Robert Alan and Kathryn Dunlevie Hayes Professor of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at Rice University

Plato’s division of the soul: reason, appetite, spirit.

[Numbers in brackets are linked to entries in "Publications."]

In [32] I argue for an interpretation of Plato’s division of the soul into reason and appetite. While this reconstruction may not allow us to preserve Plato's account of the psychology of justice in The Republic, it provides the rudiments of a defensible distinction between rational desire and appetites. The first are experienced decisions that essentially include some conception of the agent’s own good, and have their source in a power to order and integrate one’s motivations, thereby fostering self-control. The second—appetites—are felt desires essentially independent of evaluative thought, which in human beings arise and proliferate in a way conducive to internal conflict and chaos.

 In an unpublished manuscript [33], I complete this picture by arguing for an interpretation of Plato’s rather sketchily described third part of the soul, thumos (“spirit”). I find in this the germ of an interesting theory of emotional experience (including, paradigmatically, feelings of anger, disgust, shame, and pride). This account sees in our “spirited” desires a type of motivation that (like appetites) may be divorced from our rationally endorsed values, but which also (unlike appetites) are naturally responsive to our self-evaluation, and to others’ evaluation of us. These feelings can create debilitating inner turmoil. But they also catalyze moral development, and drive the longing for recognition and respect that, for better or worse, helps bind us to one another.

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