Date of Degree
History of Philosophy
Plato, Moral Psychology, Republic
Three puzzles motivate this dissertation. First, how much does Republic Book 10 contribute to the dialogue’s main argument? For centuries, commentators have found Book 10 to be a puzzling and disappointing conclusion to the dialogue. The second puzzle is the important and still much debated question of whether Plato considered the parts of the soul to be independent and agent-like (as ‘realists’ interpret the dialogue) or not (as ‘deflationists’ argue). The third puzzle regards an issue that is much less discussed in the literature, namely the Republic’s notion of character. On the one hand, Socrates never launches an explicit inquiry into this subject, and on the other hand, the character types displayed in Books 4, 8, and 9 seem idiosyncratic caricatures—most people seem not to fit into any of them. In considering character, a fourth puzzle arises. Through the end of Book 9, Socrates has focused on perfect virtue and various forms of vice. What has been left open, though, is the question of the moral status of those people who are decent, but are not people of perfect virtue. People such as this are left undiscussed in Books 1-9. At the end of Book 9, on my view, Glaucon and Adeimantus (as well as many readers) should be left wondering about their own relation to justice and their own moral status.
I begin with the second puzzle, namely the nature of soul-parts. It is important to note that a review of the secondary literature reveals that although the debate continues to be active, many of the key commentators completely ignore Book 10 in their accounts. I argue, in Chapter 1, that by the end of Book 9 there is good evidence to settle on a deflationist reading, but the matter is still open and realists have good arguments for their point of view. I claim, though, that when Book 10 is taken into account (as it mostly is not) fresh evidence comes to light to support the deflationist position. Socrates uses tripartition and agent-like parts as a ladder to help the reader take a first look into the inside of the soul, but in the end, I argue that he leaves the explicitly imprecise account of agent-like soul-parts behind. The person, not her parts, emerges as the only agent of action.
If this is the case, though, and we are right to take a deflationist view of soul-parts, then the reader is faced with the third puzzle. How one should refer to the soul as a whole, the true moral agent, in its moral status? The answer, I will propose, is Socrates’ notion of ‘character’; a matter that is much less discussed in the literature. Book 4 introduces the perfectly just character type, which is refined in books 6-7 in the figure of the Philosopher-King. Books 8-9 introduce the four character types that Socrates says are worth discussing, out of the countless forms of vice. The resulting picture of the nature of character types (e.g. the oligarch, whose soul is dominated by an agent-like money loving part) appears unrealistic and unconvincing. Indeed, this picture is even more unconvincing if we leave behind the notions of tripartition and agent-like soul parts. I thus begin, in Chapter 2, to mine the text of the dialogue for a more plausible reading of Plato’s view of character. On my account, by the end of Book 9 we have a good notion of character as something that can be described in terms of character traits and also in terms of its overall degree of virtue. Character traits emerge as dispositions to act in a particular manner, although we may not act according to our dispositions all of the time.
But here the reader is faced with a fourth puzzle. By the end of Book 9 all of the discussion of virtuous character has been about perfect virtue, which seems to be beyond the reach of most of us. Therefore, in Chapter 3, I examine Book 10 in regard to character, arguing that Socrates has quietly lowered the bar for virtue. By the end of Book 10, I claim, Socrates has made clear that a decent life that will be judged as reasonably virtuous is a live possibility for many of us.
Working on the second, third, and fourth puzzles has provided an answer to the first puzzle as well. Although Book 10 both revisits the question of poetry and also opens the question of the nature of the immortal soul, it also provides a critical contribution to the main argument of the Republic, namely whether the just or unjust life is superior.
Mailick, Daniel, "The Psychology of Plato's Republic: Taking Book 10 into Account" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.