Justice and Plato's Ideal State
In his The Republic Plato writes about dialogues between Socrates and others concerning Justice, and the establishment of an Ideal State
where Justice should prevail.
Having defined Justice as "the having and doing of what is one's own" and effectively suggesting that "a just man is a man in just
the right place, doing his best, and giving the full equivalent of what he receives" the dialogue moves toward asserting that an
Ideal State will necessarily be composed of three classes, or categories, of persons because the Human Psyche or Soul of each individual is
Associable with this tripartism there are three categories of people differentiable by which of the three aspects of this
Soul-Tripartism - appetite, spirit or reason - prevails in their own individual soul.
In Book 9 of Plato's The Republic there is a passage which explicitly sets out the Soul-Tripartism which forms the basis for Plato's
suggesting that an Ideal State will be peopled by three classes of citizens:
...As there are three parts, so there appear to me to be
three pleasures, one appropriate to each part; and similarly
three appetites, and governing principles.
According to us, one part was the organ whereby a man learns,
and another that whereby he shews spirit. The third was so
multiform that we were unable to address it by a single
appropriate name; so we named it after that which is its most
important and strongest characteristic. We called it appetitive,
on account of the violence of the appetites of hunger, thirst,
and sex, and all their accompaniments; and we called it
peculiarly money-loving, because money is the chief agent in the
gratification of such appetites.
Yes, we were right.
Then if we were to assert that the pleasure and the affection
of this third part have gain for their object, would not this be
the best summary of the facts upon which we should be likely to
settle by force of argument, as a means of conveying a clear idea
to our own minds, whenever we spoke of this part of the soul? And
shall we not be right in calling it money-loving and
I confess I think so, he replied.
Again, do we not maintain that the spirited part is wholly
bent on winning power and victory and celebrity?
Certainly we do.
Then would the title of strife-loving and honour-loving be
appropriate to it?
Yes, most appropriate?
Well, but with regard to the part by which we learn, it is
obvious to everyone that its entire and constant aim is to know
how the truth stands, and that this of all the elements of our
nature feels the least concern for wealth and reputation.
Yes, quite the least.
Then shall we not do well to call it knowledge-loving and
Of course we shall.
Does not this last reign in the souls of some persons, while
in the souls of other people one or other of the two former,
according to circumstances is dominant?
You are right.
And for these reasons may we assert that men may be primarily
classed as lovers of wisdom, of strife, and of gain?
And that there are three kinds of pleasure, respectively
underlying the three classes?
Now are you aware, I continued, that if you choose to ask
three such men each in his turn, which of these lives is
pleasantest, each will extol his own beyond the others? Thus the
money-making man will tell you, that compared with the pleasures
of gain, the pleasures of being honoured or of acquiring
knowledge are worthless, except in so far as they can produce
But what of the honour-loving man? Does he not look upon the
pleasure derived from money as a vulgar one, while, on the other
hand, he regards the pleasure derived from learning as a mere
vapour and absurdity unless honour be the fruit of it.
That is precisely the case.
And must we not suppose that the lover of wisdom regards all
other pleasures as, by comparison, very far inferior to the
pleasure of knowing how the truth stands, and of being constantly
occupied with this pursuit of knowledge…
Socrates / Socratic Dialogue related to there being three classes of citizens
(from Plato's The Republic Book 9)
Given that people differ, (and are suggested of by Plato as being assignable to one of three citizenship categories), on the basis that,
(as he is prepared to suggest),
one of three behavioral tendencies - appetite, spirit or reason - tends to prevail in their own individual Souls; Plato suggests that
persons in whom appetite prevails should become Artisans and producers, persons in whom spirit prevails should become Auxiliaries
and be employed in defending the state against external threats and internal disorders, and persons in whom reason prevails should
undergo rigorous selection, followed by very long periods of training, towards better preparing themselves to become philosopher-rulers or Guardians.
Hence Plato's identification of the three classes of persons who will people his Ideal State arises out of what he believes to be
the Tripartite nature of the Human Psyche or Soul.
Peopled by three classes of citizens - Artisans, Auxiliaries and Guardians, a state could ideally hope for Justice to prevail
where each class of person fulfilled their proper function as producers, defenders and rulers and did not interfere with each others'
fulfillment of their individually necessary contributions to the functioning of the state.
"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."
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)
Understanding the Human Condition
Key sources supportive of Tripartite Theory of Soul