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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
The Monomyth of Fall and Salvation
(A summary appears following the article.)
We address here what can be termed the monomyth of fall and salvation. By monomyth we mean a core myth that is expressed in different forms by different cultures. By fall and salvation here we do not mean so much the ultimate eternal destiny of a soul, but a cycle which recurs frequently within ones life — perhaps even on a daily basis.
We borrow the term monomyth from the writings of the noted mythographer, Joseph Campbell. Campbell (1949) explored in detail a different, but related and somewhat overlapping monomyth, which we might call the heroic quest. The heroic myth somewhat neglects the question of why the hero needs to go on a quest to begin with; it’s as though the quest is the result of someone else’s difficulties or negligence. The fall and salvation monomyth…
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Question: I have heard that Platonism ought to be approached as a ‘therapy of the soul’, or literally as psychotherapy? Can you explain this?
Answer: Yes. A central premise of Plato’s writings is that human beings customarily operate at a ‘fallen’ level of mental functioning. Platonism aims to correct this problem.
To avoid getting too mired in the modern medical model, we could alternatively think of this fallen state not as a disease, but as immaturity. Seen this way, Platonism’s purpose is to assist human beings in developing their full, natural capacity as intellectual, moral, and spiritual beings.
Q: What are the characteristics of this ‘fallen’ state of mental functioning?
Anxiety and worry, negative thinking, distraction, unhappiness, to name a few. The list is almost endless. A simpler way of looking at things is by analogy to attention deficit disorder (ADD): our habitual condition of mind is, relative to our…
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Superman: Unanswered Questions
Everyone likes Superman. He’s a modern legend. A heroe’s hero. But there are a lot of funny things about him that somebody really needs to clear up.
Here are some of the more obvious questions:
Everybody knows that kryptonite incapacitates Superman. So why don’t his archenemies just use kryptonite every time they fight him? Instead, it seems like an occasional, capricious thing with them. Like all of a sudden they remember, “Oh yeah, Supermen can’t handle kryptonite.” But the rest of the time it never occurs to them.
Lead protects Superman from kryptonite. Why doesn’t Superman line his suit with lead? Then he would always be protected.
By the way, kryptonite is still not listed in the periodic table of elements.
The bad guys in Superman stories are always called his “archenemies.” Does he have any regular enemies, or just archenemies?
Superman must have incredible metabolic requirements. Does he get this from food, or from another source? It must be the latter. You could probably show with math that the amount of energy he expends in a typical super adventure is more than someone would get eating Baskin-Robbins banana splits nonstop for 100 years.
The Superman “Eulogy”
The 1950’s television show began with the following famous introduction:
Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s Superman!
Yes, it’s Superman — strange visitor from another planet who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman — who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent (mild mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper), fights a never ending battle for Truth, Justice and the American Way.
This, of course, is very inspiring, but it bears close scrutiny. Let’s examine it.
Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Superman can fly, right? If you can fly, who cares if you can leap tall buildings? Unless maybe the point here is that he leaps buildings by a different method than he flies by. Maybe he flies using anti-gravity or something, but leaps buildings using very strong leg muscles.
Update! According to the Wikipedia, the old Fleischer cartoon company (Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman) is “responsible for Superman being able to fly.” When they began making Superman cartoons, they complained that a “leaping” Superman, though it might work in panel comics, was “silly looking” in a moving image medium. Hence Superman became a flying hero. The phrase of the cartoon prolog was accordingly changed from “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” to “able to soar higher than any aircraft.” Why the 1950’s television series reverted to the earlier formula is anyone’s guess.
By the way, the animation in Fleischer Superman cartoons was way ahead of its time.
(Speaking of Wikipedia, here’s an article on Powers and abilities of Superman. ) Now to continue…
Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman!
Is it really that hard to visually distinguish Superman from a bird or plane? When he flies he doesn’t look anything like either of them. He doesn’t flap wings. And there are no contrails. If anything, he might be mistaken for a UFO.
Yes, it’s Superman! Strange visitor from another planet…
Is Superman “strange?” Unusual, perhaps; or unique. But he’s not really strange, is he? Except for his powers he really seems fairly ordinary—especially compared to some of the villains he fights—giant robots, creatures with tentacles, etc. All in all, Superman is fairly normal.
And about this “visitor” part. What does that mean? A visitor is someone who comes for a while and then leaves. This seems to imply that Superman is going to leave. Otherwise they’d call him an “immigrant” or “refugee” or “asylum seeker” from another planet. When is he going to leave? Why? Where is he going to?
Does this reveal something we’re not supposed to know? Like the world is going to blow up soon, so that there won’t be an Earth and Superman will have to fly to some other planet?
…with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.
Are there other kinds of men besides mortal men? Anyway, it seems like this confuses the issues of mortality/immortality and having super powers. These are really separate things, aren’t they? It might be more precise to say “powers beyond those of non-super men.”
Superman–who can change the course of mighty rivers,
Well, that is impressive! How would he do this? By digging a channel very quickly to divert the river? Or maybe by using his super breath to make a huge wind that changes the river’s course?
It’s worth noting here that Superman has never actually done this. It ‘s just a hypothetical power. Seen in that light, it seems funny they would pick this particular example; it’s not the kind of thing people think about much, unless you’re a river diversion engineer or something obscure like that. They could as easily say, “who can change the course of hurricanes,” which might be more relevant.
Or they could allude to an even mightier hypothetical power—like “Superman, who could hurl up the sun like a softball all the way to another galaxy” or something like that.
Update! After writing this I found that one of the several variations of the opening prolog of the Fleischer Superman cartoons was in fact:
Faster than a streak of lightning, More powerful than the pounding surf, Mightier than a roaring hurricane,
bend steel in his bare hands…
What? They’ve just said he could change the course of mighty rivers. That’s probably stronger than 1 million men combined! But—bending steel? Any circus strongman can do that. They might as well say he can tear phone books in half or lift really heavy rocks. Sheesh!
Because of his powers, don’t you think the U.S. government would try to draft him or something? Like, why spend trillions of dollars fighting wars when you could just send Superman?
And not just national defense. They’d probably want to use Superman to fight the war on drugs, build a lot of highways, or put satellites into orbit.
Would he do these things? If Congress passed a law, or maybe if all citizens got together and amended the Constitution to make him do our bidding, wouldn’t he, patriotic guy that he is, just go along with it?
But if, say, Congress passed a law that Superman had to obey them, and he refused, how would they enforce it? The only recourse would be either (1) to cut a deal with Superman’s enemies, maybe offering them immunity or a lot of money to capture him; or (2) to use kryptonite to make him to cooperate. The second alternative is more likely because it could involve defense contractors like Lockheed and Halliburton, who would make a lot of money designing and deploying kryptonite devices.
Probably Superman would hire good attorneys (friends of Perry White) and take it to the Supreme Court. (Something to think about when voting — you don’t want a President who’d appoint namby-pamby Justices who are too soft on the Superman-slave issue.)
Superman could easily win every event in the Olympics, except maybe synchronized swimming. (Badminton is questionable—it’s not clear whether he has super fine-motor control.) That he hasn’t participated and hogged all the Olympic glory reflects well on Superman. Most people would probably want to do it at least once, just to prove the point.
What would happen if Superman played pro sports? It might be fun to watch at first, but would probably soon get boring. They’d eventually have to change the rules to negate the advantages of his super powers–like the NBA did with Wilt Chamberlain.
Still, you’d think Superman could at least make a Wrestlemania appearance. He could make millions and give the money to charity.
One naturally wonders how Superman would do in a fight against various other superheroes. For example:
Batman. Ordinarily, this would be no contest. Batman doesn’t have super strength at all. He can barely knock out a human villain with a punch. Basically, he’s just a regular guy in a bat suit.
On the other hand, Batman is the one superhero you’d most expect could get his hands on kryptonite, since (1) he’s rich; (2) he’s good with technology; and (3) he’s friends with the Gotham City police, and could borrow stuff they’ve confiscated from archvillains.
Spiderman. There should be no doubt but that Superman would kick Spiderman’s spider-butt. Spiderman couldn’t even beat Supergirl. Even Batman would probably beat him.
A few years ago, publishers D.C. Comics and Marvel Comics collaborated on “Superman vs. Spiderman.” But it was ridiculous: Spiderman’s powers were temporarily boosted to super levels by archenemy Lex Luthor. You can’t cheat like that, even in fiction. I mean, they could have as easily given Spiderman a potion that made him 1000 feet tall. With Superman and Spiderman at their normal strength levels, Superman would obviously win.
The Incredible Hulk. This is the most promising match-up of all. Superman and Hulk have about equal physical strength. But, owing to all his other powers (heat vision, super breath, super speed, etc.) Superman would likely win. Besides, the Hulk is incredibly dumb, so Superman could easily trick him.
Superman and the Hulk have fought a few times in the comics. In this example you can see what I mean. Superman has a really patronizing attitude towards the Hulk. Like he’s talking to a dog or something.
The comic book battles themselves are indecisive. The only real conclusion is that if these guys fight there is a huge amount of collateral damage, so you probably don’t want to be around.
Wonder Woman. This is a hard one to answer because, whereas Superman’s powers are well established, Wonder Woman’s are more vague. For one thing, she has powers that verge on the magical, which takes us off into a completely different realm. Anway, the point is moot, because Superman would have a hard time fighting a woman.
Superman and Wonder Woman fought once, but I don’t think it was meant to be taken seriously. It was just a excuse to sell comics:
Hercules. Superman would win. Hercules was basically like a very, very strong man (or maybe technically a demi-god – but not a god). For example, if Hercules threw the discus, he would beat all the other competitors by a wide margin. But Superman would send the discus clear out of sight—into outer space, if he wanted!
This question, however, has an interesting spinoff. The most famous Hercules movie actor, Steve Reeves, has the same last name as George Reeves, the actor who played Superman on television. So if we asked instead which of these actors would win in a fight, the question is potentially answerable, though we will probably never know. Steve Reeves had a lot of muscles, but George Reeves looked pretty strong, too:
|George Reeves (R.I.P)||
Godzilla. Godzilla is not usually thought of as a superhero. But sometimes, he sides with humans against rival monsters or aliens from the future, so he might qualify. In any case, I think Superman would probably beat Godzilla.
Superman has never fought Godzilla one-on-one, but there was a three-way battle between him, Godzilla and King Kong once.
Pleasanton Tea Party Draws Several Thousand
Yesterday there was a large regional Tea Party for the Bay Area held at the Pleasanton Fairgrounds. I attended. A security person estimated there to have been 7,000 to 10,000 total attendees throughout the day. Unlike some other tea parties, this one lasted until 7:00 pm, giving people a chance to drop by after work. Therefore this probably gives a better indication of public interest, since a lot of people who would like to attend Tea Parties work.
There were a couple of dozen booths for political candidates and political action groups. I arrived just in time to hear Carly Fiorina, a Republican challenger to Senator Boxer’s California Senate seat. Carly gave a great speech.
People in attendance exhibited a cross-section of political orientations, but all were concerned about (1) high taxes, (2) the national debt, and (3) adherence to the Constitution. The speakers were intelligent and stayed on the issues.
What impressed me was how the attendees represented a cross-section of sensible, ‘red-blooded’ Americans – the salt of the earth kind of folk. There is no way to describe them, no convenient stereotype – in large part because these are not the kind of people you tend to notice. A word that comes to mind is “silent majority”.
I’m making this post partly to document the size of the rally. Searching the news today, I couldn’t find much press coverage of the Tea Parties around the country. (Maybe more stories will appear later today). No doubt there will be attempts to misrepresent the rallies, or biased reporting. But I was there and saw this one. It was huge, and in any way that I could see completely positive.
I used the opportunity to pratice my version of satyagraha: as much as possible, I shut up and listened to other people, seeking to learn what I could from others.