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Chapter 3 - The truth of tripartition

from Part I - The Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 March 2022

Myles Burnyeat
Affiliation:
All Souls College, Oxford
Carol Atack
Affiliation:
Newnham College, Cambridge
Malcolm Schofield
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
David Sedley
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

Since the arguments that Plato provides in the Republic for the thesis that the human soul consists of three parts (reason, spirit, appetite) are notoriously problematic, I propose other reasons for accepting tripartition: reasons that we too could endorse, or at least entertain with some sympathy. To wit, (a) the appetitive part of Plato’s divided soul houses desires and tendencies we have because we are animal bodies programmed to survive (as individuals and as a species) in disequilibrium with a variegated, often varying environment, (b) the spirited middle part houses status concerns that belong to us as social animals, while (c) what makes us rational animals is a faculty of reason, conceived in strikingly non-Humean terms, which determines what is best all things considered. Other psychic tendencies may then be explained in terms of the education and mutual interaction of the three parts we are ‘programmed’ for from birth.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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