[1.2.6] Plato about Cardinal Virtues in the Republic

Plato (429?-347 BC) (through Socrates) in Book 4 of the Republic presents a theory, which states that the human soul has three main faculties: reason, spirit, and appetite (see also [1.2.2], [1.2.5]). Based on this, he works out the idea of the four cardinal virtues, namely wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.

The OntoUML diagram below explains this theory:

Plato on the four virtues
HumanSoul“every embodied human being has just one soul that comprises three parts. No embodied soul is perfectly unified: even the virtuous person, who makes her soul into a unity as much as she can, has three parts in her soul. (She must, as we shall see, in order to be just.) But every embodied soul enjoys an unearned unity: every human’s reason, spirit, and appetite constitute a single [human] soul that is the unified source of that human’s life and is a unified locus of responsibility for that human’s thoughts and actions.”
ReasonReason is the part of the soul that is, of its own nature, attached to knowledge and truth. It is also, however, concerned to guide and regulate the life that it is, or anyhow should be, in charge of, ideally in a way that is informed by wisdom and that takes into consideration the concerns both of each of the three parts separately and of the soul as a whole.” (Lorenz)is a component of the HumanSoul; in harmony with Spirit and Appetite
Spirit“The natural attachment of spirit is to honor and, more generally, to recognition and esteem by others.” (Lorenz)is a component of the HumanSoul; in harmony with Appetite
AppetiteAppetite gives rise to desire for instant gratification through food, drink, sex…is a component of the HumanSoul
CardinalVirtue[Cardinal] Virtue is a state of the Soul, and is a fundamental constituent of what is good for a human being.characterizes HumanSoul
Wisdom“A person is wise just in case her rational attitudes are functioning well, so that her rational part ‘has in it the knowledge of what is advantageous for each part [of the soul] and for the whole in common of the three parts”subkind of CardinalVirtue; relates to Reason; component of Justice
Courage“A person is courageous just in case her spirited attitudes do not change in the face of pains and pleasures but stay in agreement with what is rationally recognized as fearsome and not”subkind of CardinalVirtue; relates to Spirit; component of Justice
Temperance“A person is temperate or moderate just in case the different parts of her soul are in agreement.”subkind of CardinalVirtue; relates to Appetite; component of Justice
Justice“a person is just in case all three parts of her soul are functioning as they should. Justice, then, requires the other virtues. So the unjust person fails to be moderate, or fails to be wise, or fails to be courageous.
Actually, the relation among the virtues seems tighter than that, for it seems that the unjust person necessarily fails to be wise, courageous, and temperate… You might try to deny this. You might say that a person could be courageous—with spirited attitudes that track perfectly what the rational attitudes say is fearsome and not, in the face of any pleasures and pains—but still be unjust insofar has her rational attitudes are inadequately developed, failing to know what really is fearsome. But Socrates seems to balk at this possibility by contrasting the civically courageous whose spirit preserves law-inculcated beliefs about what is fearsome and not and the genuinely courageous in whom, presumably, spirit preserves knowledge about what is fearsome and not. So you might say instead that a person could be moderate—utterly without appetitive attitudes at odds with what his rational attitudes say is good for him—but still be unjust insofar as his rational attitudes are inadequately developed and fail to know what really is good. But this picture of a meek, but moderate soul seems to sell short the requirements of moderation, which are not merely that there be no insurrections in the soul but also that there be agreement that the rational attitudes should rule. This would seem to require that there actually be appetitive attitudes that are in agreement with the rational attitudes’ conception of what is good, which would in turn require that the rational attitudes be sufficiently strong to have a developed conception of what is good. Moreover, it would seem to require that the rational attitudes which endorse ruling be ruling, which would in turn require that the rational attitudes are at least on the path toward determining what really is good for the person. If these considerations are correct, then the unjust are lacking in virtue tout court, whereas the just possess all of the virtues.”
is CardinalVirtue; Wisdom, Courage and Temperance are essential parts

First published: 7/11/2019

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