Plato's Tripartite Soul

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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.

Plato’s Tripartite Soul
Parts of the SoulRational (2)Spirited (3)Appetitive (1)
Chariot PartCharioteerWhite noble horse on the RightBlack ugly horse on the Left
LovesTruth, Wisdom and AnalysingHonour and VictoryPleasure, Money, Comfort, Physical Satisfaction
DesiresTruthSelf-PreservationBasic Instincts – Hunger, Thirst, Warmth, Sex…etc.
The VirtueWisdomCourageTemperance
The VicePride and SlothAnger and EnvyGluttony, Lust and Greed
Body SymbolHeadHeartBelly/Genitals
Class in RepublicGuardians(The Philosopher King)Auxiliaries/Soldiers(Keep the workers in their place)Merchants/Workers(Self interested)

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.

Freud’s Structures of the Mind
Part of MindSuper EgoEgoId
RoleConscience i.e. socially acquired control mechanisms.Consciousness self created by the dynamic tensions of the id and the super ego. Reconciles the conflicting demands with the requirements of external reality.Sexual instincts and drives which require satisfaction

W H Sheldon (c. 1940s)

In the 1940s W H Sheldon classified personality according to body type. He called this a person’s ‘somatotype’.

W H Sheldon’s Somatotypes
Physical DescriptionHigh forehead, slight build, little muscular fat…etc.Muscular, upright posture, well built, strong forearms and thighs…etc.Big build, wide hips, narrow shoulders, fat…etc.
Personality TraitsSelf-conscious, value privacy, artistic, restrained.Adventurous, desire for power, courageous, competitive.Love of food, sociable, good humoured, relaxed, need for affection.

Paul MacLean (to date)

The neurologist Paul MacLean proposed a triune brain. Each layer formed on the layer before.

MacLean’s Triune Brain
Part of BrainNeocortex – neopalliumLimbic System - paleopalliumArchipallium
Evolutionary StageNeo-mammalianMammalianReptilian
FunctionIntellectual TasksEmotionsSelf preservation – fight of flight senses

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