As human nature demands, mankind appears endlessly interested in diagnosing his own self, and his existence in relation to the world. The concept of human consciousness has been debated painstakingly by Western philosophers such as Descartes and Locke. Yet, explanations of the soul oscillate between rationality and spiritualism, with no clear answer emerging.
Despite the subjectivity of the human soul, and its unknowability as an entity, several influential philosophers have had a decent crack at theorising what it could actually be. The Ancient Greek thinker Plato introduced the tripartite theory of the soul as one method of explaining the soul enigma. According to Plato, the human soul is composed of three elements: the logical, the spiritual, and the appetitive. The logical (or logistiko) is the contemplative aspect of the soul, seeking justice, clarity and truth amongst the falsehoods and illusions of the world. Interestingly, Plato remarks that the logical element of the soul would remain the smallest part, in comparison to the spiritual and the appetitive. This inequality in ratio of each soul-component is explained by Plato’s hypothesis that the tripartite model reflects the hierarchical class system of society – with the aristocratic class, bourgeoise and peasantry.
Alongside this logostiko, the spiritual aspect of the soul resides. According to Plato, the spirited (or thymoeides) is the part of the human soul that encourages severe emotion, namely anger and rage. Working in conjunction with this, the appetitive (or epithymetikon) part of the soul is responsible for experiences of carnal desire, erotic love, hunger, thirst, and predominantly desires that oppose the logistiko soul.
This multiplicity of the soul, for Plato, arises due to the fact that mankind is capable of desiring two opposing things at the same time, for example, feeling compelled to commit a crime but knowing it’s fundamentally wrong. In Plato’s words, “it is clear that the same thing will never do or undergo opposite things in the same part of it and towards the same thing at the same time; so if we find this happening, we shall know it was not one thing but more than one”. In this sense, the prospect of having a dual soul seems plausible (right?).
Mentioned this week in Headcandy:
Plato – The Republic .
John Locke – An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.