Care of the Soul

This is the conclusion of a review of Plato’s View of Man by Constantine Cavarnos, available from the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies

I do nothing but go about persuading you, old and young, to care neither for your bodies nor for money more than for the perfection of your souls, or even as much. ~ Apology

There neither is nor will there ever be anything of greater importance than the cultivation of the soul. ~ Phaedrus

When the soul and the body are united, nature orders the body to serve and be ruled, and the soul to rule and be master. ~ Phaedo

Soul, Body, Money

  • Care of the soul is fundamental, because a person is the soul. Not what a person has, but what he is constitutes his real dignity.
  • A person who cherishes the body does not cherish himself, but what belongs to him.
  • The person who tends money tends neither himself nor his own things, and is a stage further removed from himself.

A philosopher needs leisure time and funds to pursue wisdom, though he does not need wealth. He keeps his body healthy for the same reason. He does not use his rational part simply for the pursuit of money. He does not pursue the care of the soul solely to cure the body.

Faculties of the Soul

  • Rational power
    Consists of the intellect and eros (love)
    Directed toward the true, the good, and the beautiful
  • Spirited power
    Consists of conviction (or faith) and thumos
    Directed toward ruling, conquering, and getting fame
    Gymnastics strengthens this power and music keeps moderates it and keeps it in harmony with reason.
  • Appetitive Power
    Consists of conjecture (or opinion) and desire
    Directed toward eating , drinking, sensual pleasures, and material gain
    There are three types of desire:

    • Necessary desires
    • Unnecessary and spendthrift desires
    • Lawless desires

Five Forms of the State

Since there are five forms of individual life, there are five forms of the State corresponding to them. The State arises out of the predominant human characters. These forms are: the aristocratic, the timocratic, the oligarchic, the democratic, and the tyrannic. The first two follow from the rational and spirited powers and the last three from the three types of desires.

This schema can be tried as an analytic tool to understand current events, from the “third dimension”, as it were. The transition from one type of rule to the next documents a process of decline. Of course, any actual society will contain a mixture of the various types and their manifestations may vary quite a bit.

The important lesson here is that it is nearly impossible to communicate across these types, since their aims and their notion of rationality are so different.


The aristocratic man, or the “best”, is virtuous and ruled by reason. He knows the divine ideas, eternal and timeless. Thus he is guided by nature, by the universal.

It is important to note that this definition is not at all what is commonly meant by “aristocrat” today. For Plato, the aristocrat corresponds more to the priestly or spiritual caste, but without the religious overtones.

Rule by the best is unlikely. The other types are more driven to seize power. Moreover, while the aristocrat sees the life of reason as liberation, those who are dominated by the appetites experience it as oppression.


The timocrat is the honor-loving man. His guide is not wisdom, but rather law and custom. He is governed by belief and conviction which are time tested. The timocrat corresponds to what was later called the “aristocrat” in the Middle Ages and to this day. He is the one that values his breeding and keeps portraits of his ancestors in the castle. These are the dukes, barons, and so on. In other words, this type corresponds to the warrior caste.

The timocrat is guided by custom and law, unlike the aristocrat; in other words, by the particular, not the universal. In the well-ordered state, he submits to the wisdom of the aristocrats. Otherwise, this creates some tension between reason and custom. Nevertheless, since people are always part of a community, even the aristocrats must be loyal to their own traditions. It is difficult to see where patriotism fits in, given Mr. Cavarnos’ objections.

The timocrat is arrogant and ambitious, but his aristocratic fathers were rational.


The timocrat may be a general or other high office holder. When such men are attacked, outlawed, or otherwise diminished, the oligarchic type arises. Seeing no value in the principle of the love of honor, he instead enthrones the principle of appetite and avarice. This is his psychic center. The rational and spirited part of him is used solely to acquire money.

The philosopher of this type (if that is the correct word to use) is Ayn Rand. While claiming to be a follower of Aristotle, her use of reason is restricted to the satisfaction of necessary desires. A society dominate by this type will not admire reasonable nor honorable men, but rather rich men. The oligarch, like a Mr. Scrooge, may often be temperate in the satisfaction of bodily desires. He follows public opinion in most matters.


The sons of the oligarchic type gradually seek out unnecessary pleasures. They lack the self-discipline of their fathers. All desires are equally alike and he cannot discriminate between better and worse desires. Hence, he discards moral standards.

He calls insolence ‘good breeding’, license ‘liberty’, prodigality ‘magnificence’ and shamelessness ‘manliness’. ~ Republic

This type is easily recognized in a democratic society. For example, when extended to public policy, prodigality results in public debt. The last of the list exposes how even some self-described “new right” types are really democrats in disguise.

This type is fickle, bouncing from pleasure-seeking to flirtations with philosophy or even spirituality. But there is little depth to his thinking. He often just says what pops into his head. He is not guided by reason, tradition, or common opinions. Rather, he has an inordinate craving for freedom.


Too much freedom breeds dissension and anarchy. Mob rule results; a leader arises among them, and the appointed rulers are cast out.

The tyrannic type purges out of himself every desire or opinion that is deemed good, discards all self-control and brings in madness to the full. He has no respect for his parents. He is made up of fierce base desires and his life is the furthest from the life of reason. Plato includes murder and incest among the lawless desires, but they are just the peak. There are other such desires that are considered quite normal and respectable in our time.

In a tyranny, assuming the tyrant seizes control, the people are reduced to slavery. The tyrant stirs up wars and impoverishes his subjects by the imposition of heavy taxes. He gets rid of his boldest followers and purges the State of the wise and the brave.

Fifth Virtue

Plato sometimes mentions a fifth virtue: holiness or piety (both translate the same Greek word). But this virtue belongs to religion, not philosophy, so philosophy is ultimately insufficient. As we have seen, piety was the most important virtue for the Romans. Therefore, the aristocrat of the soul should strive for holiness, beyond justice, wisdom, courage, and temperance.

9 thoughts on “Care of the Soul

  1. Apropos of the Phaedrus quote– and anticipating an important aspect of the the discussion Force in Letter 11, noted above –it is said of the one who Triumphs that

    “Instinctive forces . . . serve him voluntarily as he is their true master. He trusts them and they trust him — this is mastership according to Hermeticism. For in Hermeticism mastership does not signify the subjugation of the lower by the higher, but rather the alliance of superconsciousness, consciousness and instinctive — or sub-consciouness. This is the Hermetic ideal of peace in the microcosm — the prototype of peace within a humanity divided into races, nations, classes and beliefs. This peace is equilibrium or justice, where each particular force playing its part in the life of the microcosm is assigned its rightful place in the life of the entire psychic and physical organism” (MOTT, Letter 7, page 168).

    This also brings to mind the discussion of “Lost Sheep” in Letter 16:

    “The parable of the lost sheep is well known. One generally understands it as portraying the care of the good pastor for the particular soul — and without doubt it does this. Nevertheless, one can, by analogy, apply it also to the inner life of the soul — its desires, aspirations, vices and virtues. If one does this, if one considers — by analogy — each particular force in the soul as a “sheep”, one arrives at the understanding that the soul’s faults and vices are not, fundamentally, monsters but rather, lost sheep. Thus, the eagerness to dominate, the desire to submit the will of other people to one’s own is, fundamentally, a sheep which is lost. For at the root of the desire to dominate is found the dream of unity, union, the harmony of a choir. It is a “sheep”. But instead of seeking the realisation of the dream of harmony by way of love, the will seeks to realise it by way of compulsion. This is a sheep that has lost its way. In order for it to return to the “flock”, the fundamental will underlying the desire to dominate must be imprinted with the understanding that it is in the domain of love and not in that of commandment that it will find what it is seeking. Here is the return of the lost sheep —the alchemical process of transmutation of a “base metal” into “gold”. As it is the same with all the soul’s faults and vices, we all have the mission of finding and bringing back to the flock (i.e. to the soul’s choral harmony) the lost sheep in ourselves. We are missionaries in the subjective domain of our own soul, charged with the task of the conversion of our desires, ambitions, etc. We have to persuade them that they are seeking the realisation of their dreams in a false way. by showing them the true way. It is not a matter of commandment, but rather of the alchemy of the cross, i.e. making present an alternative way for our desires, ambitions, passions, etc. It is a matter, moreover, of the alchemical “marriage of opposites”. The practical way of doing this is meditation. It is deep meditation which makes present every “lost sheep” in us, with sufficient force to impress on it the alternative concerned. To meditate is to think in the presence of God — just as to pray is to speak in the presence of God. Meditation is therefore the honest and courageous effort of the “lower self to think together with the “higher Self in divine light” (MOTT, Letter 16, pages 455-456).

    Finally, Tomberg also emphasizes that the higher serves the lower even as the lower obeys the higher.

    “The vow of obedience is the practice of silencing personal desires, emotions and imagination in the face of reason and conscience; it is the primacy of the ideal as opposed to the apparent, the nation as opposed to the personal, humanity as opposed to the nation, and God as opposed to humanity. It is the life of cosmic and human hierarchical ordering; it is the meaning and justification of the fact that there are Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones; Dominions, Virtues, Powers; Principalities, Archangels, Angels; Priests, Knights and Commoners. Obedience is order: it is international law; it is the state; it is the Church; it is universal peace. True obedience is the very opposite of tyranny and slavery, since its root is the love which issues from faith and confidence. That which is above serves that which is below and that which is below obeys that which is above. Obedience is the practical conclusion to that which one recognises as the existence of something higher than oneself. Whosoever recognises God, obeys (MOTT, Letter V, page 112).

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  3. I think the term “rational” which was used in Platonism and Neo-Platonism by ancient Greeks does not equal to the same term which was used by Western Rationalists, its original meaning rather should be supra-rationality, in accordance with God, with True Self, with cosmic order.

  4. Thanks for reminding us of that, Ezra, but keep in mind that this is a book review. I picked out key points from the book. As Mr. Cavarnos points out, there is the virtue of “holiness” which transcends the rational. Mr. Caranovos was the one who reminds us that Platonism (or neoplatonism) is an exoteric teaching. Also keep in mind that the supra-rational is not equivalent to “irrational”; this is important in an era where simply being rational would be an accomplishment. Here, of course, by rational, we mean knowledge of the divine essences, or being. Guenon makes this claim:

    It was only among the neoplatonists that Eastern influences were again to make their appearances, and it is there indeed that certain metaphysical ideas, such as that of the Infinite, are to be met with for the first time among the Greeks.

    Now it may or may not be true that this was the “first” time. I think not, since the Greeks had learned some things from the Egyptians and Persians. Furthermore, in several other places, Guenon compares certain doctrines of Aristotle favorably with Eastern doctrines. So there is some inconsistency there.

    I have also mentioned that Indian writers have often noted points of correspondence with Western philosophers of the rationalist type. Perhaps, then, the Easterners have become just as decadent. That is probably true, since much of contemporary Hindu spirituality is replete with fraud and deception. Hence, we have to start from where we are and from what we know, not from where we would like to end up.

  5. According to Guenon, the spiritual caste is supra-rational and a traditional society is based on supra-rational principles. He attributes much of the moderna deviation to rationalism.

  6. Great article: seems to imply that there is a natural degeneration process from father to son, generation to generation, just as cell DNA frays over time, unless (I would think) there is an influx of “power from on high” or vertical influence which sustains this process. So that every generation has to begin the struggle anew, in a sense. Recorded European history bears out the idea of natural devolution, if the appropriate efforts are not made, and success met with.

  7. The big question is,how can a aristocratic of the soul,make a good fight in a world dominate by the tyrant?Living here in Brazil were,we are ruled by the most disgusting communists pariahs that have ever existed,the call for a action is being born in a lot of decent people!

  8. [“When the soul and the body are united, nature orders the body to serve and be ruled, and the soul to rule and be master. ~ Phaedo “]

    [“•Care of the soul is fundamental, because a person is the soul. Not what a person has, but what he is constitutes his real dignity.”]

    Just before receiving the email notice of this posting, I was looking again at Kant’s “Groundwork” and did a search for the word “persons” and found this section which dovetails rather nicely with this piece, as well. Quoting Kant:

    “The principle: ·Act in relation to every •rational being (whether yourself or another) so that in your maxim •he is an end in himself· is thus basically identical with the principle: Act on a maxim that involves its own universal validity for every rational being. That’s because the statement ‘In my use of means to any end I should restrict my maxim to the condition of its universal validity as a law for every subject’ is equivalent to the statement ‘The subject of ends (i.e. the rational being itself) must be made the basis of every maxim of action and thus be treated never as a mere means but as the supreme limiting condition in the use of all means—i.e. also as an end.

    “It •follows from this—no-one could question that it follows—that every rational being, as an end in himself, must be able to regard himself as a giver of universal laws that include any laws to which he may be subject. For what marks him off as an end in himself is just this fitness of his maxims for universal law-giving. It also •follows that this dignity that he has, his prerogative over all merely natural beings, involves his having to take his maxims from the point of view of himself and every other rational being as law-givers—which is why they are called ‘persons’. In this way, a world of rational beings. . . .is possible as a realm of ends, through the law-giving activities of all the persons who are its members. Consequently every rational being must act as if his maxims made him at all times a law-giving member of the universal realm of ends” (Groundwork).

    Implicit in these paragraphs is the notion of “autonomy” and “freedom” which are, for Kant, the hallmarks of morality/rationality (in contrast to “heteronomy” and “bondage” which characterize those who pursue the objects of their appetites as the highest good.

    So, ideally, our appetetive natures should serve our rational natures, but in our fallen state, “the mind of the flesh” conceives of itself as an end itself. If we may transition from Plato (and Kant) to Tomberg’s “Meditations on the Tarot”, it is rather like “The Moon” imagining that it is the source of its own light, rather than realizing that it is derivative from and dependent on “The Sun” (which is reminiscent of Plato and the “form of the Good” — “the form of forms” — the form in which all the other form participate — “that which “appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world”).

    But with all this praise of “reason” and “law” and the disparagment of ungoverned appetites, there is always the temptation become self-righteous and begin to wax legalistic. But once again, I think Tomberg’s insight is critical:

    “…it is virgin Nature participating actively in the miracles of divine magic which is the subject of the eleventh Arcanum of the Tarot, force, representing a woman victorious over a lion, holding its jaws open with her hands. The woman does so with the same apparent ease—without effort —with which the Magician of the first Arcanum handles his objects. Moreover, she wears a hat similar to that of the Magician —in the form of a lemniscate. One could say that the two stand equally under the sign of rhythm —the respiration of eternity—the sign ?; and that the two manifest two aspects of a single principle, namely that effort signifies the presence of an obstacle, whilst natural integrity on the one hand, and undivided attention on the other hand, exclude inner conflict—and therefore every obstacle, and therefore all effort. Just as perfect concentration takes place effortlessly, so does true force act without effort. Now, the Magician is the Arcanum of the wholeness of consciousness, or concentration without effort; Force is the Arcanum of the natural integrity of being, or power without effort. Because force subdues the lion not by force similar to that of the lion, but rather by force of a higher order and on a higher plane. This is the Arcanum of Force.

    “What, therefore, does the eleventh Arcanum of the Tarot teach? Through the very tableau that it represents, it says: the Virgin tames the lion and thereby invites us to leave the plane, of quantity — for the Virgin is evidently weaker than the lion concerning the quantity of physical force —and to raise ourselves to the plane of quality, for it is evidently there that the superiority of the Virgin over the lion is to be found.

    “What is it, therefore, that the lion obeys? What is it that he spontaneously yields to? Is he hypnotised! He is not, because the Virgin does not even look at him; her gaze is turned elsewhere, far from the lion whose jaws she opens. The lion is subjected to no constraint —either physical or hypnotic — therefore he obeys nothing beyond his own nature, and therefore it is his true nature which acts in him. It is the Lion before which the lion yields; it is holy animality which bestial animality obeys.

    “Now, the Force which the Card invokes is that of natural religion —that of nonfallen Nature. It is the magic of virgin Nature which awakens the virgin nature in the lion, and it is this Force that the eleventh Arcanum is called to reveal.”

    What is needed, then, is for the Moon which imagines itself to be independent to realize its relationship to the Sun. In that light, I contend, the appetites will tend to become more appropriately ordered and goverened (without a legalistic tug of war which is, in my experience, very counterproductive).

  9. The best article you have posted recently, Mr. Salvo.

    The best of intellectuals of present West are timocrats, there is no aristocrats.

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