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The three parts of the soul


Plato's - The Republic


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 of persons because of the existence of the three parts of the soul: and that one part tends to 'prevail' in each individual person.

Plato holds that Human Psyche or Soul of each individual is "Tripartite" and moves on to categorise three classes of people differentiable by which of - appetite, spirit or reason - prevails in their own individual souls.

In Book 4 of Plato's The Republic there is a passage which initially suggests the three parts of the soul tripartism which forms the basis for Plato's later asserting that an Ideal State should be peopled by three classes of persons:
  ...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.

  Certainly.

  This then is a fact so far, and one which it is not difficult to apprehend.

  No, it is not.

  But here begins a difficulty. Are all our actions alike performed by the one predominant faculty, or are there three faculties operating severally in our different actions? Do we learn with one internal faculty, and become angry with another, and with a third feel desire for all the pleasures connected with eating and drinking, and the propagation of the species; or upon every impulse to action, do we perform these several actions with the whole soul…

Socrates / Socratic Dialogue suggesting the existence of three parts of the soul
from Plato's Republic Book 4



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Plato further 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 processes of selection, followed by very long periods of training towards better preparing them to become philosopher-rulers.

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 three parts of the soul or "tripartite" nature of the Human Psyche or Soul.

Peopled by three classes of persons - Artisans, Auxiliaries and Philosopher-rulers, 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.


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"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)


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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



Understanding the Human Condition


Understanding the Human Condition


The Human Condition psychology


Human Condition examples


Understanding History Human Nature