Why Spirit is the Natural Ally of Reason: Spirit, Reason, and the Fine in Plato's Republic

Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 44:41-65 (2013)
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In the Republic, Plato argues that the soul has three distinct parts or elements, each an independent source of motivation: reason, spirit, and appetite. In this paper, I argue against a prevalent interpretation of the motivations of the spirited part and offer a new account. Numerous commentators argue that the spirited part motivates the individual to live up to the ideal of being fine and honorable, but they stress that the agent's conception of what is fine and honorable is determined by social norms. I argue that while it is correct to hold that spirit aims to be fine and honorable, it is not the case that the agent’s conception of what it is to be fine and honorable is determined by social norms. Instead, there is a fact of the matter about what it is to be fine and honorable, and it is this fact that shapes the individual’s conception of the fine and honorable. I argue that being fine and honorable involves living up to your rational views about how you should behave, despite appetitive temptations to the contrary. I claim that this condition of the soul is the basis of a variety of interrelated admirable traits, some with moral and others with aesthetic connotations.

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Rachel Singpurwalla
University of Maryland, College Park


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