The 3 dimensional soul of the 1 dimensional man of the 3 dimensional city
By way of analogy, in Book IV of the Republic, Plato attempts to elucidate on the concept of justice as found in the city and in the individual soul. This analogy has been haunting the dialogue since Book I, when Socrates channeled an occultist and proposed that justice must first be seen in large letters, before attempting to read it in small script (368c7-d7). In Book IV this analogy gets traded for another correlate, that of the state and the soul. Both city and soul are divided into a tripartite system lending the impression that lessons derived from the internal harmony of the particular are interchangeable with the harmony of the general.
Nicholas D. Smith and Bernard Williams take issue with the two opposing poles of this analogy, for Smith the case for the tripartite soul is flawed and not wholeheartedly endorsed by Plato, whereas for Williams the assumption that individual character and temperament can be aggregated as to form a rigid and stable class structure is somewhat tautological. Taking up Smith first, we would be willing to concede that the city is indeed divided along a class system, even if there more or less than the three specified classes of rulers, warriors and craftsman. After all, up until now politics has been largely regarded as order according to the “one man, one job” (423d2) principle, which posits that each man takes up a role that is suited according to his natural aptitude. The smooth functioning of the city is dependent upon the smooth functioning of each of these classes through the acceptance of their ‘natural’ roles. However, it is precisely this ordering principle that threatens the edifice of the analogy, for even if we are to accept the necessity of this class based division of labor, partitioning the soul “threatens to atomize the soul” (page 120). Hence, since “any of our desires might come into conflict with any of our aversions” (page 121), the Platonic tripartite subject would be prone to paralyzing psychic conflict. Ultimately, Smith does not reject the Platonic premise, since as stated at the beginning of this essay, we are trading in analogies and therefore we are trading in likeness or proportionality. Neither the structure of the city, nor that of the soul are transmutable to one another, especially since the partitioning of the soul is done so that “Socrates and Glaucon were better able to see what it was that made a state just, by analogy to what it was that made a state just” (page 129). The tripartite soul is but an image of justice and therefore cannot be equated to the essence of justice or as Smith refers to it, Justice Itself. The analogy serves to show that it is the proper functioning of the soul that makes it just, much like it is the proper functioning of each citizen that makes a city just.
Taking up Bernard Williams, we would take issue at once with the self-serving development of the Platonic argument. For since “we have already explained how the term [just] can be applied to both cities and men, to go on from there and to look for a similar explanation of how [it] applies to men is at least pointless” (page 50). This pointlessness is perhaps the most benevolent ‘bone’ that Williams throws at Plato, the rest are ones he has to pick with him. As he briefly asserts later in the essay, criticism of Plato has often divulged around the fact that he thought ruling is a matter of expertise. The tripartite soul then is an all too neat of an analogy that services to naturalize a social order stratified by class divisions. It serves to reconcile to stories about the social order: that the working classes “were naturally of powerful and disorderly desires, and had to be kept in their place,” and that “they were good-hearted fellows of no great gifts who could recognize their natural superiors” (page 57). The particular and the general, or the element and the whole for Williams are to be seen as interdependent both in the psychological and the political instance. “On the political side we have classes, and a state which is affected by which class is predominant among them. […] On the psychological side we, have “parts of the soul,” and persons in which one part or another is dominant” (page 58). The result we get per Williams is is both an analysis and typology of states, as well as a classification of motives within the individuals and a typology of character. The dictates of the psychological on the political are based upon the principle of order rather than of struggle.