Plato Theory Of The Soul

Plato theory of the soul is the origin of his theory of the state. In it he claims that the only happy person is the just person, or the person who is ruled by Reason.

According to Plato, the soul consists of three basic energies which animate human beings: Reason, Emotion, and Appetite. Reason is given the greatest value, while Emotion and especially Appetite are regarded as the "lower passions". The soul that is ordered is governed by Reason, and therefore keeps one's emotions and one's appetites under control. The lower passions *must* submit to the dictates of Reason.

Plato's theory of the soul can be found in his major work, *The Republic*, where it is a response to the challenge of the Sophists as to why one ought to live morally. The Sophists in Plato's time were men who used philosophy for profit, inventing moral loopholes to get people out of obligations, or to excuse what would otherwise be considered immoral behavior. The skeptics ask why one ought to be moral when morality is apparently a social device for maintaining order. But if there are no consequences to "immoral behavior," then there is no motivational pressure for morality.

Plato answers by claiming that morality is a necessary cause of happiness, that one's happiness is correlary to one's moral behavior. Therefore, an immoral person would be motivated to be moral if he wants to be happy. The happy person, according to Plato, is the just person, a claim that he posits in two ways:

1. If x is happy, then x is just, and

2. If x is just, then x is happy.

The response of the skeptics is to claim that daily reality contradicts Plato, and that contrary to number one, tyrants, motivated by unjust principles, may be found to be happy. Moroever, they argue that contrary to number 2, saints and renunciates are known to suffer, rather than to be happy. This is where Plato's theory of the Soul is established. He argues to the contrary that the three basic energies of the soul must be ordered in order for a person to be happy. The Emotions (reactions like anger or fear) and the Appetites (needs for food, sex, money, etc), must be ruled by Reason (thinking, persuasion, arguement) in order for a person to be truly happy. When the lower passions are ruled by Reason, a person is also therby just.

In response to the skeptics, Plato argues that the tyrant is not therefore truly happy, and that this can be seen in his behavior. Ruled by lower passions, tyrants are known to displace Reason with Emotion, such as the fear of being assassinated, the inability to trust others; or, he will displace Reason with Appetite, such as the unsatiable greed for riches or power. In the end, such a person will be pulled apart by his lower passions, and cannot possibly find happiness with a disordered soul. Plato brings up the ancient figure of the tragic hero in order to illustrate this. Moreover, Plato argues, the suffering saint is happy amid his suffering because he is ruled by reason, and his soul is ordered. Happiness thus springs from inward qualities in the soul, according to Plato, and is not contingent upon external circumstances. When the lower passions are ordered by Reason, there is "psychic harmony," a quality of soul that is not vulnerable to a fatal blow from an external source. A person can therefore suffer externally, and remain happy because there is harmony internally, in his soul.

The psychic harmony of the soul, according to Plato, expresses itself in four cardinal virtues, which are each related to the three basic energies of the soul. In relation to Reason, the happy or just person possesses Wisdom (or prudence). In relation to Emotion, the just person has the virtue of Courage. In relation to Appetite, the just person owns the virtue of Temperance, which is the control of natural desires. Flowing outward from this psychic harmony is the fourth cardinal virtue, Justice. Wisdom, Courage and Temperance are directly related to one's own self-control; Justice flows outward from this harmony, and is directed towards other people through acts of charity and kindness.

Plato was prepared to say that the truly just person, whose soul is ordered, is beyond tragedy, and cannot be harmed. Such a person is leading a meangingful life, as against the immoral person. Moreover, Plato extended his theory of the Soul to encapsulate the perfect government, the Republic, led by "philosopher kings" who are just, governed by Reason. Contemporary theories of the psyche also draw upon Plato's three basic qualities of the soul, such as the Freudian designations of Ego, Superego and Id.

© High Speed Ventures 2011