Essay written for Philosophy- seems a shame to have written it and not posted it on the blog.
Plato’s theory of the soul as discussed in the excerpt given from Plato’s Republic (Book IX, 581 c-e) talks of how each man in turn will say that his own way of life is the most pleasurable, that the other two predilections in the tripartite theory cannot possibly be as fulfilling as his own way. The theory states that each man has three parts to his psyche or soul; gain, victory and reason, or as Plato puts it “lovers of gain; lovers of victory” and “lovers of wisdom” (Book IX, 581 c-e), only one of which is dominant. Here I leave aside the discussion of this idea in relation to politics or its similarities to Freud’s work on the unconscious and I discuss the theory in regards to having or being a point-of-view. I examine some ideas about rationality, will and appetite in regards to living in the physical realm affected by environment, and in regards to other people. I conclude with some thoughts about using Plato’s theory of the soul to talk about consciousness.
In this excerpt, Plato explains that each man if asked will state that his own inclination is the most fulfilling, and that the other two preferences are only useful in serving to attain what they believe is a better and more rational purpose or way of life. I think that this is a completely natural position for man to take. To each man his own way is best, that is his point of view and that is the crux of being in a consciousness and aware of one’s position in the world; to be aware of one’s position in relation to the other, is to have a point-of-view. To an adult person, (I will leave the point-of-view of children aside, although I believe that these ideas still hold despite, or perhaps because of, the more malleable nature of a child’s point-of-view), to an adult point-of-view, it’s own way is best. This is illustrated in a personal anecdote where someone, possibly frustrated with my stubbornness, said to me ‘you always want your own way’. Of course I do, it’s my way. Why would I want somebody else’s way over my own? If a person sees someone else’s viewpoint or idea to be better than their own in a significant way, they can change theirs to fit what they perceive to be a better viewpoint. Then theirs is again best because not only is their viewpoint the superior one, but also they can be secure that their viewpoint is better than the next persons because their own is able to adapt and change when needed, to grow and to evolve to be on a higher level than their neighbours, whose viewpoint may be static and unable to change. This reaffirms the greatness of ones own way, also a certain degree of smugness in ones own position as best in comparison to the view of others.
As a consciousness or point-of-view, it can be hard to relate to other people, or other point-of-views, and I think here that maybe Plato’s theory can be conceived as being harmful as it allows a pigeon-holing of other peoples motivations into pre-defined categories; the ability to say that they are just driven by money or the love of honour; dismissing their positions rather than examining the complexity of their positions and their motivations. This is hard to do at the best of times, and even harder if one has handy categories to define other people, making it easier to write off their motives as less reasonable than ones own. In Plato’s writing each man secure in his own point-of-view would consider himself ruled by reason, himself being a reasonable man, and would consider his own position as the most rational, judging from his point-of-view, his experience, his environment.
People are a product of their upbringing, although there are no solid lines drawn between what comes from nature or nurture, a person is shaped by the place and time they are in. Someone brought up in a society to believe in a particular thing, or to behave in a particular way brings that wealth of experience and the values and taboos that come with it into their viewpoint. What seems most rational or most reasonable to a person is affected by what their society has taught them, the dominant ideology of that group, even the words they use to speak. A person’s will is shaped by their thinking, which in turn is shaped by their language. How can one conceptualise any difference if one does not have the language or the ability to articulate it?
Todays’ modern Capitalist western world is predisposed toward the longings for, appetites for physical and emotional pleasures, surely living in such a society must influence a person and their point-of-view. It seems as though modern society is appetite ruled, advertising even uses the subliminal to induce desires, how can one rationalise away the subliminal? Even if a person knows it is there, they cannot stop it, it is unconscious so there is no conscious defence against it, it imposes the will of others on a person and becomes incorporated into, becomes part of their will. People are affected by a dominant ideology, by the ideas and values that exist around them.
If a point-of-view manages to suppress these desires with the use of their force of will, succeeds in quashing their cravings for physical or emotional pleasures, will it like Freud said, come out later somewhere else in a less controllable manner, one that may not be controllable, may even be harmful (as cited in Norman, 1998, p.10). If so, is it more healthy to concede to the appetites of the physical world? We as animals exist here on this earth full of earthly, fleshly pleasures, should we enjoy it while we and it are still here? Should people enjoy the appetites of the flesh (gain), the appetites of the mind (knowledge) or the satisfaction of ‘helping’ others to understand, to want, to enjoy the same values that you, as a point-of-view, have (will)?
As each man in the excerpt concedes, each value has worth in that it helps to enforce the dominant one. The financier affirms that honour and learning produce money; the lover of honour agrees that money and learning confer honour; and the philosopher calls money and honour pleasures of necessity. There is much value in necessity. How can the enlightened philosophers do their duty to enlighten others and bring them out of the meta-physical cave if they don’t have the wealth and the prestige to do so? They are necessary, parts of a whole. To give one importance is to give all importance. It would seem that the most rational path would be to grow wealth and influence firstly, to be able to help others to pursue knowledge and freedoms thereafter. Does this not fit with the goals of most people today, to pursue all three ideas?
Perhaps it is more of a cyclical journey rather than a tripartite division, envisioned as each point-of-view on a set of three Penrose stairs, the impossible never ending staircases used in the work of artist M.C. Escher. (1898-1972).
Maurits Cornelius Escher. 1960. Ascending and descending [Lithograph 285 x 355 mm]. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Hague Museum.
A progression of three stages in perpetuity; from appetite to will to reason, the next step of appetite being an accumulation and appreciation of pleasures; The next step will; wanting others to enjoy the same, ‘helping’ them, ‘teaching’ them to want the same, to thank you for showing them the way. The third step perhaps a plateau of understanding, where a point-of-view realises that they have been consumed with their own desires, by their lust or appetite for dominance in their field of expertise, a realisation that they are a product of their environment, they have been acting under the dominant ideology of their society and that thereare endless steps ahead, they then begin the cycle again on a new level, in a different aspect of life.
This has links in some ways to Jean-Paul Sartre’s ideas of intellectuals where one ‘wakes up’ to realise that one has been consumed by one’s own desires. In this ‘waking up’ one becomes an intellectual, only by living the two steps previous can one realise that they are on the third step, and it begins again. With each step from appetite to authority to reason or awareness, each man comes to know that he does not know. As Sartre said; “from the moment he grasps this contradiction in himself” (as cited byLennyBound, 2009), he is aware, aware of his position, his point-of-view.
I prefer to think about a consciousness, soul or point-of-view as a singular thing-in-itself rather than a threefold thing, it is just there, finding pathways and new levels of understanding, perhaps it is this journey that can be conceived as having three endless parts. Perhaps as point-of-views we feel the need to find ways of conceptualising or explaining our consciousness, our separate point-of- view-ness. This is where Plato’s theory of the soul is a beautiful, functional concept. A starting point for thinking about a consciousness that makes no sense- it is just there. We find ways of talking about it, but it is just there, it resists attempts to explain it or conceptualise it fully. It may remain always indefinable.
Escher, M.C. (1960). Ascending and descending. [Image]. Retrieved from: http://www.mcescher.com/gallery/impossible-constructions/ ascending- and-descending/LennyBound. (2009, June 7). Sartre on intellectualism [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_g8JVK4Fppw
Norman, R, (1998). The moral philosophers: An introduction to ethics. (2nd ed.). Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press