Monday, March 7, 2011

Reason, Passion, and the Soul

Nearly four hundred years before Christ walked this earth as fully man and fully God, Plato within his dialogue Phaedrus, created a rather interesting allegorical representation for a person’s soul. 

Plato described a charioteer being pulled by two winged horses.  The charioteer himself was seen to be the reason and intellect of the soul that must guide the stallions to enlightenment.  Now one of the steeds is pictured to be of noble breed and character and representative of rationality and moral impulse of a righteous nature, while the other of the two horses was the diametric opposite in bearing and virtue and thus represented the soul's irrational passions, appetites, or decidedly more base natures.   The two horses of such disparate natures were exceptionally hard to drive accordingly as they each wished to venture towards their own predilections, while the charioteer struggled mightily to drive them to his wanted destination of that elusive enlightenment.

It is a story of which I first learned back in high school the better part of three decades ago, but was recently reminded of a few weeks back in the homily at Mass one Sunday.  In the homily, our deacon spoke of the soul that is the Charioteer driving the winged twin horses of reason and passion. 

While perhaps not truly faithful to Plato’s original story, one can see the troubles that the charioteer soul might encounter when one steed tries to pull the chariot in one direction at the expense of the direction that the other steed wishes to travel, and thereby going to a place that the soul neither intended nor wished to venture.

If the horse of passion is allowed full rein to pull the chariot at the expense of the horse of reason, one might very well find one’s soul fulfilled, albeit for a very short lived time, as we do not live in a world where rationality and logic are absent for long, and thereby the consequences of having ignored them will quickly become apparent to the soul with excruciating and even grave consequences.

Indeed, fall in love with someone where the physical chemistry is magnificent initially, but the character or intellect are wanting and one will soon find that passion to falter and extinguish, leaving the soul injured and longing. 

At the same time, if one were to marry and commit oneself to a person for practical matters that made unassailable logical sense, as the person was of sterling character, quality, and the perfect complement to one in all things of a pragmatic nature, but yet there was no chemistry or passion and love for that individual,  it would be a marriage that too would soon falter as the purpose and meaning of such a marriage would never be fully realized.

The consequences of such disproportionate reason and passion, in favor of either steed, can likely be found applicable to any number of one’s relationships, career, vital interests, or critical elements to that which makes us each lacking in our own humanity.  I suspect that in all things, ensuring that there is a balance of reason and passion would ultimately make for a much longer lasting and far more fulfilling  life’s journey within the context of the soul driving that chariot.

Indeed, when passion and reason are yoked equally, one will find the chariot soul easy to steer towards that wanted destination and the journey will prove to be far smoother and enjoyable for the traveling.


John Myste said...

What does this have to do with Obama?!

This is an awesome piece. I think once your conversion to liberalism is complete, you will make a very great thinker.

T. Paine said...

John, it greatly heartens me to see you get right to the point.

This allegory is absolutely about Obama. He is a man that has certainly let his passion over-ride any semblance of reason or logic, and as I stated, the consequences thereof are going to be excruciating and grave...

Unfortunately, all of us Americans are along for the ride in his chariot on this occasion.

Also, I appreciate your kind words, sir, although my demise to liberalism is something also that goes against all reason. :)

John Myste said...

Passion and reason are not only opposing forces, but arch enemies. Passion and objectivity cannot easily co-exist. The path you took me down makes me wonder if I would want to be purely logical, since to deny passion his floor would remove all joy from life.

The next time someone accuses me of inadequate reasoning, I will explain that I cannot safely abandon all passion and that pure reason is not a reasonable goal. I need to be reasonable only to a point, but T. Paine can explain it better.

I am not satirizing your argument. I actually agree with it whole-heartedly

The Heathen Republican said...

I'm just not getting it. Why does there have to be tension between reason and passion?

On the one hand, I see that passion must be tempered by reason, but I don't see reason being tempered by passion. I would actually favor, for example, coming to a conclusion using reason, and then advocating for it passionately.

The chariot metaphor works by way of analogy, but I don't see the clear relationship between the two. It's like harnessing a horse next to an ox. You still need them to work together, and neither to pull away, but that won't make them both horses. Passion and reason feel like two different animals to me.

John Myste said...


I respectfully submit that because the need for passion over pure reason is not readily apparent is why he gave an example.

It is not reasonable to accept without question the perfect logical mate when you have more passion for another. Passion has to also have a vote, even if you deem him perfect in every other way.

One could construe thing thus: It is reasonable to factor in passion. If you were to do this, then it becomes a semantic argument. Yes, passion has a voice because reason decides it should be granted.

T. Paine said...

Heathen, again I choose to be lazy, and Myste did a fine job of explaining what I would have said otherwise.

Perhaps this means that John is indeed becoming more of a conservative thinker! ;)

John Myste said...

Mr. Paine,

There is no need for name-calling, sir.

T. Paine said...

John, that was meant as the highest of compliments! ;)

John Myste said...

"We have three terrific daughters and God has indeed blessed me."

I only have one question:

How many daughters do you have in all?

T. Paine said...

Three! (smarty-pants....) :)