The Nature of the Soul

Plato believed not only that the soul had a rational component that was immortal but also that it had two other components: the courageous (sometimes translated as emotional or spirited) and the appeti- tive. The courageous and appetitive aspects of the soul were part of the body and thus mortal. With his concept of the three-part soul, Plato postulated a situation in which humans were almost always in a state of conflict, a situation not unlike the one Freud described many centuries later. According to Plato, the body has appetites (needs such as hunger, thirst, and sex) that must be met and that play a major motivational role in everyday life. Humans also have varied emotions such as fear, love, and rage. How- ever, if true knowledge is to be attained, the person must suppress the needs of the body and concen- trate on rational pursuits, such as introspection. But, because bodily needs do not go away, the per- son must spend considerable energy keeping them under control. It is the job of the rational compo- nent of the soul to postpone or inhibit immediate gratifications when it is to a person’s long-term benefit to do so. The person whose rational soul dominates is not impulsive. His or her life is gov- erned by moral principles and future goals, not the immediate satisfaction of biological or emotional needs. The supreme goal in life, according to Plato, should be to free the soul as much as possible from the adulterations of the flesh.

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