Your human mind, wrote Plato

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A note for Lesson no. 1, "You Have One Brain (Not Three)," in Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context from page 13 is:

Your human mind, wrote Plato, is a never-ending battle between three inner forces to control your behavior.

The appendix adds:

Plato wrote about the psyche, which differs from our modern idea of a mind.

Plato’s morality tale of the human mind is known as the tripartite psyche. Its three parts are rational thoughts, spirits (which today we would call emotions), and appetites (basic survival instincts). Rational thoughts were in charge, controlling the spirits and appetites, an arrangement that Plato described as a charioteer wrangling two winged horses.

The charioteer and the horses appear twice in Plato's works: in the Phaedrus (sections 246a–254e) and in the Republic. The crucial difference between two is that the Republic, the psyche achieves virtue through education, whereas in the Phaedrus it achieves liberation by love of physical beauty.[1]

A historian or classicist would tell you that in ancient Greece, a “psyche” is not really the same as our modern idea of a mind — or a soul, for that matter; ditto for spirits and emotions.[2] But I am following the colloquial tradition of using the words as synonyms.


  1. Plato’s Ethics: An Overview, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  2. Danziger, Kurt. 1997. Naming the Mind: How Psychology Found its Language. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage.