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Aparently, Plato said

reason should rule over emotions and appetites

When googling the phrase, something about Plato's Tripartite Theory of the Soul comes up.

In Republic [Book IX], Plato asserted that the ψυχή (psyche) is composed of three parts; the λογιστικόν (logistykon, logical), the θυμοειδές (thymoeides, spirited) and the ἐπιθυμητικόν (epithymetikon, appetitive). These three parts of the ψυχή also correspond to the three classes of a society. Whether in a city or an individual, δικαιοσύνη (dikaiosyne, justice) is declared to be the state of the whole in which each part fulfills its function without attempting to interfere in the functions of others. The function of the ἐπιθυμητικόν is to produce and seek pleasure. The function of the λογιστικός is to gently rule through the love of learning. The function of the θυμοειδές is to obey the directions of the λογιστικός while ferociously defending the whole from external invasion and internal disorder. Whether in a city or an individual, ἀδικία (adikia, injustice) is the contrary state of the whole, often taking the specific form in which the spirited listens instead to the appetitive, while they together either ignore the logical entirely or employ it in their pursuits of pleasure.

This seems to be gobbledegook to me so I tried breaking it down. If I understand this correctly, according to Plato, you have three parts to the psyche:

  1. the logical (reason),
    the function of which is to gently rule through the love of learning
  2. the spirited (emotions)
    the function of which is to obey the directions of reason while ferociously defending the whole from external invasion and internal disorder, and
  3. "appetitive" (appetites)
    the function of which, is to produce and seek pleasure

and they correspond with the three classes of society.

Whether in society or within the individual, there is justice if all three parts of the psyche fulfil their obligations without interfering with each other, and injustice often takes the specific form in which the emotions listens to the appetites instead of reason, while they together either ignore reason entirely or employ it in their pursuits of pleasure.

Now I can understand that in the sense of democracy, law and justice, but how does that fit in with physical needs?

In some situations the person may be hungry but refuses to eat. How is this possible when reason should rule emotion and allow appetite to satiate the feelings of hunger?

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Reason is, very roughly, concerned with the search for knowledge, mainly intellectual knowledge in reason's most developed stages. Emotion is aligned to reason as when, for example, we act against what reason prescribes ethically and feel ashamed. Then there are the appetites, the ragbag of largely physically-based desires for food, money, sex, drink, and pleasure wherever it may be found.

All of these have their proper place in the psuche. Reason's control of the psuche projects how things should be, not necessarily how they are. It is in common sense terms quite clear that to refuse to eat is, all else equal, irrational. But Plato never says that the psuche is actually, let alone necessarily, under the control of reason. Someone who refuses to eat, unless this is a part of a moral or political protest (of the kind the Suffragettes made in Great Britain before the First World War) or some such, is irrational but Plato's tripartition of the psuche does not rule out irrationality.

It is not the case in any situation that reason disallows 'appetite to satiate the feelings of hunger'. What can only be the case when someone refuses to eat is that reason is precisely not in control. (I exclude the case, not relevant to your question, where we are hungry but quite rationally refuse to eat because we know that the food is contaminated.)

In sum : because reason should (OUGHT TO) rule it does not follow that someone may (MIGHT or DOES) not choose, irrationally, not to eat. What we do isn't necessarily what we ought to do : platitude or plato-tude but Plato is entitled to use it as much as anybody else. There's a lot more interesting stuff in the 'Republic' and even specifically in the theory of the tripartite psuche than this.

Hope this makes things clearer. Good that you're reading Plato - never time wasted.

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