Josh Wilburn

Title : The Two Faces of Spiritedness: Plato on Thumos and the Oikeion



In this paper I argue for a new understanding of Plato’s conception of spirited motivation and thumos. My interpretation is grounded in a close analysis of Republic 375a-376c, the crucial passage from Book 2 in which Plato first introduces his conception of ‘spiritedness’ in the dialogue through the analogy to noble dogs. I argue that Plato understands spirit in that passage as the source of both aggression toward what is ‘unfamiliar’ or ‘foreign’ (allotrion) and gentleness toward what is ‘familiar’ or ‘one’s own’ (oikieon). According to this interpretation, the spirited part of the soul is responsible not only for feelings associated with anger and hostility, but also for feelings of friendship and affection for others. While the aggressive and competitive side of spirit’s nature has been universally acknowledged by commentators, relatively little attention has been paid to the friendly side of its nature. On my interpretation, however, we cannot fully understand spirited motivation without understanding both. The two aspects of spiritedness presented in Book 2, I suggest, represent primitive expressions of two interconnected and complementary sides of spirited motivation, as Plato understands it. The seemingly diverse range of spirited desires and emotions, which has sometimes troubled commentators, can be understood in terms of these two faces of spiritedness.