Friday, January 23, 2015

PLATO (429-347 BCE)

For Plato the soul is tripartite,
Three parts in perpetual dogfight.
If appetite’s naughty,
Then reason gets haughty,
And drags spirit round without respite.

Note 1: In Book 4 of his masterpiece, The Republic, Plato (now using the character “Socrates” as his mouthpiece) argues that the soul has three parts: Reason (the reasoning and planning part, whose function is to control the other two parts for the sake of the good of the whole soul), Spirit (the part responsible for anger, whose function is to assist Reason in controlling the third part of the soul), and Appetite (the part responsible for base desires, for such things as food, drink, and sex).  In a virtuous soul, Plato says, the three parts harmonize with each other, with Appetite and Spirit both accepting Reason’s rightful rule, and Appetite subordinating itself to Spirit’s strictures.  But in a vicious soul, the three parts are at odds with each other, with each claiming the mantle of the soul’s ruler.  For the sake of the soul’s good, we have to hope in each case that Reason wins the battle for supremacy.

Note 2: "Respite" should be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable and as rhyming with "tripartite" and "dogfight".  For those of you in the UK, this will not be a stretch.  For those of you in the United States, pretend that you are a Shakespearean actor or something.

Note 3: A former UCSD graduate student and all-around good guy, Per-Erik Milam, writes with fascinating news.  It appears that recent psychological studies give us reason to believe that poetry can be used to affect philosophical intuitions (that is, considered judgments at all levels of generality, but usually about particular cases, such as whether to turn a runaway trolley away from five innocent persons onto a track where one innocent person is trapped) via unconscious mechanisms.  Perhaps, suggested Per, I could achieve immortality by turning my philosophical papers into verse.  I love the idea (which has been tried before: Hector Monro, "The Sonneteer's History of Philosophy", Philosophy (1980): 363-375 -- thanks to Irwin Primer, Professor Emeritus of English Literature, Rutgers University, for the reference; and Richard E. Aquila's Rhyme or Reason: A Limerick History of Philosophy, University Press of America, 1981).  But I think I can go one better.  So here goes:


What a sneaky idea! You are right
That for justice and truth I must fight.
A small favor I'd ask
To accomplish the task:
A fat check in the mail by tonight...


  1. Suggestion for an alternative final line:
    ... And drages spirit round as much as it likes.*

    *Further note: 'likes' should be pronounced so as to rhyme with 'tripartite' and 'dogfight'.

  2. Seems like Freud must have studied this part of text before coming up with his id, ego & superego theory.

    Thank you for highlighting this part of The Republic.

  3. Jonathan: Thanks for the recommendation. I should note that this kind of rhyme happens in popular songs all the time. If the vowel sound in the last syllable is the same, that's all that matters....

    Laurie: Absolutely, Freud must have known of Plato's theory. There are significant differences between the two models, but they are overshadowed by the obvious similarities.

  4. Oh ... for Sarah's sake, I need to reveal that I found your blog via her.

    1. Aha, the secret is out. It's OK, I won't tell anybody... ;-)

  5. Sam, you're worrying yourself too much about final vowel sounds (under standard pronunciations). Better to relax: if you can use instructions to bring about a desired pronunciation for whatever words you choose then this whole rhyming business gets *much* easier. Heck, with analogous instructions about meter (e.g., the name 'Plato' should be pronounced as a limerick) you could simplify the task even more.

    1. Yes, indeed, what a great idea! From now on, I plan to pronounce all words that I utter as "QED". According to David Kaplan's theory of words, this should be possible. QED.