I am having trouble getting finished my essay on Plato’s tripartite soul — the idea that the soul is a trio of reason, spirit and appetite. Is it because my reasoning part is being overpowered by my appetitive part that would much rather drink wine, snack, blog, surf the web or (evil of evils) go on facebook? I also find that it’s much more appetising to read a paper by that witty, American philosopher, David Lewis than another detailed interpretation of The Republic, debating what a particular pronoun in some particular sentence refers to.
In fact this wouldn’t faze Plato who according to A.W. Price would allow that non-physiological appetites could arise from that very part of the soul characterised as encompassing our paradigmatic bodily desires like thirst, hunger and sexual desire. But there’s a vital difference between this kind of casual flirting with philosophy and the more serious commitment that is the prerogative of reason. Price comments:
A love of philosophy will count as an appetite if it is pursued just for fun, and not (which is harder work) out of a passion for truth. This seems a complication to be welcomed. (Mental Conflict,p. 63, italics mine)
So now the third part of my soul, spirit, chimes in, rebuking myself for my indolence, “What do you think you are doing, playing around, committing your ill-formed ideas to a blog when you should be pouring over the Phaedrus, preferably in the original Greek?.” But being the seat of not only shame but indignation, spirit confusingly does an about face and leaps to my defence, “How could Truth be hiding in dry textual commentaries, splitting hairs over correct interpretations? Sod this, I’m off to read Julian Baggini on Dan Dennett. But not before I pour myself another glass of Kendermanns Organic 2007. Wait a minute. Who let appetite in here?”
And so it goes on and it’s no wonder that I get so little done when everything has to be agreed upon by a committee of three and at least one, if not two of them are liable to sub-divide yet further.
I bet Descartes never had this problem. For René the mind was a unity, “utterly indivisible”, “single and complete”. In the Sixth Meditation he tells us that
the faculties of willing, of understanding, of sensory perception and so on, these cannot be termed parts of the mind, since it is one and the same mind that wills, and understands and has sensory perceptions.
Bodies on the other hand can easily be divided into parts. You can even lop bits of them off. So, Descartes reasons, the mind is completely different from the body.
But wait a minute, now we’ve got another, albeit different division, a spirit which can be willing only to be frustrated because the flesh is weak. Whatever way you look at it, unity of purpose is really rather elusive. A bit like knowledge really.