Metaphysics and the Tripartite Soul view of Human Nature
Pythagoras was a prominent figure in the intellectual life of the Greek world of the sixth century B.C.
Alongside his genuine contributions to mathematics and geometry Pythogoras is also considered to have
recognised that there was evidently a "Tripartite" complexity to Human Nature:
Pythagoras who, according to Heraclides of Pontus, the pupil of Plato and a learned man of the first
rank, came, the story goes, to Philus and with a wealth of learning and words discussed certain subjects
with Leon the ruler of the Philasians. And Leon after wondering at his talent and eloquence asked him to
name the art in which he put most reliance; but Pythagoras said that for his part he had no acquaintance
with any art, but was a philosopher. Leon was astonished at the novelty of the term and asked who
philosophers were and in what they differed from the rest of the world. Pythagoras, the story continues, replied that the
life of man seemed to him to resemble the festival
which was celebrated with most magnificent games before a concourse collected from the whole of Greece; for
at this festival some men whose bodies had been trained sought to win the glorious distinction of a crown,
others were attracted by the prospect of making gain by buying or selling, whilst there was on the other
hand a certain class, and that quite the best class of free-born men, who looked neither for applause nor
gain, but came for the sake of the spectacle and closely watched what was done and how it was done. So also
we, as though we had come from some city to a kind of crowded festival, leaving in like fashion another
life and nature of being, entered upon this life, and some were slaves of ambition, some of money; there
were a special few who, counting all else as nothing, ardently contemplated the nature of things. These men
he would call "lovers of wisdom" (for that is the meaning of the word philosopher); …
Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V, Loeb Classical Library. P. 433
"…can we possibly refuse to admit that there exist in each of us the same generic parts and characteristics
as are found in the state? For I presume the state has not received them from any other source. It would
be ridiculous to imagine that the presence of the spirited element in cities is not to be traced to
individuals, wherever this character is imputed to the people, as it is to the natives of Thrace, and
Scythia, and generally speaking, of the northern countries; or the love of knowledge, which would be
chiefly attributed to our own country; or the love of riches, which people would especially connect
with the Phoenicians and the Egyptians."
From Plato's most famous work ~ The Republic ~ detailing conversations entered into by his friend,
and teacher, Socrates.
"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will,
certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by
universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances,
permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able
to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may
be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow
evolution of its original endowment."
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)
"Mankind are so much the same, in all times and places, that history informs us of nothing new or strange in this particular. Its chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature."
"The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions."
Georg Hegel, 1770-1831, German philosopher, The Philosophy of History (1837)
"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
R. G. Collingwood
In a letter to his brother William Emerson, (who was then a lawyer by profession), of May 24, 1831, Emerson wrote:
"I have been reading 7 or 8 lectures of Cousin - in the first of three vols. of his philosophy. A master of history, an epic
he makes of man & of the world - & excels all men in giving effect, yea, éclat to a metaphysical theory. Have you not read it?
tis good reading - well worth the time - clients or no clients."
(Letters I, 322). Ralph L. Rusk
If we turn to Cousin, (Victor Cousin's Introduction to the History of Philosophy), for insight as to what kind of content impressed
Emerson, in 1831, as being "excellent" metaphysical theory we read such things as:
What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man: evidently man and human
nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is
therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else
than humanity is free. … But if there can be in history no other elements than those of humanity, and if we can possess ourselves
of all the elements of humanity by anticipation, before we enter into history, we shall have gained much; for in beginning history,
we shall know that it can have neither more nor less than certain elements, although these may clothe themselves in different forms.
Assuredly we shall have made great progress towards the attainment of our object, when we shall know beforehand all the pieces which
compose the machine whose play and operation we would study.
Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves.
We draw from the nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental
We must begin with seeking the essential elements of humanity, and proceed by deriving from the nature of these elements their
fundamental relations, and from these the laws of their development; and finally we must go to history and ask if it confirms or
rejects our results.
If it confirms them, if experience reproduces the speculations of thought, it will follow in the first place, that we have entered
upon a path which leads somewhere, ... and, in the second place, we should no longer have systems, schools, and epochs merely,
in juxtaposition in space, and succession in time, - a simple chronology; but that we should have a chronology in a frame superior
to its own. History would no longer be a series of incoherent words, succeeding each other in a certain order we know not why; it
would become an intelligible phrase in which all the words, presenting some idea, would form together one whole, which would
completely express some definite meaning.
Victor Cousin - Introduction to the History of Philosophy, translated by H. G. Linberg, Boston: Hilliard, Gray, Little and Wilkins, (1832), pp. 101-104
In a letter to his brother Edward of May, 1834, Emerson wrote:
… Philosophy affirms that the outward world is only phenomenal, and the whole concern of dinners, of tailors, of gigs, of balls,
whereof men make such account is a quite relative and temporary one - an intricate dream - the exhalation of the present state
of the soul …
In an essay entitled "The Over-Soul" Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that:
"...The soul looketh steadily forwards, creating a world before her, leaving worlds behind her. She has
no dates, nor rites, nor persons, nor specialties, nor men. The soul knows only the soul; the web of events
is the flowing robe in which she is clothed. ...
A certain difficulty for people brought up in monotheistic faith-based cultures, in relation to Hinduism and
Vedic-Hindu doctrine, lies in the view that Vedic philosophy speaks of Mystical Union as being with
"The Atman which is Brahman".
The relationships between Atman ~ being the "Self" ~ and Brahman ~ being the "World Soul" ~ are central to
the religiously-inspired world view of most Hindus.
The Upanishads are among the most important texts in the history of Indian religions and culture. The concepts of
Brahman (ultimate reality) and Ātman (soul, self) are central ideas in all of the Upanishads
The Self which is free from sin, free from old age, from death and from grief, from hunger and thirst, which desires nothing but what it ought to desire, and imagines nothing but what it ought to imagine, that it is which we must search out, that it is which we must try to understand. He who has searched out that Self and understands it, obtains all worlds and all desires.
All this is Brahman. Let a man meditate on that (visible world) as beginning, ending, and breathing in it (the Brahman)...
...He is my self within the heart, smaller than a corn of rice, smaller than a corn of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed or the kernel of a canary seed. He is also myself within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds.
Khândogya-Upanishad 3.14 1, 3
Shankara, (Adi Shankaracharya), was an 8th
century CE Holy Man who, concentrating on the Upanishads in his deliberate efforts
at making Hindu philosophy more coherent, is credited with unifying and establishing the main currents of thought in Hinduism.
A Shankara quotation relating to metaphysics and The Atman which is Brahman:
The entire universe is truly the Self. There exists nothing at all other than the Self. The enlightened person sees everything in
the world as his own Self, just as one views earthenware jars and pots as nothing but clay.
Swami Vivekananda was a key figure in the introduction of key Indian philosophies to the Western world.
He made a journey to attend the Parliament of World Religions held in Chicago in 1893, and so impressed people who met
him that he was not only able to receive a personal invitation to participate from those arranging the convening of this Parliament, but
became one of the most notable contributors to the proceedings.
A Swami Vivekananda quotation:
This is the secret of spiritual life: to think that I am the Atman and not the body, and that the whole of this universe with all its relations, with all its good and all its evil, is but as a series of paintings - scenes on a canvas - of which I am the witness.
Key sources supportive of
Tripartite Soul Theory