FOREWARD. The present short article presents two ideas. One is that, contrary to the received opinion, Plato’s Republic is not mainly a book on civil politics, but an allegory for the managing the inner city of ones soul. The second is that one particular way Plato’s theories can benefit modern psychology is that they successfully integrate traditional concepts of morality with the issue of personality integration. Plato’s works, and the Republic in particular, offer a bridge between modern personality psychology and the perennial philosophy.
ONE of the most consistent and important findings in the vast 20th century literature on personality theory is that the psyche is not unitary, but plural. The subselves which jointly constitute the personality have been variously called subpersonalities, subegos, part selves, schemata, complexes, and numerous other terms. While there are some differences amongst these theoretical models, they largely agree. Herein we will use the term subpersonality in a comprehensive sense to include all these other related concepts.
Excellent reviews of this literature have been supplied by Rowan (1990), Carter (2008), and Lester (2010). Lester’s work is especially valuable for present discussion because he has attempted to lay out the principles of subpersonality theory in a compelling, axiomatic way. In the same spirit of axiomatic and scientific development, the present article, which is concerned with the psychological interpretation of Plato’s Republic, builds on the existing framework of Lester (2010) with a series of hypotheses, conjectures, or postulates.
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Postulates and Conjectures
1. Each person has, besides well-developed subpersonalities, a larger number of less well developed complexes which we might call proto-personalities (or part personalities; cf. Carter’s concept of minors and micros). Each desire, interest, appetite, ambition, goal, project, social role, attachment, possession, relationship etc. has its own sub- or proto-personality. The number of such entities may therefore easily range into the hundreds or thousands. Herein we will understand the term subpersonality to include proto-personalities.
2. Subpersonalities have affective and intellectual components. At the intellectual level, a subpersonality may be more, or less reasonable. Many (if not most) subpersonalities have impaired ‘reality-testing.’
3. Subpersonalities may be conscious, subconscious, or unconscious. One benefit of bringing a sub- or unconscious subpersonalities into conscious awareness is that one may then teach them to become more reasonable (i.e., have better reality testing).
4. Subpersonalities have individual construct systems (Kelly, 1955).
5. Construct systems contain first principles and supporting premises. Some construct systems are reality-based; others are fantasy-based.
6. Human beings have certain ultimate innate values. These are experienced as eternal verities (Love, Truth, Beauty, Goodness, etc.) in transient peak experiences and more enduring plateau experiences (Maslow, 1971), and are culturally reinforced in myriad ways.
7. Subpersonalities whose construct systems are founded on eternal verities harmonize more readily with other such ‘truly informed’ subpersonalities. The more subpersonalities there are which are truly informed, the more harmonious the self-community will be.
8. Conversely, in the degree to which subpersonalities are based on narrow self-interest, pleasure-seeking, and distorted beliefs, their construct systems conflict with those of other subpersonalities. Then inner confusion, competition, and disharmony are the norm.
9. Because psychic plurality (i.e., the self as a community of subpersonalities ) is so deeply important to the human condition, we can be certain it has been recognized before modern times.
10. Traditional systems, religious and philosophical, concerned with the attainment of self-realization, happiness, psychic integration, etc., would of necessity have to consider the multiplicity of self.
11. Plato’s unique fame and status as the most eminent Western philosopher testifies to the deep relevance of his writings to the human condition. Inasmuch as Plato is explicitly concerned with promoting psychic harmony, happiness, and a blessed life, we would expect him to address and resolve difficulties associated with psychic pluralism.
12. Plato’s most famous work, the Republic, is an allegory for the governance of the polity of the psyche, and not mainly a work on civil politics. Evidence supporting this hypothesis include:
(12a) Plato says this explicitly in Book 1 (1.368), and reminds us of it repeatedly throughout the work (see Waterfield, 1993, Introduction for a large list of relevant passages).
(12b) This has been recognized by many leading commentators on the Republic (e.g., Annas, 1999; Guthrie, 1986; and Waterfield, 1993, to name a few).
(12c) Unlike Aristotle, Plato’s writings do not stray from the theme of philosophia, that is, the moral salvation of the individual by love of Wisdom and Virtue. (Aristotle, in contrast, delved into every form of science.) It would be strange for Plato to put aside his immense project of individual salvation to embark on a scientific treatise on political science.
(12d) Read literally, Plato’s Republic contains numerous implausibilities and nonsense, such as the holding of wives in common, the sanctioning of eugenics and slavery, and the endorsement of government lying. Read as a political treatise, the Republic is absurd and amateurish. But read as an allegory it is accurate, sublime, deeply relevant, and a work worthy of someone regarded as the West’s greatest philosopher.
(12e) The most emblematic sections of the Republic, namely the central discussions of the Cave, the Sun, and the Divided Line, have little practical relevance to political science. But they are of utmost importance to solving the problem of how to govern the city of the soul.
13. We now proceed to outline Plato’s model for the optimal governance of the psyche. Our interpretative key is that the citizens referred to in Plato’s Republic correspond to subpersonalities of the individual psyche.
14. Citizens (subpersonalities) are roughly grouped into three categories: Workers, Soldiers, and Guardians. It’s not difficult to see how these may correspond to different classes of subpersonalities, but this detail need not concern us at present; it suffices to note that, in the Republic, each class contains many individual citizens (subpersonalities). Due partly to the sheer number of citizens, some system of government for psychopolis, and one more complex than a simple committee, is needed. We may find models, Plato suggests, by examining how actual cities are governed.
15. In Book 8 of the Republic, Plato considers a variety of forms of civil government: monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy (rule by honor/status), oligarchy, democracy (including mob rule), and tyranny. In each case he makes a point to say that it corresponds to a form of inner self-governance. (Indeed, we can easily see examples of personality structures that correspond to each of these five types of civil government.)
16. When each inner citizen is concerned only with narrow self-interest, there is inevitable conflict in the polity; there then tends to be a progression from more benign to more tyrannical forms of self-government.
17. Plato agrees with modern subpersonality theorists that there is a common tendency towards development of an autocratic or tyrannical subpersonality. However whereas some modern theorists seem most concerned about an overly moralistic autocrat, Plato more often associates inner tyranny with a disproportionate attachment to some pleasure or appetite (e.g., addiction). Mendlovic’s theory of how inner totalitarianism may develop (see Lester, 2012, p. 3) is more in line with Plato’s.
18. Plato’s solution to inner faction and conflict is the Rule of Wisdom (philosophia). In modern terms this would correspond to a psyche where subpersonalities anchor their construct systems on core values (eternal verities), rather than transient pleasures and narrow self-interest.
19. The prisoners in Plato’s cave symbolize subpersonalities which have not attained to right reasoning (based on core values), and are instead chained to egoistic, pleasure-seeking delusion (parataxic distortion).
20. In Plato’s allegory, climbing out of the cave and seeing the Sun symbolizes an ascent of the mind in peak experiences and plateau experiences, giving it a vision of eternal verities, on which basis it may then develop nondistorted construct systems and rules of action.
21. The philosopher king for Plato symbolizes the development of a new ruling or leading (Greek: hegemonikon) subpersonality. One function of this subpersonality is to educate other subpersonalities (expressed allegorically as the philosopher, having himself escaped the cave and seen Truth, returns to help liberate the other prisoners).
22. In a later work, the Statesman, Plato continues to allegorically explore the theme of what qualities make for the best (internal) leader. He likens optimal leadership to art, music, shepherding, and weaving, as opposed to ruling dogmatically and arbitrarily.
23. Throughout his works Plato supplies several means by which a person may experience ultimate truths, thereby helping to constellate the new philosopher king subpersonality, and to educate and harmonize other subpersonalities. Roughly speaking, three means of ascent are presented: dialectic (ascent by Truth), contemplation of Beauty), and moral excellence. In each case we may find parallels in Maslow’s writings to conditions which may trigger peak experiences.
24. Plato’s system differs from much modern personality theory in that it is an explicitly moral system. It allows for, in fact requires, the existence of objective, universally true moral principles. It also acknowledges that humans ought to be moral, and that moral error is something real, and with definite negative psychological sequelae.
25. Modern psychology, in contrast, has tended to follow (or lead) in the broader cultural tendency to consider all morality relative and conditioned (e.g., Freud, Skinner). This overall trend has contributed to a widespread dissociation of a traditionally recognized higher moral faculty (Conscience) from the rest of the psyche. Psychic balance and harmony require integration of moral Conscience into conscious psychic life.
26. Human beings have a telos, an intended optimal state designed by Nature. There exists a real, innate force of self-actualization. This means we are, so to speak, hard-wired to integrate the personality, which has definite implications for therapy and counseling. There is also an opposing innate self-destructive principle; this also has implications for therapy and counseling.
27. Understanding Plato’s Republic as an allegorical work on psychology has decided benefits. One is that we may mine from it important new insights about personality structure, dynamics, and integration.
28. Another is clinical: for some individuals, the study of Plato may be better for promoting personality integration and self-actualization, or removing obstacles to these, than psychotherapy.
29. Platonism has the same objective as traditional religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Vedanta, Buddhism, etc.) It may therefore be pursued in conjunction with traditional religion, and then the two are mutually supportive.
30. Just as it is helpful to travel with multiple maps, individual self-actualization is best pursued as a venture that is simultaneously scientific, philosophical, and religious.
Annas, Julia. The Inner City: Ethics Without Politics in the Republic. In: Platonic Ethics, Old and New. Ed. Julia Annas. Ithaca, 1999, pp. 72–95 (Ch. 4).
Carter, Rita. Multiplicity. New York: Little Brown, 2008.
Guthrie, William K. C. A History of Greek Philosophy. Vol. 4, Plato: The Man and His Dialogues: Earlier Period. Cambridge, 1986.
Kelly, George. The Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York, 1955.
Lester, David. A Multiple Self Theory of Personality. New York, 2010.
Lester, David. A multiple self theory of the mind. Comprehensive Psychology, 2012, 1, 5.
Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being. 2nd ed. New York, 1968.
Rowan, John. Subpersonalities: The People Inside Us. London, 1990.
Uebersax, John. Psychological Allegorical Interpretation of the Bible. Paso Robles: El Camino Real Books, 2012.
Uebersax, John. The Republic: Plato’s Allegory for the Human Soul. Online article. Last modified: August 29, 2014; accessed: January 12, 2017.
Uebersax, John. Psychological Correspondences in Plato’s Republic. Online article. Last modified: December 1, 2014; accessed: January 12, 2017.
Uebersax, John. Is Plato’s Republic About Psychology or Politics? What Can Bayes’ Rule Tell Us? Online article. Last modified: December 21, 2015; accessed: January 12, 2017.
Uebersax, John. On the Psychological Meaning of Plato’s Nuptial Number. Online article. Last modified: January 10, 2016; accessed: January 12, 2017.
Uebersax, John. Plato Divinus: Is Plato a Religious Figure? (to appear, Kronos Philosophical Journal, 2017).
Waterfield, Robin (tr.). The Republic of Plato. Oxford, 1993 (re-issued 1998).
v2.0 January 2017
SINCE 2008 I’ve been making arguments in favor of supporting third-party presidential candidates even if they seem unlikely to win. What, for example, can you tell an associate who says, “If you vote for Jill Stein, then you’re only helping Trump get elected, just as Ralph Nader’s candidacy helped George W. Bush to win in 2000.” Here are some of the arguments. Do they make sense? Are they persuasive? Can they be stated more succinctly?
1. The lesser evil is still evil.
Today the world is in a descending spiral of violence and hatred. We need a president who will oppose US wars and military imperialism. Neither Trump nor Hillary fit the bill. Yet of the two, Hillary is more hawkish. She took a lead in the destruction of Libya by the US and NATO — a ruthless war for profit disguised by flimsy pretexts and false rumors. She also tried to pull the same stunt on a larger scale in Syria, and if elected might still get her way there.
Hillary evidently sees no problem with starting wars, imposing child-killing sanctions, supporting coup attempts, training rebels, funding insurgencies, and sponsoring false-flag operations for the sake of Wall Street and other special interests. This is documentable. We have her emails (well, at least the ones she didn’t destroy).
We are responsible for the actions of officials we vote for. If people vote for Hillary, either not knowing what she’s done in Libya and Syria or because they haven’t bothered to find out, then they are morally responsible for any unjust wars she starts. The responsibility would be even greater than that of Bush supporters in 2000; at least people didn’t know Bush was a warmonger. They do in Hillary’s case.
2. It’s a racket.
The Wall Street system is setting you up. It’s giving you a forced choice between Trump and Clinton precisely to scare you into maintaining the Wall Street hegemony by voting against the more feared candidate. If you fall for it (as voters have consistently since 2000), then Wall Street will continue to work the same scam election after election. Nothing will ever change (except that candidates will get even scarier and the polarization and mistrust among citizens more extreme).
You should be angry about this and stop playing along! It’s like negotiating with terrorists.
3. It’s about more than the next four years.
In making an important choice, long-term outcomes matter more than immediate results. So, okay, suppose that many Democrats vote for Jill Stein, and Trump wins the general election. The world will not end (at least not because of that). We managed to survive eight years of George W. Bush, for example. And after that Obama became president. For all we know this all produced better results (from a Democrat perspective) than if Al Gore had been president from 2001 to 2008 followed by a George W. Bush presidency from 2009 to 2016!
The White House regularly passes between the two parties. If the Democrats lose it in 2016, they may win it back in 2020 or 2024. And in the long run, that might be better for Democrats.
We simply don’t know — and that’s the point. In a case like this it’s better to make a choice based on rock-solid principles — like the fact that US militarism is wrong and it is our absolute duty as citizens to oppose it — than based on vague speculations about what could or might happen if, say, Trump wins.
If Clinton loses because of Jill Stein in 2016, it would give the DNC a well-deserved spanking; they might just come back in 2020 with a real presidential candidate and an anti-war platform!
And what about, say, 50 years ahead? If Wall Street continues to run the world we are in danger of descending into a dystopian nightmare. Now on way or the other we’re stuck with a Wall Street president in 2016 (assuming Bernie isn’t nominated). But the sooner we start voting for third-party candidates, the sooner the journey to a better future begins. When precisely do we intend to get off the merry-go-round if not now? What’s gained by waiting? The same system clever enough to cajole us with saying, “no, just one more time” is clever enough to come up with equally and more nefarious tactics in future elections.
Whatever else is true about it, the Wall Street system is smart. And maybe smarter than us, too — but in any case in complete control of the agenda, which is the next best thing. We cannot out-strategize the Wall Street system, so we must rise above it. Our only sure defense against being deceived and manipulated election after election is to follow the certain prompting of our deepest Conscience. And that tells us these wars are wrong.
4. It’s about more than elections.
Voting is sacred. We have a responsibility to other citizens to vote in an intelligent and moral way. If you vote ‘tactically’ (e.g., voting for Clinton merely to prevent Trump from winning) then, in a sense, you’ve lied to your fellow citizens.
Suppose each ballot contained the instructions “please vote for the person you think is *most qualified*, even if that person is unlikely to win.” Then voting your true preference would be a gesture of honesty and good faith. It would say to others, “Even though I will not win, I will inform you, with my vote, what I think *should* be.”
When you vote your ideals, others see that your and their ideals are the same. It gives ideals more power to change society.
It also increases love in society as others see fellow citizens who are morally courageous. It creates a new consensus of honesty and integrity.
But if we’re a society of compromisers, that has the opposite effect. It causes fellow citizens to become cynical and mercenary.
Remember what we tell children: “Just do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may. *Trust* that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Believe that the universe takes care of people who do the right thing.”
5. What if everybody did that? (WIEDT)
Game theorists recognize tactical voting as an example of a social dilemma. A social dilemma occurs when, if every individual seeks to maximize personal gain, the outcome is worse for everyone. Nuclear weapons proliferation is a classic example. At one level it’s entirely rational for a country to build up a nuclear arsenal for self-defense. But because all countries think like this, the end result is a world where everyone has nuclear weapons. Then nobody is safe. Yet despite this, each country feels compelled to acquire the most sophisticated and destructive weapons it can. Acting ‘rationally’ (in this limited sense) leads inexorably to outcomes that no rational agent would want.
Some moral theorists suggest we are at a crossroads in human evolution. Unless we soon find a generic solution to modern social dilemmas, then, between the effects of global warming, pollution, competition for food and resources, and advancements in weaponry, we might not survive much longer. What’s needed, these theorists say, is the emergence of a new ethos in which people habitually ‘think globally’ in all their moral choices. In short, we must become a species where we routinely ask before acting, “what if everybody did that?” (WIEDT), and let the answer guide our action.
How would the WIEDT principle apply here? Well if everyone voted for Trump or Hillary, we’d be endorsing with massive popular support the evil Wall Street war machine.
And what if everybody voted for Jill Stein? Then we’d end US wars and militarism. Therefore this is the moral choice.
There are plenty of more arguments, but this is enough to get started.
THE OTHER day I visited with interest (and some dismay) the website for the United States foreign assistance programs.
It claims that our country is planning to devote $33.9 billion in fiscal year 2017 to help foreign countries.
Ignoring the $8.3 billion in military assistance, this still leaves a respectable $25.6 billion dedicated to economic and humanitarian assistance.
Or is it respectable? Who today is so innocent as not to suspect that much of our so-called economic assistance is really a way of steering the economy, infrastructure and values of a foreign country to render it more exploitable?
It need not be so. I propose to my fellow Americans an alternative.
The current US population is something over 300 million. Were each person to contribute a mere 33 cents annually (parents paying the amount for infants and young children), we would easily raise $100 million.
Each year we could single out one amongst the family of nations, and bestow on this nation, as a gesture of pure friendship, some great gift purchased with it.
The first stipulation would be that there are no strings attached. We seek nothing in return for the gift, except the benefit of the recipient and the honor of making it.
The second is that the gift must have nothing to do with economics or materialist values. We would wish, rather, to give in the name of eternal friendship between the people of that country and our own.
The most suitable gifts, I suggest, would be libraries, museums, parks, gardens and monuments. Perhaps there are others, but I personally would not like to see the list extended too far beyond these definite examples of non-material goods.
The figure of $100 million, or perhaps as much as twice that, would suffice for a truly magnificent gift, yet at the same time is sufficiently restrained as to not seem crass. By comparison, the new Library of Alexandria, Egypt cost $200 million, the Sifang Art Museum in Nanji, China, $279 million, and the MuCEM of Marseille, $260 million.
I have in mind one historical precedent for this, namely a library for the University of Leuven which the American people (independently of their government) donated to the people of Belgium following World War I.
To consider the premise from the reverse perspective, consider the affection which Americans retain to this day to their French cousins in gratitude for the gift of the Statue of Liberty.
An examination of current foreign aid recipients shows we now favor poor nations and generally ignore more prosperous countries like Japan and Canada. But in friendship we should not make such distinctions. If I may, I would like to nominate Japan, a great friend whom we take for granted, as the first recipient.
To merely begin this program would, besides the immediate result of honoring our old friends and making new ones, have the effect of changing history. It would become immediately apparent to all how easy and, relatively speaking, inexpensive this is, and how much vastly superior it is as a foreign policy than war, competition and exploitation. It would signal nothing less than a turning point in human evolution. Henceforth the advanced level of our technology and the vast power of collective capital would be matched by our wisdom and charity.
To speed the progress of so worthy an endeavor let some wealthy American — for example,Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg — take the first step by supplying, for one year only, some substantial fraction (but not to exceed 50%) of the total. In return they would go down in history as one of the great benefactors of humanity.
Or let those whose reputations suffer from past errors or partisan connections demonstrate their patriotism and good will to all — a George Soros or the Koch Brothers — by taking the first step. They will then be applauded by all for their magnanimity.
A neighboring tribe became jealous of their success, and began to raid them, stealing their cattle and corn. The chief then raised an army of strong men. The next time the enemy tribe raided them, the chief and his men delivered a sound defeat, and they never attacked again. Nevertheless to discourage further mischief the tribe decided to keep a some men permanently armed and ready to defend them.
The chief grew old and his son then became leader. Unlike the father, the son was selfish and greedy. No matter how much he had, he always wanted more. He depleted the public treasury until he had amassed a great fortune. Then he began to eye the wealth of neighboring tribes, and sent raiders to steal from them. When the neighboring tribes protested and tried to defend themselves, he sent soldiers to intimidate them and demand tribute. The other tribes, weaker, began to submit.
But the people did not like this. They decided to hold an election to select a new chief.
Yet the son was crafty, and he conceived a scheme to retain his position. He went to the women of the tribe and spoke as follows: “I see how the men of the tribe oppress you women. They make you grind corn, cook, and wash clothes all day, while they enjoy hunting and sitting around the fire smoking their pipes. But if you vote for me in the election, I promise to fix things. I will improve your status relative to the men, and redress this great injustice.” This met with much approval with the women, and they agreed to vote for him.
Then the son went to the farmers and similarly spoke: “I know how much difficulty you have with the cattlemen. They steal your water, and let their cows eat and trample your crops. They grow rich while you grow poor. But if you vote for me, I will fix things. I will see to it that the cattlemen are put in their place. I will take some of their land and money for you to distribute amongst yourself.” This too met with much approval with the farmers.
And so it happened that when the election occurred, all the women and all the farmers voted for the chief; and although nobody else voted for him, he received enough votes to achieve victory. Once secure in his position, he resumed his previous behavior, only more boldly and on a larger scale. He now openly raided neighboring tribes, stealing their things. He hired mercenaries to form a large and invincible army, and taxed his people to pay for it. As the son ruthlessly plundered all the neighbors, the tribe became hated and held in contempt by all.
In time, even the weather changed. The earth would not yield her crops, and the cattle grew thin. The tribe became poor, suffered, and demanded a new leader. Yet every time an election was held, the crafty chief applied his scheme. No matter how poor the tribe became, there were always groups who believed they had less than others, and by exaggerating these disparities and promising to fix them he continued to win. And here is the paradox: that while each group acted rationally — for indeed inevitable differences in the distribution of things among the tribe occurred — when each group only sought greater justice for itself, all suffered greatly.
Thus it was that the people, by continually fighting amongst themselves about how to distribute what little resources remained, collectively had less and less, until they ceased to be a tribe at all, so that now even their name is forgotten.