Sunday, October 6, 2013

IdleThoughts -- Plato, Wisdom, and Virtue

What are the elements that constitute a person, according to Plato? What is the proper relationship between those elements? In other words, what is the virtuous person ?

Three elements are

Is equal too

According to Plato, people are divided into three parts. The most important part, the highest part, is reason. Reason is consciousness. Reason makes decisions, but decisions based on careful analysis and a conscious decision. Plato sees reason as the charioteer in his simile in which he says the man is like a chariot. In another example, he says this part of a man's soul uses reason is like the person's head as part of his body. It is where one thinks things through.

The second part of a man's soul, like one of the horses pulling the chariot, are a man's desires. Plato does not respect human desires. He says they are often in conflict. He says in his chariot example that desires form the ugly black horse on the left.

The third part of a man's soul is willpower. It is the second horse pulling the chariot. By willpower he means the excitable, hot blooded part of humanity. Being angry at injustice, wanting to do something honorable, and wanting to be victorious are examples of these good emotions. He says these noble emotions are the beautiful, spirited white horse on the right side of the chariot team.

Even these good, noble emotions need to be controlled by the charioteer. Reason must always be in control according to Plato.

A virtuous person according to Plato has all four of the cardinal virtues in proper balance. These virtues are wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage.

Wisdom is the most important of all the virtues. It consists of knowing. Partly this is knowing oneself, but it is also knowing the right thing to do. The definition of wisdom is difficult because essentially it consists of knowledge that can only be held by the wise.

Temperance means keeping those two horses of the chariot under control. You do not need to suppress your desires but you must not let them dominate you either.

Justice means always ensuring that everyone receives what they deserve. This can mean punishment or harm to those who deserve to suffer.

Courage is defined as you might expect, the ability to proceed in the face of fear or doubt to do what you know is right.

In his ideal city, the Republic, Plato assigns different groups to have these different elements. For example, only the rulers need to be wise and only the soldiers need to have courage. In an individual man however, all of these elements are also necessary. The greatest of all of them is wisdom. It should rule over the other virtues and direct them to do what's right.

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