Plato and the Divided Self
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Plato's account of the tripartite soul is a memorable feature of dialogues like the Republic, Phaedrus and Timaeus: it is one of his most famous and influential yet least understood theories. It presents human nature as both essentially multiple and diverse - and yet somehow also one - divided into a fully human 'rational' part, a lion-like 'spirited part' and an 'appetitive' part likened to a many-headed beast. How these parts interact, how exactly each shapes our agency and how they are affected by phenomena like eros and education is complicated and controversial. The essays in this book investigate how the theory evolves over the whole of Plato's work, including the Republic, Phaedrus and Timaeus, and how it was developed further by important Platonists such as Galen, Plutarch and Plotinus. They will be of interest to a wide audience in philosophy and classics.
part), a lion (the spirited part), and a human being (the rational part). The advocate of justice recommends that the human being take control and, like a farmer, feed and domesticate the gentle heads while preventing the savage ones from growing, make the lion his ally, and make the lion and the beast friends with each other and himself (588b–589b). In sum, whether they are represented as human or animal,9 the parts of the soul are agents or origins of movement; they are subjects of desire,
the classes into which x and y fall, and that is achieved by dialectic (261e–62b, 263a–c, cf. 273d–74a). 43 For the gods to function as models for behavior it does not seem necessary that people believe the stories about them to be true “as a whole.” We imitate fictional characters even knowing that they are fictional. Further, we may acquire beliefs, for example beliefs about value, through the fictions we encounter. Socrates seems keen that citizens of the ideal city believe the Noble Lie
the fact that the spirited part of the soul cares about what is oikeion is an important part of Plato’s depiction of it. It’s part of why spirit is connected to virtues such as loyalty and teamwork. Unlike appetite, spirit can be motivated to act for the benefit of others, ignoring its own pain in order to help the group. The spirited individual is self-sacrificing, and can endure pain and even death in order to achieve something for the group. This is also why spirit is conservative; the
will be an imbalance in the intensity of one’s desires such that the desires of reason are stronger than those of appetite.25 Book IX also makes clear the objects of the appetite’s attitudes need to be cultivated. At 589b1–3 Socrates characterizes the just person as promoting certain gentle appetites and eradicating certain savage others. This echoes the goals of the moral education of Books II–III, which were generally to promote gentleness and prevent savagery.26 There is, of course, nothing
leaves several unanswered questions. First and foremost is why in the account of education in Books II–III (376e1–412b3) Plato gives no indication (and in the summary of it in Book IV (441e7–442b3) even seems to deny) that the appetitive part is a co-recipient of the education. It is perhaps understandable that Plato would leave the appetitive part’s role implicit in Books II–III since he has not yet looked critically at the structure of the soul and isolated appetite as a distinct part, but the