This is the conclusion of a review of Plato’s View of Man by Constantine Cavarnos, available from the Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies
I do nothing but go about persuading you, old and young, to care neither for your bodies nor for money more than for the perfection of your souls, or even as much. ~ Apology
There neither is nor will there ever be anything of greater importance than the cultivation of the soul. ~ Phaedrus
When the soul and the body are united, nature orders the body to serve and be ruled, and the soul to rule and be master. ~ Phaedo
Soul, Body, Money
- Care of the soul is fundamental, because a person is the soul. Not what a person has, but what he is constitutes his real dignity.
- A person who cherishes the body does not cherish himself, but what belongs to him.
- The person who tends money tends neither himself nor his own things, and is a stage further removed from himself.
A philosopher needs leisure time and funds to pursue wisdom, though he does not need wealth. He keeps his body healthy for the same reason. He does not use his rational part simply for the pursuit of money. He does not pursue the care of the soul solely to cure the body.
Faculties of the Soul
- Rational power
Consists of the intellect and eros (love)
Directed toward the true, the good, and the beautiful
- Spirited power
Consists of conviction (or faith) and thumos
Directed toward ruling, conquering, and getting fame
Gymnastics strengthens this power and music keeps moderates it and keeps it in harmony with reason.
- Appetitive Power
Consists of conjecture (or opinion) and desire
Directed toward eating , drinking, sensual pleasures, and material gain
There are three types of desire:
- Necessary desires
- Unnecessary and spendthrift desires
- Lawless desires
Five Forms of the State
Since there are five forms of individual life, there are five forms of the State corresponding to them. The State arises out of the predominant human characters. These forms are: the aristocratic, the timocratic, the oligarchic, the democratic, and the tyrannic. The first two follow from the rational and spirited powers and the last three from the three types of desires.
This schema can be tried as an analytic tool to understand current events, from the “third dimension”, as it were. The transition from one type of rule to the next documents a process of decline. Of course, any actual society will contain a mixture of the various types and their manifestations may vary quite a bit.
The important lesson here is that it is nearly impossible to communicate across these types, since their aims and their notion of rationality are so different.
The aristocratic man, or the “best”, is virtuous and ruled by reason. He knows the divine ideas, eternal and timeless. Thus he is guided by nature, by the universal.
It is important to note that this definition is not at all what is commonly meant by “aristocrat” today. For Plato, the aristocrat corresponds more to the priestly or spiritual caste, but without the religious overtones.
Rule by the best is unlikely. The other types are more driven to seize power. Moreover, while the aristocrat sees the life of reason as liberation, those who are dominated by the appetites experience it as oppression.
The timocrat is the honor-loving man. His guide is not wisdom, but rather law and custom. He is governed by belief and conviction which are time tested. The timocrat corresponds to what was later called the “aristocrat” in the Middle Ages and to this day. He is the one that values his breeding and keeps portraits of his ancestors in the castle. These are the dukes, barons, and so on. In other words, this type corresponds to the warrior caste.
The timocrat is guided by custom and law, unlike the aristocrat; in other words, by the particular, not the universal. In the well-ordered state, he submits to the wisdom of the aristocrats. Otherwise, this creates some tension between reason and custom. Nevertheless, since people are always part of a community, even the aristocrats must be loyal to their own traditions. It is difficult to see where patriotism fits in, given Mr. Cavarnos’ objections.
The timocrat is arrogant and ambitious, but his aristocratic fathers were rational.
The timocrat may be a general or other high office holder. When such men are attacked, outlawed, or otherwise diminished, the oligarchic type arises. Seeing no value in the principle of the love of honor, he instead enthrones the principle of appetite and avarice. This is his psychic center. The rational and spirited part of him is used solely to acquire money.
The philosopher of this type (if that is the correct word to use) is Ayn Rand. While claiming to be a follower of Aristotle, her use of reason is restricted to the satisfaction of necessary desires. A society dominate by this type will not admire reasonable nor honorable men, but rather rich men. The oligarch, like a Mr. Scrooge, may often be temperate in the satisfaction of bodily desires. He follows public opinion in most matters.
The sons of the oligarchic type gradually seek out unnecessary pleasures. They lack the self-discipline of their fathers. All desires are equally alike and he cannot discriminate between better and worse desires. Hence, he discards moral standards.
He calls insolence ‘good breeding’, license ‘liberty’, prodigality ‘magnificence’ and shamelessness ‘manliness’. ~ Republic
This type is easily recognized in a democratic society. For example, when extended to public policy, prodigality results in public debt. The last of the list exposes how even some self-described “new right” types are really democrats in disguise.
This type is fickle, bouncing from pleasure-seeking to flirtations with philosophy or even spirituality. But there is little depth to his thinking. He often just says what pops into his head. He is not guided by reason, tradition, or common opinions. Rather, he has an inordinate craving for freedom.
Too much freedom breeds dissension and anarchy. Mob rule results; a leader arises among them, and the appointed rulers are cast out.
The tyrannic type purges out of himself every desire or opinion that is deemed good, discards all self-control and brings in madness to the full. He has no respect for his parents. He is made up of fierce base desires and his life is the furthest from the life of reason. Plato includes murder and incest among the lawless desires, but they are just the peak. There are other such desires that are considered quite normal and respectable in our time.
In a tyranny, assuming the tyrant seizes control, the people are reduced to slavery. The tyrant stirs up wars and impoverishes his subjects by the imposition of heavy taxes. He gets rid of his boldest followers and purges the State of the wise and the brave.
Plato sometimes mentions a fifth virtue: holiness or piety (both translate the same Greek word). But this virtue belongs to religion, not philosophy, so philosophy is ultimately insufficient. As we have seen, piety was the most important virtue for the Romans. Therefore, the aristocrat of the soul should strive for holiness, beyond justice, wisdom, courage, and temperance.