The World Soul and the Soul of the World:
Philosophy, Cosmos, and Culture
Third Floor, Student Services Wing
Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York
1:00 - 4:00 P.M., October 26, 1996
Moderator: Joscelyn Godwin, Colgate University
The Alexandria journal is pleased to present a panel on "The World Soul and the Soul of the World" at the Fifteenth Annual Conference on Global and Multicultural Dimensions of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and Social Thought which will be held October 25 - 27, 1996 at the State University of New York, Binghamton.
All conference sessions are open to the public free of charge. The conference embodies a multicultural approach and covers Indigenous, Jewish, Africana, Greek, Christian, Islamic, and East Asian traditions.
The World Soul in Ancient Cosmology and Contemporary Thought
David Fideler, Alexandria journal
When Pythagoras first called the universe a kosmos, he did so because the universe is an embodiment of both order and beauty. This order and beauty is rooted in harmonia -- the "fitting together" of opposites, a union which is accomplished through the principle of logos or proportion. Through the use of proportion, natural structures achieve a working union between the part and the whole, and the natural proportions embodied in living things allow them to function in the best possible way.
Drawing on Pythagorean ideas, Plato concluded that there is an intrinsic relationship between proportion, goodness, and beauty. In his cosmological dialogue the Timaeus, Plato presents a Pythagorean creation myth that explains the underlying structure of the cosmos. In order to account for the underlying harmonious structure of living things and the greater universe, Plato describes the nature of the World Soul, which embodies the principles of harmony, proportion, and relatedness between the part and the whole. This paper will describe what Plato meant by the World Soul, and I will show with slides how the archetypal harmonies of the World Soul -- Sameness and Difference united by Proportion -- are incorporated in living, natural structures. The study of nature's proportions clearly demonstrates that there is no dichotomy between the "ideal" and the "pragmatic," because nature uses ideal proportions, which allow things to function in the best possible way. In this way, the natural world possesses intrinsic value, because natural structures embody virtue, goodness, and beauty.
This paper will survey the history of the idea of the World Soul in Western thought, the epistemologies associated with it, how it went into eclipse with the rise of the mechanistic worldview of the Scientific Revolution, and how it is now reemerging as a cosmological, psychological, and cultural idea.
For Plato, the World Soul is the a priori, metaphysical principle of relatedness in which the order, beauty, and goodness of the cosmos are rooted. But in addition to the cosmological dimension, the idea of the World Soul suggests an "epistemology of sameness" in which we are able to know the universe only because we are an embodiment of living nature itself. In this sense, the harmony of the World Soul points toward an inclusive worldview in which aesthetics, ecology, ethics, mathematics, economics, science, art, and epistemology are not separate, but inherently related areas.
Kathleen Damiani, Tompkins Cortland Community College
Philosophical counseling is a recent version of an ancient tradition in which a person's problems are addressed through philosophical inquiry and method rather than through psychological means. Philosophical counseling, rooted in the Western wisdom traditions, also refers to the movement to bring philosophy to bear on the crises facing individuals, communities, and the plight of the earth.
Philosophy can be applied and practiced in many ways. Philosophical counseling refers to a way of being in our encounter with others that often reaches a depth of exploration of life's deepest questions. According to one of its leaders, Gerd Achenbach, the philosopher in private practice assists people in dealing the problems in their life by mediating between the ordinary world and the client's "subjective and lonely thought that is being abandoned by others." A space is created that allows the unsettling questions -- those that are not welcome in ordinary discourse -- to be asked. Through dialogue, the participants can engage each other without the intermediary of theory and pre-assigned roles, embarking on an investigation of life's deepest uncertainties. Often a switch of perspective occurs, or clarity about an ethical decision; perhaps they can come to see their assumptions or unravel emotionally laden conceptual issues such as the meaning of injustice, betrayal, envy, etc.
Many philosophical counselors see themselves as revitalizing philosophy, bringing it out of the ivory tower to serve the suffering of humanity; in fact, they see the practice of philosophy as critical to the survival of the earth. The healing of culture requires an about face, a "U-turn" from the ordinary habits of mind. Philosophical practice can be interpreted as a revival of the ancient Greek notion of logos -- that which properly relates same and other. Turning to other -- not to dominate, label, or appropriate, but rather to witness and engage in the mystery of that otherness -- is a kind of logos that elicits the sacred in ordinary life. The implication of the philosophical counseling movement and methods is a re-visioning of the world towards its resacralization: a revelation of the sacred in this moment, in this world without the necessity of doctrines or multiple selves and dimensions.
Shakespeare and the Anima Mundi
Alan S. Weber, Binghamton University
The Stoic philosophy based on material pneuma, an aery and fiery substance providing rationality and cohesion (hexis) to the universe, survived into Shakespeare's day from a variety of sources: Galenic medicine, Hermetic philosophy, alchemical interpretations of nature, and the Neo-Stoic revival led by Guillaume du Vair and Justus Lipsius. The Stoic influenced pneumatic medicine preserved classical pneumatology into the early modern period through the spiritual and humoral pathology of western physiology. The pneuma was specifically equated with the divine logos and the mind of God by the Stoics. Shakespeare uses spirits in a surprisingly wide variety of contexts, demonstrating his knowledge not only of contemporary medical theory, but also of the pneuma hagion of the Greek New Testament and of the alchemical philosophy of the universal spirits of mercury drawn from Hellenized and Stoicized Egyptian sources. Specifically, in the order speech in Troilus and Cressida, Ulysses states that Nestor, as the spirit of the body politic, should bind the Greek host together with a bond of air, recalling the prime function of spiritus in Stoic thought, the unitas or oneness which it lends to both the body and the universe (which was conceived of as a living being animated by spiritus). The extensive use of Hercules and Herculean imagery in Antony and Cleopatra points to Shakespeare's knowledge of Stoic and Hermetic theories of spiritus. Several Stoic fragments including Cleanthes and Cornutus identify Hercules with the pneumatic force as a type of Platonic world soul; Hercules's bow symbolizes the tautness of the universe, his arrows the pneuma which penetrates everywhere. Cleopatra imagines Antony's body extended universally from the earth to the heavens, just as the extensive pneuma (aer) in the words of Seneca "ab aethere lucidissimo . . . in terram usque diffusus est." Antony's Herculean trunk joins a new heaven and earth, unlike other familiar apotheosis images, such as Pompey's flight to the lunar regions in the Pharsalia or Troilus's ascent to the eighth sphere in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, which both serve to underscore the magnificence and otherness of the heavens. I believe Shakespeare is envisioning the material body of Antony as the anima mundi, just as the Stoics and alchemists equated material mind (logos, nous) with material body (pneuma, ousia). Although Renaissance writers such as Ficino distinguished a physiological spiritus mundi from a metaphysical anima mundi, I believe that Shakespeare, following the lead of the Stoics, pantheistically conflated the two concepts. The Herculean colossus joining both worlds in Cleopatra's dream has obviously been drawn from Renaissance mythographies in which Hercules's intermediary status, part-human, part-divine, was often compared to Christ's activity in the universe as separator of the elements (an aspect of the pneuma) and as the divine logos (another name for the pneuma). The alchemists called their mercurial spirits "Hercules," and Shakespeare may have known Michael Maier's alchemical text Arcana arcanissima, a lengthy allegory of Hercules as the all pervasive spiritus.
Sacred Geometry: Motion, Balance and Harmony in Xenophon and the Equestrian Arts
Sherry Ackerman Ballou, Norwich University
This paper explores individual involvement in aesthetic activity as an avenue to knowledge of cosmic harmony and order. I do not simply contend that aesthetic activity will facilitate the artist's "knowing about" fundamental cosmic principles, but that it can, in fact, result in a "knowing" -- i.e., "gnosis"-- of Ultimate Reality. I look at the art of ancient classical dressage, as referenced in the writings of the Greek historian and philosophical essayist, Xenophon, in relationship to the metaphysical principles of classical geometry.
Geometry, as performed by the ancient Greeks, was the study of spatial order through the measure and relationships of forms. The geometer allowed his/her mind to become a channel through which the corporeal manifestation of "earth" could receive the abstract, cosmic life of the heavens. In geometry, the cosmological dualisms were resolved. Geometric practice provided an approach to comprehending the order and sustenance of the universe through integration of an individual soul with the World Soul. The contemplation of figures as still moments revealed continuous, timeless, universal truths generally hidden from sensory perception. Thus, participation in geometric activity was viewed as an avenue for intellectual and spiritual insight. Xenophon's early education led him to view geometry and number as the simplest and most essential philosophical language. This view was fundamental to the origins of ancient balance. Thus, it was the task of the dressage artist to attain an integrated state of balance between body, mind and soul. The development of any one at the expense of the other two components would result in disharmony and discord. When equally attended to, they produced a level, harmonious partnership between horse and rider, which seen from an archetypal level, described basic, causal energies in their interwoven, eternal dance. To be immersed in this particular type of geometric activity was to enter into a kind of philosophic contemplation that was rooted in an awareness of the relationship between all living things and World Soul.
The paper develops this theme through an analysis of each of the fundamental fiqures of the manege, as they relate to respective underlying theoretical geometric principles. I examine the concept of utilizing aesthetics as a means of relinquishing control of our cognitive faculties of perception, in order to experience an expanded spiritual consciousness. Since the ancient art of classical dressage is unfamiliar to many contemporary philosophers, I intend to supplement the delivery of my paper with segments of videotaped material which illustrate dressage practice.
Plato and the Divine Proportion:
Ontology, Aesthetics, and Illumination
Scott Olsen, Central Florida Community College
The later Platonic and Neopythagorean traditions suggest that Plato was concerned with mathematical solutions to the deep problems of ontology, epistemology, and aesthetics. And yet a superficial reading of the Platonic Dialogues does not appear to bear this out. This paper contends that Plato, not Socrates, was the real "midwife." Not only did Plato present the problems and puzzles to the members of the Academy to be solved through a process of abduction (creative hypothesis formation), but in his dialogues he masterfully implants the hints, puzzles, and incomplete solutions for the reader to penetrate abductively into his deeper doctrines. Assisted by the aforementioned traditions, we will take a close look at the subtle (yet unequivocal) hints and problems secreted in the Divided Line of the Republic and the most beautiful triangles of the Timaeus. There is good reason that Plato stated in the Timaeus 53A-54B:
These then . . . we assume to be the original elements of fire and other bodies, but the principles which are prior to these Deity only knows, and he of men who is a friend of Deity. . . . anyone who can point out a more beautiful form than ours for the construction of these bodies shall carry off the palm, not as an enemy, but as a friend. . . . he who disproves what we are saying, and shows that we are mistaken, may claim a friendly victory.
The further contention of this papter is that in discovering the solution to this problem, we will stumble onto the most striking feature of Plato's ontology, epistemology, and aesthetics. With great economical precesion, Plato in true Pythagorean form has planted the secret key to the One and Many, ascent to illumination, and the basis of beauty and harmony in the world. It was not without basis that tradition tells us that Plato was severely criticized for revealing to the uninitiated (though in veiled form) the deeper mysteries in his writings, in this case the Divine Proportion.
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