Central passage 

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  1. What reasons does Plato give for claiming that the human soul has three parts – reason, spirit, and appetite? Is this argument convincing? What is the nature of these parts and how do they relate to each other? Why does Plato stop at three parts? And why these three parts? Is this a plausible view of human psychology? [Key passages: 435b-44be; 580d-581d; but also look carefully at Bk. VIII, where Socrates surveys the characteristics of those ruled by different parts of soul.]

Text: Plato, Republic, trans. C.D.C Reeve and G.M.A Grube, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing)

A few suggestions:

  1. These prompts are intentionally broad. I do not expect or want you to write your paper on every point or question in the prompt. Rather, you must identify a narrow focus within the range of issues in the prompt that will be your focus. A central part of the assignment is to develop a clearly focused topic of your choosing. If you write on too broad a topic, you are not likely to say anything very interesting or clear. The more narrowly you focus yourself, and your question, the more likely you are to say something clear, interesting, and insightful.
  2. Question and Thesis: Your paper must have a thesis – there must be some central assertion or point that the paper supports, and argues for. Such a thesis can be presented as the answer to a questionor the solution to a problem.The key is to make your question/problem philosophically interesting, focused, and grounded in the text. (Example: It seems like Plato’s way of arguing for the tripartite soul can show that the soul has more than three parts. Why does Plato think he can justifiably stop at three?) A good answer will then require explanation and evidence for it to be clear and well supported.
  3. It is also very useful for papers of this kind to be anchored in a central passage which is at the heart of your analysis and argument. Use note taking and annotation practices to raise questions or identify key details that will help you develop your focus and, eventually, your view.
  4. Work hard on your paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a clear and unified point which supports your overall thesis in some specific way. The point or mini-thesis of your paragraph may even be announced early in the paragraph in what is called a topic sentence.
  5. Evidence: The text provides all the evidence you need. But as our discussions have shown, many passages in the text are unclear or ambiguous – they can be interpreted in different ways. So you’ll need to pay close attention to the text, to provide compelling evidence to the reader, and to explain how you are interpreting that evidence clearly.
  6. For this paper it is sufficient to quote the Stephanus page in parentheses after the relevant sentence, like this. (436b)
  7. Topic 2 will be discussed in class significantly more than topic 1. If you want to work on topic 1, I suggest a preliminary meeting with me to make sure you are aware of the key issues.
  8. I am eager to work with you at any stage of your writing: brainstorming; key text study and analysis; outlining; drafts. If you intend to work with me in any of these ways, I strongly suggest that you get started early and communicate with me soon about when you would like to meet.

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