Understanding Ourselves

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Transcript Understanding Ourselves

Understanding Ourselves
Recap – Plato & Aristotle’s 4 Key Points
1. The rejection of the view that our self-interests
are best served by seeking pleasure or power or
2. The belief that in order to know what the best
life is for us we need to understand who we are
(what our soul consists of)
3. The claim that developing our virtues enables us
to live the best possible life
4. The claim that the best possible life is
determined by the ultimate good
Shrek is an ogre who runs an advice service for fairytale creatures. These
creatures come to Shrek’s swamp from magical lands far and wide in
order to ask what they are supposed to be doing with their lives. Read
through the list of Shrek’s customers below and then answer the
questions that follow:
1. A handsome and brave prince
2. A magical walking tin-opener
3. A donkey who could talk
4. A wicked fairy godmother
5. A dragon
For each creature:
a) Write down what their function is
b) Write down what they need to do in order to fulfil their function
c) How do the answers to a) and b) help the creatures decide what
sort of life they should be living
Function and psyche: understanding
our selves
• For Plato and Aristotle an understanding of our
self is necessary if we are to identify the best
possible life for us.
• This means examining what kind of creature we
are, in order to determine what our purpose or
function is – once we have determined out
function then we will know what kind of lives we
are supposed to be leading
Can We Do This?
• Do you think finding out what our function is
as human beings is easy?
• How can we go about this?
Discovering Function
• If you happen to be a dog, then you have a
doggy function and your goals in life will be
very different from those of humans: to chase
after balls, sleep as much as possible, yap all
day, eat as much as you can and have lots of
sex (is it just me or does that sound a little bit
like some humans – John Terry spring to mind
But What Kind of Thing Is A Human?
• For both Plato and Aristotle it is the type of
soul we have that makes us human.
• Our function as human beings is determined
by the make-up of our souls. So if we want to
understand our function we need to
understand our soul
Plato’s Soul
• Plato: “I divide the soul into three:
two horses and a charioteer.
One of the horses is good and
the other bad”
• According to Plato our soul has 2 powerful impulses:
spirit and desire, and something that can control
these impulses: our reason
• We function well as human beings only when
each part of our soul is functioning well and
performing to its optimum
• This does not happen when one of our impulses
is out of control: if our desire (the bad horse) gets
out of control then we become indulgent
hedonists with no real sense of what is good for
us overall. If spirit (the good horse) gets out of
control then we become headstrong, impulsive
types always leaping into things and making snap
decisions. Again this is no recipe for functioning
• So for Plato these impulses need the firm
government of reason (the charioteer) which can
control and shape these impulses so that we can
use them to attain what is good for us
• By using reason to maintain a balanced and
harmonious soul we are able to make the right
decisions, and select the right goals, which
enable us to live the best life and flourish
• [For Plato the problem with hedonism is that
reason is not in control and we pursue pleasures
that are damaging in the short and the long term
• Do you think Plato gives a good account of our
Aristotle’s Soul
• Aristotle agrees with Plato’s claim that reason
should rule the soul, but he adds more detail to
this claim
• As well as being a philosopher, Aristotle was also
one of the first biologists (someone who studied
life in all its forms)
• He believed that everything in the world had a
function, a purpose, and he saw the world
around him in those terms
• Aristotle also holds that for humans our function is
determined by our soul
• However he has a much more sophisticated,
psychological view of the human soul
• For Aristotle it is like a kind of blueprint for a human
being – the instructions for how we are going to
develop in our lives
• He describes the 4 parts of the soul – 2 non-rational
parts: nutrition/growth and desire/emotion and 2
rational parts: practical day to day reasoning and
abstract, theoretical reasoning
What This Means
• From their analysis of the human psychology
both Plato and Aristotle conclude that humans
are meant to reason, and reason well
• This is the key to understanding what we need
to do in order to live the best kind of life and
• We need to understand how our soul works in
order to take the right action and achieve
eudaimonia.... Questions, comments,