Plato's Tripartite SoulPrevious Index Next
Plato (c. 427-347 BCE)
Plato starting point for his divisions of the soul is the different classes he observed in society (Guardians, Auxiliaries and Workers). He concluded that this structure must have arisen from the individuals which make up society. Plato started with noting what motivated people – desires, needs and wants. These wants could be qualified or unqualified. For example, someone who was thirsty could just want a drink or a particular type of drink. The first type was appetitive (1) whereas the second type was reflective and rational (2).
Next he noted that young children showed signs of rationality despite their youth. He attributed this to the spirited (3) part of the soul which kept the appetitive (1) part of the soul in check. The spirited (3) part of the soul had an affinity to the rational (2) part of the soul but was quite distinct and separate.
Plato explains this tripartite division by an allegory - a charioteer driving two horses. The charioteer represents the rational (2) part of the soul. The ugly black horse represents the appetitive (1) part of the soul which is kept in check by the white noble horse which represents the spirited (3) part of the soul.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
Freud formulated his tripartite model of the mind (or personality) in 1923. Some similarities can be seen with Plato’s model. Like Plato, Freud believed that mental health (or psychological well-being) requires a harmonious relationship between the different parts of the mind. A lack of harmony can lead to neurosis.
W H Sheldon (c. 1940s)
In the 1940s W H Sheldon classified personality according to body type. He called this a person’s ‘somatotype’.
Paul MacLean (to date)
The neurologist Paul MacLean proposed a triune brain. Each layer formed on the layer before.