Mind-Body Studies during the Golden Age of Greek Philosophy

The relationship of mind and body has been argued and debated by philosophers and psychologists for over centuries since the Golden Age of Greece.  In the Golden Age of Greece from around 500 to 300 BC, a great momentum of civilization was achieved in art, architecture, literature, and philosophy.  Pythagoras (ca. 580 -500 B.C.) was the first philosopher who postulated a theory of dualism in humans as he claimed that “in addition to the flesh of the body, we have reasoning powers that allow us to attain an understanding of the abstract world” (Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 35).  According to Hergenhahn (2009), Pythagoras’ view of clear-cut mind-body dualism made a salient influence on the Golden Age thinkers.

Plato (ca. 427 - 347 B.C.), the founder of the Academy, inherited Pythagoras’ view of mind-body dualism.  In fact, “many of Plato’s doctrines were developments of Pythagorean theory” (Greenwood, 2009, p. 48).  Plato as a dualist believed that human mind existed independently of nature in the form of essences.  On the basis of Plato’s view, human mind, which also referred as the spirit or psyche, is an non-physical  and immortal entity which is restricted in a human body temporarily, therefore Plato claimed that “true knowledge can be attained only when the purified psyche surmounts the corruption of the material body” (Greenwood, 2009, p. 48).  Plato’s philosophy supported separation and independence of mind and body.  Plato also indicated that because of mind-body dualism, all knowledge existed as innate intelligence within the mind thus knowledge could be obtained through self-reflection. (Hergenhahn, 2009).

Aristotle (384 - 322 B.C.), who was Plato’s student, challenged Plato’s theory on the existence of innate ideas.  Aristotle held a different notion that “the mind at birth was a tabula rasa, a blank or clean slate on which experience would write” (Schultz & Schultz , 2011, p. 36)    Coming from a medical family, Aristotle attributed mind, body, and the nature of things from the root of  biological and organismic perspectives.  As Smith (2010) stated, “this biological cast of mind colored his whole philosophy” (p. 6).  With embrace of both rationalism and empiricism, Aristotle supported existence of mind as essences but he insisted that “the mind must be employed before knowledge can be attained” (Hergenhahn, 2009, p. 50). 


Hergenhahn, B. R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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