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Plato’s Republic – Socrates on Pop Culture

  • May 29, 2020
  • By Donielle
Plato’s Republic – Socrates on Pop Culture

I had the delightful experience of reading and discussing The Republic of Plato with my high school students recently. I was struck once again with how relevant the ideas expressed by Socrates still are. The book is more than a historical curiosity. It speaks to today’s culture. But don’t take my word for it. Here are some excerpts from my high school student’s essays relating Plato’s Republic to modern life.

The Tripartite Soul in Pop Culture

Socrates, using Socratic dialogue, has come upon another question that must be answered before that of what justice is can be answered, that question being of the constitution of the human soul. Later in the chapter, Socrates goes on to discuss what he theorizes the human soul to be, or rather what parts make up said soul in this quote where he says, 

“Must we not acknowledge, I said, that in each of us there are the same principles and habits which there are in the State; and that from the individual they pass into the State? –how else can they come there? Take the quality of passion or spirit; –it would be ridiculous to imagine that this quality, when found in States, is not derived from the individuals who are supposed to possess it… But the question is not quite so easy when we proceed to ask whether these principles are three or one; whether, that is to say, we learn with one part of our nature, are angry with another, and with a third part desire the satisfaction of our natural appetites; or whether the whole soul comes into play in each sort of action –to determine that is the difficulty… Well, I said, and hunger and thirst, and the desires in general, and again willing and wishing, –all these you would refer to the classes already mentioned… the soul of him who desires is seeking after the object of his desires; or that he is drawing to himself the thing which he wishes to possess… And what would you say of unwillingness and dislike and the absence of desire; should not these be referred to the opposite class of repulsion and rejection? Certainly. Admitting this to be true of desire generally, let us suppose a particular class of desires, and out of these we will select hunger and thirst, as they are termed, which are the most obvious of them…”

Socrates begins this discussion by asserting that for a state to have habits and principles that it is founded upon, its people that have founded it must also have said habits and principles. He then goes on to consider whether the soul either be all-encompassing of human nature or rather split into multiple parts concerning major aspects of human nature. Following the thought process of the ladder, Socrates goes on to define the first of these parts as being the Epithymotic fraction of the soul. This is the appetitive part of the soul; it is one of hunger, desire, and rhythm. Socrates then goes on to define the next part of the soul in this quote where he says, 

“…if you suppose something which pulls a thirsty soul away from drink, that must be different from the thirsty principle which draws him like a beast to drink; for, as we were saying, the same thing cannot at the same time with the same part of itself act in contrary ways about the same… And might a man be thirsty, and yet unwilling to drink? Yes, he said, it constantly happens. And in such a case what is one to say? Would you not say that there was something in the soul bidding a man to drink, and something else forbidding him, which is other and stronger than the principle which bids him? I should say so. And the forbidding principle is derived from reason, and that which bids and attracts proceeds from passion and disease?”

 Socrates then continues to discuss the appetitive portion of the soul and asserts that since every man has control over their instinctual desires, if one so chooses, it can logically follow that a part of the soul must keep the Epithymotic fraction in check. This part would be the second of the three, the Noetic fraction of the soul. This is the rational part of the soul; it is one of logic, reasoning, and melody. Socrates then goes on to define what the third part of the soul must be, in hindsight of the last two presented in the following quote where he says, 

“Clearly. Then we may fairly assume that they are two, and that they differ from one another; the one with which man reasons, we may call the rational principle of the soul, the other, with which he loves and hungers and thirsts and feels the flutterings of any other desire, may be termed the irrational or appetitive, the ally of sundry pleasures and satisfactions? Yes, he said, we may fairly assume them to be different. Then let us finally determine that there are two principles existing in the soul. And what of passion, or spirit… Yes, he said, there must be a third. Yes, I replied, if passion, which has already been shown to be different from desire, turn out also to be different from reason. And so, after much tossing, we have reached land, and are fairly agreed that the same principles which exist in the State exist also in the individual, and that they are three in number.”

With the major terms of our discussion defined in their creation, meaning, and purpose, it is now time to look through the kaleidoscope of our ancestors’ principles and determine whether these constructs are recognizable, and most importantly influential in our society, today. This will be examined both within modern literature and visual media such as movies and videogames. 

Socrates on Marvel Movies

I would like to begin with what could only be classified as some of the most well-known and influential characters in our modern-day: Iron man, Captain America, and Thor. These three characters are the leading protagonist-superheroes of a series of movies that connect within a shared universe called the marvel cinematic universe, based on a series of interconnecting comics by both Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. These three superheroes’ each have their own unique personality, backstory, and principles that define them as the hero they are and appear as in their respective movies. Said traits and backstories are the foundation of what makes these three heroes a reflection of Socrates’s tripartite soul, in modern film. Let’s begin by examining Captain America’s backstory: During the rise of World War II, a meek but persistent Brooklyn kid, Steve Rodgers, whose dream is to fight for his country, earns such an opportunity for his recognized bravery, constitution, and level-headedness, despite his small size. Rodgers is allowed to participate in an experimental program where he is injected with what is colloquially known as a “super serum,” giving him increased muscle mass, height, and increased defensive and offensive capabilities. His personality is that of a seasoned war vet, whose principles are those of reason, logic, and critical thinking. These characteristics mirror that of the Noetic fraction of the soul, that being one of reason and logic as well. 

Next, let’s examine Thor’s backstory: A god of thunder from Norse mythology is banished from his kingdom in Asgard to New Mexico by his father, Odin, after trickery from his adopted brother, Loki. Thor falls in love with a lady on earth named Jane Foster, he regains his godly constitution, character, and will, and returns to Asgard to fight and eventually “kill” said half-brother, returning him to his former glory and regaining his standing with his father. His personality is that of a funny yet stoic warrior who’s seen more years than he can remember, whose principles are those of unbreakable will, passion, and spirit. These characteristics mirror that of the Thymotic fraction of the soul, that being one of passion and spirit as well.

To conclude our discussion of these heroes, we must examine Iron Man’s backstory: A egotistical genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist Tony Stark who inherits his father’s defense contractor company and subsequent fortune, has a change of heart when he is injured and almost killed by shrapnel, and kidnapped in war-torn Afghanistan. Tony escapes the terrorist compound with a makeshift suit made of metal toting as many guns and flamethrowers that could fit. This “Iron man” then goes back to his luxury home in Malibu, California to reclaim the company after a hostile takeover bid. Though becoming a superhero has softened his ego, his personality remains as that of an extremely smart yet spoiled child whose general passions only follow roads of financial acclaim, whose principles are that of hunger and desire, desire for fame and fortune. These characteristics mirror that of the Epithymotic fraction of the soul, that being one of appetite and desire for the prodigality of life. These three heroes reflect the tripartite soul as defined by Socrates long ago. Each a reflection of one fraction, intertwined in each other’s lives on the big screen just as each fraction is both intertwined with one another within the human soul, and on just as big a display. This display being the presence and influence on society that every person has around us. 

Socrates on Ender’s Game

Moving to literature, I shall demonstrate the piece of which I have decided to discuss. This piece of literature is that of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. This book takes place in the future when humanity is preparing to launch an attack on the homeworld of an alien race, called the Formics, that had attacked Earth and killed millions. The Formic invasion was stopped by the now revered Mazer Rackham, who crashed his fighter plane into Formic queenship at the apparent cost of his life. Over 50 years, gifted children are trained by the International Fleet to become commanders of a new fleet for this counterattack. We follow Ender Wiggin, the third in a family of child geniuses, who is selected by international military forces to save the world from destruction. Before being chosen Ender wears a unique monitor that allows the heads of the military to see things as Ender does for a year. Ender’s brother Peter and his sister Valentine also wore this monitor, although neither was selected, nor did they have it for as long as Ender, and Peter resents him for this. Peter despises Ender, and even when the monitor is taken out it does nothing to decrease Peter’s anger. The same is true of Ender’s schoolmates, and he is forced into brutally beating the leader of a gang of bullies to protect himself. Although Valentine tries to protect Ender from Peter, he is only saved from his brother when Colonel Graff of the International Fleet comes to take Ender away to a Battle School located on a ship far from earth. 

These three siblings, just like the heroes we covered earlier, each have their own unique personality, backstory, and principles that define who they are and appear as in the book. Said traits and backstories are the foundation of what makes these three a reflection of Socrates’s tripartite soul, in modern literature. Let’s begin by examining Ender: Ender is the youngest of the three Wiggin children. He has the compassion of Valentine, his older sister, but he also has the ruthlessness of Peter, his older brother. Ender does not wish to cause harm to anyone, yet when he is confronted with a pack of students led by a bully known as Stilson, he knows what he must do. At age six he beats Stilson to death, although he does not know it at the time that he died. Ender can be a killer like his brother, but Ender hates himself for that quality. Other people put him in situations where his negative side emerges, yet Ender always wishes for events to be resolved without violence. Ender is a child in name only, and he represents the best that a human being can be, given the context. His personality is that of a perfect tactician, whose principles are those of reason, logic, and critical thinking. These characteristics mirror that of the Noetic fraction of the soul, that being one of reason and logic as well.

Next, let’s examine Peter: Peter is a kid who’s completely lacking in the compassion that his siblings have and has only ruthlessness in its place. He is a sadistic brother and it is unclear at many points whether he is considering killing Ender and Valentine or not. Peter is the mastermind behind the actions that he and Valentine take in world political affairs later in the book, and he is motivated by his thirst for power. His lack of compassion makes him a man devoid of humanity. He acts solely for his benefit and, although he has a profound understanding of others, uses his knowledge only to probe their weaknesses to his advantage. Peter eventually gains power over the entire earth and becomes the Hegemon, the leader of the world. He is obsessed with the nature of power, and the effect it has on people. His personality is that of a power-hungry tyrant, whose only goal is to take advantage of the entropy in the world. His principles are those of desire and appetite for power and control. These characteristics mirror that of the Epithymotic fraction of the soul, that being one of appetite and desire as well. 

To conclude our discussion of Ender and his siblings, Valentine, Ender’s older sister, does what she can to protect him from Peter, their sadistic older brother. Valentine has much of Ender’s compassion, but she does not have Peter’s ruthlessness. She never ceases believing that Ender is the best of them three, and she loves him unconditionally. But as she begins working with Peter to transform the political system on earth, using her pseudonym Demosthenes, Valentine learns that there is a part of her that enjoys control. Although she does not want to manipulate people for the sake of it, as Peter does, Valentine knows that she is intelligent enough to make a major difference and sees no reason why she should not. However, she would never wish to do damage in her attempt to change the world. Valentine, like Ender, would never deliberately harm someone else. Unlike Ender, however, she falls prey to the irresistible urge to power. That urge would never take her down Peter’s road of power at any cost, for while she is passionate about changing the world she lives in, she is not hungry for the power to do so like Peter. Her personality is that of a caring leader, whose principles are those of passion and spirit for the political world affairs that she involves herself in later in the book. These characteristics mirror that of the Thymotic fraction of the soul, that being one of passion and spirit as well. Once again, we see a reflection of Socrates’s theory of the tripartite soul, now within modern literature. These characters from modern literature each demonstrate one fraction of a whole, just as the characters in modern movies, just as the parts of the soul. Now let us examine the final example of modern visual media influenced by Socrates, video games. 

Socrates on Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda takes place predominantly in a medieval Western Europe-inspired fantasy world called Hyrule, which has developed a deep history and wide geography over the series’ many releases. Hyrule’s principal inhabitants are pointy-eared, elf-like humanoids called Hylians, which include the player characters Link and the daughter of the king of Hyrule, Princess Zelda. Link is the main protagonist of the series and is often given the task of rescuing Princess Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule from Ganon, an evil warlord turned demon who is the principal antagonist of the series. The backstory of the world of Hyrule follows its creation by the three golden goddesses: Din, Farore, and Nayru. Before departing, the goddesses left a sacred artifact called the Triforce, which could grant powers to the user. It physically manifests itself as three golden triangles in which each embodies one of the goddesses’ virtues: Power, Courage, and Wisdom. However, because the Triforce has no will of its own and it cannot judge between good and evil, it will grant any wish indiscriminately. Because of this, it was placed within an alternate world called the “Sacred Realm” or the “Golden Land” until one worthy of its power and has balanced virtues of Power, Wisdom, and Courage in their heart could obtain it, in its entirety. If a person is not of a balanced heart, the Triforce part that the user mostly believes in will stay with that person and the remainder will seek out others. 

The story tells us that Demise, an intelligent monster whose governing principles are those of desire and hunger for power, attempts to steal the Triforce to rule over a land filled with monsters and chaos caused by the wars over ownership of said Triforce. Demise is the original Ganon before a series of reincarnations. This monster is almost stopped by an unnamed hero, an early reincarnation of Link, whose governing principles are those of pure courage, passion, and spirit. This hero is guided in battle by a goddess named Hylia, an early reincarnation of Zelda, whose principles are those of wisdom and reason. This unnamed hero is unfortunately defeated in battle against Demise and Demise obtains the Triforce. However, lacking the balance of the virtues required to wield it in its entirety, the Triforce breaks apart into three separate pieces, and while the piece of power rushes into Demise, the pieces of wisdom and courage rush into the reincarnated souls of Zelda and Link respectively, granting them ever-heightened virtues of each. As can be inferred from these details, Link, Zelda, and Ganon are pure embodiments of Socrates’ proposed tripartite soul. The foundation of the series being the virtues of courage (the Thymotic fraction of the soul), wisdom (the Noetic fraction of the soul), power (the Epithymotic fraction of the soul), and the eternal struggle to balance said virtues in an attempt to attain true harmony. 

This videogame series, along with other visual media and literature have demonstrated not just a glimpse of the tripartite soul, but rather the total embodiment and foundational standing of such. In conclusion, I both believe and have thoroughly demonstrated that Socrates’ tripartite soul can be identified both within and as the foundation of our modern society’s construct and philosophy, and subsequently our literature and visual media’s constructs and philosophies. I’ve done this through examples of modern literature, movies, and videogames. This essay does not just matter but is vital to everyone in our modern-day society. This is because for one to live in a society, they should know the foundational beliefs and influences said society contains, and from whence these beliefs and influences came.

Excerpts from an essay by Ethan Murphy

Socrates on Harry Potter

The tripartite soul can be best analyzed in fiction, by dividing the three parts of the soul into three separate characters. This is seen in classic literature, modern literature, and cinema.

“The just man then, if we regard the idea of justice only, will be like the just State… A State was thought by us to be just when the three classes in the State severally did their own business; and also thought to be temperate and valiant and wise by reason of certain other affections and qualities of these same classes… And so of the individual; we may assume that he has the same three principles in his own soul which are found in the State; and he may be rightly described in the same terms, because he is affected in the same manner… Once more then, O my friend, we may have alighted upon an easy question—whether the soul has these three principles or not… Must we not acknowledge, I said, that in each of us there are the same principles and habits which there are in the State; and that from the individual they pass into the State?—how else can they come there… But the question is not quite so easy when we proceed to ask whether these principles are three or one; whether, that is to say, we learn with one part of our nature, are angry with another, and with a third part desire the satisfaction of our natural appetites; or whether the whole soul comes into play in each sort of action—to determine that is the difficulty.” (The Republic, pages 104-105)

In The Republic, while searching for the just man, Socrates amplifies the just man’s character to a just city. This larger model provides a deeper glimpse into the functions of the different aspects of the soul. Socrates’ example is often followed in various forms of literature and visual media, by assigning one of the parts of the soul to each character. It is no coincidence that there are three parts of man and that literature and cinema often make use of the number three. In 20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them), Ronald Tobias explains:

“This brings us to the Rule of Three. If you pay attention to the structure… you’ll notice that the number three holds strong sway. Character triangles make the strongest character combination and are the most common in stories… This isn’t a secret numerology thing. There’s actually a rather obvious reason for it: balance… One person isn’t enough to get full interaction. Two is possible, but it doesn’t have a wild card to make things interesting. Three is just right.” (20 Master Plots (And How to Build Them), page 51)

The tripartite soul can be best analyzed in modern literature, by dividing the three parts of the soul into three separate characteristics. This is seen in the Harry Potter series in the characters Hermione, Harry, and Ron. Hermione is the rational person. “Actually, I’m highly logical, which allows me to look past extraneous detail and perceive clearly that which others overlook.” -Hermione (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) Throughout the series, Hermione is the practical one, always following the rules and reading books.

“But why’s she got to go to the library?” [Harry asked.] “Because that’s what Hermione does,” said Ron, shrugging. “When in doubt, go to the library.” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter 14)

Towards the end of The Chamber of Secrets, she is dismayed when Professor McGonagall announces that exams are cancelled. She loves school, memorizes all her course books, and performs advanced spells at a young age.

Hermione soon devised a very clever method of communicating the time and date of the next meeting to all the members in case they needed to change it at short notice… She gave each of the members of the D.A. a fake Galleon… “You see the numerals around the edge of the coins?” Hermione said, holding one up for examination at the end of their fourth meeting… [T]he numbers will change to reflect the time and date of the next meeting… We take one each, and when Harry sets the date of the next meeting he’ll change the numbers on his coin, and because I’ve put a Protean Charm on them, they’ll all change to mimic his.”

A blank silence greeted Hermione’s words… “Well-I thought it was a good idea,” she said uncertainly… [“]But…well, if you don’t want to use them-” “You can do a Protean Charm?” said Terry Boot. “Yes.” said Hermione. “But that’s… that’s NEWT standard, that is,” he said weakly. “Oh,” said Hermione, trying to look modest. “Oh… well… yes, I suppose it is.” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 19)

For the first third or so of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, she is actually disliked by Harry and Ron because of her extreme rational, rule-following, and imperious attitude. But they soon learn to appreciate her when she uses her logic and knowledge to solve Snape’s potions riddle, discover the Chamber of Secrets, reveal Lupin’s werewolf side, pack supplies in advance, discover and destroy Horcruxes, and break into Gringotts, the supposedly impenetrable Wizarding bank.

Harry is representative of the spirited part of man. He is very driven by his emotions, especially because of the many deaths and losses he’s experienced.  “And Harry saw the look of mingled fear and surprise on his godfather’s wasted, once-handsome face as he fell through the ancient doorway and disappeared behind the veil, which fluttered for a moment as though in a high wind and then fell back into place.
Harry heard Bellatrix Lestrange’s triumphant scream, but knew it meant nothing — Sirius had only just fallen through the archway, he would reappear from the other side any second. But Sirius did not reappear. “SIRIUS!” Harry yelled, “SIRIUS!” He had reached the floor, his breath coming in searing gasps. Sirius must be just behind the curtain, he, Harry, would pull him back out again… But as he reached the ground and sprinted toward the dais, Lupin grabbed Harry around the chest, holding him back. “There’s nothing you can do, Harry — ” “Get him, save him, he’s only just gone through!”…. Harry struggled hard and viciously, but Lupin would not let go… There’s nothing you can do, Harry… nothing… He’s gone.” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 35)

Ron is very obviously the appetitive man, although this is greatly exaggerated in the films. Ron is always eating food, in nearly every scene, and he spends the majority of book 6 kissing Lavendar Lewis. “‘Oh hurry up!’ Ron moaned beside Harry. ‘I could eat a hippogriff!’” (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, page 144)

Socrates on The Hunger Games

The tripartite soul divided into three characters can also be seen in Peeta, Katniss, and Gale from the Hunger Games. Peeta Mellark embodies the rational side of man. He is the thoughtful and caring one, and the person who keeps Katniss grounded in reality after the horrors of the arena.

Katniss is the spirited man – extremely emotional, and rushes headlong into all sorts of things. She volunteers to take her sister’s place in a fight to the death, shoots an arrow at a group of annoying, but extremely powerful jerks, sneaks on a jet headed to a dangerous war zone, and even assassinates Alma Coin when she becomes tyrannical. She becomes the figurehead of the Rebellion, and people are drawn to her by her impulse, fiery acts and speeches.

“I want to tell the rebels that I am alive. That I’m right here in District Eight, where the Capitol has just bombed a hospital full of unarmed men, women and children. There will be no survivors.” The shock I’ve been feeling begins to give way to fury. “I want to tell people that if you think for one second the Capitol will treat us fairly if there’s a cease-fire, you’re deluding yourself. Because you know who they are and what they do.” My hands go out automatically, as if to indicate the whole horror around me. “This is what they do and we must fight back!”

“President Snow says he’s sending a message. Well I have one for him. You can torture us and bomb and burn our districts to the ground, but do you see that?” One of the cameras follows where I point to the planes burning on the roof of a warehouse across from us. “Fire is catching!” I am shouting now, determined he will not miss a word of it, “And if we burn, you burn with us!” (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Chapter 7)

Katniss spends the majority of the series trying to sort out her feelings for Gale and Peeta. In the final book, Mockingjay, Katniss overhears the two of them agreeing to wait and see who she chooses:

“Gale didn’t say, “Katniss will pick whoever it will break her heart to give up,” or even “whoever she can’t live without.” Those would have implied I was motivated by a kind of passion. But my best friend predicts I will choose the person “I can’t survive without.” There’s not the least indication that love, desire, or even compatibility will sway me. I’ll just conduct an unfeeling assessment of what my potential mates can offer me. As if in the end, it will be the question of whether a baker or a hunter will extend my longevity the most. It’s a horrible thing for Gale to say, for Peeta not to refute. Especially when every emotion I have has been taken or exploited by the Capitol or the rebels. At the moment, the choice would be simple. I can survive just fine without either of them.” (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay). Katniss is completely run by her emotions.

Gale is representative of the appetitive side of man. Throughout Mockingjay, the final book in the series, he becomes increasingly intent upon defeating the Capitol, even if it means crossing the line of ethical warfare or killing innocent people. He assists in the creation of a bombing strategy that targets the vulnerable and their would-be protectors. This gray morality leads to the death of a beloved character, and ultimately isolates him from Katniss.

Socrates on Star Wars

There are many more examples of the tripartite soul in literature, but most people would be more familiar with those in modern cinema. The tripartite soul can be best analyzed in modern cinema, by dividing the three parts of the soul into three separate characters. This is seen in the original Star Wars trilogy in Leia, Luke, and Han. Leia embodies the rational side of man. Her rationality is one of the reasons she is a general in the Rebellion. “This is some rescue! You came in here, but didn’t you have a plan for getting out?” -Leia (Star Wars: A New Hope)

Luke embodies the spirited side of man. He is emotionally driven, as can be seen in moments such as when he discovers the death of his aunt and uncle, when Vader has Han and Leia in Cloud City, when Luke learns Vader is his father, and when he sees the Rebel fleet being decimated.

Han embodies the appetitive side of man. He is shrewd and worldly. His entire job revolves around illegal goods. The only reason he is willing to rescue Leia in the first place is because Luke tells him she’s rich.

Princess Leia: It’s not over yet.

Han Solo: It is for me, sister. Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.

Princess Leia: You needn’t worry about your reward. If money is all that you love, then that’s what you’ll receive. (to Luke) Your friend is quite the mercenary. I wonder if he really cares about anything. Or anybody. (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) He shamelessly flirts with Leia, demonstrating his chief aims lie within his appetites.

Socrates on Star Trek

The tripartite soul divided into three characters can also be seen in Spock, Kirk, and D Bones from Star Trek. In an article on how Star Trek answers the questions of Socrates, she argues, “Each of the show’s three main characters can be pretty obviously identified with a part of the soul: Captain Kirk spiritedness, Mr. Spock reason, and Dr. McCoy appetite. Now each is of course a fully fleshed character and so things are more complicated than this schematic. Nonetheless the basic identifications are strong.”

Spock is infamous for being extremely rational, even to a fault. Everything is mathematical and orderly to him, and he considers plans that are improbable to be impossible. “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” -Spock (Star Trek)

Kirk is the spirited, emotional character. He often dives headfirst into a half-formed plan, caught up in the emotion of it all. This tendency often causes friction between him and Spock, who is the mathematical, calculating strategist.

Dr. McCoy, nicknamed “Bones”, is known for his compassion. His role as a doctor is to care for others, and he is constantly searching for evidence that Spock is more than just rational, that he feels something. “You see, I feel sorrier for you than I do for him, because you’ll never know the things that love can drive a man to… the ecstasies, the miseries, the broken rules, the desperate chances, the glorious failures, and the glorious victories. All of these things you’ll never know, simply because the word “love” isn’t written into your book.” -Dr. McCoy (Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Requiem of Methuselah”)

McCoy is one of the deepest appetitive characters you can find, because he realizes the appetites, in moderation, are what makes us human. Many other examples of the divided tripartite soul in cinema exist, including more lighthearted films such as Frozen and Tangled. 

Throughout the Republic, Socrates continually insists that the rational man is ideal. But looking at numerous examples of literature, cinema, and tv seems to show different results. The rational character often starts out as aggravating, legalistic, and uncreative. It is only after contact with the spirited and appetitive characters that he or she becomes more relatable and lovable. The spirited character also goes through change. He or she, as a result of the rational character’s influence, begins to think more and act on impulse less, and because of the appetitive character’s influence finds another thing to fight for: love, whether romantic or camaradic. The appetitive character, in general, also changes, as he or she learns to care about more than just the things that will benefit themselves. There are cases where one of the characters either does not change (the tv version of Spock) or spirals deeper (X-Mens’s Magneto, Gale), but generally the three characters help shape each other into deeper characters.

On closer examination, this makes complete sense. Socrates’ division of the parts of man was meant to ease analysis of them. I don’t think Socrates meant for the three parts to stay separate. In reality, what person is completely rational, or completely spirited and emotional, or completely appetitive? That seems to be the reason why the characters representing these three parts of man grow together. The rational takes the fervor and conviction of the spirited, and shapes them into something that can really happen, and the appetitive adds relatability and humanity to their cause. Only then are the three parts rejoined, only then do they become one whole. (Excerpts from an essay by Faith Kazim)

If you need guidance while reading try this: Plato’s Republic: A Reader’s Guide.

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By Donielle, May 29, 2020
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