"What's Beautiful is Difficult": Beauty and Eros in Plato's Hippias Major
This dissertation investigates the role that eros in general, and philosophical eros in particular, plays in the search for the eidos of the beautiful in Plato’s Hippias Major. It defends the claim that noesis of the eidos of the beautiful can only be accomplished within the life of philosophical eros, that is, within the life of eros which is directed toward the good. As such this dissertation aims both to provide an interpretive key to the Hippias Major, allowing us to read the dialogue in a rich and novel way, and also to make the claim that the Hippias Major presents us with a picture of the interrelation between eros, philosophy, and beauty, and about how these three elements manifest themselves in human life. As such, some continuities and parallels can be found between it and the other two dialogues which deal most explicitly with beauty and eros, the Phaedrus and Symposium. The first five chapters interpret a particular section of the Hippias Major according to role the eros plays within it, attempting to show that eros, both in general and in its unique manifestation as philosophical eros, is a crucial mediating term for any comprehensive understanding of any section of the dialogue, and therefore of the dialogue as a whole. In each of these five chapters, I will articulate the role that eros plays within the search for obtaining a noetic glance at the eidos of the beautiful. The first chapter demonstrates how Socrates’s philosophical eros gives birth to the question about the beautiful itself within the context of a discussion about sophistry and money. The second chapter shows how Socrates’s philosophical engagement with Hippias’s definitions of the eidos of the beautiful generates a dialectic of ascent, allowing Hippias to expand his understanding of what counts as beautiful in a trajectory that mirrors Diotima’s ascent in the Symposium. The third chapter articulates the erotic significance of Socrates’s claim that the eidos of the beautiful inheres in being and not appearances. The fourth chapter gauges the erotic significance of Socrates’s and Hippias’s claim that the beautiful is good, and the good beautiful. The fifth chapter interprets the comic and tragic aspects of the dialogue in terms of philosophical eros, its rejection and fulfillment. The sixth chapter will take stock of the overall interpretation of the Hippias Major developed in the first five chapters, and will present the overarching view about the relationship between the contemplation of beauty, on the one hand, and desire for possession of beauty and moral concern, on the other, which one can glean from the character and action of Socrates in Hippias Major. It will bring this view into a conversation with the notion of “liking devoid of interest” which is found in Kant’s Critique of Judgment. The conclusion of this dissertation will underscore the principle claim, that the philosophical search for the eidos of the beautiful can neither be separated from the eros which beauty inspires in a human being, nor can it be accomplished without one’s eros benig directed toward the good, and that this philosophical search is marked by suffering and possible tragedy.