Plato’s Three Parts of The Soul

A soul is not a simple entity. The soul has structure and divides into three parts. Plato is the first to give the soul this complexity and does so in his dialoque, Republic. According to Plato, the soul possesses reason, spirit, and appetite. Plato proves that the soul has three parts so that the virtues he’s applied to the city will apply to individuals. In this essay, I will first explain the three parts of the soul, next I will explain the virtues Plato assigns to the city, lastly I will explain why Plato needed to prove the divisibility of the soul in order to make his city reflect the individual.

The soul has three parts; these parts are reason, spirit, and appetite. Plato discovers a structural component to the soul by realizing that an individual can have multiple feelings towards a single situation. Because of the principle of non-contradiction, which states that a thing can not both be and not be in the same respect at the same time, Plato argues that these multiple feelings ascend from a soul that has structure (437 a).

Plato proves the structure of a soul as follows: It is possible to both desire and not desire something simultaneously; but, desire and not desiring are opposite (437 b). To wanting something is different from knowing what we need; therefore, an appetite is not the same thing as reason, yet our appetite (desire) can contradict our reason in respect to one thing (it is possible to both want something and know that we should not have it) (439 b). Emotions (spirited part) can conflict with appetite and are not the same thing. Plato gives an example of seeing dead corpses: one may want to look at the dead bodies, but at the same time, be disgusted by the sight of them (439 e).

Spirit is not the same thing as reason. To show how reason can contradict spirit, Plato gives the example of a noble person doing an unjust deed towards someone who has been unjust towards him. The noble person has anger towards the unjust person, but at the same time knows it is wrong to do the unjust deed (440 c). Therefore, appetite, reason, and spirit are all different things, yet all of them can be experienced in contradiction to each other. This proves that the soul of an individual has structure.

In Republic, Plato gives virtues to the city he is creating. These virtues are wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. Wisdom is the same thing as good judgement. In Plato’s city, those who make the judgements for the city are the guardians; therefore, wisdom in the city is found in the guardians (428 d). Courage lies in the city’s soldiers because the soldiers must be courageous. Soldiers are courageous by remembering their training, which is what to fear and what not to fear. Furthermore, courage in Plato’s city can be found in soldiers obeying Rulers (429 c). Next, there is moderation, which is the same as self-control.

In order to have self-control, one must let the better part control the worse part. In this city, the citizens are letting themselves be ruled by the guardians (the better ruling over the worse). Consequently, moderation is a virtue of the whole city (432 a). Justice arises with the other three virtues (wisdom, courage, and moderation) working in harmony with each other. In the city, this means each person doing his or her own work and not interfering in anyone else’s work (433 b). These four virtues create different classes in the city: the guardians, the soldiers, and the workers.

The three parts of the soul is an important concept to grasp when understanding Plato’s city. Plato’s city is not a real city; it is a metaphor he created to make it easier to understand the individual. The city Plato created has three classes among its citizens as result of the virtues it possesses. Like these three classes found in the city, the soul also has three parts to it.

The city’s division into classes has comparable divisions with the soul. The first class of the city discussed was the guardians. In Plato’s city, the guardians represented wisdom. This similar division of wisdom to the soul is reason. In order to have wisdom, one’s reason must make the decisions. The second class discussed was the soldiers. Soldiers represented courage in Plato’s city when they were obeying the Rulers. The corresponding part of courage to the soul is spirit. Courage is found in an individual when one’s spirit obeys reason. Lastly, Plato’s city contained the workers. The workers in Plato’s city created moderation because they agreed to let the better rule over the worse (i.e., the workers agreed to the guardians ruling over them). The equivalent part to moderation in the soul is appetite. Moderation is apparent when reason rules over appetite. Thus, as is similar in Plato’s city, a just soul is the result of reason, spirit, and appetite working together in balance with out one interfering with another.

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