18 December 2017
Philosophy of Human Nature
Plato and Nietzsche and their Accounts of the Soul
Plato (428 B.C.-348 B.C.), an ancient greek philosopher, came from a family of aristocracy and obtained his knowledge of philosophy from elder scholars, historians, and philosophers. Plato’s life revolved around the knowledge and writings influenced by his teachers. His most famous teacher was Socrates, a man from which Plato focused most of his ideas on. His writings explored justice, beauty and equality, and also contained discussions in aesthetics, political philosophy, theology, cosmology, epistemology and the philosophy of language. Two major events that greatly impacted the life of Plato were when he was introduced to Greek philosopher Socrates. As a young man, Socrates’s methods of dialogue and debate encouraged Plato to then devote his life to questioning virtue. The second significant event was the Peloponnesian War, where Plato served the fight between Athens and Sparta. Athenian Democracy came to an end after this war, and it was replaced by oligarchy. Based on these events, Plato became interested in politics and wondered if he could pursue a career in politics, that was until the execution of Socrates that lead him to study a life of philosophy. After the death of Socrates, it was seen that Plato continued to use his methods as seen in his writings.
Plato developed a text using his own voice when he released “The Republic”. This text explores the ideas of courage, justice, and wisdom of the individual in society and the account of the soul. In his later years, Plato developed an academy of Philosophy that he overlooked until his death in Athens around 348 B.C.E. Despite the fact that Plato’s life and work revolved around his city of Athens, his impact on the subject of philosophy ventured far beyond Greece. His work covered subjects such as mathematics, science, and politics, making his ideas applicable to everyone around the world. Most of all, Plato’s methods in developing a just society based on the importance of the individual became the foundation for today’s modern democracy.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher, most know for his ideas on good and evil and religion in the modern society. Nietzsche studied at a variety of schools where he earned a classic education. He studied philology, or the relation of literature, linguistics, and history, at the University of Leipzig, where he met famous composer Richard Wagner, and became a great admirer of his music. After pursuing a career in teaching philology and producing his first books, Nietzsche decided to abandon his profession to focus on his writings in Switzerland, France, and Italy in the 1880’s. These writings demonstrated his views on the basic points of philosophy including his ideas on religion and the idea of perfection within an individual. After these productive years, Nietzsche’s mental state declined for a few years and remained in an insane asylum until his death on August 25, 1900. Despite his short time in the world of philosophy, Nietzsche remains as a major influence on 20th century philosophy and theology. His focus on individualism greatly influenced other philosophers and thinkers such as Sigmund Freud.
Both of these philosophers developed an account of the soul in which they provide an explanation as to why we make the decisions we do and the drive that causes us to do so. Plato believes in the “Tripartite Soul”, meaning there are three aspects that make up our soul and work together or separately to make decisions. Nietzsche’s account of the soul revolves around the question of whether or not the soul is atomistic. He then goes on to explain what soul atomism is, where it comes from, why it is considered to be wrong, and explains if it is not atomistic, then what is it? Plato’s account of the soul is more plausible because it includes ideas incorporated from psychology and provides very clear explanations of how each part works within the soul.
“The Republic” was written by Plato in 380 B.C.E., and has remained Plato’s most famous and most read text. This dialogue was written during Plato’s middle period, meaning it was not one of his earliest works and was not one of his last works. This work revolves around an argument on justice and happiness and how they are related. He begins with the question “What is justice?”, and defines it both within terms of the community and the individual. The next question he asks is how justice and happiness are related in terms of ethics and politics. In order to answer this question, Plato addresses the human soul.
The “Tripartite Soul” is the division of the soul into two parts: rational and irrational. In Book IV of “The Republic”, Plato addresses the three parts that make up the human soul. The three parts are reason, appetite, and spirit. He then explains each aspects has its positives and negatives and that all parts have desires but make decisions based on morality. Yet, the desires form independent from what is considered to be moral.
Reason, or our mind and consciousness, is the part of the soul that thinks rationally, focuses on the whole picture, and bases its decisions on what would be best for the future. Reason would represent the head of the human body or a Charioteer, the guider of the chariot. Reason strives for truth, wisdom, and analyzing and desires the truth. Plato introduces this aspect along with the appetites, or our desires. This would represent the heart of the human body or the
white noble horse leading the chariot. The appetites are responsible for producing the pleasure and comforts we feel when fulfilling our desires. They enjoy victory and honor and desire self-
Plato explains there are many different types of appetites that sometimes come into conflict with one another because they are the rational and irrational aspects of the soul. He presents the reader with a statement that begins to explain this principle. He states, “It is clear that the same thing cannot act in opposite ways, or be in opposite states at the same time in the same part of itself in relation to the same thing.” Basically, one’s soul is not able to hate and love a particular idea at the same time. Although, he explains, if we are able to prove this statement to be false by finding something that one can hate and love at the same time, we are able to say there are distinguished parts of the soul that are responsible for each emotion. He is able to provide an example of this situation. He considers that, “The same thing cannot both want to drink and want not to drink at the same time in the same respect and in relation to the same thing.” Therefore, this means there are two parts to the soul: one that wants to drink, and one that does not want to drink, concluding there are at least two parts to the soul.
The third and final part that makes up the human soul is the spirit. The spirit is the “hot-blooded” aspect of our soul, or the part that becomes inflamed when it senses injustice. The spirit enjoys overcoming great difficulties and loves the feeling of competition and challenges. It would represent the belly or genitals of the human body and the black ugly horse also leading the chariot. The spirit desires the basic needs the human body requires to survive, such as eating and drinking, and protection.
On the other hand, Friedrich Nietzsche’s accounts of the soul varies greatly from that of Plato’s. Nietzsche begins by denying the Philosophical idea of self. His first claim is, “The self is not an Atomistic Soul”. Before Nietzsche goes into detail of why he does not believe the self is not an atomistic soul, he provides a definition of soul atomism. This belief states that, “the soul entity is the agential force that directs one’s actions according to rationally calculated values” as believed and maintained by philosophers like Descartes and others. These philosophers believed there is nothing more basic than the soul. This soul’s purpose was to distinguish human beings from animals and prove we have morals that also determine how we make decisions. Our soul is what determines which actions are good or bad, despite our desires.
Nietzsche does not agree with these beliefs. Instead, he claims that this fails to explain why we have come to possess values. Although Nietzsche disagrees with this proposal of the Atomistic Soul,