structure and its influence on the science of human behavior. A historical figure whose ideas are still valid.

Plato (428-348) and his contributions to Psychology

Plato was born in the period of peace and splendor of the democracy of Pericles . Belonging to the Athenian aristocracy, he received the education of a young man of the upper class (gymnastics and poetry, mainly). He was also one of the most fervent disciples of Socrates until his death ("The wisest, good and just of men", in his opinion). He traveled through Greece and Egypt, receiving the capital influences of the mathematician Theodore, as well as the Orphic, Pythagorean, and Eleatic: Heraclitus and Parmenides.

Plato founded the Akademia , dedicating his life to teaching the Philosophy . He accepted Parmenides' relativism concerning perception. (Three buckets of water in line: hot, warm and cold: introducing one hand in each of the extreme cubes and then the two in the intermediate, the one that was in the cold will feel warm, and the one that was in the hot cold. ). Plato also accepted the doctrine of the Heraclitean flow, arguing that all objects are constantly changing, so it is impossible to know them. The knowledge for Plato is of the eternal and immutable (Being of Parmenides) and, therefore, there is no knowledge of perishable things.

The world of ideas

Plato called Forms or Ideas to the objects of immutable knowledge. There is a Form for each object class for which a term exists in the language (for example, "cat," round ", etc). Plato believed that the perceived objects were imperfect copies of these Forms, since they are in permanent change and are relative to the perceiver (importance of language shaping reality: concepts are the only immutable, are related to the Forms and not they are conventional).

An example of this idea appears in the metaphor of the line, belonging to The Republic (Fig.1). Imagine a line divided into four unequal segments. The line is divided into two large segments that represent the world of perceived Appearances and opinion, and the world of abstract Knowledge, or intelligible world. The first segment is shorter, to denote its imperfection. The world of Appearances is divided, in turn, in equal proportions, in the world of Imagination and in that of Belief.

Imagination is the lower level of cognition , since it deals with simple images of concrete objects, analogous to the reflections that fluctuate in the water. Plato banished the Art of his republic, relegating it to this imaginary plane.

The eternal epistemological debate

For Plato, the apprehension of images or imagination is the most imperfect form of knowledge. It is followed by the contemplation of the objects themselves; The result of this observation was called Belief. With the next segment, Thought, mathematical knowledge begins. The mathematician has a general knowledge of things. The ideal world of Geometry is very similar to the world of Forms (or Ideas): the Pythagorean theorem (the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the legs) refers to the Triangle Rectangle , and any particular example will be a lower copy of the perfect Rectangle Triangle. Plato believed that the relationship between copy and form was true, however, in all cases.

For Plato the last segment, the superior form of knowledge (Intelligence or Knowledge) is higher than mathematical knowledge . In effect, mathematical thought produces knowledge within its system of premises, but since it can not be known if its premises are correct (the starting axioms as A = A), it can not constitute true knowledge.

To reach knowledge we must go back above, to the realm of the Forms, to the fundamental principles. His position regarding this scheme of knowledge evolved throughout his life. In the first dialogues, Plato believed that the experience of concrete objects stimulated the remembrance of the innate knowledge of forms, although imperfectly, thus being real stimuli to awaken our knowledge.

In the Intermediate dialogs He denied any valid role to sensory perception and confined knowledge to abstract and philosophical dialectics. Finally he returned to his first belief in the potential value of sensory perception. In addition he elaborated his notion of dialectic, turning it into an instrument to classify all things with precision. At the same time his conception of Forms became increasingly mathematical and Pythagorean.

The problem posed by Plato in the theory of Forms has worried some researchers of modern cognitive psychology about concept formation. Trait theory states that each concept is made up of a series of traits, some of which are essential and others not. The theory of prototypes states that the concept is formed around a prototype or a formula. The Form could be considered the prototype of which the concrete cases are imperfect replicas (myth of the Cavern).

Psychic structure

Plato divided the soul, or mind, into three parts. First was the Immortal or Rational soul , located in the head. The other two parts of the soul are mortal: The Impulsive or spirited soul , oriented to conquer honor and glory, is located in the thorax, and the Passional and appetitive soul , interested in body pleasure, in the belly (Fig. 2).

The Rational soul is related to the Forms and knowledge. It is your duty to control the desires of the other two, in the same way that the charioteer controls two horses. The Passional soul was, for Plato, particularly in need of subjection by reason. (analogy with the Freudian psychic apparatus: it-I-super-I).

Plato is very influenced by the oriental tradition that also appears in the Myth of the Magi. These offer the child three chests to find out if their nature is human, real or divine. The content of the chests is the material substance corresponding to each one of these natures: myrrh - red gorgresin - gold and incense.


Plato has a poor conception of pleasure-Pythagorean inheritance-: the body seeks pleasure and avoids pain , this only hinders the contemplation of the Good. In his later writings, some pleasures, such as the aesthetic enjoyment obtained from Beauty, are considered healthy, and purely intellectual life is rejected as too limited.

His conception of motivation is almost Freudian: we possess a current of passionate desires that can be channeled towards any part of the soul, towards pleasure, personal achievements or philosophical knowledge and virtue. The impulses can motivate the search for transitory pleasure or the philosophical rise to world of Forms .

Physiology and perception

Given his distrust of perception, he barely spoke of the Physiology , empirical science. His ideas in this regard were conventional among the Greeks. The vision, for example, obeys to the emission of visual rays by our eyes that affect the objects located in the visual trajectory.

Learning: innatism and associationism

Plato was the first great nativist . Since according to him all knowledge is innate, it must exist in every human being from birth. The perceived objects resemble the Forms of which they participate, and this similarity, together with the instruction, stimulates the Rational soul to remember what the Forms are like (Anamnesis). (Analogy with Chomskyana language theory, according to which linguistic competence is innate).

Plato also feels the basis of the associationist doctrine, later a fundamental part of atomism and empiricist philosophy. The relationship between the objects and the Forms obeys two aspects: the formal similarity and the associated presentation in our experience, that is, the contiguity. They correspond to the syntagmatic and paradigmatic dimensions described by Jakobson as constitutive of the structure of language.

They are also the laws of the Unconscious, or its basic operations: metaphor as condensation and metonymy as displacement. (Production Aphasia -Broca- versus Aphasia of Comprehension -Wernicke-). (Analogy with the two types of magic described by Frazer: Contaminant Magic - by contiguity - and Contagious - by similarity -)

Development and education

Plato believed in the reincarnation -metempsychosis-. When dying, the rational soul separates from the body and reaches the vision of the Forms. According to the degree of virtue attained, it is then reincarnated somewhere on the phylogenetic scale. When the soul is reincarnated in a body full of needs and sensations, it falls into a state of confusion. Education consists in helping the Rational soul to gain control of the body and other parts of the soul.

The main disciple of Plato, Aristotle I would develop the first systematic psychology to .

PHILOSOPHY - Plato (July 2024).

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