Plato, Republic, three elements of man

Let us suppose that philosophical minds always love knowledge of a sort which shows them the eternal nature not varying from generation and corruption.

Agreed.

And further, I said, let us agree that they are lovers of all true being; there is no part whether greater or less, or more or less honourable, which they are willing to renounce; as we said before of the lover and the man of ambition.

True.

And if they are to be what we were describing, is there not another quality which they should also possess?

What quality?

Truthfulness: they will never intentionally receive into their mind falsehood, which is their detestation, and they will love the truth.

Yes, that may be safely affirmed of them.

'May be,' my friend, I replied, is not the word; say rather, 'must be affirmed:' for he whose nature is amorous of anything cannot help loving all that belongs or is akin to the object of his affections.

Right, he said.

And is there anything more akin to wisdom than truth?

How can there be?

Background

Plato was a Greek philosopher who lived between 427 - 347 BC.

Plato divides the general population into three classes - reason, appetite and spirit. Statesmen (philosophers) are governed by reason; civilians (those that provide for material needs) are governed by appetite and pleasure; the executive force (soldiers and policemen) are governed by spirit and action.

This division is made on the basis of state provided education, not by birth or wealth. Everyone is assigned an appropriate rank through a process of examination. In the just State each element plays its part and keeps within its boundaries.

These elements are also present in every individual who is governed, to varying degrees, by:

  • rational judgment of what is good
  • a mass of conflicting appetites for particular gratifications
  • spirit, or will, which seeks to prevent infringements of rights by other people and by the individual's own appetites

Harmony is achieved when people are ruled by reason and society is ruled by philosophers. Such a society is a true aristocracy (rule by the best). Plato considers aristocracy to be preferable to democracy (rule by the mob), plutocracy (rule by the rich) or oligarchy (rule by a clique).

Taken from: The Republic of Plato
Author / Creator: Plato (translated by Benjamin Jowett)
Publisher: Clarendon Press
Date: 1888
Copyright: By permission of The British Library
Shelfmark: 2236.cc.3