Tripartite Soul Theory site banner

Reason, Spirit and Appetite - Plato

The three parts of the soul in Plato's Republic

Plato's ideal and just state, as envisioned in his most famous work 'The Republic', was suggested of as being peopled with three categories, or classes, of citizens - artisans, auxiliaries and philosopher-rulers.

Each of these categories of citizens were suggested of as being made up of persons who had similar behavioral tendencies and outlooks to each other.
In the following video clip, presented by Wayne Willis, consideration is given to how Socrates and Plato accepted that people are capable of showing capacities of Reason, Spirit and Appetite, and that whilst everyone has some tendency to show each of these capacities, over longer periods of time individuals can be said to be persons particularly capable of reason, of spirit or of appetite.
Persons particularly capable of reason were held by Socrates and Plato to be potentially suitable to become rulers, persons particularly capable of spirit were held by Socrates and Plato to be potentially suitable to be defenders of the state and persons particularly capable of showing appetite were held to be potentially suitable to be employed as economic producers.
Wayne Willis further considers how Socrates did not see "equality" as a societal goal but rather saw "justice" as being achievable where rulers ruled, defenders defended and producers produced - each in line with their own personal dispensations as persons of Reason, of Spirit, and of Appetite.
Plato's Ideal State would be ruler by persons personally suited to govern, guarded by those personally suited to defend, and supplied with products and services by those personally suited to act as economic agents.

In The Republic, and another work Phaedrus, Plato suggests that individual Human Beings each have a Tripartite Soul with the three aspects featuring in this Tripartism-of-Soul being - appetite, spirit and reason.

Plato's class of artisans were held to be composed of persons who were particularly inclined to indulge their appetites and desires, (for food, drink, wealth and sex), and, as such were held to be well-suited to work as economically productive artisans.

Plato's class of auxiliaries was held to be composed of relatively spirited, and courageous, persons who were held to be well-suited to be employed in protecting the state from external threats and internal disorders.

The souls of persons who were categorized by Plato as philosopher-rulers, however, were held to be particularly endowed with reason, to the degree that it prevailed in their own souls over appetite and spirit, and which also resulted in sufficient capacities of foresight to enable them to function as rulers.

Thus appetites channeled through the artisan class would produce goods and services, spirit channeled through the auxiliaries would provide potential for defence of the state, reason channeled through the philosopher-rulers (after processes of selection, and of special training over some fifty years), could provide for the guidance of appetite, and of spirit, in order that the state was ruled wisely in the interests of all.

page content divider

"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."
David Hume

Such celebrated "Men of Letters" as Emerson and Shakespeare have accepted that Human Nature is 'Tripartite' and Emerson accepted that there was an investigable association between Human Nature and History.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.

In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.

A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"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. …
… 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 relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)

Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness. (Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)

In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization. (Journal entry of December, 1824)

Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books … (This dates from January - February, 1828)

The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II

"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)

page content divider


Several truly notable authorities
endorse Tripartite Soul Theory

Key Socratic Dialogues from
Book 4 and Book 9 of Plato's Republic

Plato's Ideal State       Plato's Chariot allegory      

Philosophy - Eastern and Western & 'Tripartite' Human Nature

FIVE major World Religions & 'Tripartite' Human Nature