Date of Degree
History of Philosophy
Plato, Symposium, Phaedrus, Republic, Statesman, Laws
Desire informs the good and examined life by giving meaning to and requiring training for human drives. In investigating Plato’s dialogues for how desire informs philosophy, comparison gives way to a genealogical hermeneutic; the obvious want to find changes or discrepancies in Plato’s texts, and Socrates’ words, gives way to interpreting congruent transformations of thought throughout his corpus. Specifically, this thesis evaluates desire’s multitude of signification and significance through the following the chronology: Symposium, Phaedrus, Republic, Statesman, and Laws. That human failing and ambition equally find desire couched between lack and satiation is radically reconsidered in the course of the Symposium to aim eros towards the possession of the forever good through love of the beautiful. The Phaedrus unites soulful love of the forms of beauty, temperance, and justice in heaven with standards for soul-leading through the pitfalls of philosophy on earth; in this reading, while desire is contingent for knowledge acquisition, the rigors of philosophy require desire to undergo conscious measures of discipline. The erotic dialogues tend to posit eros in an exceptional capacity. Holding eros to exceptional standards is corroborated by Socrates’ warnings in the Republic to any erotically inclined person to beware tyrannical behaviors and nature. Yet the whole picture of eros left impressed upon the reader of the Republic is complicated by the way in which eros is accounted for in the beautiful city, diminished by the tripartite soul, and mitigated by the interlocutors themselves. Though some political consequences of eros for the philosopher-rulers in the beautiful city is fleshed out by the Statesman’s myth of two ages, where the condition of desire both opposes itself to an automatic existence wrought by the gods of the ideal age and makes love of wisdom possible, it is the emergence of the statesman’s ability to rule by recollection and absence of the divine ideal that the presence of desire and volition in our present condition becomes politically pronounced. In the Laws, Plato’s moral psychology is expanded from the theoretical ambitions of the tripartite city/soul to the tangible bipartisan division between pleasure and pain in order to permit the ordinary citizen of the demos that chance to live the good and examined life. All in all, desire in general wills itself towards specific desire for wisdom, especially when one confronts the ineffable.
Bagrow, Christian P., "Desire Informing Philosophy in Plato: The Lover, the Tyrant, and the Citizen" (2022). CUNY Academic Works.