Justice and the Soul in Plato's Republic

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One of the core arguments of Book IV of The Republic lays out a psychological theory, according to which, the soul has three parts, or faculties, or types of motivation. Plato’s argument begins with the observation that souls contain conflict;

Conflict in the soul implies different parts that are opposed to each other (436b-438a). Desire is opposed by the calculating part of the soul (438a-439d). Spirit is different from both desire and the calculating part (439e-441c). Therefore, from (1), (2), and (3), the parts of the soul are identical in number and function with the parts of the city (441c). Therefore, virtue in the individual person will be structured the same way as virtue in the city (441c-442d).

Plato sees inner conflict as both the most intrinsically important fact about human existence, and the phenomenon that most reveals the structure of personality, in a fashion similar to that of Sigmund Freud. What Plato calls injustice, is what he considers the greatest misery, the debilitating loss of control that results when one feels inclined at once to accept and refuse, to love and reject (437b). Plato sought to figure out why the soul malfunctioned. He began with the premise that one thing performs two different acts at once, the thing must contain more than one part (436b-437a). The soul performs two different acts when it moves toward an object at the same time that it keeps itself from it (437a-438a). Socrates had argued that desires are by themselves a blind impulse lacking any sort of regulatory drive. Therefore, a thirsty persons’ urge not to drink, as when the water supplies are scarce, cannot be a desire just like the desire to drink. It must be the faculty of reason that counsels against drink when one’s thirst is clamoring for it (493c-d). A soldiers struggle to stay awake, an individuals struggle with lust, all exemplify the conflict between reason and desire. Reason seems to be the part of the soul that is best suited, and most inclined,...
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