The Republic is an examination of the “Good Life”; the harmony reached by applying pure reason and justice. The ideas and arguments of Plato center on the social settings of an ideal republic – those that lead each person to the most perfect possible life for him.
Socrates was Plato’s early mentor in real life. As a tribute to his teacher, Plato uses Socrates in several of his works and dialogues. Socrates moderates the discussion throughout, as Plato’s mouthpiece. Through Socrates’ powerful and brilliant questions and explanations on a series of topics, the reader comes to understand what Plato’s model society would look like.
The basic plan of the Republic is to draw an analogy between the operation of society as a whole and the life of any individual human being. In this paper I will present Platos argument that the soul is divides into three parts. I will examine what these parts are, and I will also explain his arguments behind this conclusion.
Finally, I will describe how Plato relates the three parts of the soul to a city the different social classes within that city. Plato supposed that people exhibit the same features, and perform the same functions that city-states do. Applying the analogy in this way presumes that each of us, like the state, is a complex whole made up of several distinct parts, each of which has its own proper role. But Plato argued that there is evidence of this in our everyday experience.
When faced with choices about what to do, we commonly feel the tug of many different impulses drawing us in different directions all at once, and the most natural explanation for this situation is to distinguish between distinct elements of our selves. (pg. 117)
In addition to the physical body, which Plato compares to the land, buildings, and other material resources of a city, Plato held that every human beings soul includes three parts. Plato said that One part of us thinks, another part of our soul does things, and another part of our soul desires things. (pg. 119-20) He states that we cannot do all these with just one part of our soul, or as a whole soul. For example, If a man is standing in one place, moving his arms, and moving his head at the same time, then we would not say he is standing still and moving at the same time.
However, we would say that his head is moving, while his arms are moving, and while his head is moving. This helps Plato present the idea that there may be one part of the soul functioning while another does. (pg. 117-18) Plato presents the story of Leontius, the son of Aglian. One day Leontius walked by an execution, and saw a pile of dead bodies on the ground. When he saw them, part of him wanted to look at them, and part of him wanted to turn his head in disgust. Eventually, his inner appetite to look took over, and he looked at the bodies. He became very angry and yelled at the executioner.
Plato explains that the anger sometimes makes war against the appetites. Sometimes, when these inner wars take place, we do not act rationally. The result was Leontius yelling at the executioner. Thus, the yelling was a result of his thinking about the dead bodies, having an appetite to look at them, and finally breaking down, looking at them and reacting in the way he did.(pg. 120) Thus, Plato argues that the human soul is divided into three parts, reason, desire, and emotion. Here is Platos exact argument: Acceptance and pursuit of one thing are opposite to rejection and avoidance of that same thing (ln 437b).
Appetite (e.g. hunger or thirst), willing, and wishing for a thing are acceptance and pursuit of that thing (ln 437b-c). Refusal, unwillingness, and non-appetite are rejection and avoidance of that thing (ln 437c). For example, sometimes we both have an appetite to drink and refuse to drink (439c). Therefore, since these states are opposites, they cannot belong to the same part of the soul, they must belong to different aspects of the soul (ln 439d).
A person “must harmonize the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a scale, high, low, and a middle. (pg. 122) The rational soul (mind or intellect) is the thinking portion within each of us, which figures out what is real and what is not, judges what is true and what is false, and makes the rational decisions based on what will be better for himself and others. (pg. 119)
In Leontius soul, this is the part that was thinking about the dead bodies, and realizing that the sight was very disturbing. He tried to make the rational decision not to look at dead bodies, however, the second part of the soul prevented him from doing that. (pg. 120) The appetitive soul (emotion or desire) is the portion of each of us that wants and feels many things. We have to resist many of out appetites in order to achieve at least some degree of self-control. (119-20) This is the part of his soul that wanted to look at the bodies, and finally broke down his rational soul, which would usually tell people not to look at disturbing sites. As a result, he lost his self-control because of his anger. (pg. 120)
Finally, the spirited soul (will or volition), on the other hand, is the portion that takes action. Its function is to carry out the reasons of the rational soul in real life, courageously doing whatever the mind has determined to be best. (pg. 120) In this case, since Leontius realized that the dead bodies were a disturbing site, he finally looked at them, he got very angry and reacted in a way that he thought was best: displaying his hatred and loathing of the executioner. (pg. 120)
I think that Plato has confused the contrast between desiring to do something and not desiring to do it, which are opposites, with the contrast between desiring to do something and desiring not to do it which are not obviously opposites at all. To me, it is a natural condition of human life that a person often wants both to do something, and not to do it. Imagine someone who is desperately hungry and so wants to eat the only food that is available, which happens to be some cabbage; on the other hand, she absolutely loathes cabbage.
Doesn’t this person simultaneously want to eat the cabbage and want not to eat it? Or imagine someone who really wants his kitchen to be clean, and so wants to do the washing up, since unless he does the washing up his kitchen will not be clean; but he doesnt like cleaning because he is a slob. If these lead us to different parts of the soul, wouldnt be we will be talking, or thinking about an enormous number of such different parts?
The examples suggest that Plato may have a different sort of ‘opposition’ between desires in mind. It may be that our rational part actually thinks about the appetite, considers the details of this appetite and rejects them. This is different from the examples that I just gave, where we just have a desire and an aversion that have the same object, or action. What is this difference? It seems to be a difference in what explains these different opposing desires.
The appetite is explained by biology- its explained in the same way as we explain the desires of animals. But the rational desire is explained by reference to the person’s calculating about the good of himself as a whole, taking into account all the relevant factors, including the different appetites that he has. This is why Plato wants to emphasize that thirst, is simply the desire for a drink, not the desire for good drink or hot drink or a cold one. (pg. 118-19)
Plato argues that these 3 parts of the soul are supposed to be parallel to the 3 classes in the ideal city: the money making, productive class (apettitive class), the auxiliary or military class (sprited class), and the ruling class, or what many ancient philosophers refer to as the guardians (rational class). This leads to Plato’s account of the virtues. Although Plato believed that membership in the guardian classes should only be based on their education, philosophy, and the possession of appropriate skills, or virtues, Plato presumed that future guardians would typically be the offspring of those who presently held similar positions of honor and class. (pg. 120-21)
If citizens express any dissatisfaction with the roles to which they are assigned, he proposed that they be told the useful falsehood that human beings (like the metals gold, silver, and bronze) possess different natures that fit each of them to a particular part of the society as a whole. (pg. 111) For example, The ruling class or guardians would be compared to gold because they are the most valuable. It is said that god put silver into those who are auxiliaries (pg. 111)
The common people such as farmers and craftsmen were compared to iron and bronze because they are strong, hard workers. (pg111) This is also known as Platos Myth of the Metals. This explanation can also be used as a method of social control, by encouraging ordinary people to accept their position at the bottom of the heap, and that they are to be governed by the higher classes. Although This does not seem very democratic, one can understand Platos logic behind this argument because that is typically the way most civil societies are constructed.
Having developed a general description of the structure of an ideal society, Plato believed that Each class in the society has to perform certain functions. Each class must work together for the common good in order for the city to thrive and succeed. All this showed the need for a society to develop significant social qualities, or virtues. (pg. 113)
Since the rulers or guardians are responsible for making decisions from which the entire city will be governed, they must have the virtue of wisdom. The virtue of wisdom is the ability to comprehend reality and to make the best judgments about it. Soldiers, who defend of the city against enemies, on the other hand, need the virtue of courage. They must have ability to carry out their orders in the face of danger without thinking about personal risk.
The rest of the people in the city must follow its leaders, instead of pursuing their selfish, private interests. They must obey the laws in a peaceful, orderly, and civil manner in order to keep the local communities together. This means that they must exhibit the virtue of moderation. The common people have to resist many of their personal desires, to benefit the whole city. (pg. 112-14)
Whatever virtue that is, I fail to understand. For example, many rulers themselves sometimes take into account their own personal interests, or even break the laws that they themselves make when they come to decisions that will affect the general population. Therefore, a ruler who cares about his own desires rather than his subjects needs is not virtuous. Second, a person in the military, who is supposed to be courageous may desert his fellow troops in fear. Third, many common people commit crimes, and create conflict within the community. None of these people are virtuous.
However, this is exactly what Plato was getting at. Plato believes that when each of these classes performs its own role and does not try to take over any other class, the entire city as a whole will operate smoothly, showing the harmony that is genuine justice. (ln 433e)
What makes the Republic such an important and interesting piece of literature is that by examining what brings true justice and harmony to the world, we can therefore understand all of the virtues by considering how each is placed within the organization of an ideal city.