Another part of my exam preparation.
The Epicurean view of the soul is intrinsically linked with their view on physics. According to Epicurus, there are only two substances that exist. Atoms and the void. Atoms are the physical entities which bodies are made up of, they have various properties which account for the different properties of various bodies. The void is the blank empty space in which all of the atoms and bodies made up of atoms can interact and move.
In the Epicurean view, any immaterial entity could neither act upon or move bodies, in the way one observes the soul to do. Therefore, the soul must also be made up of atoms. Epicurus argued that the atoms making up the soul are very fine, and are spread out throughout the body, and through them one can have sensations and experience pain and pleasure. When a body loses it’s soul atoms it can no longer sustain life, and therefore it dies. There is also a part of the human soul concentrated in one’s chest, and it is the location of all of the higher intellectual functions.
There are two consequences of this view. Firstly, the soul can no longer survive after the death of the body. The soul is not capable of surviving following the death of the body, and as the soul dies along with the body, there is no possibility of punishment after death. Secondly, there are no purely mental phenomena, as all sensations and experiences are in some way physical.
The Stoics view was different in a few ways. They believed that the soul, or pneuma was the animating force of bodies. It consisted of two of the four elements recognized by the Stoics, fire and air. Those were the active principles of the Stoic physics, distinguished from the passive ones which were water and earth. They assumed it was so because when animals die their bodies get cold and they cease to breathe, so the bodies must have been sustained by warmth and breath. Importantly to Stoic physics, pneuma was mixed in with the body. This way they could explain how there could be two bodies in the same spot. The soul was not only the sustaining cause of all bodies, but it was also guiding the growth and development of bodies that it is contained within. Pneuma can also consist of various ratios of the active elements, and in this way the Stoics could account for different qualities of bodies.
From today’s standpoint, the Epicurean view appears to be much more plausible. With our knowledge that in some way the brain and the nervous system account for our conscious experiences, it seems plausible that what the Epicureans meant by ‘soul atoms’ was the same as neurons. On the other hand, the Stoic view requires one to accept the existence of a deity. The principle of Fire was associated with God in their view, putting an element of the divine into every living thing. As appealing as it would be to believe that there is an element of divinity in each living thing, realistically we can experience what the Epicureans argued for, and that puts their view above the Stoics.