What does Plato think is problematic about human embodiment, and why is this bad
particularly for bodies interpreted as female?
The physical roles, and cognitive features of both males and females are highly based on their
physical aspects. Unlike men who are portrayed as having physical strength, high intelligence
and authority, the traditional perspective towards women is highly sexualized. Most of the
greatest philosophers in history disregarded women in their work, given the unimportance of
women in state matters, governance and social development. Plato, however, applied a different
approach in defining reality by focusing on the human soul. According to Plato, only the human
soul is capable of realizing all the virtues and the goodness of life. The body is materialistic and
can only indulge in vulgar fleshy activities that prevent one from realizing the goodness of life.
The ideal kind of love and beauty are those that cannot be recognized physically but those that
the soul can recognize. Love and beauty recognized by the soul is eternal unlike physical love
and beauty which is blinded by materialistic things.
Plato argues that women are incapable of realizing the real world that only souls can reach, due
to their materialistic nature. He points out that women are highly emotional and are moved by
insignificant things such as bright colors and small calamities. Plato further suggests that, men
who fail to see the real world as the soul sees it, are indeed like women. Plato’s ideology
demeans women, by suggesting that women are incapable of performing duties outside bodily
functions. He likens them to animals who are also moved by only what is in their physical
environments. This view about women is controversial because it suggests that women, just like
animals do not have souls. Plato goes ahead to insinuate that men who behave like women in
their current life will be punished by being born as women in their next lives. Of importance is to
find out why Plato thinks that women are incapable of higher thinking beyond material beauty,
love, and status. Plato is not against women but against the female body. All souls, male or
female are the same. Souls cannot be defined by the vessels which host them, but their strength is
determined by the strength of their bodies. He argues that female bodies are weaker compared to
male bodies and thus the distinction in the soul’s strength. However, Plato’s view of the female
body is as a result of the social roles attached to females rather than the actual strength of the
female body. According to Immanuel Kant, a historical, philosopher, the only reason for men to
desire women is because of their body and not because they are also human beings (Elizabeth
109-131) . Up until the 20 th century when women started fighting for equal rights, the society had
placed them below men in so many aspects. The place of the woman was in the kitchen to do
domestic chores, give care to her family, and to reproduce. It never occurred to the society that
women can become leaders, innovators, or scholars. Therefore most of Plato’s and other
philosophers’ ideas about the female body were based on the place of women during their time.
Were they to write about the female body today, it would be significantly distinct from their
Plato likens people who do not lighten their souls to prisoners in a dark cave. The cave can be
likened to the human body which prevents the soul from all knowledge, true beauty, and true
virtues. The prisoners have to get out of the cave to see light which will make everything clear
compared to the shadows in the cave. Likewise, when the soul is strapped in the body, it is
unable to see things clearly and it is only able to when it is released from the body (Plato) . The
cave reproduces shadows of different figures that the prisoners try to make out what the shadows
represent. Lucy finds fault in Plato’s analogy of the cave, in that the cave holds much clearer
images than what is found outside. The cave holds much more freedom because the prisoners can
imagine anything of the shadows in the cave while out there, the truth is homogenous and locks
out individuals who are incapable of understanding the single truth. Plato portrays the female
body as too weak to understand the higher concepts of the soul. On the other hand, Luce likens
the cave as a world which accommodates both males and females and accommodates their
different imaginations (Irigaray 113-166) . I agree with her, because the world cannot be
portrayed using a single ideology. The world is diverse, with both evil and good, and other
ideologies in between, and everyone should have the freedom to express their feelings. The
world should not be defined by what exists outside it but by what exists within it. Plato is
defining a world that can only be experienced after one’s death which contradicts the purpose of
living. To live in the physical world, one should possess the human body and live a life limited
by the human body. Living in the physical form does not mean that humans will be void of
thinking or imagination. The soul part of them will still be active within their bodies. Therefore,
Plato should have strived to explain how human beings could maximize the functionality of their
souls while still in their physical bodies.
Embodiment of the female body through Plato’s eyes is a biased concept which ignores the
ability of women to perform higher functions than the bodily functions. Lucy Tatman and Luce
Irigary approach the embodiment in a manner that shows the place of the woman in the society.
Plato’s embodiment is beyond the world we all know and live in. Therefore, rather than focusing
on ideologies that are beyond human control, the world should adopt embodiment that
recognizes the roles of males and females in a diverse and changing environment. According to
Tatman, women do not deny their desire to look feminine and look beautiful, but they would like
to be given the freedom to translate for themselves what it means to be a woman (Tatman 425-
447) . Being a woman cannot be packaged in a single definition but can be translated across
boundaries given the different cultures in the world.
Elizabeth, V, Spelman. "Woman as Body: Ancient and Contemporary Views." Feminist studies
(1982): 109-131. Document. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3177582>.
Irigaray, Luce. "Virginity and Masculine Reproduction: Plato in a Woman's Looking-Glass."
Cripps, Peter. The Birth of Sexism in Western. London: Continnum, 2002. 113-166.
Plato. The Republic. 360 B. C. E. Document.
Tatman, Lucy. "Subjects through translation." European Journal of Women�� Studies (2011):