|The Japanese Footbridge, by Claude Monet|
Ficino writes, “Man is the soul itself. . .” (Ficino 74). In his Commentary On Plato’s Symposium, Marsilio Ficino makes a statement that is totally antithetical to the teachings of modern psychology. For the most part, psychology today refuses to accept any idea of Soul. The predominant view of our day is Behaviorism, which is totally materialistic and scientistic. Man is a material entity. There is no metaphysical element, such as Soul, mind, or consciousness. Man has only a brain, which responds to external stimuli. What a far cry from Ficino! How can there even be such a field as psychology (the study of Soul or psyche) without admitting the Soul’s existence? To me, it is absurd.
To Ficino, and also to me, the world is alive because of Soul, for Soul is all things. Even though he seems to be attempting a definition of Soul, he’s really not. He is fully aware of Heraclitus’ statement concerning the unfathomable depths of Soul. In a roundabout sort of way, I think Ficino is proposing that neither man nor the Soul can be precisely defined.
In the context of Ficino’s statement, I do not possess Soul as I would a coat or tie, I am Soul. I cannot experience the world apart from Soul. Behaviorism cannot tell me why my breath is taken away by Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique; or when I read Poe, Keats, or Goethe; or when I walk in the forest and relish the green earth. They might try and tell me these are merely chemical reactions in my brain, but anyone who has experienced these things will know of a certainty how ridiculous this is. The depth of the experience tells the story. All that I do and feel is because I am Soul.
If I am Soul, what about my body? What role does it play, besides enabling me to operate in the material world? I see material things (including the human body) as images and metaphors. To me, this world is filled with images of the True. Through these images, I am able to learn more about the True. Through living in this body, I am better able learn about Soul. Knowing the Platonic and Neoplatonic foundations of Ficino’s thought, I think he would agree. For untold generations, the material universe has been viewed as an image of the inner workings of the human being. The ancient saying, “As above, so below,” speaks to this fact. Such a view makes the world incredibly fascinating and alive, for there is always something nearby to pique one’s interest and to shed light on the True.
Ficino’s idea of Soul is that it is Man himself. The body/Soul dichotomy we talk about is just another story of Soul, just an image that can help us understand ourselves a little better. In reality, we can’t put into words what Man/Soul is. The mystery of Soul is what makes it so intriguing. As author Phil Cousineau said, “. . . frustration, uncertainty, confusion, and fear of drowning in the depths is at least a sign that we have our hands on it” (Cousineau xxiii).
Ficino, Marsilio. Commentary On Plato’s Symposium On Love. Dallas, Spring: 1985.
Cousineau, Phil. Soul: An Archaeology. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994.
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