Tripartition and the rule of the soul in Plato's "Republic"
I. Soul Partition and the Objects of Desire
II. Authority and Alignment: The “Rule” of the Soul in Plato’s Republ i c
III. Changing Rulers in the Soul: Psychological Transitions in Republ i c 8 - 9
This dissertation marks the culmination of five years of hugely stimulating and rewarding study as a graduate student in the philosophy department at Princeton University. During this time , I have benefitted immensely from my interactions with a wide range of people, only some of whom I will be able to mention here. I cannot imagine a better environment in which to develop one’s abilities as a scholar and as a philosopher.
The present project has benefitted directly from discussions with (among others) Matt Strohl, Tristram McPherson, Lara Buc hak, Dave Baker, Derek Baker, Mark Budolfson, Ryan Robinson, Arudra Burra, Corinne Gartner, Josh Wilburn, Dan iel Herrick, Angela Mendelovici, Philip Koralus, Jada Twedt - Strabbing, Jim Wilson, Kellam Connover, Joe Karbowski, Christian Wildberg, Michael Smit h, Tom Kelly and Philip Pettit . I have also enjoyed the opportunity to present my work in progress in the Princeton philosophy department’s dissertation seminar and in Princeton’s University Center for Human Values graduate prize fellows seminar , where I h ave greatly appreciated the excellent and helpful discussion . Alexander Nehamas
has provided me with a crucial source of feedback, advice and encouragement , and has inspired me with his own love of reading
Plato . Jessica Moss and Terence Irwin were kind en ough to read my third chapter and to discuss it with me in detail . I have also received invaluable comments and feedback from audiences at the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, McMaster University, the University of Notre Dame and the U niversity of California, Berkeley, where I presented sections of the work in progress.
John Cooper served as a second adviser on this dissertation and there is scarcely a page of the present work that has not benefitted from his detailed and insightful s uggestions, corrections and advice. Through his direction of Princeton’s phenomenal interdepartmental program in classical philosophy, of which I have been fortunate to be a member, and also by his own example, he continues to provide young scholars such a s myself with a model of how to study and conduct research in ancient philosophy.
I could not have asked for a better primary adviser for my dissertation than Hendrik Lorenz, who has provided me with encoura ge ment , support
and advice throughout the proces s . Unfailingly generous with his time, he has been a constant pleasure to work and to discuss philosophy with. Every aspect of this work has benefited in some way from his remarkable combination of clear thinking, rigor, and intimate knowledge of the issue s and texts.
Finally, I would like to thank Rochelle Edinburg, my partner throughout the duration of this project and now my wife. Without her constant help, encouragement and support this dissertation would never have reached its present form; my time
s pent writing it would certainly not have been anywhere near as happy for me as it has proven to be.
In Plato’s Republic , Socrates frequently uses language most commonly associated with the political sphere to characterize human psychology. Perhaps the most important example of this is his claim that the human soul as a whole can be “ruled” in an enduring way by any one of its three parts. This idea plays a crucial role throughout the dialogue, most prominently in the definitions of justice and the other virtues in Book 4, in the catalogue of the various kinds of unjust cities and souls in Books 8 and 9, and in the view, which permeates the work, that it is best for every soul to be ruled by reason. However, despite its prominence it is not i mmediately obvious how best to understand the notion of psychic rule – the rule over the whole soul by one of its parts
– as it is employed in the Republic . Socrates’ claims about the “ rule ” of the soul are not easi ly dismissed as a mere metaphor or rhetor ical flou rish on Plato’s part. Nor, it seems, can talk about one part of the soul ruling over the whole be reduced to the idea that certain kinds of desires are stronger in some people than in others. Rather, as the detailed character sketches of Books 8 a nd 9 strongly suggest, having one’s soul ruled by one of its parts in the relevant sense 1 seems somehow to involve
1 Some commentators, notably Richard Kraut 1973 and George Klosko 1988, have argued that we need to distinguish two senses of “rule” in Plato’s psychology. A soul part rules in the first sense if it triumphs in some particular instance of motivational conflict, while it rules in the second if it determines the overall values of the person. Both Kraut and Klosko label the rule of the soul in the second sense “normative” and contrast it with “non - normative” rule (Kraut) or “direct” rule (Klosko). Using their terminology, I am concerned in this chapter with normative rule. I should note, however, that in my view the terminology employed by both of these authors is unnecessarily confusing. In the passages from Republic 4 cited by Kraut and Klosko as instances of “direct” or “non - normative” rule, Socrates speaks of the parts of the soul as “being overpowered by ” ( kratoumenos , 440a) or “forcing” ( biazôntai , 440b) one another. However, archô and its derivatives are consistently used in the Republic only with reference to enduring conditions of the soul; they are certainly never used to denote the outcome of some p articular episode of motivational conflict, in which the agent battles a recalcitrant desire. In this respect, Plato’s usage fits rather well with the political analogy: archê was the magistracy, while kratos was the force or power (or ability) that could be leveraged in a particular instance. It also corresponds rather well with the usual translation of archein as “to rule,” since the English verb suggests an enduring condition rather than the outcome of a particular fight. It therefore seems not only simp ler, but also true to Plato’s intentions, to reserve the term “rule” for enduring conditions, corresponding
orienting one’s life as a whole in a particular way. In particular, these passages suggest that it involves adopting a set of values or pursu ing a set of goals in one’s life as a whole, values or goals that correspond in some way to the desires of the ruling soul part.
In this dissertation, I draw on this idea to offer a way of understanding Socrates’ claim that the embodied human soul can be ruled in an enduring way by any one of its three parts. According to my proposed account, to have one’s soul ruled by one of its parts is to take as the guiding end or goal of one’s life as a whole the objects characteristically desired by that soul part, and to organize one’s life around their pursuit. In what follows, I refer to this as the “guiding ends view” of psychic rule. This basic idea here is not altogether new. Indeed, it has not escaped the notice of some of Plato’s more perceptive recent interp reters that the overall life goals of each kind of person described in the Republic correspond in some way to the desires of the ruling part of that person’s soul. 2 However, this basic idea has not been developed and explored with the care and detail it de serves, in light of the important role it plays in the dialogue as a whole. The present work addresses this failing by taking on three closely related tasks. First, I argue that the guiding ends view is consistent with an
broadly to “normative rule” in Kraut and Klosko’s sense; the outcomes of particular episodes of inner struggle can then described in terms of “overp owering,” “forcing,” “prevailing” and the like.
2 Several recent commentators have observed, at least in passing, that having one’s soul as a whole “ruled” by one of its parts, as this is presented in the Republic , involves adopting or having a certain set of overall ends, goals, or values. In addition to Kraut and Klosko (n. 1 above), this basic idea is endorsed for example by Blössner 1997, Bobonich 2003, 46 and Lorenz 2006, 33. Terence Irwin appears to accept it in outline
(see e.g. Irwin 1995, 285), whi le John Ferrari speaks more vaguely of the desires of a lower part of the soul “shaping” a person’s entire life 2007, 195. I consider Irwin's view in detail in Chapter 3. Chris topher Bobonich's analysis of the notion of psychic rule perhaps comes closest t o my own. However, I do not believe that Socrates’ talk of any one part of the soul “ruling” the others commits us to thinking of all three soul parts as highly person - like, as Bobonich supposes. I have for this reason avoided speaking of the ruling part o f the soul “setting” the person’s overall goals, as he frequently does. Other differences between Bobonich's view and mine will emerge as my discussion proceeds. In general, the view of psychic rule in question is mentioned only in passing by these authors ; it is certainly not developed or defended in detail in their work, nor are its implications carefully explored, especially not in light of the extensive evidence in Republic Books 8 and 9, as I undertake to do here.
independently attractive and large ly orthodox way of understanding the nature of the individual parts of the soul in the Republic .
Second, I show how this way of understand ing the notion of psychic rule accords with, and helps to explain, Socrates’ descriptions of the five main kinds of pe rson he identifies in the Republic : the philosopher, whose soul is ruled by reason, and the four main kinds of corrupt person described in Books 8 and 9. Finally, I explain how, on the picture presented by Socrates in the Republic , each kind of person firs t comes to be ruled by a given soul part. I conclude by briefly highlighting some of the possible implications of my interpret a tion for our understanding of Plato’s views on a range of further topics, including personal unity, the nature and origins of vic e, and political paternalism .
In accordance with these three goals, t he dissertation is composed of three
main chapters , supplemented by a brief concluding discussion . In Chapter 1 , “ Soul Partition and the Objects of Desire ,” I show that the guiding ends view of psychic rule is consistent with an independently attractive way of understanding Socrates’ claim in the Republic that the embodied human soul is tripartite. My account of the nature of the “ parts ” 3 of the soul in the Republic is largely orthodox, a lthough few claims in this area are entirely uncontroversial. My main aim in presenting it is to prepare the ground for the discussion to follow. In particular, I clarify the notion of a “characteristic object of desire,”
to which the guiding ends view as stated makes appeal, and argue that all three parts of soul, as these are represented in the Republic , have a characteristic object of desire so understood. This involves defending three related claims. First, I argue that the individual parts of the soul in the Republic can –
3 In what follows, I adhere to the con vention of referring to to logistikon , to thumoeides and to epithumêtikon as the “rational”, “spirited” and “appetitive” parts of the soul respectively. These translations, although far from perfect, have become more or less standard in the literature. The language of “parts” is also conventional, although somewhat more controversial. I discuss and defend my use of the language of soul “parts” below.
and on reflection should – be thought of as the proper subjects of desires. Second, I claim that each of the three soul parts Socrates describes has an object it desires “characteristically,” or by its very nature, or at least a set o f such objects sufficiently unified to serve as a person’s guiding end or goal. Finally, I show how these claims about the parts of the soul in the Republic are consistent with the evident fact that people form desires for a wide range of specific objects, attachments that also vary depending on how each person is educated and raised.
In Chapter 2 , “Authority and Alignment : The Rule of the Soul in Plato’s Republic , ” I show how my proposed account of the notion of psychic rule accords with, and helps to exp lain, Socrates ’ depictions of the five main kinds of person he ident i fies
in the Republic : the philosopher, whose so ul is ruled by reason, and the “timocratic,” “oligarchic,” “democratic,” and “ tyrannical ” men described in Books
8 and 9. In each case, I ar gue, Socrates’ description of the kind of person in question proceed s
very much as the guiding ends view of psychic rule would lead us to expect . I also argue that, as Socrates presents things, the d e sires of the subservient parts of the soul in each of th ese types of person become aligned, to a greater or lesser extent, with the desires of the soul’s ruling part. In pa r ticular, I argue, the rational part of the soul in
whose soul s
are ruled by spirit or appetite comes to aim at the acquisition of ob jects cha racteristically desired by the
soul’s ruling part , whatever that may be in each case . I show how this interpret a tion not only fits the texts, but also helps explain a number of features of these passages that have consi s tently troubled interpreter s.
In Chapter 3 , “Changing Rulers in the Soul : Psychological Transitions in Republic 8 and 9 ,” I take up the question of how, accor d ing to Socrates in the Republic , each person originally
comes to be ruled by a given soul part. This involves advancing a new interpreta tion of the passages in Republic 8 and 9 in which the first emergence of each character type is described. Although these passages have been largely neglected by scholars, they have been treated at some length by Terence Irwin. 4 I consider Ir win’s vie w, according to which each new “inner regime” is first established as the direct result of a rational choice on the part of the person in question ,
a choice that is attributable to the person in virtue of being attributable specifically to the rat ional part of that person’s soul . I show that Irwin’s view is unsupported by the texts and faces other serious pro b lems. I then offer a positive account that does not suffer from these flaws. Accor ding to this account, each new “inner regime” first emerges as the result of a struggle for power within the soul of a young person, the outcome of which is to be understood in terms of the relative strengths of the competing parties, whatever they m ay be in each case, rather than as the direct result of the activ ity of the rational part of the soul in particular. I conclude by observing that my account is compatible with an attractive way of unde r standing Socrates’ apparent references to the person, as opposed to the parts of his soul, as somehow opting for the ne w regime, a feature of these passages that had largely motivated Irwin’s view.
Finally, in a brief concluding discussion, I highlight
some of the possible implications of my claims for a series of further issues in the interpretation of the Republic , and for our understanding of some of the key moral and political ideas expressed therein. First, there is the question of whether the theory of the tripartite soul articulated by Socrates in the Republic
is consistent with a satisfactory account of personal un ity. Second, there are Socrates’ views on the nature and origins of vice, understood as a condition in which the different parts or
4 Irwin 1995.
elements in the soul stand to one another in “ inappropriate ” or “ unnatural ” relations of ruling and being ruled. Finally, I raise the question of what it means for people to be ruled over by the divine reason of the philosopher - rulers in the ideal city, if they are not capable of ruling themselves with their own reason in the appropriate way. In the process, I consider and rais e doubts about the view, recently a d vanced by Christopher Bobonich, 5 that the psychological theory of the Republic
commits Plato to holding that no non - philosopher can ever be virtuous, happy, or even have a life worth living.
I conclude with a summary of my conclusions about the notion of psychic rule in the Republic : what it amounts to, how it is put to use, and what issues my interpret a tion leaves outstanding.
5 Bobonich 2002.
I . Soul Partition and the Objects of Desire
According to the account of the notion of psychic rule in the Republic that I will develop in this and subsequent chapters , to have one’s soul ruled by one of its parts is to take as the guiding end or goal of one’s life as a whole the objects characteristically desired by that soul part, and to organize one’s life around the ir pursuit. In Chapter 2 , I examine how well this view accords with, and helps us to understand, Socrates’ descriptions of the five main kinds of person he identifies in the Republic : the philosopher, whose soul is ruled by reason, an d the four kinds of corrupt person described in Books 8 and 9. In Chapter 3, I take up the question of how , according to Socrates in the Republic , each of these kind s of person first comes to be ruled by a given soul part . These two chapters together fo rm the heart of the
dissertation. However, my claims in them rest on certain assumptions about the nature of the parts of the soul in the Republic . For the most part , these assumptions are relatively orthodox , and many readers will no doubt find them unproble matic. Nevertheless, the secondary literature on Plato’s moral psychology in general and on the view of the tripartite soul advanced in the Republic
in particular is characterized by persistent and deep disagreement , while
few claims in this area are uncon troversial. For this reason , I begin by highlighting and defending the most important claims about the nature of the parts of the soul in the Republic on which the subsequent chapters rest. My main aim in doing so is to prepare the grou nd for the discussio n to follow, although I also hope that my treatment of these issues may prove interesting and valuable in its own right.
The present chapter is therefore preliminary to the main discussion. In it, I take up a series of questions raised by the view, famous ly advanced by Socrates in the Republic , that the embodied human soul is a thing of three parts. My aim in doing so is not to resolve every interpretive question or address every philosophical issue raised by Socrates’ famous claim that the embodied human soul is tripartite. Rather, more modestly, I aim to clarify the notion of a “characteristic object of desire,” to which the guiding ends view as stated makes appeal, and argue that all three parts of soul, as these are represented in the Republic , have a c haracteristic object of desire so understood. This will involve defending three related claims.
First, in Section 1, I argue that the individual parts of the soul in the Republic can –
and on reflection should – be thought of as the proper subjects of desi res. Next, in Sections 2 - 4, I claim that each of the three soul parts Socrates describes has an object it desires “characteristically,” or by its very nature, or at least a set of such objects sufficiently unified to serve as a person’s guiding end or go al. Finally, in Section 5, I show how these claims about the parts of the soul in the Republic are consistent with the evident fact that people form desires for a wide range of specific objects, attachments that also vary depending on how each person is ed ucated and raised.
- I -
In many passages throughout the Republic , Socrates treats the individual parts 6 of the human soul as the proper subjects of desires. 7 This is perhaps most explicit in Book 9, at 580d - 581b,
6 Socrates initially avoids using the term meros (“part”) or any equivalent, preferring, as Greek permits more readily than English, to speak simply of “the appetitive” ( to epithumêtikon ), “the spirited” ( to thumoeides ) and “the rationally calculating” ( to logistikon ). However, he does use the term meros in connection with the sou l in his account of the virtues at 442b10, and again at 442c4. The idea of “parts” is also strongly suggested by Socrates’ view that we learn, get angry and desire the pleasures of nourishment and sex with three different
where he claims that there are three ki nds of desire ( epithumia ), one peculiar to each of the three parts of the soul. The “appetitive” part of the soul ( to epithumêtikon ), he claims, is so called because of the great intensity of the desires it has “in it” ( en hautôi ) for food, drink, sex, and whatever else follows from these ( hosa alla toutois akoloutha ). 8 In this passage it is also called the “money - loving” part ( philochrêmaton ), an epithet applied specifically to the appetitive part of the soul, not to the person as a whole, strongly implyin g that the appetitive part of the soul in particular is attracted to money. This impression is then bolstered by Socrates’ remark that “ its pleasure and love ” ( tên hêdonên autou kai philian ) are for profit ( kerdos ) (581a) . Similarly, the spirited part of t he soul ( to thumoeides ) is called “victory - loving” and “honor - loving,” and is said to be “wholly dedicated to the pursuit of control, victory, and high repute” (581a), while the rational part of the soul ( to logistikon ) is called “learning - loving” and “wis dom - loving,” and “is always wholly straining to know where the truth lies” (581b). I discuss these important passages in greater detail below. For present purposes, I mean only to observe that in each case the grammatical subject of the verbs ( phileô , horm aô , teinô ) is specifically the particular part of the soul
in question . Moreover, Socrates attributes
desires to the individual parts of the soul in many other places throughout the Republic . This practice is already evident in Book 4, for example at 439b - c, where two different things “in”
things “in us” ( en hêmin ), as cont rasted with the view that we do each of these with the whole soul ( holêi têi psuchêi ). For these and related reasons, most scholars writing on the Republic have adopted the practice of speaking of soul “parts,” as I will here. Some scholars have preferred the vaguer term “elements” (as in “the rational element”), a practice to which I have no objection – nothing rests on this choice of terminology for present purposes.
7 In what follows I limit myself to the case of desires. In the Republic , “beliefs” ( doxa i ) are also sometimes attributed to the individual parts of the soul. This is perhaps most explicit in the discussion of optical illusions in Book 10 at 602e - 603a, although, again, it is already implied in Book 4, for example at 442d in the use of the verb
homodoxeô . The interpretation of these passages raises interesting but difficult interpretive questions, which I will not be addressing here. Recent discussions of the sense in which even the spirited and appetitive parts of the soul in the Republic might be said to have beliefs are to be found for example in Bobonich 2003, Lorenz 2006, and Moss 2009.
8 Unless otherwise noted, I follow the translation of G. M. A . Grube, rev. C. D. C. Reeve, in John Cooper (ed.) Plato: Complete Works (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997).
us are said to simultaneously “draw the soul back” from drinking and to “drive it like a beast to drink. ” 9
It is also explicit in Book 10, where a n (unidentified) lower part of the soul is said to “hunger” ( peinaô ) for th e release of lamentation because it “desires ( epithumein ) these things by nature” (606a). More generally, the idea that all three parts of the soul have their own desires is supported by Socrates’ tendency to liken them to animals, for example in the famou s image of appetite as a many - headed beast and spirit as a lion at 588b and following , since presumably animals have desires . Finally, desires are explicitly attributed to the lower parts of the soul in other, related dialogues. 10
This accumulated textual e vidence ought to create a strong presumption in favor of regarding the individual parts of the soul as the proper subjects of desires
in the Republic .
Nevertheless, some commentators have felt uneasy about attributing desires to
individual par ts of the so ul. 11 Their unease can, I think, be traced to two main sources. First, it is sometimes thought that attributing desires to parts of the soul precludes attributing them to some single entity, that which we ordinarily identify as the person. It would be deepl y uncharitable to Plato, it is then thought, to attribute to him a view that clashes so starkly with ordinary ways of speaking and of thinking about ourselves as agents . Such considerations
9 The genitive thêriou at 439b4 has better manuscript support than the accusative thêrion printed by Burnet in his 1902 OCT text, and is preferred on this basis by Slings 2003. Read in this way, Socrates clearly likens the appetitive part of the so ul that is doing the dragging to a beast, not the whole soul that is being dragged.
10 For example, at Tim. 70 d - e, Timaeus ascribes to the appetitive part of the soul desires for food, drink, and “whatever else it has a need for due to the nature of the bo dy” ( hosôn endeian dia tên tou sômatos ischei phusin ). In the Phaedrus , at 253d - 256e, Socrates attributes sexual desire specifically to the bad and unruly horse, representing appetite, which exerts a strong pull towards the sexual act and must be forcefull y restrained. While it is unclear how literally to take certain aspects of these passages, in both cases the speaker in question (Timaeus in the Timaeus , Socrates in the Phaedrus ) treats the lower parts of the soul as the subjects of desires (along with ce rtain other mental states).