- Plato’s Moral Psychology: Intellectualism, the Divided Soul, and the Desire for Good by Rachana Kamtekar
This bold and wide-ranging study aims to revise a common picture of Plato’s thinking about human motivation. Kamtekar identifies the picture as one whereby Plato’s Socrates (i) initially embraces intellectualism because he holds that an agent is motivated only by rational considerations based on her own good, and (ii) rejects that standpoint in the Republic with the doctrine of the tripartite soul. Kamtekar argues instead that, for Socrates, “human beings have a natural desire for our own good,” and that this principle is the theoretical basis for both Socratic intellectualism and the tripartite soul (3).
Chapter 1 is methodological and emphasizes the importance of dialogical context. Specifically, it stresses that Socrates often offers “hypotheses” meant to elaborate the theoretical basis of positions adopted by himself or others. That sets up the discussion of chapter 2, where Kamtekar argues that Socrates’s seeming assent in the Protagoras to the conception of motivation in (i) above, and to ethical hedonism, is part of an attempt to supply hypotheses explaining Protagoras’s doctrine that virtue can be taught and, in so doing, to secure the thesis that virtue is knowledge against the conception of akrasia espoused by “the many.” Socrates’s assent should not be assumed to show that he embraces the hypotheses in question.
Chapter 3 focuses on the involuntariness of wrongdoing. That commitment is rooted in the principle that “human nature seeks, and so we engage in purposive action in order to secure, our own real good” (69). An action is to be considered involuntary when it frustrates one’s attainment of one’s real good, even if, at the time of acting, one thought the action would help realize that end. The action’s involuntariness is to be understood not in terms of ignorance (93) but instead as follows: one’s wanting the means to one’s good is weaker than one’s wanting the end, and “in the condition that doing x [the means] . . . undermines y’s [the end’s] coming-about, I don’t want to do x [the means]” (85; see also 86, 92, 129). That interpretation is drawn largely from an analysis of the Gorgias. The Meno supplements the account by adding that one does not desire things one believes are good unless they are actually good (100–101, 129).
Chapter 4 turns to the divided soul of the Republic. As Kamtekar argues, Socrates there allows for multiple independently-operating sources of motivation, but he does not conceive of the non-rational ones as good-indifferent. His treatment of the soul is instead meant [End Page 160] to stress that the various sources of motivation are “equally part of our nature” (130). In advancing that idea, Socrates retracts his earlier position that one does not in fact desire actions one performs while thinking them good for oneself though they are in fact bad. His move is intended to address the implicit psychology of Glaucon’s challenge (Republic 2), “according to which because we want our own good, when we do things contrary to our own good, what we do is not only unwilling but also has its source in some power external to us” (140; see also 131–32). Socrates’s commitment to the idea that all the soul-parts are good-directed is shown by the way they are represented as agents pursuing the good under some description. In developing that idea in the second half of the chapter, Kamtekar explores the difficult question of how best to understand the ways the soul-parts interact and influence one another.
Chapter 5 fills out the general argument in the case of spirit (thumos) by defending the interpretation that it is fundamentally responsive to the reasoning part of the soul. The chapter then considers why Plato might have felt a need to separate the spirited from the rational part in the first place.
In the final chapter, Kamtekar...