Platos Analogy of the Individual Soul and Ideal City-State

The Definition of Platos Analogy
Plato presented his analogy of the individual soul and the ideal city-state in Books III and IV of the Republic when he defined justice. In Book IV, Plato first mentions about justice in the state before he explains individual justice, but he argues that the state and the individual are parallel not only with the idea of justice but especially with each of their three parts.

The ideal city-state, according to Plato, is made of the following parts the guardians who thirst for knowledge, the auxiliaries who seek honor, and the producing class whose main aim is the fulfillment of the appetite or animal desires, especially money. Plato has made clear in the Republic that the ideal city-state would be that in which the guardians, the auxiliaries and the producing class would each be doing the work to which its nature and aptitude best adapted it in which there is no interference among the classes but where all would cooperate to produce an efficient and harmonious whole.

On the other hand, the individual soul is made up of three parts  the wise rational part, the courageous spirited part, and the desirous appetitive part. The rational part is further described as the seat of knowledge and wisdom the spirited part is composed of self-related emotions and the appetitive part as the seat of desire for external things.

Now, Plato explicitly states in the Republic, through the character of Socrates, that in terms of justice, the just man will resemble the just city-state. And although Plato mentions the parts of the city-state before he mentions those of the soul, he made it clear that it is the characteristics of the individual souls that give rise to the structure of the state but that it is the state that shapes the individual. Plato then specifies that knowledge-loving guardians correspond to the rational part of the soul the honor-seeking auxiliaries correspond to the souls spirited part and the money-loving producing class corresponds to the desirous appetitive part.

However, Plato has made it clear that the success of happiness in both the city-state and the individual lies in the dominion of reason in both. He therefore says that harmony can only be achieved among the three parts of the state if the knowledge-loving guardians should rule over the auxiliaries and the producing class. Similarly, among the three parts of the soul, the rational part should direct both the spirited and the appetitive parts. This analogy is presented by Plato when he defined justice.

The Strengths of Platos Analogy
The strength of Platos analogy is its practical value. Truly, the survival of the city-state depends upon the decisions of the wise. No city-state can ever survive with leaders in the person of auxiliaries who are always seeking honor and producers who always prioritize wealth. In a similar way, the individual cannot survive and will soon deteriorate mentally and emotionally were it to obey only the dictates of the animal appetitive part or the emotional spirited part.

Platos analogy has also served as the foundation for further classification and inquiry into the structure and composition of mans consciousness. This analogy may even have influenced the formulation of Freuds id, ego, and superego.

The Weaknesses of Platos Analogy
Platos analogy of the individual soul and the ideal city-state lends itself to several weaknesses as well.
First of all, it should be known that the three distinct classes in the city-state are parallel with the tripartite nature of the soul on the basis of justice. However, with the idea of justice or equality and the principle of non-interference, it is absurd that the guardians should govern the auxiliaries and producers and that the souls rational part should direct the actions of the spirited and appetitive parts. There is no justice when one part overpowers the others. And shouldnt harmony be balance and not the dominance of reason

Second, considering the statement of Plato which says that the structure of the state arises out of the parts of the soul, it simply implies that there is no true definition of justice in an ideal city-state as its own justice just depends on the justice of the souls of the individuals. The analogy, therefore, is non-existent as the three classes of the state are actually non-existent groups that only depend upon the justice of the individual souls. As deduced from Platos statement in section, the distinctions among the three classes making up the city-state are non-existent if all the individual souls are unjust.

Third, Plato, at any point in the Republic, does not provide any argument disproving any possibility that there can more than three parts of the city-state and the soul. His defining only three types of desires for both city-state and individual may not include all desires of man.

Fourth, the roles of the three classes in the city state as well as the three parts of the soul may overlap. Thus, should not a guardian be allowed to possess any of the qualities of an auxiliary if this should be necessary in his governance And practically speaking, if only the producing class is allowed to keep the nations wealth, should this not pose as a threat to the governing guardians who might soon be subject to the dictates of the class that controls the states economy With such weaknesses, one can conclude that Platos analogy lacks the Heraclitean sense of flux and change.

Lastly, Platos analogy presupposes that reason is the only thing that opposes the desires of the appetitive part and it further implies that the rational part and the guardians are always right in that they deserve the role of governance and leadership. But is this true in all aspects of life including those instances where what is needed is more of our creativity and less of our logic and reason


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