Philosophy:Plato's tripartite theory of soul

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Plato's tripartite theory of soul is a theory of psyche proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in his treatise the Republic, and also with the chariot allegory in Phaedrus. In Republic, Plato asserted that the ψυχή (psyche) is composed of three parts; the λογιστικόν (logistykon, logical), the θυμοειδές (thymoeides, spirited) and the ἐπιθυμητικόν (epithymetikon, appetitive). These three parts of the ψυχή also correspond to the three classes of a society.[1] Whether in a city or an individual, δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosyne, justice) is declared to be the state of the whole in which each part fulfills its function without attempting to interfere in the functions of others.[2] The function of the ἐπιθυμητικόν is to produce and seek pleasure. The function of the λογιστικός is to gently rule through the love of learning. The function of the θυμοειδές is to obey the directions of the λογιστικός while ferociously defending the whole from external invasion and internal disorder. Whether in a city or an individual, ἀδικία (adikia, injustice) is the contrary state of the whole, often taking the specific form in which the spirited listens instead to the appetitive, while they together either ignore the logical entirely or employ it in their pursuits of pleasure.

In the Republic

In Book IV of the Republic, Socrates and his interlocutors (Glaucon and Adeimantus) are attempting to answer whether the soul is one or made of parts. Socrates states that, "It is clear that the same thing will never do or undergo opposite things in the same part of it and towards the same thing at the same time; so if we find this happening, we shall know it was not one thing but more than one."[3] (This is an example of Plato's Principle of Non-Contradiction.) For instance, it seems that, given each person has only one soul, it should be impossible for a person to simultaneously desire something yet also at that very moment be averse to the same thing, as when one is tempted to commit a crime but also averse to it. Both Socrates and Glaucon agree that it should not be possible for the soul to at the same time both be in one state and its opposite. From this it follows that there must be at least two aspects to soul.[4]

Reason (λογιστικόν)

The logical or logistikon (from logos) is the thinking part of the soul which loves the truth and seeks to learn it. Plato originally identifies the soul dominated by this part with the Athenian temperament.[5] The logistikon discerns what is the real and not merely apparent, judges what is true and what is false and wisely makes just decisions in accordance with its love for goodness.

Plato makes the point that the logistikon would be the smallest part of the soul (as the rulers would be the smallest population within the Republic), but that, nevertheless, a soul can be declared just only if all three parts agree that the logistikon should rule.[6]

Spirit (θυμοειδές)

According to Plato, the spirited or thymoeides (from thymos) is the part of the soul by which we are angry or get into a temper.[7] He also calls this part 'high spirit' and initially identifies the soul dominated by this part with the Thracians, Scythians and the people of 'northern regions.'[8] In the just soul, the spirited aligns with the logistikon and resists the desires of the appetitive, becoming manifested as 'indignation' and in general the courage to be good. In the unjust soul, the spirited ignores the logistikon and aligns with the desires of the appetitive, manifesting as the demand for the pleasures of the body.

Appetite (ἐπιθυμητικόν)

The appetite or epithymetikon (from epithymia, translated to Latin as concupiscentiae or desideria)[9] is the part of the soul by which we experience carnal erotic love, hunger, thirst and in general the desires opposed to the logistikon.[10] (The appetitive is in fact labelled as being 'a-logical'.[11])

Plato also identifies this part of the soul with the pleasure involved in human reproduction. He further relates this part to the love of money-making, which he mentions as being the particular mark of the Phoenicians and Egyptians.[12]

See also

  • Tripartite (theology)
  • Sigmund Freud's concepts of the id, ego and superego
  • Trinity


  1. "Plato's Ethics and Politics in The Republic" at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Retrieved August 29, 2009
  2. Plato Republic IV (433a)
  3. Republic IV: 436 b6–C1 (W. H. D. Rouse translation)
  4. Plato’s Psychology of Action and the Origin of Agency; "Ancient Theories of Soul" at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. Republic IV 435 e8–9
  6. Republic IV 442 a
  7. Republic IV 439 e3–4
  8. Republic IV 435 e4–8
  9. Dixon, T. 2003. From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 39. link.
  10. Republic 439 d5–7
  11. Republic 439 d7
  12. Republic 436 a1–3

External links