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Iamblichus-About The Rational & Irrational Parts Of The Soul

‘Harmonizing’, artwork by Louis Parson.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is a quote from Gregory Shaw’s ‘Theurgy and the Soul’. Pages 119 and 120.


‘Iamblichus was reluctant to separate the rational from the irrational parts of the soul: the ‘logismos’ from the ‘thumos’ and ‘epithumia’.

Again, following Aristotle, who rejected Plato’s tripartite division of the soul (Rep. 435-41), which identified each ‘part’ with a ‘place’ in the body (Tim. 69; cf. Aristotle, De Anima 414a, 29; 411b, 5), Iamblichus says the soul is a simple essence (ousia) with several powers (dunameis), and when it incarnates it does so as an integral whole.

According to Iamblichus, Plato spoke of the soul ambivalently, sometimes defining it as ‘essentially tripartite’ and sometimes as an ‘undivided essence of life having many powers and properties in one identity’ (Stob. I, 368, 23-369, 2; 369, 1).

Although Plato’s language varied, Iamblichus believed that Plato understood the soul to be a simple unity with three powers, and the discrepancy with Aristotle on this issue was merely semantic. Iamblichus says:

“In short, part differs from powers in that part (meros) presents to our mind an otherness of essence (ousia heterotes) while powers (dunamis) suggest a creative or productive distinction in the same subject.”

Iamblichus’ position may be illustrated in Sallustius’ discussion of the three parts/powers of the soul and the virtue associated with each:

“The excellence (arete) of reason is wisdom (phronesis), of spirit (thumos) courage (andreia), of desire (epithumia) temperance (sophrosune), of the whole soul, justice (dikaiosune).”

In other words, each aspects of the soul had its proper and necessary function, without which the ‘entire’ soul could never be ‘just’. (Sallustius, 20, 16-17).

For Iamblichus, the soul ‘thumos’, ‘epithumia’ and ‘logismos’ belonged to one immortal subject, but in embodiment they all verged to the mortal body and were rejoined with the gods only by theurgy.’

Iamblichus-About The Rational & Irrational Parts Of The Soul

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