Plato’s Empathy? Qualifying the Appetitive Aspect of Plato’s Tripartite Soul


Empathy is a relatively recent concept in western thought. There appears to be no known concept analogous to empathy in scholarly or academic research prior to the 18th century.[1] However, since the 19th century, empathy has been receiving an increasing amount of attention by a diversity of thinkers, including neuroscientists, phenomenologists, moral theorists, and psychologists.[2]Two big questions underlie the study of empathy. First, what exactly is empathy? Second, is empathy necessary or sufficient for moral action? While I am not able to answer these questions in this paper, I engage with this conversation through the idea that “empathy” is basically synonymous with knowing and feeling an emotional experience that is linked to another individual’s emotional experience.[3]Plato does not address empathy in the Republic, but he does argue the soul is composed of a rational aspect that is capable of acquiring knowledge, a spirited aspect that moves the whole soul toward the acquisition of knowledge, and an appetitive aspect that is incapable of acquiring knowledge but is instead linked with the emotions.[4]

Under this conception of the soul, knowledge is concomitant with reason and not directly related to emotion. Moreover, moral action is mediated by the rational aspect of the soul with the aid of the spirited aspect. If this is the case, then what are we to make of Plato’s theory of the soul today as it relates to empathy?[5] If one adheres to Plato’s theory of the soul, would empathy have a place in Plato’s theory, either ontologically or morally? If one is convinced by Plato’s theory of the soul and if Plato is correct in asserting that what occurs in the soul is analogous to what occurs in the polis, then would there be a place for empathy in Plato’s theory or does his philosophy exclude it necessarily?

In this paper, I examine Plato’s distinction between the epithumetikon(emotional and appetitive aspect of the soul) versus the logistikon(rational aspect of the soul) in the Republic by primarily engaging with Anne-Marie Schultz’s Plato’s Socrates as Narrator: A Philosophical Muse.[6]In the chapter entitled “Self-Mastery and Harmony in Plato’s Republic,” Schultz offers a compelling argument for Plato’s concept of justice in the soul as one of harmony instead of self-mastery.While I agree with Schultz that justice in the soul for Plato is best understood as harmony, I argue the harmony model does not resolve the tension at the core of the epithumetikon versus the logistikon hierarchy. The different aspects of the soul may not necessarily be oppositional, but they are still unequal.The disagreement, I argue, resides in the ambiguity of the term “harmony.”In the Republic, harmony does not mean equality. Instead, harmony means the epithumetikon must willfully accept the rightful rule of the logistikon.

I conclude with suggesting various ways in which, under the harmony model, empathy would or would not have a place in Plato’s conception of the soul and the polis.The question is: In the empathetic process, is reason utilizing emotion in order to acquire knowledge or is emotion utilizing reason in order to experience emotion? If the former, then empathy would have a place in Plato’s theory under the harmony model, because his theory allows for reason to utilize emotion in order to acquire knowledge. However, if the latter holds, then empathy would not have a place in Plato’s theory, because the latter implies reason is serving the ends of emotion.


What exactly empathy is has been widely argued. However, prima facie, it does not seem that empathy is a hierarchical process. Emotion and reason seem to be integrated in empathy toward a combined outcome of knowing and feeling an emotional experience that is linked to another individual’s emotional experience. Phenomenologists, psychologists and neuroscientists have significant disagreements about what exactly empathy is and the appropriate way to research empathy. The disagreement concerns whether it is, respectively, the experiential, behavioral and/or cognitive, or neurological aspects of empathy that are the most relevant areas of research.[7] However, there are some points of agreement across all of the disciplines. First, evidence strongly suggests empathy requires conceiving of the other as having a mind (as not being an object).[8] Second, evidence strongly suggests empathy requires conceiving of oneself as being distinct and separate from the other.[9] Third, empathy implies that one feels one’s own distinct emotional experience yet this experience is linked to knowledge of the other’s similar emotional experience.[10] These areas of agreement suggest both reason and emotion are incorporated into the empathetic process.[11] An incorporation of reason and emotion is required in order to conceive of the other as having a mind that is distinct from one’s own mind, to understand what physical and behavioral displays of pain and emotion are, to understand that such displays are linked to the other’s mind, and then to finally feel for oneself an emotional response to the other’s displays of pain and emotion.

Justice as Self-Mastery or Justice as Harmony?

In order to address the overarching issue of whether empathy has a place in Plato’s theory of the soul and the polis, let us begin by examining Plato’s conception of justice in order to argue for a particular conception of Plato’s theory of the soul and polis. Schutlz’s“harmony model” provides a compelling argument for an interpretation of justice in Plato’s Republic that includes both emotion and reason.An interpretation of justice in the Republic that excludes emotion is best understood as what Schultz describes as the “self-mastery model.” In the self-mastery model, the logistikon must rule over the epithumetikon with the assistance of the thumetikon (spirited aspect of the soul), because the appetites are a hindrance to achieving the soul’s virtue.[12]Implied in this understanding of the soul is that the epithumetikon is “the lowest part of the soul” because “it presents numerous obstacles to our intellectual endeavors” by “constantly keep[ing] us oriented toward the satisfaction of our appetites and desires.”[13]

I agree with Schultz that the self-mastery model does not adequately account for all of the nuances in Socrates’dialectic. The self-mastery model does not adequately explain why Plato utilizes emotive, embodied and material world analogies in his process of acquiring knowledge. Nor does the self-mastery model adequately answer why some sorts of desires and emotions are appropriate but others are not. For example, why is the philosopher’s desire for knowledge and subsequent pleasure in acquiring knowledge not harmful to the soul? If desire and pleasure are opposed to reason, how is it that these aspects work together? Moreover, why is anger utilized by the thumetikon in service of the logistikon appropriate?

Schultz points out Socrates begins the examination of the tripartite nature of the soul by acknowledging that it is hard to determine if there are separate aspects of the soul.[14] The difficulty in distinguishing the different aspects of the soul implies that the aspects are interconnected. The interconnection between the aspects of the soul appears in Socrates’ analysis of the nature of the thumetikon, whereby originally it was mistakenly perceived as being associated with the epithumetikon but then finally attributed to being associated with the logistikon.[15] Moreover, the thumetikon utilizes the emotion of anger in order to temper the appetites.[16] Both of these examples imply the aspects of the soul are interconnected.

While it could be uncontroversial to argue Socrates conceives of the aspects of the soul as interconnected, the self-mastery model portrays the emotional and rational aspects of the soul as being oppositional. Therefore, interconnection between the aspects of the soul is to be avoided in order to achieve justice. Under this conception of the soul, it is through the interference of the epithumetikon in the logistikon that a soul becomes corrupted. To be clear, Socrates argues it is not possible that we are able to act from opposites because “the same thing will not be willing to do or undergo opposites in the same part of itself, in relation to the same thing, at the same time.”[17] Just as a person moving their hands while standing in one place is not both moving and still at the same time in respect to the same body part, a person is not learning and desiring at the same time with respect to the same aspect of the soul.[18]Plato makes it clear that the aspects of the soul are different in kind, so even though they are interconnected, they have distinct and unique functions.

However, under the self-mastery model, it seems that “Socrates presents the logistikon and the epithumetikon as opposing forces” in that “our appetites demand satisfaction” and “our reason forbids their satisfaction.”[19] When discussing a thirsty soul that does not wish to drink, Socrates portrays the logistikon as the “rational” aspect of the soul which “forbids” the soul to drink “as a result of rational calculation.”[20] The epithumetikon is contrasted as an “irrational” and opposing force that “drives and drags” the soul “to drink” as “a result of feelings and diseases.”[21] For Socrates, the two aspects are different from each other.[22]However, the opposition between these two aspects of the soul in the self-mastery model, as Schultz points out, is conceived of as one of constant battle where the logistikon “must continually subdue the epithumetikon for justice in the soul to flourish.”[23] If the thumetikon has not “been corrupted by a bad upbringing,” “in the civil war in the soul it aligns itself far more with the rational part” because, as Schultz explains, of the thumetikon’s self-reflective nature.[24] The thumetikon, under the self-mastery model, is of reason.

Harmony: The Epithumetikon as Conduit to the Good

While the self-mastery model pits the functions of the logistikon(with the aid of the thumetikon)and the epithumetikonin an oppositional battle for control over the entire soul, Schultz’s harmony model asserts that the logistikonand the epithumetikon are not necessarily opposed. Under a harmony model, the epithumetikon is a conduit for the soul to acquire knowledge of the Good. Thomas Buchheim makes a similar argument.[25] In discussing the nature of the soul in the Republic, Buchheim argues our embodiment, in “that we first have perception and then knowledge” and we “first desire perceptible things before we want clearer knowledge and strive for higher aims,” is a necessary process by which we acquire “knowledge of the good.”[26] We are led to the idea of the Good through the representation of the Good in the perceptible, embodied,and material world.[27] However, the downside, is that “weighed down by perception and bodily desires […] we can all too easily be led in the wrong direction.”[28] Knowledge, however, “reforms the whole structure of the soul and integrates its order properly in the order of the whole […] In such knowledge the whole soul is a unity and harmonious, even if it had been a split soul in its preliminary cognitions, perceptions, various desire and impetus.”[29]

Similar to Buchheim,Schultz points out how Socrates frequently employs “highly emotional, often erotic, language to describe the philosophical activity of the soul.”[30] Socrates asserts that neither the polis nor the individual will ever achieve perfection until good-natured philosophers rule, “or until a god inspires the present rulers and kings or their offspring with a true erotic love for true philosophy.”[31] Philosophers “delight” or “love and embrace the things that knowledge is set over,” because they are “lovers of wisdom and knowledge.”[32] Philosophers must, by their very nature, “hate” what is false and “love” what is true.[33] The real nature of the philosopher is “to struggle toward what is,” never losing nor lessening “his erotic love until he grasps the being of each nature itself with the part of his soul that is fitted to grasp it, because of its kinship with it” and “once getting near what really is and having intercourse with it” the philosopher “knows, truly lives, is nourished,” and “relieved from the pains of giving birth.”[34] Schultz states, “Socrates links the highest level of philosophical activity to the appetitive dimensions of human experience.”[35] As such, the pleasure the philosopher experiences in a life devoted to the acquisition of knowledge “provides a place for the appetites and emotions in philosophical experience.”[36]

Moreover, Schultz draws attention to Socrates’ reference to the sea god Glaucus when discussing the true nature of the soul. Socrates’ analogy is meant to show that the embodied soul is too disfigured and “maimed by its association with the body and other evils” for us to be able to discern the true nature of the soul.[37] Schultz asserts although the analogy seems to support the self-mastery model, Socrates once again utilizes emotive and erotic language to describe how we must go about discovering the true nature of the soul.[38] We must look to the soul’s “love of wisdom” and to the soul’s desire to “have intercourse with” the “divine and immortal” that it is akin to.[39] Schultz states the epithumetikon’s aspects, “not just the logistikon’s calculative capacity, help us understand the true nature of the soul.”[40] Schultz also points out how Socrates leaves open whether the true nature of the soul “has many parts or just one” as well as “in what manner it is put together,” thereby leaving it open whether the true nature of the soul holistically contains the epithumetikon.[41]

Plato implies in the many examples given throughout this paper that the epithumetikon is the aspect of the soul most closely linked to the body. The epithumetikon is the aspect of the soul that “grasps,” “embraces,” “thirsts,” and so on. [42]In this regard, as well as to add to Schultz’s harmony model, Socrates utilizes a remarkable number of analogies that start with the epithumetikon, the body, and the material world in order to acquire knowledge of abstract concepts through the logistikon and the dialectic. When discussing with Thrasymachus whether just people live happier and better lives, Socrates begins with finding the functions and virtues of the eyes and ears before moving on to the soul.[43] In discussing whether justice is good for its own sake, good for its own sake and for the benefits it brings, or good for solely the benefits it brings, Socrates gives aspects associated with the epithumetikon and the body as a whole as examples of each of the goods, namely joy, seeing, health, physical training and medical treatment.[44] When cognitively constructing a polis in order locate justice in the polis before locating it in the individual, Socrates begins with farmers and crafts-people who in the larger analogy would represent the epithumetikon, because “our greatest need is to provide food to sustain life,” while the second and third needs are for shelter and clothes.[45]

Significant concepts throughout the Republic are presented as analogies that begin in the embodied and material world.The analogy noted previously, namely the principle of opposites,begins with an individual moving their hands while standing still and also includes an analogy of a spinning top.[46] The Ship Analogy and The Allegory of the Cave begin in the embodied and material world in order to gain knowledge of abstract concepts such as rightful leadership and the path of the philosopher toward the Forms.[47]More literally, the education of young guardians begins with their bodies through approved music, poetry and physical training “for the [sake of the] spirited and wisdom-loving parts of the soul,” “in order that these might be in harmony with one another.”[48] In fact, the analogy at the core of the entire Republic itself is one that begins with the embodied and material world of the polis in order to find knowledge of the abstract concept of justice in the soul (the soul which is itself another abstract concept). Socrates’ use of embodied and material world analogies highlights how we must begin in the embodied and material world, a world most closely linked with the emotive and appetitive aspects of the soul,in order to acquire knowledge of abstract concepts.

If the epithumetikon and the logistikon are not necessarily opposed, then justice in the soul and the polis is one of harmony between the distinct and separate aspects of the soul and polis. Socrates asserts “the having and doing of one’s own and what belongs to oneself would be agreed to be justice.”[49]Each aspect of the soul and polis has a natural function and justice is each aspect doing only what it is naturally meant to do.[50] Schultz’s harmony model is epitomized in Socrates’ assertion that the just individual is concerned with “what is truly himself and his own” in that one “does not allow any part of himself to do the work of another part or allow the various classes within him to meddle with each other.”[51] The just individual “puts himself in order” and “harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale – high, low, and middle.”[52] Moreover, the just individual “binds together those parts and any others there may be in between and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate and harmonious.”[53] Schultz states, “the harmony model allows the epithumetikon to have a voice.”[54] The harmony model is “a call to recognize the importance of the appetites and the emotions in the process of understanding justice in the soul.”[55]

Carrying the analogy over to the polis, Schultz points out how “those with the best natures to rule” must be compelled to do so even if they do not wish to rule.[56] These individuals must be compelled to rule because, as Socrates states, the purpose of the law is to “spread happiness throughout the city by bringing the citizens into harmony with each other through persuasion or compulsion and by making them share with each other the benefits that each class can confer on the community.”[57] Justice, Schultz states, entails that “each part of the soul, like each part of the city, constitutes a good and provides a benefit for the whole.”[58]In fact, it is the citizens (i.e. the epithumetikon) who support the basic and moderate bodily needs of the guardians (i.e. the logistikon).[59]

Harmony Does Not Mean Equality

In short, the harmony model presents an interpretation of justice in which the farmers, merchants, and crafts-people are integral to the well-being of the polis, just as emotions, desires, pleasures and appetites are integral to the well-being of the soul. Guardians and philosopher-kings are not meant to rule over the farmers, merchants, and crafts-people in the sense of preventing them for doing what is in their nature to do, but instead in the sense of preventing them from usurping the natural role of the rulers. Correspondingly, reason in the soul is not meant to rule over emotions in the sense of preventing emotions from doing what emotions are naturally meant to do, but instead in the sense of preventing emotions from usurping the natural role of reason. Emotions, desires, pleasures, and appetites serve the needs of the soul through the rule of reason.

The harmony model implies two interrelated ideas. The first idea is that emotion and the true nature of the soul are not necessarily opposed. The second idea is that emotions are a conduit for the soul to acquire knowledge of the Good. I argue these two points by themselves do not resolve the tension at the core of the reason versus emotion hierarchy.  The tension at the core of the reason versus emotion hierarchy is that reason and emotion are seen as unequal. Reason is given primacy over emotion in a value hierarchy. Even granting that the harmony model better represents Plato’s concept of justice, the logistikon (as reason) is still given primacy over the epithumetikon (as emotion, desires, pleasures and appetites). The harmony model does not address this underlying value hierarchy.

Even though the logistikon and the epithumetikon are not necessarily opposed in the Republic, these two aspects of human existence are not equal either. The inequality between the logistikon and the epithumetikon culminates in Socrates’ discussion of the progression from a democracy to a tyranny. A democracy “distributes a sort of equality to both equals and unequals alike.”[60] The democratic individual is perceived as one who refuses to follow “fine and good pleasures” and to “restrain and enslave” the “evil” pleasures because he “declares that all pleasures are equal and must be valued equally.”[61]Tyranny emerges from democracy’s freedom, specifically, democracy’s dissolution of the hierarchy of individuals and pleasures.[62] Socrates asserts the tyrant is “just like an exhausted body without any self-control,” competing with others for any sort of pleasure while enslaving the populace.[63]Taking into consideration Socrates’ comments regarding justice being each aspect performing their own natural role, injustice and the transition to tyranny occurs due to treating unequal individuals and pleasures as equal, which allows the epithumetikon to usurp the natural roles of the other aspects.

Plato does not conceive of the logistikon and the epithumetikon as equal aspects of the soul. However, the issue of “pleasures” being tied to either the logistikonor the epithumetikon in the aforementioned quotes can lead to some question as to the strength of such a claim. Therefore, to fill this idea in more, we need to go back to Socrates’ discussion with Glauconon moderation. Socrates asserts “in the soul of that very person, there is a better aspect and a worse one and that, whenever the naturally better aspect is in control of the worse,” this is considered moderation or self-control.[64]Moderation in the polis is where the“better rules the worse.”[65] Socrates continues by pointing out within this polis, “one finds all kinds of diverse desires, pleasures, and pains, mostly in children, women, household slaves, and in those of the inferior majority who are called free.”[66] However, one will also “meet with the desires that are simple, measured, and directed by calculation in accordance with understanding and correct belief only in the few people who are born with the best natures and receive the best education.”[67] Moderation in the polis occurs when “the desires of the inferior many are controlled by the wisdom and desires of the superior few.”[68] Moderation is a “unanimity” and “agreement between the naturally worse and the naturally better as to which of the two is to rule both in the city and in each” individual soul.[69]Harmony would be for the naturally worse epithumetikon to willfully accept the rule of the naturally better, the logistikon.

Harmony, thus, entails the pleasures and desires of the epithumetikon to be moderated by the logistikon. Again, if pleasures and desires are associated with both the inferior many and the superior few, then we are faced with the question of what exactly is Plato saying about desires and pleasures. Just prior to this part of the dialogue Socrates offers a principle in which thirst and thirst for a particular sort of drink are two different concepts, just as knowledge and knowledge of a particular sort are two different concepts.[70] Thirst, or knowledge,becomes a particular sort of thirst, or knowledge, with qualification.[71]To be sure, thirst and knowledge are essentially different. Knowledge is qualified as being of a particular sort in the sense that knowledge becomes knowledge of a particular area of study and the qualification of knowledge to a particular sort of knowledge does not affect the value of knowledge.[72]Later in the text, the Divided Line Analogy divides the ideal realm from the material realm, and ranks understanding and thought as within the realm of the ideal.[73]Knowledge in this analogy is essentially of the Good. Thirst, however, is essentially valueless and obtains value only when it becomes qualified as being for a particular sort of drink.[74]If we apply this principle to emotion (or to desire or pleasure)then emotion and an emotion of a particular sort are two different concepts. Emotion becomes a particular sort of emotion with qualification. Emotion in itself does not generate normative value judgments. The value of emotion is relative. It is with the addition of relevant qualifications that the particular emotion becomes good or bad.

Indeed, the principle noted above concerning the impossibility of the same aspect to undergo opposites at the same time, and this present principle, the principle of particular relatives, work together. Emotion cannot be both good and bad at the same time in regard to the same thing. A philosopher’s desire to acquire knowledge cannot be both good and bad at the same time. However, the self-mastery model in conjunction with Socrates’ own statements would imply the philosopher’s desire would be both good and bad at the same time. Consider the principle of relative particulars in combination with the idea that the epithumetikon and the logistikon are different and unique aspects, and with the idea that the logistikon is naturally better. Emotion is good when it is of a certain sort, utilized for appropriate ends and within the boundaries of its natural role.

The principle of relative particulars explains why anger utilized by the thumetikon is appropriate.The principle also explains why the desires of naturally superior individuals who are guided by the logistikon are to be encouraged and exalted, while the desires of naturally worse individuals who are guided by the epithumetikon need to be moderated. In this way, the harmony model allows for the logistikon and the epithumetikon to not necessarily be opposed, but still maintains a hierarchy of inequality between the two. Emotion, desire, and pleasure may arise from the epithumetikon, but those emotions, desires, and pleasures need to be qualified by the logistikon, which has received proper conditioning, in order to be conduits to the Good. Emotions, desires, and passions of the epithumetikon are able to serve as a conduit for knowledge, because when qualified by a good nature, a proper education, understanding and rational calculation, emotions, desires, and passions become good.

Even if the true nature of the soul is tripartite, just as it is when it is embodied, under the principle of relative particulars the logistikon would still have primacy over the epithumetikon. The emotions, desires, pleasures, and appetites of the epithumetikon certainly do have a voice, but that voice is merely instrumental to the ends of the logistikon. Correlatively, the farmers, merchants, and crafts-people have a voice, but that voice is merely instrumental to the ends of the guardians. Granted, it is claimed that the naturally inferior are instrumental to the ends of the naturally superior for the good of the whole. However, the question raised in considering Plato’s theory of the soul and the polis in relation to empathy is if such inequality is good for the whole.

Plato’s Empathy?

The harmony model places emotion at the service of reason, because reason is of higher value. The issue really comes down to the inequality inherent in the reason versus emotion hierarchy. The two are not seen as equal in the Republic. Reason takes the lead even when emotion is acknowledged as being relevant and valuable. Emotion is to be moderated by reason in order to serve the ends of reason. Emotion is always lower than reason on the hierarchy, because emotion can turn horribly wrong with the wrong sort of qualification, but reason is always of the Good.

In examining the study of empathy, emotion and reason seem to be integrated in the empathetic process in order to know and feel an emotional experience that is linked to another individual’s emotional experience.Empathy is not knowledge of some abstract concept like math or beauty. Empathy is knowledge of lived emotion.[75] The question now arises as to if empathy has a place in Plato’s theory of the soul and polis. The harmony model is complete when considering the principle of particular relatives and the principle of opposites. Under these principles, emotion is to be qualified by reason in order to serve the ends of reason in acquiring knowledge, because reason and emotion are distinct and unique and only reason has direct access to knowledge. Yet, our conception of empathy entails acquiring knowledge of the other and emotion, as well as experiencing emotion.

In order to know if empathy has a place in Plato’s theory, we have to determine the relationship between reason and emotion in empathy. Does reason utilize emotion in order to acquire knowledge, or does emotion utilize reason in order to experience emotion?While, at this time, we cannot come to any conclusions on this relationship, we can draw some conclusions in regard to the possible responses to how this relationship may work. If reason utilizes emotion in order to acquire knowledge, then empathy would have a place in Plato’s theory under the harmony model. Plato’s theory allows for reason to utilize emotion in order to acquire knowledge. The epithumetikon is able to be utilized, with the right sort of qualification, by the logistikon in order to acquire knowledge of the Good.

However, if the latter holds, if emotion utilizes reason in order to experience emotion, then empathy would not have a place in Plato’s theory. The latter implies reason is serving the ends of emotion. Reason serving the ends of emotion would directly challenge the inequality inherent in Plato’s hierarchy of the harmonious soul striving above all else for the acquisition of knowledge, and sublimating the experience of emotion in order to acquire knowledge. Emotion cannot utilize reason in Plato’s theory because to do so would be to allow the inferior aspect of the soul to usurp the rightful role of the naturally superior aspect of the soul.

Perhaps the question I raise sets up a false dichotomy. Perhaps the empathetic process relies on reason and emotion reciprocally, equally utilizing each other in an integration of experience and knowledge. If empathy integrates reason and emotion reciprocally and equally, then again empathy would not have a place in Plato’s theory of the soul and polis. Equality has no place in Plato’s theory. Tyranny occurs when unequals are treated equal. Emotion and reason are unequal because emotion is essentially valueless, it must be qualified with the right sort of qualification and be used ultimately, although perhaps not directly, in the service of reason.Conversely, reason is essentially of the Good. Allowing emotion to have equal footing with reason would risk tyranny of the soul and polis.


Let us return to the two questions underlying the study of empathy I offered in the introduction of this paper. If indeed empathy is an integration of reason and emotion equally, or if empathy utilizes reason for the end of experiencing emotion, then it is entirely appropriate to question if a hierarchical approach to reason and emotion in ourselves and in our social and political communities, favoring one to the denigration of the other, impairs our abilities to empathize.

Shultz’s harmony model of Plato’s theory of the soul better captures Plato’s conception of the soul because it accounts for why Socrates utilizes emotive, embodied, and material world language and analogies throughout his dialectic. It also accounts for why philosophers’ desire for knowledge and their subsequent pleasure at acquiring knowledge is to be encouraged. Moreover, it accounts for why anger utilized by the thumetikon in the service of the logistikon is appropriate. Under the harmony model, the emotions, desires and appetites of the epithumetikon are conduits to the Good. However, the epithumetikon is still unequal and inferior to the logistikon because the emotions, desires, and appetites of the epithumetikon can go horribly wrong with the wrong sort of qualification whereas the logistikon is essentially of the Good. Moreover, due to the epithumetikon being a conduit for the Good dependent upon its qualification, the epithumetikon is instrumental to the ends of the logistikon.

If we agree with Plato that the attributes of the individual soul carry over to the political community, and if we are convinced by Plato’s theory of the soul, then does the primacy of reason in the individual soul and political community correlate to a lack of empathy in the political community? Does the primacy of reason in our lives denigrate emotion to the point where our ability to empathize is impaired? Perhaps empathy is not necessary nor sufficient for moral action, but if it is at the very least beneficial in promoting moral action, then ought we foster empathy?[76]If we ought to foster empathy, and if Plato’s theory of the soul and polis impairs our ability to empathize, then ought we recognize the harm of such a theory on ourselves and our societies? Such questions provide moralists, phenomenologists, philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists with ample research possibilities, possibilities that must be left to a future examination.

[1]KarstenStueber. “Empathy,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, accessed October 15, 2015,


[3] I am merely offering a semantic definition here. I am not attempting to offer a description of what exactly empathy entails from a phenomenological, neuroscientific, nor psychological perspective.

[4]Plato. Republic, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Group (1992). See also, Richard Parry. “Ancient Ethical Theory,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta, accessed October 15, 2015,

[5]The question may arise as to if this enquiry is relevant or of any import. In response, a recent study found that people seem to dichotomize others whom they perceive as either being more bodily or more rational. People who are perceived as being more bodily are associated with being more emotional and more attuned to physical sensation, while at the same time are disassociated from being rational and having moral agency. Conversely, people who are perceived as being more rational are associated with having moral agency and self-control and disassociated from being emotional and attuned to physical sensation. The authors suggest that people seem to be psychologically operating under something very much like a Platonic conception of the soul and such a conception may have moral implications. See, Kurt Gray, Joshua Knobe, Mark Sheskin, Paul Bloom, and Lisa Feldman Barrett. “More Than a Body: Mind Perception and the Nature of Objectification,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, No. 6 (2011): 1207-1220.

[6]Anne-Marie Schultz.Plato’s Socrates as Narrator: A Philosophical Muse, Lexington Books: Lanham (2013). The terms epithumetikon, logistikon and thumetikon are taken from Schultz.

[7]Stueber, “Empathy.” See also, Matthew Ratcliffe. “Phenomenology as a Form of Empathy,” Inquiry Vol. 55, No. 5 (2012): 473-495.

[8]Ratcliffe, “Phenomenology as a Form of Empathy,” 475. See also, Dan Zahavi. “Beyond Empathy: Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity,” Journal of Consciousness Studies vol. 8 (2001): 151-167. See also, Lasana T. Harris and Susan T. Fiske. “Dehumanizing the Lowest of the Low: Neuroimaging Responses to Extreme Out-Groups,” Psychological Science Vol. 17 No. 10 (2006): 847-853.

[9]Ratcliffe, “Phenomenology as a Form of Empathy,” 475.Zahavi, “Beyond Empathy: Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity,” 153-54. See also, Tania Singer. “I’m Okay, You’re Not: The Right Supramarginal Gyrus Plays an Important Role in Empathy,” Max-Planck Gesellschaft. Last modified October 9, 2012. See also Tania Singer and Claus Lamm. “The Social Neuroscience of Empathy,” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Vol. 1156 No. 1 (2009): 81-96. See also, Stueber, “Empathy.”

[10]Zahavi, “Beyond Empathy: Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity,” 154. See also, Claus Lamm, Andrew N. Meltzoff, and Jean Decety. “How Do We Empathize with Someone Who is Not Like Us? A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study,” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience vol. 22 no. 2 (2010): 362-376.

[11] Reason is taken to mean both lower and higher order reasoning abilities, ranging from immediate and practical, goal oriented problem solving to abstract, theoretical, and/or executive functioning. Plato does not make a distinction between different sorts of reason in the Republic, but, evidence suggests both types of reasoning may be incorporated in empathy. See Lamm, Melzoff, and Decety, “How Do We Empathize with Someone Who is Not Like Us?” See also, Stueber, “Empathy.”

[12] Schultz 141-142

[13] Ibid. 143

[14] Plato 436a; Schultz 142

[15]Plato 439e-441a

[16] Ibid. 440b-e

[17]Ibid. 436b

[18] Ibid. 436c-e

[19] Schultz 144

[20] Plato 439c; Schultz 144

[21] Plato 439c

[22]Plato 439d

[23] Schultz 144

[24] Plato 440e-441a; Schultz 145

[25] Thomas Buchheim. “Plato’s phaulonskemma: On the Multifariousness of the Human Soul,” in Common to Body and Soul: Philosophical Approaches to Explaining Living Behaviour in Greco-Roman Antiquity, ed. Richard A.H. King, Walter de Gruyter: Berlin (2006): 103-120.


[27]Ibid. 111

[28]Ibid. 112

[29]Ibid. 112

[30] Schultz 148

[31] Plato 499a-b

[32] Plato 479e-480a; Schultz 148

[33] Plato 485b-c; Schultz, 148

[34] Plato 490b; Schultz 148-149

[35]Schultz 149


[37] Plato 611c-d

[38] Schultz 149

[39] Plato 611d; Schultz 149

[40]Schultz 149

[41] Plato 612a; Schultz 150

[42]I grant that a stronger argument is needed to fully examine the association between the epithumetikon and the body. I must leave such an examination for another paper. The examination would be dependent upon if one conceives of the soul as only having the epithumetikon when embodied (thus, supporting the idea that the epithumetikon and the body would be analogous) or essentially (thus, supporting the idea that the epithumetikon and the body would not be analogous). To be clear, however, I am not in this paper taking a position on this.I am claiming at the very least that the epithumetikon, body, and material world, as Plato sees it, directly and reciprocally influence each other and, moreover, that each initiate the rational process leading to the acquisition of knowledge.

[43]Plato 352c-353e

[44]Ibid. 357b-c

[45]Ibid. 369a-d

[46]Ibid. 436c-e

[47]Ibid. 488a-e; 514a-518d

[48]Ibid. 410a-411e

[49] Ibid. 434a

[50] Ibid. 444d

[51]Plato 443d; Schultz 150

[52] Plato 443d; Schultz 150

[53] Plato 443d; Schultz 150

[54] Schultz 150

[55]Ibid. 150

[56] Ibid. 151

[57] Plato 519e; Schultz 151

[58]Schultz 151

[59]Plato 416e

[60]Ibid. 558c

[61]Ibid. 561b-c

[62]Ibid. 562b-564a

[63]Ibid. 579c

[64]Ibid. 431a

[65]Ibid. 431c

[66]Ibid. 431b-c

[67]Ibid. 431c

[68]Ibid. 431c-d

[69]Ibid. 432a

[70]Ibid. 437e-439a

[71]Ibid. 438e

[72]Ibid. 438e

[73]Ibid. 509d-513e

[74]Ibid. 438e-439a

[75] At this point, I am specifically addressing emotion-related empathy over pain-related empathy. The two are not mutually exclusive nor mutually necessary. On another note, the most obvious refutation of the argument I am presenting would be to argue empathy is not knowledge. If empathy is merely an instinctual or automatic response to the sensorial perceptions of another’s emotional distress without any further cognitive evaluation of those perceptions, then this could rightly be said to not be knowledge. However, thinkers have already defined this sort of automatic response as “contagion.” Contagion has been seen as an important precursor to empathy, but empathy necessarily entails a further cognitive evaluation of this automatic response to sensorial perceptions. See, Stueber, “Empathy.”

[76] Compare with Stueber, “Empathy.”


Some Thoughts at Oxford

Looking over my notes for the Oxford Human Rights Consortium, one issue that stood out to me is the issue of preventive peace work versus peace work that addresses emergencies as they occur. In a sense, all peace work is geared toward preventing atrocities or preventing an escalation of violent atrocities. In other words, all peace work can be seen as falling along a spectrum or gradation of prevention. However, a very complicated question arises in how best to prevent violent atrocities and how early to start fostering peacebuilding in communities. Are international governing organizations such as the United Nations a viable solution? Are international human rights laws enough to deter infringements on human rights? Does economic development offer peace and justice or just a negative peace? It seems that much of the work in preventive peace work has focused on law, international politics and economic development. It would be foolish to assert that these areas have no place in the peacebuilding process, however, during the consortium I questioned if a broader understanding of peacebuilding ought to include a more multifaceted approach. Reason being, international governing organizations are only as powerful as the members allow them to be, and as is too often the case, their rulings are often seen as biased toward world powers and/or secondary to state sovereignty. International human rights laws are meant to do at least two things: deter and punish human rights violations. However, international human rights laws face a problem of enforceability. The laws are only as powerful as the international organizations that enforce them. Finally, economic development has not been a panacea to justice. It may create a peace temporarily, however, peace does not necessarily bring about justice. Human rights are about living a dignified life, which entails not just peace but justice.

So, one solution of course is to try to solve the problems within these three areas of peacebuilding. One approach could be try to strengthen the governance and authority of international organizations while retaining reasonable state sovereignty, which would then strengthen the enforceability of international human rights laws. Another approach could be to try to discover sustainable, culturally inclusive and democratic forms of economic development. However, if the ultimate goal is to prevent atrocities perhaps more focus could be paid to researching the farthest end of spectrum that incorporates prevention earlier on in communities.

Hugo Slim’s work, Killing Civilians, discusses the ambiguity of the legal status of civilians and how such an ambiguity is used to ideologically justify violent human rights violations. The work addresses the need to be able to perceive not just civilians (who may implicitly be enemies) but the explicit enemy as sufficiently like oneself, i.e. to empathize with the other, in order to put limits on violence in war. What I find interesting in this work is how the ambiguity of civilians is essentially dehumanizing. Ambiguity and dehumanization occur because the individual civilian is abstracted from their own lived, embodied, subjective experiences. Abstraction from the concrete and phenomenal requires the primacy of objective reason over subjective emotion. Such abstraction objectifies the body and downplays the importance of emotion and pain. Affording primacy to objective reason is severely detrimental to the realization of empathy because, as has been proven by countless psychological and neuroscience studies, empathy necessarily incorporates both reason and emotion. Regarding human rights law, it is by its very nature an abstraction from the phenomenal lived experience. It must be in order to try to be widely applicable. Thus, my question becomes: Is the primacy afforded to utilizing human rights law to try to promote the recognition of human rights detrimental to the recognition of empathy? If empathy is crucially important for creating a world of sustainable justice and peace, and it prima facie appears that it is, then it becomes imperative to research how best to support the realization of empathy.

Cheyney Ryan has spoken of educating citizens the true economic and human costs of war. The human costs of war include the moral conflicts suffered by those who experience war first hand. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression and suicide are common for soldiers but also civilians, both children and adults, who experience war first hand. Some sample studies of Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon, many of them children, are showing that upwards of 89% of the refuges suffer from war related PTSD, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Syrian refugees have faced extreme human rights violations, ranging from indiscriminate targeting of civilians with chemical weapons, rape and sexual violence, besiegement, and constant flight from one war ravaged area to another. Regarding soldiers, it is not a far stretch to suggest that the moral conflicts they face are intricately connected with dehumanization and empathy. Dehumanization allows for violence against another. Empathy allows for taking the perspective of another, feeling their pain. Perhaps such disorders occur due to the empathic realization that one has dehumanized another.

Another lecturer at the workshop, Jim Astman, spoke of incorporating into the peacebuilding process educating young children to empathize with others through peace education. Indeed Astman is the headmaster at Oakwood School, where peace education is implemented into the curriculum. Peace education first emerged after WWII in 1946 under the guidance of UNESCO. Since then, psychologists and sociologists have entered the political discussion on war and peacebuilding to offer evidence supporting education geared toward fostering peace and empathy based perspective-taking of other cultures and points of view. Peace education has come under scrutiny due to a lack of empirical evidence that such education creates lasting effects. It is been argued as to whether the empathy and understanding individuals learn and exhibit after a brief peace education course actually carries over to their lived experiences after the education course has ended. However, the peace education process must compete with all of the conflicting experiences the individual had before the course, all of the conflicting experiences the individual has outside of the course and all of the conflicting experiences the individual will be faced with in the future once the course has ended. However, perhaps years of immersion in a peace education program could foster lasting results.

It is here that I would like to suggest that peacebuilding take seriously questions of how to foster empathy. Peace education should be given more attention, but other means dispersed throughout societies also ought to be researched. Questions could be: What creates empathy? What hinders empathy? In what ways could empathy be continuously fostered between individuals? In what ways could a society continuously foster empathy collectively among its citizens? Could politics and law foster empathy? Empathy should be researched for its feasibility and potentiality of preventing atrocities long before political or legal responses to atrocities are required. After all, if no one had the notion of killing someone, if it were inconceivable for anyone to even consider killing someone, then there would not need to be a government organization or a law telling people not to kill each other. Perhaps, fostering empathy could make killing inconceivable. Given the costs of war, it certainly seems worth the time to try to find out.