What Did Plato Think About Human Nature?

Milos Bicanski / Contributor/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Plato viewed human beings as inherently rational, social souls burdened by imprisonment within their physical bodies. The soul disposition of an individual soul, fixed for eternity, determines the type of human the individual will be in life. The human body, limited and constantly responding to need, is an obstacle to the soul’s full realization.

Plato divides the human being into two component parts: the body and the soul. The body is seen as the temporary constraint upon the soul, reducing the full scope of its understanding to that which can be perceived through a narrow mortal lens. He sees death is the triumph of human nature, the soul’s liberation from such limiting circumstances. The soul component of a human being is, therefore, as immortal and unchanging as the Ideas.

Plato further distinguishes among three aspects of the human soul: reason, spirit and the appetites. Reason, which Plato believes should ideally dominate over the other aspects, is responsible for the earnest search for knowledge and understanding. From spirit, a human derives the ambition for symbolic accomplishments, including honor and social status. From the appetites come those drives that are material to the human body, including all yearnings for food, drink, shelter, sex and survival. The cumulative effect of the spirit and the appetites make humans social beings, as only social cooperation allows mankind to meet all of its physical and symbolic needs while specializing its occupations to the propensities of individual souls.