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Are Plato’s soul-parts psychological subjects?

By Anthony W. Price

Abstract

It is well-known that Plato’s Republic introduces a tripartition of the incarnate human soul; yet quite how to interpret his ‘parts’ (a term, meros, that is neither recurrent nor emphatic)1 is debated. On a strong reading, they are psychological subjects – much as we take ourselves to be, but homunculi, not homines. On a weak reading, they are something less paradoxical: aspects of ourselves, identified by characteristic mental states, dispositional and occurrent, that tend to come into conflict. Christopher\ud Bobonich supports the strong reading in his Plato’s Utopia Recast: His Later Ethics and Politics (2002). In his The Brute Within: Appetitive Desire in Plato and Aristotle (2006), Hendrik Lorenz agrees with Bobonich that the parts of the soul are ‘the subjects or bearers of psychological states’ (23). Any ascription to my Mental Conflict (1995) of\ud the opposed, weak view needs qualification: my Plato is highly ambivalent (56-7).2 But my intention here is less to defend an earlier self – though I predict failing to escape it – than to reconsider tripartition in the Republic in the light of Bobonich’s virtuosity and Lorenz’s lucidity. They persuade me of the inexhaustibility of the text, notably within Book 4 from 436 to 439. About these pages we may indeed disagree: they find them decisive in favour of their view, as I don’t. When Socrates remarks, ‘Let us have our\ud understanding still more precise, lest as we proceed we become involved in dispute’ (436c8-9), he was not anticipating the dissensions of interpreters

Topics: phil
Publisher: Duquesne University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.bbk.ac.uk.oai2:2744

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Citations

  1. (2008). 21 The same distinction appears to be present, but to contrasted effect, in Lorenz
  2. (1975). 22 This paper has benefited, imperfectly no doubt, from friendly but acute responses by Chris Bobonich and Hendrik Lorenz. 13 Gallop, David tr. & com.
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  9. (1995). Review of Price 1995, Times Literary Supplement,
  10. (2006). The Brute Within: Appetitive Desire in Plato and Aristotle. doi
  11. (2007). The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic. Cambridge: doi
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