Socrates' Praise and Blame of Eros
It is only in "erotic matters" that Plato's Socrates is wise, or so he claims at least on several occasions, and since his Socrates makes this claim, it is necessary for Plato's readers to investigate the content of Socrates' wisdom about eros. This dissertation undertakes such an investigation. Plato does not, however, make Socrates' view of eros easy to grasp. So diverse are Socrates' treatments of eros in different dialogues and even within the same dialogue that doubt may arise as to whether he has a consistent view of eros; Socrates subjects eros to relentless criticism throughout the Republic and his first speech in the Phaedrus, and then offers eros his highest praise in his second speech in the Phaedrus and a somewhat lesser praise in the Symposium. This dissertation takes the question of why Socrates treats eros in such divergent ways as its guiding thread and offers an account of the ambiguity in eros' character that renders it both blameworthy and praiseworthy in Socrates' estimation. The investigation is primarily of eros in its ordinary sense of romantic love for another human being, for Socrates' most extensive discussions of eros, those of the Phaedrus and Symposium, are primarily about romantic love. Furthermore, as this investigation makes clear, despite his references to other kinds of eros, Socrates distinguishes a precise meaning of eros, according to which eros is always love of another human being. Socrates' view of romantic love is then assessed through studies of the Republic, Phaedrus, and Symposium. These studies present a unified Socratic understanding of eros; despite their apparent differences, Socrates' treatment of eros in each dialogue confirms and supplements that of the others, each providing further insight into Socrates' complete view. In the Republic, Socrates' opposition to eros, as displayed in both his discussion of the communism of the family in book five and his account of the tyrannic soul in book nine, is traced to irrational religious beliefs to which he suggests eros is connected. Socrates then explains this connection by presenting romantic love as a source of such beliefs in the Phaedrus and Symposium. Because eros is such a source, this dissertation argues that philosophy is incompatible with eros in its precise sense, as Socrates subtly indicates even within his laudatory treatments of eros in the Phaedrus and Symposium. Thus, as a source of irrational beliefs, eros is blameworthy. Yet eros is also praiseworthy. Despite his indication that the philosopher would be free of eros in the precise sense, Socrates also argues that the experience of eros can be of great benefit in the education of a potential philosopher. Precisely as a source of irrational religious belief, the erotic experience includes a greater awareness of the longing for immortality and hence the concern with mortality that Socrates believes is characteristic of human beings, and by bringing lovers to a greater awareness of this concern, eros provides a first step towards the self-knowledge characteristic of the philosophic life.