13. The Tripartite Soul and the Three Social Strata [QP]

Among other intriguing concepts, Plato pioneered a psychological model that is still widely accepted today, 2,400 years after it was first introduced in the Republic (c. 380 B.C.E). Later, in the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) would advance his theory of the Id, Superego and Ego, which makes learning where he derived those ideas from all the more essential.

The characters in the dialogue begin their inquiry into the perfect state by investigating what constitutes the soul of an individual. We have physical needs that can easily be satisfied by food and sexual intercourse and we have a love of logic and cool, collected reason, but either of these two inclinations in excess will lead to physical as well as intellectual neglect of the soul. This is why, among the appetitive and the rational constituents of our soul, we also have the spirited constituent which can lean either way, but ultimately mediates our behaviour. To live a fulfilled life, we must let our spirit align with the rational part of our soul, which is hungry for wisdom and the ardent need to find the answers to our most profound questions.

When the characters have finally understood how the soul of an individual operates, Socrates clearly deduces that the state should function in this highly systematic way. We need producers, those who will provide food and build cities; we need auxiliaries, those who will protect our city from foreigners and disgruntled producers, and most importantly, we need philosopher kings, who will guide the state with their teachings. With this social stratification, some will argue that an elitist aristocracy could easily develop, but the alternatives – tyranny, oligarchies and monarchies – are no better. Democracy is not ideal either since far too many people tend to follow their irrational instincts and what follows is the rule of the mob. Ultimately, Plato concludes that:

There will be no end to the troubles of states, or humanity itself until kings become philosophers, or philosophers kings.

Image Source:
Trinity, n.p, n.a, 28 Aug. 2015


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