Justice in the soul Notes for February 3

Main points

After arguing that the soul has to have parts, Plato tried to show that individual virtues come “in the same way and in the same part” (441c) as the virtues of the city do.

We discussed the analogy between the city and the soul. We were particularly concerned with whether Plato had to choose between an attractive picture of the city and a realistic picture of the soul.

Our discussion

The attractive picture of the city involves the productive classes voluntarily keeping their place without challenging the guardians. The realistic picture of the soul involves the rational part having to repress the appetitive parts. It’s realistic because it’s hard to see how the appetitive parts of the soul could voluntarily keep their place on their own. Plato says that the individual soul is “moderate because of the friendly and harmonious relations between these same parts, namely when the ruler and ruled believe in common that the rational part should rule” (442c). But it’s hard to see that as anything other than a metaphorical expression: appetites don’t believe anything.

Jon, Will, and Sam said that the psychological correlate to the attractive picture of the city is realistic. When you make a decision about when and how to satisfy your desires, the losing desires do not typically persist. That sounds a lot like accepting the rule of the reasoning part of the soul, in some sense.

Michael disagreed; he thought the realistic picture of the soul had to be repressive. Andrew thought that we were leaving out environmental factors that could make the attractive picture of the soul more realistic.

Then Jon turned around and objected to the analogy on different grounds. He argued that attempts to take over the city are an important case of injustice for Plato. But there’s nothing like that for appetites: they don’t try to take over the whole mind. Alan denied that: addiction seems like a relevant case. I added that, for Plato, the desire for money would play the role of a desire that would try to govern the whole mind. By the same token, he worried that those who desired money above all else would try to take over the city.

This page was written by Michael Green for Social & Political Philosophy, Philosophy 33, Spring 2010. It was posted February 3, 2010.
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