"Virtuvian Proportions via Platonic Principles" | Johnny McKee
The Vitruvian man—popularized by Leonardo da Vinci and Dan Brown in equal measure— explores the dimensionality and proportionality of the physical world generally, and the human body in particular. This interpretation of da Vinci’s famous sketch is paired with arguably the most famous work of political philosophy, Plato’s Republic.
In this classic work, Plato asks a single question: What is justice? The work recounts the efforts of Plato, Socrates, and their friends as they try answer this question by suggesting and evaluating different visions of justice. In Book IV, Plato introduces what is known as his “tripartite theory of soul.” A just and healthy soul, says Plato, is all about proper proportions between three parts: the logical, spirited, and appetitive parts. A person is just when the logical part of the soul rules the appetitive and unruly part through the strong, powerful, and spirited part. Plato is saying, in other words, that justice occurs in an individual soul when reason rules passion through courage.
The same is true, Plato says, for a just society. A just society occurs when wisdom or logic rules the appetitive masses through a class of courageous warriors. Plato’s ideal regime is a monarchy ruled by the philosopher-king. Such a ruler cares more about wisdom than for power, which is precisely why the ruler will govern well. To what extent do we—or should we—value wisdom in our leaders today? What might that have to do with the state of justice in our current moment?