It is a testimony to the amazing imagination and intellect of the great ancient philosopher that an analogous tripartite view of the mind was formulated by Sigmund Freud two millennia later. Plato’s three divisions of the psyche is similar to Freud’s structural model of ego, id and superego.
“Thus we have an early tripartite view of the mind that echoes Freud’s later structural model of ego, id, and superego. Plato saw mental illness as a consequence of an imbalance whereby the unbridled instinctual part gains the upper hand. Treatment is through the Platonic dialogue, a precursor of the psychoanalytic dialogue that brings the conflicting parts of the mind into harmony and reasserts control over the irrational part of the psyche. The philosophical dialogue, however, differs radically from the psychoanalytic dialogue, by attempting to discard the emotions, whereas in the analytic dialogue emotions are at the center of the treatment.” (Buckley, 2001, p.454)
The similarities between Plato’s and Freud’s conceptions of the psyche are relevant to modern business management. This is so because Freudian psychoanalysis is well entrenched in Human Resources Management practice. Employee counseling, employee motivation, etc, draw heavily from modern psychology, especially Freud. And the Public Relations industry, in particular, is almost solely based on theory and practice of modern psychoanalysis. For example, contemporary consumer culture works by attracting customers with ego-stroking advertisement messages and by creating an illusory sense of security. This is nothing but adapting and exploiting theories of the psyche for commercial gain. (Russell, 2005, p.56)
Plato understood that the human psyche is in constant exchange with the external social, cultural and political environment and these are “fundamentally shaped by the movement of meanings from polis to psyche and back again”. (Plato, 1957, p.41) The ecosystem of the business corporation has its own social, cultural and political content, thus enabling an application of Plato’s theory of the psyche to it. Plato works out one of the most insightful accounts of psychosocial degeneration ever formulated. Contemporary object-relations theorists, if they revisit the works of Plato, will find concurrence with his account of psychopathology. For Plato, the influence of polis on psyche and vice versa is largely unconscious. (Stevenson, 1987) According to him, most of human experience is illusory. In the classic Parable of the Cave narrated by Plato,
“we are, unbeknownst to ourselves, strapped to a wall and forced to watch the projections of images onto the opposite wall which we mistake not only for reality, but for ourselves. We are, on this account, strangers to ourselves. But for Plato, there is therapeutic potential in pushing hard at contradictions inherent in the illusions themselves. Every image is a shadow, a distortion of something bearing more reality than it. In focusing on the distortion we can painfully and slowly work our way toward what the distortion is a distortion of. Once again Plato plants the hope of avoiding despair. (Buckley, 2001, p.459)