Thymos and Thymotic Characteristics

(the need for recognition)


People take steps to gain recognition and an appreciation of their significance

Meaning "spiritedness" in Greek, Plato described thymos as the part of the soul comprising pride, indignation, shame, and the need for recognition. Thymos was an indispensable warlike attribute in the ancient world, and remains so today. It is an aspect of inner life that galvanizes commitment to armed conflict and gives it meaning for many combatants; even for civilians who experience it vicariously. Thymos is the human undercurrent that flows amid the geopolitical externalities of war.

  • Without thymos, man amounts to little more than a highly intelligent animal; all brain and physical need, with no moral autonomy.
  • Plato believed thymos exists in us along with our godlike reason and our base appetites.
  • Appetite constitutes our lowest side, embracing the desire to eat, sleep, reproduce, and live on as the physically dependent mammals we are.
  • Reason, on the other hand, enables us to understand and master life's complexities.
  • Although the thymotic urge drives so much of public life, very few talk about thymos anymore.

  • Man can use his potent reasoning power to fulfill bodily appetites (a hunter trapping an animal; an employee angling for a raise), or to enjoy intellectual speculation.
  • Thymos, however, sometimes causes us to act unreasonably, out of pride, and strive for ends that are unfriendly to our physical well-being.
  • Many thinkers have asserted that man should; rather than let spiritedness dominate behavior; stick with using his mind to protect and gratify his body.
  • Thomas Hobbes claimed that man is motivated primarily by fear of death and other selfish concerns.
  • John Locke, whose political theories profoundly influenced our Founding Fathers, emphasized man's calculating, acquisitive side by extolling "life, health, liberty, [and] possessions."
  • G.W.F. Hegel later maintained that man's humanity flourishes most when he transcends survivalist, materialist inclinations and engages his thymotic side by voluntarily risking his life in armed conflict (or other dangerous yet high-minded undertakings).
  • Doing so proves to the courageous person and those who observe him that, while bodily a mere animal, internally he is also a masterful being . . . free to exercise moral choice, perhaps stake his life, and show himself superior to narrow concern with himself or his goods.
  • According to Hegel, man is thus most truly human when pursuing self-sacrificing, risky courses of action.
  • The person who swims into rough seas to rescue a stranger; the soldier who storms an enemy machine gun nest to save his mates; the fireman or policeman who risks his life to help those in peril; these people are living thymotically, well beyond their vestigial animal nature and their sometimes over-circumspect sense of reason.
  • In the Republic, Plato wrote that thymotic people are good to those who share their values, but not to their enemies: "If not, they will destroy themselves without waiting for their enemies to destroy them."
  • Recognition: Men want others to recognize their significance. They want to feel important and part of something important.

  • Some people believe men are motivated by greed for money or lust for power; however, money and power are the means to get recognition.
  • They are markers of success, and success makes men feel important and causes others to pay attention when they appear on the scene.
  • Plato famously divided the soul into three parts: reason, eros (desire) and thymos (the hunger for recognition).
  • Thymos is what motivates the best and worst things men do.
  • It drives them to seek glory and to assert themselves aggressively for noble causes.
  • It drives them to rage if others don’t recognize their worth.
  • Sometimes it even causes them to kill over a trifle if they feel disrespected.
  • Plato went on to point out that people are not only sensitive about their own self-worth, they are also sensitive about the dignity of their group, and the dignity of others.
  • If a group is denied the dignity it deserves, we call that injustice.
  • Thymotic people mobilize to assert their group’s significance if they feel they are being rendered invisible by society.
  • Thymotic people mobilize on behalf of those made voiceless by the powerful.
  • As Plato indicated, thymos is the psychological origin of political action.
  • The thymos (or what might now be called "self-esteem") generates in people a fundamental human need to be recognized for their merits
  • Political and economic systems may be evaluated by measuring how well they satisfy the demands of the thymos.

Pointing to a page about a thymo-, gland, warty glanular growth, units The thymo words unit with "gland, warty glanular growth" applications.

Pointing to a page about a thymo-, spirit, soul, courage, units The thymo words unit with "emotion, spirit" applications.

Pointing to a page about a thymo-, spirit, soul, courage, units The thymo words unit with "thyme plants" applications.