Plato's moral psychology: Intellectualism, the divided soul, and the desire for good

Rachana Kamtekar

Research output: Book/ReportBook

12 Scopus citations


Plato's Moral Psychology is concerned with Plato's account of the soul insofar as it bears on our living well or badly, virtuously or viciously. The core of Plato's moral psychology is his account of human motivation, and PMP argues that throughout the dialogues Plato maintains that human beings have a natural desire for our own good, and that actions and conditions contrary to this desire are involuntary (from which follows the 'Socratic paradox' that wrongdoing is involuntary). Our natural desire for our own good may be manifested in different ways: by our pursuit of what we calculate is best, but also by our pursuit of pleasant or fine things-pursuits which Plato assigns to distinct parts of the soul, sometimes treating these soul-parts as homuncular sub-agents to facilitate psychic management, and other times providing a natural teleological account for them. Thus PMP develops a very different interpretation of Plato's moral psychology from the mainstream interpretation, according to which Plato first proposes that human beings only do what we believe to be the best of the things we can do ('Socratic intellectualism') and then in the middle dialogues rejects this in favour of the view that the soul is divided into parts with good-dependent and good-independent motivations ('the divided soul'). PMP arrives at its different interpretation through the methodology of reading dialogues with a close eye to the dialectical dependence of what the main speaker says on the precise intellectual problem set up between himself and his interlocutors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages231
ISBN (Electronic)9780198798446
ISBN (Print)9780198798446
StatePublished - Jan 18 2018


  • Dialogues
  • Divided soul
  • Good-dependent desire
  • Good-independent desire
  • Moral psychology
  • Plato
  • Rational motivation
  • Socratic intellectualism
  • Socratic paradox
  • Soul

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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