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EROS AS PROCREATION IN BEAUTY Author(s): Philip W. Cummings Source: Apeiron: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science, Vol. 10, No. 2 (November 1976), pp. 23-28 Published by: De Gruyter Stable URL: . Accessed: 08/05/2013 21:35
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eros and philia , are two, or perhaps better one , of the love and friendship, Clearly, of Plato's about the only thing clear about eros central thought. aspects Equally clearly, love - and even that statement in Plato is that love in Plato is not Platonic and philia needs A thorough study of the topic of love in Plato would require looking at the Lysis , the Symposium , the Phaedrus , and large tracts of the Republic , the Laws, and the account of Timaeus. However, Diotima's speech in the Symposium comes as near an "official" reservations. own views on the nature definition of love as Plato trate on Diotima's of love ever permits and the surrounding himself. passages I shall therefore concenand on related passages


in the Republic. The course of Diotima's exposition of the nature of love is somewhat exasperating to However, three key characterizaanyone trying to work out the logical sequence of ideas. tions of love are highlighted: all desire of good things and of happiness. (1) Love is, generically, (Symp.2Q5D) 206A) ( Symp. (2) Love, i.e. a lover, desires the good to be his forever. (3) Love is engendering and begetting in beauty whether bodily or spiritual. (Symp. 206B)2 Of these, characterizations (1) and (2) are logically connected by a series of concessions Diotima extracts from Socrates. Together with the context they seem to be egoistic and one desires the good for the sake of happiness, and one cannot even ask why eudaemonistic: someone wants to be happy (Symp.205A) . The implication one naturally draws, and the one that the other participants in the symposium took for granted, is that one desires good things (an equally possible translation for what was translated above as "the good") for the sake of one's own happiness." However, the deliberate obscurity here in comparison with the precise teasing out by Socrates of egoistic conclusions in the Lysis ought to suggest that And even (2) Plato wants the reader to draw a different conclusion from the natural one. is subtler than it seems. With (3), which I take to be Plato's definition of love, we reach a bold and paradoxical departure from the surface meaning of (1) and (2) . Engendering and begetting may produce pleasure for the lover, but there is no hint that the lover desires to engender and beget for the sake of the pleasure that engendering and begetting provides him (at best, the lover seeks to rid himself of the pain of carrying his physical or spiritual offspring) . 4 I first look at the three characterizations in order. There are three things to say about characterization of the love-sick homo(1) . First, after Pausanias1 characterization sexual lover, the claim that any kind of desire for good things is love is like saying that all meat is filet mignon. The force of an erotic passion, Pausanias claimed, was so compelling that it excused the most outrageous lapses from propriety and apparent self-interest. Diotima here makes the important point that all, or at least other, desires get their force from the same source of energy as erotic love - indeed that all desires have an erotic comof this, Alcibiades' speech is an illustration ponent nearly proportional to their force. as of much in the Symposium.Socrates is no stranger to the effects of physical beauty, as his excitement at the unexpected sight inside Charmides' clothes illustrates. Paradoxically, Socrates1 immunityto Alcibiades1 attempt at seduction is itself an erotic force overpowering another, physical, erotic "orce. 23 ApeironVol. X (1976) No. 2

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(1 has already been hinted at. It would have aspect of characterization as more to be expected. listeners Love is every desire for good things and struck Socrates' are not desired Good things and happiness for happiness. Rather the acquisiindependently. " .. as a means to happiness, tion of good things is desired and we have no more need to ask for what end a man wishes to be happy, when such is his wish: the answer seems to be ultimate.11 ( Symp. 205A, Lamb translation). The second The account leading up to characterization (1) is an account of egoistic desires, that everyone always wishes to have good things" "Now do you suppose ... (e.g. (Symp. 205A, from this aspect of the account. The illustrations establish Lamb) . But we must abstract for that a man who desires himself desires them as a means to for himgood things happiness But nothing in the course of the argument rules out the possibility that someone of someone else. might desire good things for someone else as a means to the happiness Hence, characterization . (1) is not stated egoistically (2) if "good things" was a better by characterization Egoism would be established In this respect translation than "the good." the argument seems to recapitulate the moveself. ment that Vlastos the good, it will is transcended. to philia in the Lysis. But the way one possesses points out with respect be shown, is so different from the way one possesses things that egoism

How does one possess the good? What is it to possess the good? There are any number of ways of possessing But the of notion the good things. possessing good is not unproblemIs it to know what "good" means? atical. Is it to know what acts, or things, persons, states of affairs Is it to be good? are good? to do good? to have good done to one? in the possession of good things I may possess a good indirectSometimes, perhaps usually, ly. possession But I cannot, in the same way, possess the good directly. And this of the good would be, for Plato, at least second-rate. that he himself (2) the lover desires According to characterization indirect manner of

the good possess Now Plato, forever. as we shall three kinds of lovers, and the meaning see, distinguishes of (2) is going to depend on the understandino . or misunderstanding, of the nature of his love by each kind of lover. The heterosexual is going to understand for example, lover, his desire as one to be united might desire, per impossibile, compromising his other desires. But anything like this is, with his beloved The admirer of Guernica forever. physically that he could contemplate Guernica for all eternity without

a misapprehension of what one really for Plato, desires. To possess the good is to know the good, and to know the good is to be aware of the form of the good. We have two accounts of the ascent to the forms - in the Republic the ascent to the form of the good and in the Symposium the ascent to the form of beauty. What is the the lover between the philosopher, relationship par excellence, made the ascent? In many spots the analogy is with seeing. "When a man has been thus far tutored in the lore of love revealed to him ... a wondrous "And then, I take at justice, direction, and alternately at that Shorey) . 24 and the form when he has

. . . suddenly he will have in its nature."5 beautiful vision, in either it, in the course of the work they would glance frequently and the like as they are in the nature of things, beauty, sobriety, which they were trying to reproduce in mankind." (Rep. 501B,

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Such talk, and there is much of it, implies that Platonic eros, as it is most purely manifested, in the philosopher, is the desire for eternal contemplation of the forms. Indeea, Diotima herself says, "Here above all places, my dear Socrates, ... is the life that is worth living for man, lived in the contemplation of the Beautiful itself." 211D , iymp. And this may be, indeed, the kind of immortality a philosopher hopes for. Groden trans.) But contemplation of the forms, mystical or otherwise, for any extended period is no more possible for an embodied human being than extended and uninterrupted sexual pleasure. Hence, Diotima1 s definition (3) shocks us into a quite different conception of what is involved in a human being's possessing the good. The desire to possess the good forever functions in a man as the desire to beget and give birth in the presence of beauty, whether Love is a desire to father something within oneself. (The mother, in bodily or spiritual. Plato's biology, is just an incubator.) This is more than a bit strange. From the apparent eudaemonistic egoism of characterizations (1) and (2) we seem to have moved to something which might on the face of it be neither egoistic nor eudaemonistic: Physical children, at least, have a fair chance of turning out in ways that cause their father great unhappiness. The transition is not handled very clearly, but the psychology is good. Love is not (And hence, the life of the contemplation of something loved, but a creative activity. is a life the of great lover, philosopher, creativity) . The lover desires to be immortal. But of the Love is still, apparently, egoistic. three kinds of love, the highest class involves a sublimation of the desire for immortality and the realization that the desire for immortality is a pale copy of a much deeper relationand the good. the lover between ship The three kinds of love are: (a) the desire to become immortal by producing replicas of oneself inspired by the beauty of a woman- a procedure which fails to produce perfect replicas even if a replica from but numerically identical with myself. Since the woman were not just indiscernible contributes nothing genetically to the progeny, apparently the beauty of the womanis not a reason for having children by her: they cannot inherit her beauty, but can at most be affected environmentally by her womb. with a younger male. This (b) the desire to have physical homosexual relationships it cannot produce even replicas of me. But relationship is of course physically sterile: homosexual desires are a kind of deflected desire for immortality: the younger male is more like me than any woman, and hence here the desire for immortality is a desire for union with And homosexual companionship, something like me that is likely to last longer than I will. is likely to produce spiritual progeny when it is partially even when not purely spiritual, Diotima mentions, with only partial relevancies, sublimated. the work of Homer, Hesiod, Lycurgus , and Solon in this connection. In the (c) the desire to produce spiritual progeny in the company of a beautiful soul. where Socrates is the great lover, the beautiful soul is in a younger male apt for Symposium, In the Republic philosophical eros is a co-operative undertaking among the philosophy. who have attained to knowledge of the good. In this highest case the relation philosophers between lover and immortality is complex. On the lowest level it is the soul's desire to replicate itself through spiritual progeny. Second, spiritual progeny outlast physical ones and are more highly honored. Third, engaging in philosophical conversations is the way in 25

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which embodied

human beings can best retain possession of the good. Rational dialectic and of new philosophical truths by co-operative the production discussion is the nearest mortal between the forms themselves. it unchanging relationships approach to the eternal Finally, and for a is most godlike, of a characteristic Greek, the most conspicuous immortality was, god.

like a daemon, and like love which is a daemon, is halfway between The philosopher, as has often been pointed out, depicts Socrates as a satyr, gods and men. Thus Alcibiades, And thus, Delphi willing, as a daemonic teacher. the philosopher of the kings Republic will be worshipped as daemons after their death. From our original all forms of desire were presented as displaced forms perspective, of sexual placed most intense From our present perspective, and misconceived forms of philosophical desire. the first two forms of love eros , with philosophical appear as diseros very much the

and satisfactory of the three. I now want speculatively to tie in a number of threads that may make sense or may not. The state of mind of the philosopher who has attained to knowledge of the good or of beauty is a desire to make goodness or beauty present wherever possible to a higher degree. It is It is rather a desire to take anything jusr. to "look at" goodness or beauty. beautiful and to make it more good or more beautiful. partially good or partially Now a beautiful soul is by nature more beautiful than a beautiful body, and hence the result of making a beautiful soul more beautiful is going to be more beauty than the result of that is And since rational the most beautiful thing thought that is the most beautiful a human being can in the most effective not a desire

making a beautiful body more beautiful. a of beautiful soul and indeed aspect

attain will seek to possess to, the philosopher goodness always discussion with other beautiful manner, that is, by rational souls. The philosopher, to knowledge of the good or of beauty then, after he has attained not just to contemplate wishes, Does he wish to goodness or beauty, but to philosophize. with with la Symposium or with fellow philosophilosophize youths philosophical aptitude (In either case it is a co-operative and not a solitary phers a la Republic ? effort) . If one philosophizes to be much better with youths one may bring them a much greater distance: they are likely thinkers after being subjected to philosophical midwifery than they were before. If one philosophizes with fellow philosophers one starts at a much higher plateau and hence may reach higher peaks. Alcibiades1 of Socrates that the latter pursuit implies is the most satisfactory. concentrate on the relationship of an older and Why then, does the Symposium apparently a younger man? First, the Symposium is, with the Phaedo, Plato's compliment to the peculiar attractiveness of the personality of Socrates. It would thus be out of place to depart from the erotic characteristic of Socrates. And second, there is the characrelationship ter of Socrates' audience. Plato presents as describing Socrates a form of love that transcends the notions of his interlocutors. But he cannot depart too far from their views on pain These are my reasons: speech we are beyond egoism. The Philosopher out of philosophizing, but he gets the most intense pleasure possible does not philosophize for the pleasure. Plato stresses the awesomeness of the good and the * This beautiful. awesomeness is self-certifying. The philosopher does not, really, desire that he possesses the good forever, even in the sense that he may go on philosophizing 26 of not being comprehended. I have suggested that in Diotima's

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forever. Socrates expects immortality but faces extinction with equanimity. Nor can he desire that goodness exist forever: goodness, as a form, does exist forever and the philoWhat the philosopher wants is that goodness and beauty be realized as sopher knows it. much as possible for as long as possible in this world: that this world come as nearly as possible to being like the world of forms. The realization of this desire is going to require three things: That philosophers be able at all times to philosophize with one another. Hence (a) every philosopher will want to philosophize with others. And hence, (b) That there be constantly a new supply of philosophers in training. since the philosopher will realize that he is best equipped to train budding philosophers, he will wish to personally engage in philosophical training even though, all things considwould to ered, he prefer philosophize with his peers. i.e. environment that fosters philosophizing, (c) That there be a stable institutional that Plato's republic exists and survives. Since the philosopher is best equipped to lead a city-state towards the good of philosophy which is at the same time the good of the whole, to engage he will want, although reluctantly by comparison with the desire to philosophize, The pressure needed to make the philosopher devote part of his time to in administration. government need not be as intense as the Republic makes it out. The philosopher knows that realizing the best form of state requires his leadership. But it is not I close with two problems. The highest eros in Plato is not egoistic. It is directed at an individual but rather at the potential for good in that individual. directed normally at the good of that individual, but when what is good for goodness itself the Platonic lover would sacrifice the beloved. conflicts with the good of the individual, and hence The policies of the Platonic philosopher have the result that all individuals, are not undertaken for the sake of the the beloved, are better off. And yet the policies Plato's republic fosters philia among its citizens beloved, or indeed for any individuals. in is itself a not because good thing, but because it is a means to another good philia a romantic It be prejudice on my part, but I can't help believing that loving thing. may Indeed, since most of us are inpersons is a good thing quite apart from its consequents. capable of loving more than a few people, and the beloved may demand individual love, we must deprive some people of all our love (and its benefits, if any). Second, the stress on creation in beauty in the Symposium may seem to jar with the But even in the Republic creation in poetry and music is strictures on art in the Republic. not totally banned. The role of creativity is so hemmedin that the results would strike us, with our jaded tastes, dreadfully monotonous. To Plato, however, this might be the it would be more like the unchanging forms. The creation stressed in the beauty of it: is an intellectual Symposium copying of the rational structure of the world of forms. The creation attacked in the Republic is a copying of things in the world of appearance and more particularly the worst aspects of Lt, at Least from Plato's point of view. But one does wonder whether the kind of philosophical creativity that aims at duplicating as nearly as possible the world of forms would nave tne excitement of Socratic dialectic. Trenton State College Philip W. Cummings


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Notes: 1. Cf. Gregory Vlastos, ton, N.J.: Demand. 2. Not: as two translators have it, "in a beautiful the sense Plato: II. account it, is not egoistic. with "the Beautiful I can only say that the itself." Joyce and is away from egoism. thing." nicely. The lover himself is the one who is Vlastos' oral pregnant rendering, and and desires Plato's 3. 4. 5. to bring to birth, of beauty," by the beauty manifested A Collection NY: in the beloved. II: p. 139. Princeton much to Vlastos1 "The Individual Univ. Pr., and its as an Object pp. 3-42, of Love in Plato", esp. Part I. in Vlastos, Platonic Studies, Prince1973, contents The direction of the present paper owes Nancy


owes much to the comments of Vlastos

and of my colleague,

inspired captures ed., cit., it,

"in the presence Philosophy

Cf. R.A. Markus, "The Dialectic of Critical Essays Ethics,

of Eros in Politics,

Symposium," in Vlastos, of Art and Religiou. see Vlastos, op.

Garden City, part evidence

Doubleday- Anchor, 1971,

On the Lysis,

I admit that there is no clear thrust of the argument as I see Ten phusin kalon. Hamilton omit.

that Diotima's closer

and as I hope to present

Ms. Groden is,

I think,

to the sense


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