Plato's Tripartite Theory of the Soul
Does the idea of mortality seem a little daunting? Here's what the Greek philosopher Plato believed happens when we pass away.
When we think about philosophy, a lot of different things may come to mind. Unless it piques your interest, many probably don’t know the first thing about philosophy, that it’s just a bunch of old men sitting around thinking all day, and this is also true.
Philosophy is used to make sense of the world through reason, and during an era where humans understood far less than we do now, philosophy was a means of finding an understandable solution. There were many different Greek and Roman philosophers, but one of the most influential thinkers of this period was Plato.
Plato was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the classical period of Ancient Greece. To put it simply, he is a critical figure in western philosophy and considered a founder of western political philosophy. Not much is known about Plato’s early life or education due to so few surviving accounts. However, in his lifetime, he founded the Platonian School of Thought, and the Academy, which was the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is best known for the tripartite structures he recognised in the world around him where ideas or systems were comprised of three elements. One of his most famous tripartite theory is that of the human soul.
What a ‘soul’ is precisely has been discussed for tens of thousands of years in religion, philosophy, and even mythology. The human soul has different forms in each religion; Catholicism finds that all living beings have souls, but only humans souls are immortal. At the same time, Judaism believes that only humans have souls, then Hinduism and Jainism both believe all living creatures have souls equal to each other. Although, each religion agrees in exploring the concept of a soul as an immortal object. Stemming from religious roots, Greek Philosophy had quickly evolved this belief as Plato’s teacher, Socrates, reasoned that the soul of a human was immortal. However,most of what we know about Socrates is through dialogues that Plato wrote after having debates with Socrates and other philosophers where Socrates often asked the open questions.
Both Socrates and Plato agreed in the belief of Dualism, where reality and existence are divided into two. For humanity, these two halves are body and soul. Dualists view the soul as a real substance separate from the body and are not held back by natural laws. A soul was what differentiates the humans from animals; it is human consciousness.
Socrates first considered the soul to the immoral, but Plato took a step further in announcing that the soul was eternal. That the soul does not come into existence with the body but existed long before and will continue to live long after. Sounding a great deal like reincarnation, Plato believed that the soul existed within the body until is death. Then it moves on to a new body. Because of this continuous encasement of the soul inside a body, Plato referred to the body as the prison of the soul.
Plato continued his expansion of the human soul and defined the soul as three parts:
- The Logos; located in the head, manages intellect, reason, and seeks to learn truths. Plato points out that the Logos is the smartest part of the soul, but that does not necessarily mean it is always in control.
- The Thymos; located near the chest and is the part of the soul where emotions are felt, whether it’s the heat of anger or nausea of love.
- The Eros; located in the stomach where our appetency for food, lust, and instinct are felt.
Plato compared the three parts of the soul to the state’s class system arguing that just as society cannot operate appropriately without each part carries out its role; the soul is only whole once each part fulfils its function. The Logos is the part of the soul that manages the two remaining parts to ensure balance.
And that is a brief understanding of Plato’s Tripatative Theory of the Soul!