I am looking at Plato's Philebus. My straightforward question is whether anybody has ever read Plato's theory of the tripartite soul as an underlying theme of the Philebus too.

Republic      Philebus 
Reason        Wisdom
Thymos        Measure    
Appetite      Pleasure

Any pointer to some specific reference is welcome.

EDIT. Consider the following too. A (misguided?) question I asked myself is whether Plato considered somehow the possibility of entities (persons?) whose soul is somehow just only one of the three parts. So, for Plato are there only reason entities, only appetite entities, and only thymos entities?

In the Philebus, I do think that that is somehow addressed: at 21a-d Socrates asks whether a only pleasure life -say, only (satisfaction of) appetites- could be worth living (it would not, since it would be a mollusc or some other shell-fish like the oyster kind of life). At 21d-e, Socrates asks whether anyone would be willing to live possessing wisdom and mind and knowledge and perfect memory of all things but having no share, great or small, in pleasure, or in pain, for that matter, but being utterly unaffected by everything of that sort (Protarchus answers -without further explanation- that that would not be a desirable life). (see 60-c too). I am not sure about thymos. Eventually, 59c-e, the discussion is about the best (good, measured,...) mixture of thought and pleasure, and that could be related to the role of thymos.

3 Answers 3


Fred Miller has written a chapter The Platonic Soul in Blackwell's Companion to Plato (p.278) with a brief section The Tripartite Soul that begins by stating

The theory that the soul has three parts comes to the fore in the Republic, Phaedrus, and Timaeus. p 286

Obviously, the Philebus is not mentioned and there are good grounds for this omission: the dialogue is mainly about the Good and ends by proposing that it is best conceived through 3 aspects: Beauty, Measure, Truth (65a). A more detailed enumeration to 5 is given in the next pages (measure, beauty, mind and reason, truth, pleasure).

Wisdom, measure and pleasure are seen in this list but it is not explicitly about the Soul.


I haven't read the Philebus yet, but i found a dedicate reader who has done his own connection between dialogues, here is a link to one e-mail where he explains his view of the relationship of the Republic and the Philebus.

  • Thanks. Nice though brief. Still does not say anything about the tripartite soul.
    – mario
    May 8, 2021 at 17:01

There is an explanation for Plato’s tripartite soul in the book Sophies World.

  • which book? Anyway, the quote is interesting, but it does not address my question.
    – mario
    Feb 8, 2022 at 20:15
  • 1
    The book is Sophie’s World. I am currently reading it and found your question so thought it might help.
    – Akash
    Feb 9, 2022 at 13:45

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