Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a philosophy class. The professor has been talking about ethics.
Professor: OK, if we’re going to discuss goodness and justice - what makes an individual good or a society just or virtuous-then we need to start with the ancient Greeks. So we'll start with Plato-Plato's philosophy. Now, some of you may have studied Plato's philosophy in some other course, so this might be easy. OK, at the risk of boring you, let me give you just an overview of Plato’s ethical theory. Plato says the soul has-and by "soul" he simply means that which animates the body, gives it life-anyway, he says that the soul has three separate parts …called, um, "faculties," which I’ll come back to. He believed that goodness in an individual was to be found when the three parts of the soul worked together, when they weren't in conflict, but existed in harmony. A good or just person will have a soul in which the three faculties work well together.
So how does he arrive at that analysis? Well, he starts out in his very famous work The Republic, um, he starts out by saying it's very difficult to get a grasp on what the individual's soul looks like. So, to get some idea of what the individual human soul is like, he says we should study the structure of society-what kinds of people and activities every society has to have. He argues that every society has to have three groups of people: workers, soldiers, and leaders. And each has a sort of defining characteristic.
Every society has to have workers like farmers or, um, people who work in factories, producing all the things that we need for everyday life. And according to Plato, the key feature of workers is that they’re focused on their own desires or appetites- interested in satisfying the needs of the body. So workers are associated with desire... OK?
Now, if you live in a society that has a good amount of wealth-um, good agriculture, good industry-other societies are probably going to try to take it. So you need a class of soldiers, who are supposed to protect the state from external threats. Well, these soldiers, well, they're going to be in dangerous situations quite frequently, so you need people with, um, a ... a lot of high spirit-uh, an emotional type of individual. Emotion is what characterizes this group.
And then, Plato says, the third group you need is leaders. Their main role will be to think rationally, to use their reason or intellect to make decisions. As decision makers, leaders determine what the state is to do, how the affairs of the citizens are to be run.
Plato then asks himself: OK, assume we’ve got such a society with these three groups. When will this society be a good, um, a ... a just society? Well, you can only have a good society when its three parts are working well together-each doing its proper thing. And Plato believes this can only happen if workers and soldiers learn moderation, or self-control.
But why? Why do workers and soldiers have to learn self-control? Well, how can a society flourish if the workers and soldiers don’t control their desires and emotions? Plato thinks that if they aren't under control, workers will sleep too much and play too much, so they’re not going to get their jobs done. And soldiers need to channel their high-spiritedness in a certain direction, precisely by being courageous.
But you're not going to get that automatically. You need to teach them this kind of moderation. So you need an educational system that first of all will train the leaders, so that they’ll make good decisions, so they’ll know what's wise. Then make leaders responsible-um, uh, turn over to them the education of the other two groups. And through education, build a society so that the workers and soldiers learn to use their intellect to control their desires and emotions. If you had all that, then, for Plato, you'd have a good or just society.
Now, take that picture - that social, political picture-and apply it to the individual person. You remember about the soul? That it consists of three separate parts, or faculties? Can you guess what they are? Desires, emotions, and intellect-the characteristics associated with the three groups of society. And can you guess how Plato defines a good or just person? Well, it’s parallel to how he characterizes a good or just society. The three parts have to be in harmony. In each of us, our desires and emotions often get the better of us, and lead us to do foolish things. They're in conflict with the intellect. So, to get them to all work together, to coexist in harmony, every person needs to be shaped in the same way that we’ve shaped society-through the educational system. Individuals must be educated to use their intellect to control their emotions and desires. That’s harmony in the soul.