Plato's Moral Theory

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When Plato’s Republic was introduced in my coursework, I approached this book just like other books that I have read. But the Republic is not written like a typical textbook, but rather, like a living conversation. And like most conversations, it develops important ideas to improve our lives. As you read this book, you notice a main idea that Plato is trying to convey: why a person should bother to be good. But in order to be good, the Republic opens with asking the reader what is justice. Plato provides us with many answers, but he doesn’t frame those answers in terms that we would expect. Instead, Plato frames the answer in terms of how an individual should structure the different parts of his mind in order to become a just person and then enact that justice in the outside world. This paper delves into several ideas that provide a simplified outline of how to become a moral person.

The Republic brings many concepts to light, but the major intent of the book is to articulate an extended definition of justice or morality and how it fulfills one’s life as a human being. Plato asserts that if humans are to live an ethical life they must do so as citizens of a just and rational state. Plato expresses that the individual and the state must share the same principles of justice. In a state, different classes work together for the good of the state for all citizens. Likewise, within the individual, the different parts have to work together for the overall good of the individual. Plato believes that it is the soul which gives an individual the ability to be a just person. It is through the soul that one makes decisions, and making decisions is the most important activity of human beings. But in order to make just decisions we have to obtain knowledge as a foundation. Knowledge is what allows humans to formulate moral decisions, not only for themselves but for the good of society. To achieve this state, Plato begins with the soul. The soul is the gateway to achieving a just life. But having a soul is not enough. Plato digs deeper into his explanations and constructs a series of capacities that the soul must have for a person to be moral. Let us begin to explore those capacities and other attributes that are needed to achieve Plato’s vision of a moral life.

Plato held that the soul had three major capacities: reason, spirit, and appetites. The psychologies of these three capacities are mentioned in the introduction of The Republic as The Tripartite Psychology. In order to understand the importance of the soul, we must understand the function of the three capacities. The first capacity, reason, is the part of the soul that seeks wisdom, knowledge, and truth. Plato asserts that reason must dominate the other capacities. The second, spirit, deals with ambition or being ambitious, the seeking of honor and glory. Spirit can be aggressive and competitive. The practice of control or self-mastery is needed to keep spirit in balance with the others capacities. The last capacity is appetites or desire. This is the part that deals with the indulgence of food, money, sex, drink, and possessions. An overabundance of this capacity can lead to a corruption of the soul. While a person will experience conflict between these three capacities of the soul, Plato describes that in the well-governed soul, spirit and desire are guided by reason and knowledge.

Plato has many theories which provide evidence on how a person can achieve a just life. One of the theories that can be explored is the theory of forms or the realm of forms. For Plato, the world is divided into two realms, the realm of appearances and the realm of the forms or ideas. Plato produces an argument of perfection which is the basis of his theory of forms. One example of this is that we have knowledge of a perfect square despite the fact that it is impossible to draw one. However, the artist has to have knowledge of a perfect square;...
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