Considering Comparables: Psychē Reconsidered

with Lisa Raphals (University of California, Riverside and the Center for Hellenic Studies)

Date: Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Time: 2:00pm EDT

How do we choose, and use, comparables? Problems posed by the long and complex history of psychē offer a specific example, in comparison with early Chinese views of “spirit” (shèn 神), which, like psychē, was considered essential to the physical survival of the body.  I introduce three early Chinese views of spirit as part of a tripartite “person.”  In a “mind-centered view,” mind and spirit combine to rule the body.  In a “spirit-centered view” spirit and mind are quite distinct, with pride of place given to spirit.  Medical texts present a highly corporealized view of a person, in which the spirit “lodges” in the heart, and may be multiple, and move about the body.  I conclude with comparative reflections in order to reconsider the Greek discourse on psychē.  

Lisa Raphals (瑞麗) studies the cultures of early China and Classical Greece, with interests in comparative philosophy, history of science, and occasionally science fiction studies. She is Professor and Chair, Program in Classical Studies, University of California, Riverside, and Chair of the Program in Comparative Ancient Civilizations. She is the author of Knowing Words: Wisdom and Cunning in the Classical Traditions of China and Greece (Cornell, 1992), Sharing the Light: Representations of Women and Virtue in Early China (SUNY, 1998), and Divination and Prediction in Early China and Ancient Greece (Cambridge, 2013); co-editor of Old Society, New Belief: Religious transformation of China and Rome, ca. 1st-6th Centuries (Oxford, 2017), and author of many shorter studies.

The Comparatism Seminar Series is organized by Lisa Raphals (University of California, Riverside and the Center for Hellenic Studies) and hosted by the Center for Hellenic Studies.