Plato's Tripartite Soul Theory: Meaning, Arguments, and Criticism (2022)

Plato's Tripartite Soul Theory: Meaning, Arguments, and Criticism (1)

Plato considers the human soul as the seat of human forces and divides it into three distinctive forces that perform unique actions within an individual. This Buzzle article presents arguments about Plato’s Tripartite Soul Theory.

Plato created the character of his teacher Socrates in Phaedrus to convey his own philosophical teachings which came to be known as Platonism.

In classical Greek philosophy psyche, meaning ‘breath’, was used as a synonym for the soul. Ancient Greek concepts about the soul diverged along with a particular epoch and philosophical school. The Epicureans believed that the soul was made up of atoms similar to the body. The Platonists believed that the soul was an incorporeal and immaterial core connected to the gods as well the world. Aristotle believed that the soul was an isolated entity connected with the human body.

Plato was first to advocate “immortality” of the human soul through his works Republic and Phaedrus. These are a series of famous dialogs that present Plato’s own metaphysical, psychological, and epistemological perspectives. The differentiation Plato traces between the body and the soul was radical during his era and is one of the earliest forms of “mind-body dualism.”

(Video) Plato | Plato's Tripartite Theory of the Soul | Plato's Theories | Philosophy | 2020

In Phaedrus, he states that the soul is without internal parts and hence immortal, whereas in Republic, he states that the soul has a complex structure and conflicts between three parts―the reason, the spirit, and the appetite―hence this theory is called Plato’s Tripartite Soul Theory.

The Concept

Plato divides the human soul into three parts: the Rational, the Spirited, and the Appetite. The Rational part desires to exert reason and attain rational decisions; the Spirited part desires supreme honor; and the Appetite part of the soul desires bodily pleasures such as food, drink, sex, etc.

Plato’s Idea of the Tripartite Soul

▶ Plato explains through metaphors, and associates the human soul to comprehensive theory of the human psyche and an individual’s designation within the wider society. The theory is based on the principle that the intimate psyche of an individual is correspondent to the composition of external society. Plato distinguishes the psyche as three constitutive parts, the rational, the spirited, and the appetite. The theory states that every individual’s character is determined by the dominant constituent part of the psyche. Plato defines a moral individual as the one who has attained supreme control over the spirit and the appetite through his rationality. This he applied to the three classes in the society, namely, the ruling class, the military class, and the commoners. The ruling class exhibited dominance towards rationality, the military class towards honor, and the commoners towards appetite.

The Rational

symbolizes the mind and represents the ruling class, a rational mind thinks, analyzes, and gauges options for the best outcome of any given situation. It denotes conscious awareness and works for the benefit of the entire soul, thus making it wise. The ruling class is always superior as they take optimum decisions for the welfare of society as a whole and rationally rule their kingdoms, hence they fall in this category.

The Spirited

symbolizes the heart and represents the military class. Courage is the highest virtue of the spirit, and it’s associated with bravery, honor, and overcoming great challenges. Individuals who are ruled by the heart are hot-blooded like the soldiers who face adversities with great strength and overcome it with pride and honor to attain victory.

(Video) Plato's Tripartite Soul

The Appetite

symbolizes the stomach and represents the commoners, desire is ruled by sexual gratification, greed for money, comfort foods, and various other necessities that mostly take up an individual’s life. These individuals are just fulfilling their day-to-day obligations and not reaching out for a higher goal.

▶ Another important allegory that Plato describes in his work Phaedrus, which goes parallel with the Tripartite Soul Theory, is that the soul is a charioteer (rational) controlling two winged steeds: one white (spirited) and one black (appetite). The main goal of the charioteer is to ascend to divine heights, but the black horse always poses problems and the chariot keeps falling back to earth.

A literal meaning would be that the soul seeks spiritual attainment but the worldly cares of the universe pull it back from its divine goal. According to Plato, the whole purpose of the soul was to attain perfect knowledge form like the gods―truth, justice, beauty, and rational knowledge. He believed in the notion of reincarnation and that a soul perfected itself with every reincarnation.

He proposed that reason must conquer over earthly desires in order to recollect perfect knowledge and rise towards heaven in winged horse chariots like the celestial divine beings.

Criticism and Arguments

▶ The tripartite quality of the soul is part of the central theme in Republic to identify justice in the individual. Plato limits the scope of desires by defining them as simple means of gratification. A human mind consists of various unfinished desires or requests, and he assumes that these competing irrational desires are of different reflective nature rather than elaborating on each of them or supporting the cause.

(Video) Plato's Theory Of Forms Explained: Philosophy of Virtue, The Tripartite Soul & Justice In The State

▶ Plato assumes that children and animals do not use rational thinking, and this aspect fails to provide any base in his dialog.

▶ Perhaps one of the most debatable aspects of the theory is the way it undermines the rights of an individual with regard to a wider society. Philosophers John Locke and Emmanuel Kant criticize this theory by emphasizing on strong notions regarding the rights of the individual, and indicate that they should not be subdued in favor of the well-being of the larger community. Kant debates that human beings have fundamental rights and that one should“Always recognize that human individuals are ends and do not use them as means to your end.” But Plato vindicates that individuals must be used in order to attain social goals. Ernest Barker argues that this very precept could earn Plato’s said democracy the title of the first communist state. He argues that the way in which Plato conceptualizes the individual as being in the highest state of ethics when he is promoting the greater purpose of the state, is twinned with many modern communist organizations. “If the world is one, and works towards one end, then the state is part of the world, with an end subsidiary to its end, and the individual again is part of the state, with an end subsidiary to the end of the state.” In this theory, the roles of the government as well the individual in it, both, seem unattainable and undesirable. Many enlightened philosophers think that a society should not be based on just the morals of its citizen, John Locke indicates “It can have no other or measure, when in the hands of the magistrate, but to preserve the members of that society, in their lives, liberties and possessions; and so cannot be an absolute, arbitrary power over their lives and fortunes, which are as much as possible to be preserved.”

▶ Aristotle conceived that the soul was part of the body which made it come alive, hence he argued that the soul cannot be divided into parts without being unified. He further argues that even if the soul be divided into parts, then it should be more than three as there are other powers related to the soul like nourishment, perception, and imagination. Secondly, he questions whether the tripartite structure easily fits empirical evidence. He states that some plants and insects, when bisected, carry on surviving. Aristotle believed that part of the soul resides in every living organ of an organism.

Aristotle’s concept of the soul is not as concerned with immortality. He is concerned with the operating of the soul in all its various powers through the various organs in the body, be it a human, animal, or vegetative body. Thus, Plato’s theory deals with only the rational and the struggle of the soul’s immortality, it does not explain the facts and true functions of the soul.

Through these insights, we learn that Plato’s theory of the soul legitimizes several aspects of pre-socratic theories such as renascence of the soul and the afterlife, but it seems the major flaw is the failure of the analogy between the mortal and society.

(Video) The Tripartite Soul and WHY WHY IT SHOULD MATTER TO YOU (Plato's Theory and How It Applies to Us)

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FAQs

What is the tripartite theory of soul according to Plato? ›

Plato's theory of the soul divides the soul into three parts. There is an appetitive part, Epithymetikon, that deals with bodily desires, a spirited part, Thymoeides, that deals with more reflective passions, and the rational part, Logistikon, that deals with thinking and truth.

Why does Plato think that the soul has a tripartite nature? ›

In the Republic, Plato describes the soul as having three parts, which he calls reason, spirit, and appetite. He derived this tripartite conception of the soul from the common experience of internal confusion and conflict that all humans share.

What were Plato's arguments? ›

Plato's argument is asking us not only to be disinterested in the political process, but also to leave our rights and opinions in the hands of a benevolent dictator. For this reason his argument is not only unpersuasive but is also unrealistic.

What are the three parts of Plato's tripartite? ›

Plato divided the soul into three parts: the logistikon (reason), the thymoeides (spirit), and the epithymetikon (appetite).

What is Plato's concept of the tripartite soul and why is it important to a virtuous society? ›

In other words, each person's soul is divided into three different parts, and these parts are simply in different balance from one person to the next. Plato defines the soul's three parts as the logical part, the spirited part, and the appetitive part.

What is tripartite theory of personality? ›

Tripartite Theory of Personality

Freud (1923) saw the personality structured into three parts (i.e., tripartite), the id, ego, and superego (also known as the psyche), all developing at different stages in our lives. These are systems, not parts of the brain, or in any way physical.

Why is the soul important for Plato? ›

Plato argues that the soul is of such and indestructible nature that not even evil can destroy the soul, for the soul, in its very essence, is immortal, and, hence, indestructible. Plato also maintains that souls are fixed, so that the number always remains the same; therefore, the soul must be immortal by nature.

What is tripartite theory of knowledge? ›

The Tripartite Theory of knowledge states that if a belief is true and that we are justified in holding this belief then it is knowledge. The belief here comes in the form of a propositional concept held as a mental state which states something which is true and this is justified by evidence in the world.

What is Plato's teaching on the soul called? ›

Plato – “And This State Of The Soul Is Called Wisdom

What is the summary of Plato's theory? ›

In basic terms, Plato's Theory of Forms asserts that the physical world is not really the 'real' world; instead, ultimate reality exists beyond our physical world. Plato discusses this theory in a few different dialogues, including the most famous one, called 'The Republic.

What is Plato's main theory? ›

The theory of Forms or theory of Ideas is a philosophical theory, concept, or world-view, attributed to Plato, that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas.

What was Plato's biggest theory? ›

His most famous contribution is the theory of Forms known by pure reason, in which Plato presents a solution to the problem of universals, known as Platonism (also ambiguously called either Platonic realism or Platonic idealism).

What are the 3 types of soul? ›

the three types of soul are the nutritive soul, the sensible soul, and the rational soul. The nutritive soul is the first and most widely shared among all living things. For it can be said that anything that takes in nutrition, grows from this nutrition, and eventually decays over time has a soul.

What are the three powers of the soul? ›

But there are only three parts of the soul commonly enumerated by everyone, viz., the vegetative soul, the sentient soul, and the rational soul. Therefore, there are only three kinds of power that belong to the soul, and not five.

Which philosopher believed that the soul is the principle of life? ›

Not only humans but beasts and plants too have souls, intrinsic principles of animal and vegetable life. A soul, Aristotle says, is “the actuality of a body that has life,” where life means the capacity for self-sustenance, growth, and reproduction.

What is the 3 part of the soul and how it was defined by Aristotle? ›

Aristotle defines the soul and explains the activities of living things by laying out three defining capacities of the soul: nutrition, perception, and intellect. He then uses these three fundamental capacities to account for further abilities such as locomotion and imagination (phantasia).

What is the connection between knowledge and moral conduct in Plato's moral theory? ›

For Plato, no one is truly virtuous unless they have knowledge. A virtuous soul must be governed by knowledge of the Good. In other words, this knowledge must be the organizing principle for the soul. All action and thought must be motivated by knowledge of the Good.

Who introduced the tripartite model? ›

Watson and Clark (1991) proposed the Tripartite Model of Anxiety and Depression to help explain the comorbidity between anxious and depressive symptoms and disorders. This model divides the symptoms of anxiety and depression into three groups: negative affect, positive affect and physiological hyperarousal.

Is the tripartite personality unconscious? ›

This model was proposed by Freud. It divides the mind into two sections: the conscious and the unconscious. The id and the superego form the unconscious mind.

Which personality theory is most accurate? ›

The Big Five Personality Test is by far the most scientifically validated and reliable psychological model to measure personality. This test is, together with the Jung test (MBTI test style) and the DISC assessment, one of the most well known personality tests worldwide.

What are Plato's arguments for the immortality of the soul? ›

The lecture focuses exclusively on one argument for the immortality of the soul from Plato's Phaedo, namely, “the argument from simplicity.” Plato suggests that in order for something to be destroyed, it must have parts, that is, it must be possible to “take it apart.” Arguing that the soul is simple, that it does not ...

Does Plato believe the soul is immortal? ›

Socrates, Plato, and Augustine were all dualists who believed the soul to be immortal. Socrates believed the soul is immortal. He also argued that death is not the end of existence. It is merely separation of the soul from the body.

Where does the soul come from? ›

According to soul creationism, God creates each individual soul directly, either at the moment of conception or some later time. According to traducianism, the soul comes from the parents by natural generation. According to the preexistence theory, the soul exists before the moment of conception.

What is the tripartite structure? ›

Tripartite system (politics), the separation of political power among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.

What are the two aspects of Plato's theory of knowledge? ›

Its two pillars are the immortality and divinity of the rational soul, and the real existence of the objects of its knowledge-a world of intelligible Forms' separate from the things our senses perceive.

What are the three condition of knowledge? ›

According to this account, the three conditions—truth, belief, and justification—are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for knowledge of facts.

What are the 3 parts of the soul according to Socrates? ›

Socrates seeks to define justice as one of the cardinal human virtues, and he understands the virtues as states of the soul. So his account of what justice is depends upon his account of the human soul. According to the Republic, every human soul has three parts: reason, spirit, and appetite.

What is Plato's theory of the Forms explain and give examples? ›

The Forms, according to Plato, are the essences of various objects. Forms are the qualities that an object must have to be considered that type of object. For example, there are countless chairs in the world but the Form of “chairness” is at the core of all chairs.

What is the meaning of life according to Plato? ›

In Platonism, the meaning of life is in attaining the highest form of knowledge, which is the Idea (Form) of the Good, from which all good and just things derive utility and value.

What can we learn from Plato? ›

According to Plato's educational program, we should train students in truth-seeking. It is through this search for truth and knowledge that they will develop intellectual virtues.

What is the conclusion of Plato? ›

Plato came to conclude that everything in our world is only a copy of a perfect form existing in a realm attainable to us only through contemplation.

What is the famous line of Plato? ›

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance.” “If a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life.” “All men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one workman.” “Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

What are 5 facts about Plato? ›

Facts About Plato:
  • Some believe that Plato's real name was Aristocles.
  • Plato means wide.
  • Plato was related to the poet and lawmaker, Solon.
  • Greece offered Plato to be one of the “Thirty Tyrants,” after the Peloponnesian War, but he said no.
  • Plato was influenced by Pythagoras.

What is Plato's most important contribution? ›

His greatest work, The Republic, developed an insightful analogy between harmony in the state and harmony in the individual, and it is often considered one of the greatest works ever written. Plato wrote dialogues that considered the nature of virtue itself, as well as the nature of particular virtues.

What are the 3 types of soul? ›

the three types of soul are the nutritive soul, the sensible soul, and the rational soul. The nutritive soul is the first and most widely shared among all living things. For it can be said that anything that takes in nutrition, grows from this nutrition, and eventually decays over time has a soul.

What are the 3 parts of the soul according to Socrates? ›

Socrates seeks to define justice as one of the cardinal human virtues, and he understands the virtues as states of the soul. So his account of what justice is depends upon his account of the human soul. According to the Republic, every human soul has three parts: reason, spirit, and appetite.

What is the tripartite theory of knowledge? ›

The tripartite theory says that if you believe something, with justification, and it is true, then you know it; otherwise, you do not. Belief. The first condition for knowledge, according to the tripartite theory, is belief. Unless one believes a thing, one cannot know it.

What are the three powers of the soul? ›

But there are only three parts of the soul commonly enumerated by everyone, viz., the vegetative soul, the sentient soul, and the rational soul. Therefore, there are only three kinds of power that belong to the soul, and not five.

What is the purpose of the soul? ›

The soul's purpose usually involves opening up to the realization that we are all one with each other and that we must learn how to help others and humankind. We are given many chances to become one with our higher selves and realize what love and life are all about and how we can become all that we are meant to be.

Who introduced the three kinds of soul? ›

Aristotle distinguishes in the De anima three main kinds of souls (the nutritive, the sensitive-locomotive, and the rational) corresponding to plants, animals, and human beings.

What is the role of the soul? ›

The soul acts as a link between the material body and the spiritual self, and therefore shares some characteristics of both. The soul can be attracted either towards the spiritual or towards the material realm, being thus the "battlefield" of good and evil.

What are the main points of Plato's ethics? ›

For Plato, ethics comes down to two basic things: eudaimonia and arete. Eudaimonia, or "well being," is the virtue that Plato teaches we must all aim toward. The ideal person is the person who possesses eudaimonia, and the field of ethics is mostly just a description of what such an ideal person would truly be like.

What is the theory of Plato about self? ›

In Plato, the 'true self' is discussed in the context of knowledge and embodiment, and involves the view that we acquire our true self when we activate our latent knowledge of the Forms. The question is whether the sheer fact of embodied existence does not raise an insurmountable obstacle to our reaching this state.

What is the main point of Plato's The Republic? ›

The Republic by Plato is a text that describes the importance of being just in the world, and by being just, one is happy. It is a text that describes an ideal city and a way through which a just and philosophical governance can create happiness.

What are the two aspects of Plato's theory of knowledge? ›

Its two pillars are the immortality and divinity of the rational soul, and the real existence of the objects of its knowledge-a world of intelligible Forms' separate from the things our senses perceive.

What is the tripartite structure? ›

Tripartite system (politics), the separation of political power among a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.

What does Plato say about knowledge? ›

What is ​Plato Theory of Knowledge? Plato believed that truth is objective and that it results from beliefs which have been rightly justified by and anchored in reason. Thus, knowledge is justified and true belief.

What are the characteristics of soul? ›

Soul is an eternal, noble and everlasting presence of energy in human body, represents best creation of nature. The combination of five dhatus (Air, Water, Earth, Agni, Akasha) with Soul is called 'Shad Dhatu' purusha.

What are the qualities of soul? ›

They are Purity, Peace, Love, Joy, Bliss, Powers and Knowledge.

What is a power of the soul? ›

The Power of Soul reveals divine soul secrets, wisdom, knowledge, and practices to transform the consciousness of humanity and all souls, and enlighten them in order to create love, peace, and harmony for humanity, Mother Earth, and all universes.

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