Socrates concludes Book IV by asserting that justiceamounts to the health of the soul: a just soul is a soul with itsparts arranged appropriately, and is thus a healthy soul. An unjustsoul, by contrast, is an unhealthy soul. Given this fact, we arenow in a position to at least suspect that it pays to be just.After all, we already admitted that health is something desirablein itself, so if justice is the health of the soul then it too shouldbe desirable. Plato feels that he is not ready just yet to makethe argument in favor of justice’s worth. He puts off the definitiveproofs until Book IX.
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Analysis: Book IV, 435d-end
The word justice is applied by Plato to both societiesand individuals, and Plato’s overall strategy in The Republic isto first explicate the primary notion of political justice, thento derive an analogous concept of individual justice. Plato definespolitical justice as being inherently structural. A society consistsof three main classes of people—the producers, the auxiliaries,and the guardians. The just society consists in the right and fixedrelationships between these three classes. Each of these groupsmust do the appropriate job, and only that job, and each must bein the right position of power and influence in relation to theother.
In this section, Plato sets out to show that the threeclasses of society have analogs in the soul of every individual.In other words, the soul, like the city, is a tripartite entity.The just individual can be defined in analogy with the just society;the three parts of his soul are fixed in the requisite relationshipsof power and influence. In order to make this claim work, Platomust prove that there really are three parts of the soul.
There are two distinct legs of the argument for the tripartitesoul, and the relationship between them is obscure. The first legattempts to establish the presence of three distinct sets of desirein every individual. The second leg argues that these three setsof desire correspond to three distinct sources of desire, threedistinct parts of the soul. The ultimate conclusion is that everyindividual has a tripartite soul. Plato has to classify the desires,because setting out to prove that there are three distinct partsof the soul without first establishing that there are these threetypes of desire, would not be as stylistically effective or compelling.The first leg bridges the transition from the societal to the individuallevel by showing that group properties stem from individual properties.
Why is it important for Plato to demonstrate that thethree types of desire present in every individual correspond tothree independent sources of desire? Why would it not be sufficientto maintain that these three forces are manifested at differenttimes by the same subject, but do not correspond to three distinctparts of the soul?
This distinction allows the three types of desire to beexerted simultaneously. Political justice is a structural property,consisting in the relationships of three necessary parts. The relationships constitutingpolitical harmony are fixed and static in the same sense as themathematical ratios that constitute musical harmony. In the individual,though desires come and go, the relationship between the differentsets of desires remains fixed. The three-part division of the soulis crucial to Plato’s overall project of offering the same sort ofexplication of justice whether applied to societies or individuals.
Plato begins his argument for the tripartite soul bysetting up a criterion for individuation. The same thing cannotbe affected in two opposite ways at the same time (436c).As pairs of opposites, he includes “assent and dissent, wantingto have something and rejecting it, taking something and pushingit away” (437b). Plato argues for the truthof this claim by bringing analogies from the behavior of bodies—amethod which may seem illegitimate, given that he wants to use theprinciple to apply to aspects of the soul (in particular, opposingdesires), not to physical objects.
In order to make the leap from observations about forcesand desires to conclusions about parts of the soul, Plato reliesthroughout the argument on a suppressed metaphysical claim. Wherethere is desire, there is the agent of desire: the thing which desires.Using this premise and the criterion for individuation, he willarrive at three distinct parts of the soul, corresponding to thethree aspects he has identified within the city.
Plato first tries to establish the existence of a purelyappetitive part of the soul using this method. Thirst is a desire.There is a subject of this desire. Thirst is a desire for unqualifieddrink—that is, no particular kind of drink, just drink (437e).Now comes a logical digression, the aim of which is to precludethe combination of appetitive and rational forces in the same subject.The outcome of the logical digression is that if the truth about a isrelative to the truth about b, then if b isqualified in a certain way, a must be analogouslyqualified (438a-e). Therefore, the agentof thirst desires drink unqualified (439b).
Because the agent desires unqualified drink rather thangood drink, healthful drink, etc., it cannot be argued that thissubject is a combination of appetitive and rational forces. Thesubject corresponding to thirst is characterized by pure animalurge, with no rational discrimination. If, on the other hand, thedesire for drink were theoretically inextricable from the desirefor good or healthy drink, there would be no pure appetite, andcorrespondingly no purely appetitive subject.
The desire for drink is representative of a whole classof desires which stem from the same agent. Other appetitive desiresinclude hunger and lust for sex. The subject which desires unqualifiedfood, drink, and sex is the appetitive part (437c).Plato feels no need to establish that the same agent is responsiblefor these various, though obviously related, desires. No reasonis demanded for the identification of agents of desire, only fortheir separation.
Plato next attempts to isolate the rational part of thesoul. He says that if there is a desire which opposes the appetitivedesire, there is another, separate agent of desire. He then makesthe empirical claim that there are sometimes thirsty people whodo not wish to drink (439c). Therefore, thereis an agent which desires to drink, and another agent which desiresnot to drink.
Plato then makes another empirical claim—that desiresopposing the appetites always come from rational thought (439d).He concludes that the second agent’s desires come from rational thought.He now believes himself to have identified a purely appetitive anda purely rational subject.
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Plato is not justified in asserting that reason alwaysopposes appetite. It is fairly easy to conceive of a situation inwhich spirit, rather than reason, would oppose appetite. Plato doesnot need to make as strong a claim that only reason opposes appetite.Instead, he could give an example of an anti-appetitive desirewhich does, in fact, happen to come from reason—for instance, notwanting the drink because it is unhealthy. He could then concludethat there is an agent other than appetite and that this agent’sdesires come from rational thought. Adding the extra claim thatall desires which oppose appetitive desires stem from reason, isunnecessary, false, and inconsistent with a later step in this argumentwhich shows spirit opposing the appetite.
It would be more problematic if one could imagine a situationin which two appetites are opposed to one another. Plato would respond,however, that it is reason which tells us that two conflicting appetitivedesires are mutually exclusive, forcing us to view them as opposingdesires.
Having argued for the existence of two different partsof the soul—one appetitive and the other rational—Plato needs onlyto establish that there is a third, spirited part of the soul inorder to complete the analogy with the city. Once again, he begins this projectby establishing the existence of a third branch of desire, as wellas an agent of that desire. Anger and indignation are desires. Thereis an agent of these desires. Next, he tries to prove that this thirdagent does not reduce to either of the two already established.
He first shows that spirit is not appetite. A man canfeel angry at his appetites (440a). The thirdagent is not the same as the appetitive part. In contrast with theother potential identifications—i.e. reason with appetite, spiritwith appetite—the only possible identification Plato contemplatesbetween spirit and reason places spirit in the position of reason’shenchman, carrying out the desires reason dictates. Plato, therefore,does not use the regular criterion of individuation to distinguishspirit from reason. Instead, he attempts to show that spirit cannotamount to the henchman of reason because it sometimes acts in reason’sabsence. Children and animals have the desires of the third agentwithout having the reasoning part of the soul (441b).Therefore, the third agent is not the rational part of the soul.Plato concludes that there are three separate parts of the soul: appetite,spirit, and reason.
In what way are these three distinct parts, and in whatway do they make up a unified whole? Plato’s argument for a tripartitesoul in Book IV, as well as his description of the three parts ofthe soul in Book IX, depend primarily on identification of the souland its parts through the desires exerted. Desires are active principles,forces that motivate the passive body. The soul, then, at leasthere, can be seen as a metaphysical entity which serves as the seatof human activity. The soul is the collection of active principlesin a human being.
According to Plato, there are three main “psychological”forces at work in an individual—the force which has as its objectphysical entities and money; the force which has as its object nonmaterialbut worldly entities such as honor and victory; and the force whichhas as its object the insensible realm of the Forms. These threeforces are expressed in desires which correspond to appetite, spirit,and reason. All three of these forces make up one entity—the soul—inthat they comprise the collective group of active principles inan individual. Yet they are distinct active principles which operatein different ways and have very different objects.
Because the soul is the seat of human forces, it is clearwhy Plato thought it appropriate to individuate its parts by demonstrating opposingdesires within it. The best way to prove that there are independentlyworking active forces within the soul is to demonstrate these forcesexerting themselves in opposition to one another. Clearly the sameactive force cannot be responsible for the exertion of two opposingforces. Revealing opposing desires amounts to revealing discreteactive forces within the collective seat of activity.
Plato uses this criterion of individuation to demonstratethat there are three active forces within the soul. While he doessucceed in isolating three types of desire, he does nothing to provethat there are no more than three active forces. Perhaps ratherthan a tripartite soul, there is really a quadpartite or quinpartitesoul. What evidence does Plato have to restrict it to three?
Plato’s tripartite analysis of the soul putsforth at least three quite substantive claims. First, there arepsychological agents of desire that possess the forces that actupon the body. Second, the multitudes of desires that an individualpossesses can be reduced to three main categories, correspondingto three such psychological agents of desire that control humanbehavior. Third, the fundamental description of human psychology—thatof the “structure of the soul”—has ethical implications and is necessaryto an understanding of justice.
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While the first and third claims have little currencyamong modern thinkers, the tripartite division of the individualpsyche or soul has remained a viable hypothesis in accounting forinternal psychological conflicts in the modern era. It survives,in modified forms, in such modern reincarnations as Freud’s tripartitedivision between the id, the ego, and the superego.