Saturday, 19 October 2013

380 BC, The Republic, Plato

Book Four 430 e -

'Self-discipline... [see footnote at the end of this selection for a discussion on the word translated here as 'self-discipline'] is surely a kind of order, a control of certain desires and appetites. So people use "being master of oneself" (whatever that means) and similar phrases as indications of it. Isn't that so?'
'But "master of oneself" is an absurd phrase. For if you're master of yourself you're presumably also subject to yourself, and so both master and subject. For there is only one person in question throughout.'

'What the expression is intended to mean, I think, is that there is a better and a worse element in the personality [Grk. Psuche] of each individual, and that when the naturally better element controls the worse then the man is said to be "master of himself", as a term of praise. But when (as a result of bad upbringing or bad company) the smaller forces of one's better element are overpowered by the numerical superiority of one's worse, then one is adversely criticized and said not to be master of oneself and to be in a state of indiscipline.'
'Which is quite reasonable.'
'Then look at our newly founded state,' I said, 'and you will find the first of these descriptions applies to it. For you will admit that it is right to call it master of itself, if we speak of self-discipline and self-mastery where the better part rules the worse.'
'Yes, I see; that's quite true.'
'And, what is more, the greatest number of variety of desires and pleasures and pains is generally to be found in children and women and slaves, and in the less respectable majority of so called free men.'
'While the simple and moderate desires, guided by reason and right judgement and reflection, are to be found in a minority who have the best natural gifts and best education.'
'This feature too you can see in our state, where the desires of the less respectable majority are controlled by the desires and the wisdom of the superior minority.'
'Yes, I can see that.'
'And so if any city is to be said to be master of its pleasures and desires, and of itself, ours must be.'
'That is certainly true.'
'Then on all these counts we can surely say it is self-disciplined.'

439 e

'The mind of the thirsty man... in so far as he is thirsty, simply wants to drink, and it is to that end that its energies are directed.'
'If therefore there is something in it that resists its thirst, it must be something in it other than the thirsty impulse which is dragging it like a wild animal to drink....'
'Must we not say that there is one element in their minds which bids them drink, and a second which prevents them and masters the first?'
'So it seems.'
'And isn't the element of prevention, when present, due to our reason, while the urges and impulses are due to our feelings and unhealthy cravings?'
'It looks like it.'
'Then we shan't be without justification if we recognize these two elements as distinct. We can call the reflective element in the mind the reason, and the element with which it feels hunger and thirst, and the agitations of sex and other desires, the element of irrational appetite-- an element closely connected with satisfaction and pleasure.'
'Yes... .'
'Well, we've defined two elements in the mind, then,' I said. 'Now, is indignation [Grk. Thumos], and the part in which we feel it, a third element, or is it of the same nature as one of the two we have defined?'
'Maybe it's the same as appetite,' he said.
'...don't we often see... instances of a man whose desires are trying to force him to do something his reason disapproves of, cursing himself and getting indignant at their violence? It's like a struggle between political factions, with indignation fighting on the side of reason. But I don't suppose you've ever observed indignation, either in yourself or in anyone else, taking the side of the desires and resisting the decision of reason.'
'No, certainly not.'
'And what about a man who... thinks he's being wronged? Then his indignation boils over and fights obstinately for what he thinks right, perservering and winning through hunger and cold and all similar trials. It won't give up the struggle till death or victory, or till reason calls it back to heel and calms it, like a shepherd calls his dog.'
'That describes it exactly,' he agreed; 'and,' he went on, 'in our state we said that the Auxiliaries were to be like watch dogs obeying the Rulers, who were the shepherds of the community.'
'...we've changed our mind about this third element in the mind. We were wondering if it was something like appetite; now we have gone to the other extreme and are saying that, when there's a conflict in the mind, it's more likely to take up arms for reason.'
'That's quite true.'
'Then is it different from reason? Or is it a form of reason, so that there are not three, but only two elements in the mind, reason and appetite?  The state was made up of three classes, businessmen, auxiliaries, and governors; is the mind like it in having spirit as a third element, which, unless corrupted by bad upbringing, is reason's natural auxiliary?'
'There must be a third element.'
'Yes there must,' I said, 'if spirit can be shown to be distinct from reason, as it is from appetite.'
'But that's not difficult to prove,' he answered. 'You can see it in children, who are full of spirit as soon as they're born; but some never seem to acquire any degree of reason... .'
'That puts it very well,' I agreed; 'and you can see the same thing happening in animals. There is further evidence in the passage from Homer... where Odysseus "strikes himself on the chest and calls his heart to order." It is clear enough that Homer here makes one element rebuke another, distinguishing the power to reflect about good and evil from unreasoning passion [Thumos].

'Well, it's been a rough passage, but we have pretty well reached agreement that there are the same three elements in the personality of the individual as there are in the state.'
'So the reason ought to rule, having the wisdom and foresight to act for the whole, and the spirit ought to obey and support it.'
'And this concord between them is effected, as we said, by a combination of intellectual and physical training, which tunes up the reason by a training in rational argument and higher studies, and tones down and soothes the element of "spirit" [Grk. ] by harmony and rhythm.'
'When these two elements have been so brought up, and trained and educated to their proper function, they must be put in charge of appetite, which forms the greater part of each man's make-up and is naturally insatiable. They must prevent it taking its fill of the so-called physical pleasures, for otherwise it will get too large and strong to mind its own business and will try to subject and control the other elements, which it has no right to do, and so wreak the life of all of them.'
'Then don't we call him self-disciplined when all these three elements are in friendly and harmonious agreement, when reason and its subordinates are all agreed that reason should rule and there is no civil war among them?'
'That is exactly what we mean by self-control or discipline in a city or in an individual.'
'It must be some kind of civil war between these same three elements, when they interfere with each other and trespass on each other's functions, or when one of them rebels against the whole to get control when it has no business to do so, because its natural role is to be a slave to the rightfully controlling elements. This sort of situation, when the elements of the mind are confused and displaced, is what constitutes injustice, indiscipline, cowardice, ignorance and, in short, wickedness of all kinds.'


'I think that some of the unnecessary pleasures and desires are lawless and violent. Perhaps we are all born with them, but they are disciplined by law and by a combination of reason and the better desires till in some people they are got rid of altogether, or rendered frew and feeble, though in some they retain their numbers and strength.'
'But what are the desires you mean?'
'The sort that wake while we sleep, when the reasonable and humane part of us is asleep and its control relaxed, and our fierce bestial nature, full of food and drink, rouses itself and has its fling and tries to secure its own kind of satisfaction. As you know, there's nothing too bad for it and it's completely lost to all sense and shame. It doesn't shrink from attempting intercourse (as it supposes) with a mother or anyone else, man, beast or god, or from murder or eating forbidden food. There is, in fact, no folly nor shamelessness it will not commit.'
'That's perfectly true.'
'But a man of sound and disciplined character, before he goes to sleep, has wakened his reason and given it its fill of intellectual argument and inquirey; his desires he has neither starved nor indulged, so that they sink to rest and don't plague the highest part of him with their joys and sorrows, but leave it to pursue its investigations unhampered and on its own, and to its endeavours to apprehend things still unknown to it, whether past, present or future; the third, spirited, part of him he calms and keeps from quarrels so that he sleeps with an untroubled temper. Thus he goes to rest with the other two parts of him quietened, and his reasoning element stimulated, and is in a state to grasp the truth undisturbed by lawless dreams and visions.'
'That's exactly what happens.'
'We've been digressing, I know, but my point is this-- that even in the outwardly most respectable of us there is a terribly bestial and immoral type of desire, which manifests itself particularly in dreams. Do you think I'm talking sense, and do you agree?'
'Yes, I agree.'
'And isn't there... a touch of the tyrant about a man who's drunk?'
'And the madman whose mind is unhinged imagines he can control gods and men and is quite ready to try.'
'That's certainly true.'
'Then a precise definition of a tyrannical man is one who, either by birth or habit or both, combines the characteristics of drunkenness , lust, and madness.'
'When a master passion within has absolute control of a man's mind, I suppose life is a round of extravagant feasts and orgies and sex and so on.'
'It's bound to be.'
'And there will be a formidable extra crop of desires growing day by day and night by night and needing satisfaction.'
'There will indeed.'
'So whatever income he has will soon be expended... .'
'When these sources fail, his large brood of fierce desires will howl aloud, and he will inevitably be stung to madness by them, and still more by the master passion under which they all do armed service, and will cast about to find someone to rob by force or fraud.'
'That's sure to happen,' he said.
'Plunder he must have from all available sources or his life will be torment and agony.'
'He must.'
'We can sum it all up by saying that the worst type of man behaves as badly in his waking life as we said some men do in their dreams.'


'Those... who have no experience of wisdom and goodness, and do nothing but have a good time, spend their life straying between the bottom and middle..., and never rise to reach the true top, nor achieve any real fulfilment and unadulterated pleasure. They bend over their tables, like sheep with heads bent over their pasture with eyes on the ground, they stuff themselves and copulate, and in their greed for more they kick and butt each other with hooves and horns of steel, and kill each other because they are not satisfied, as they cannot be while they fill with unrealities a part of themselves which is unreal and insatiable. [cont.]


Translators note: The word translated 'self-discipline' [Gk. ] means in origin 'sound sense', and has two main meanings in ordinary Greek usage: (a) 'prudence', good sense; (b) 'temperance', moderation, or, in the words of Liddell and Scott, 'control over the sensual desires'. The older translations 'prudence' and 'temperance' are hardly suitable today, and in view of Plato's insistence on the element of control ('being master of oneself'), self-control, self-restraint, or self-discipline seem the best alternatives.

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