The Concept of Psyche - Psychology Essay Example

The Concept of Psyche

            Many people often take for granted how the human mind functions.  Sometimes, there is a need for them to understand first what their innermost qualities are, meaning, recognizing their own uniqueness by looking deeper into their desires and other traits (whether good or bad).  Keeping in touch with the mind in such a way will help them know both their maximum capacity levels as well as their limitations, thus enabling them to utilize their energies without wasting precious time and be able to function well in society.  In the past, two great philosophers named Plato and Sigmund Freud have attempted to uncover the true nature of the psyche.  But the question is, whose views are more convincing and practical in these modern times given the issue stated above?  The rest of this paper will be maintaining the argument that Sigmund Freud’s views regarding the division of the psyche are more convincing than that of Plato’s framework.  This will be explained extensively later on after presenting a background of the details on each of the philosopher’s view of the human psyche in order to lay the foundation of this paper’s argument.


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BACKGROUND:  Plato and His Version of the Psyche

            Plato was able to come up with a famous metaphor in order to illustrate the possible mind process which is composed of a charioteer guiding a chariot while two horses with opposite appearance (a black horse to the right and a white one to the left) pull the said chariot.  Each of the three characters represents the significant functions of the psyche which is determined depending on a person’s age or the circumstance he is in.  Plato also referred to them as the “three parts of the soul.”

            The first of these three elements is the appetites which is represented by an ugly black horse on Plato’s model.  This is the symbol of all the personal indulgences which people acquire in order to satisfy their desires or experience comfort rather than pain or discomfort.  Thus, the appetites is much prone to certain vices like gluttony, lust, greed and other impulsive thoughts and unhealthy behaviors that could cause a person harm or personal deterioration.

            The second element which is represented by a white horse is the spirited which means possessing great force or vigor and therefore, must not be confused with spiritual.  This is more representative of the get-up-and-go character being possessed by athletes who focus so much on physical and mental well being.  And, like a typical athlete, the spirited element embodies the physically and mentally sound personality who is virtuous and in control of any desires that may jeopardize his well being.

            Last but not the least is the mind, which is stood for by the charioteer.  The latter is supposed to be the controlling element in charge of the appetites and the spirited which are obviously in full contrast with each other.  Further more, the charioteer must know how to foresee and analyze a certain situation in order to maintain the chariot’s proper direction and not be misled by the extremely opposite characters of the two horses.  In other words, the mind must be the leader of the other two elements according to Plato.  The mind or the charioteer must always decide which of the horse’s will to allow or not to allow (Kerns 2-3).

Sigmund Freud’s Division of the Psyche

            First and foremost, Freud presented the psyche as something that is divided in to the conscious (things that are presently dwelling inside the mind), preconscious (thoughts from the past that are recalled and are not presently existing in awareness), and unconscious (ideas that a person cannot deliberately realize unless with the help of some enlightening factors) (Dewey 1).  Furthermore, Freud also introduced three popular terms as subdivisions of the three main parts mentioned above and these are the ego which is basically part of the preconscious mind, and the superego and id which comprise the unconscious part of the mind.  These factors are in fact presented in an iceberg structure where the conscious part of the mind is the only floating part.  However the preconscious and unconscious parts though submerged, comprise more than the majority of the function of the psyche thus showing that it is important that a person must take the time to keep in touch with his hidden personality since it can play a major role in defining certain behaviors that can be confusing at times like hysteria and other mental disorders.

            Let us first identify how Freud defines the id.  The id is considered as the most primitive part of the mind as it only pays attention to the satisfaction of one’s pleasure without considering the long-term effects that this particular desire would have in terms of “safety, practicality and morality” (Kuther 1).  As one may recall, this is almost similar with Plato’s the appetites which focuses mainly on the attainment of pleasure and comfort.  Both concepts are childlike in nature, although Freud precisely indicated that the id can be overcome as a person grows up, thus leading us to the next stage part which is the ego.

            The ego is that which develops during toddlerhood (Kuther 2).  It is the reality-check part of the mind and in some ways can control the impulses and stubbornness of the id.  This may remind us of Plato’s charioteer but they are not actually similar, since Plato presents the latter as the absolute guide that must take control of the extreme negative and positive parts of the mind whereas Freud simply presents the ego as something that may adhere to the id and not necessarily superior, provided it maintains balance to the psyche.

            Last but not the least is the superego.  This is developed when a child begins to recognize and adhere to the society’s moral standards.  Then again, this is almost similar to Plato’s the spirited, that energetic part of the mind which craves for challenges or high standards while bearing in mind the rewards that can be attained from it.  In a sense, it is very idealistic in nature yet according to Freud, this must also be regulated by the ego since its extreme effects can just be as destructive as the id.


            By judging the lifestyle in today’s modern world, it is without a doubt that Freud’s theories of the psyche have more weight and therefore are more compelling than that of Plato’s.  To understand this view better, let us take for example the relationship between a counselor and his counselee.  In the world of psychology, there is a method called “indirect counseling.”  It is the process where a counselee’s dilemma is answered or figured out not by giving him direct advice but by means of asking him leading questions such as how that person feels about a particular situation or thing, a dream, what his desires or fantasies are, etc.  These are actually approaches that make a person interpret certain behaviors that may seem strange to him or to the people around him.  This process actually poses more benefit compared to providing him direct advice since it allows a person to become more independent minded.  This deep sense of self-awareness paves the way for mental balance and this is one of the advantages of Freud’s theory of the psyche.  It helps us understand behaviors within and beyond ourselves.

There are practices such as the nursing profession that utilizes Plato’s method as an instrument in determining the needs of aging patients in terms of psychological intervention in treating mental decline.  The adaptation of Plato’s model is demonstrated through the Psychiatric Epidemiological Research Interview (PERI) which nurses use in better understanding and communicating with their elderly patients (Kinion 1).  However, understanding and communication can also be attained by using Freud’s theories.  His principles are more exhaustive since, they promote that each part of the personality must work together in order to attain balance unlike Plato’s theory that that the mind is the only determining factor of everything.  Plato disregarded the fact that the other two extreme parts make up a person’s uniqueness which can reveal things that can truly work for him like for example, a college course that will lead to a perfectly suitable job in the future.  People used to think that being a lawyer or a doctor promises a very good future.  This may be true but what if a person finds out later on, that he is very conscientious and is not capable of representing a guilty client?  Or in the case of a doctor, what if he discovers that he cannot stomach the process of a bloody operation?  These are just some of the consequences of an unbalanced personality.


            We are living in an era of endless possibilities and we need to adapt a way of thinking that embraces more awareness and versatility especially nowadays that equal rights are more and more given to people despite their age, gender or race.  In other words, a person must learn how to compromise more and this is what Freud’s model is trying to show.  It is a reminder that from time to time, something will take us back to our primitive nature (i.e. tendency for aggression or promiscuity). The Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu provided in “The Art of War,” “know your enemy.”  This allows us to respond to questions why those behaviors exist and this commonly affects young adults undergoing puberty.  Therefore, perhaps it is only fitting to say that Freud is more convincing for he provided better explanation of the complex nature of the mind.  Understanding those complexities can sharpen a person’s survival instincts and therefore protect him from the hostile nature of other people as well as himself.

                                                           Works Cited

Alford, A. 2004.  Atlantis-Plato.  29 March 2009.


Kerns, T. 2003.  Plato’s Three Parts of the Soul.   29 March 2009.


Kinion, E.  Plato’s Model of the Psyche: A  Holistic Model of Nursing Interventions.  1992.  29 March 2009.


Mitchell, G.  2009.  Sigmund Freud and Freudian Psychoanalysis.  29 March 2009.


Dewey, R.  2007.  Division of the Psyche.  29 March 2009.


Kuther, T.  2001.  Freud’s Theory of Personality: Development of the Psyche.  29 March 2009.



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