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Eros in Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche

The Politics of Infinity

Laurence D. Cooper

Publication Year: 2008

Human beings are restless souls, ever driven by an insistent inner force not only to have more but to be more—to be infinitely more. Various philosophers have emphasized this type of ceaseless striving in their accounts of humanity, as in Spinoza’s notion of conatus and Hobbes’s identification of “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power.” In this book, Laurence Cooper focuses his attention on three giants of the philosophic tradition for whom this inner force was a major preoccupation and something separate from and greater than the desire for self-preservation. Cooper’s overarching purpose is to illuminate the nature of this source of existential longing and discontent and its implications for political life. He concentrates especially on what these thinkers share in their understanding of this psychic power and how they view it ambivalently as the root not only of ambition, vigorous virtue, patriotism, and philosophy, but also of tyranny, imperialism, and varieties of fanaticism. But he is not neglectful of the differences among their interpretations of the phenomenon, either, and especially highlights these in the concluding chapter.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates teaches his companions that men too can be pregnant, and in more than one way. Some generate children, others produce various kinds of works. This book has been the beneficiary of prenatal care from generous and thoughtful colleagues. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: The Oneness of Desire—But Which One?

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pp. 1-14

How inauspicious to begin a book on eros with a line from Hobbes. And how wrongheaded: Hobbes extolls self-preservation over nobler longings and traces those longings to impermanent and ‘‘curable’’ sources. Human beings desire power after power, but why? Not because they are naturally drawn or propelled ...

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1 The Republic as Prologue

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pp. 15-48

If it’s possible to regard the Western philosophic tradition as a series of footnotes to Plato, then it’s at least as plausible to regard the history of political philosophy as a series of footnotes to the Republic. And no more so than where political philosophy looks at the soul. ...

Part I: Platonic Eros—The Effectual Truth

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2 First Truths

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pp. 51-64

Desire and longing—what the Greek world called eros—don’t fare too well in Plato’s political dialogues. In the Republic and the Gorgias, the dialogues in which the relation between eros and politics is most extensively addressed, eros is presented as a tyrannical passion that easily leads to political tyranny ...

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3 What Does Eros Want?

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pp. 65-92

Before trying to read Socrates’ speech correctly—before attempting to determine the significance of its selectivity, its beautification of the truth, and its context—indeed, in order to read it correctly, one would do well to read it, if not incorrectly, then naively—which, however, does not mean carelessly. ...

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4 Love of Wisdom versus Love of the Wise: Eros in Action

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pp. 93-130

Having gone to some effort to break Socrates’ teaching in the Symposium into two only to argue that two do indeed become one, let me offer a summary statement of this complex unity. Some of this has already been said, but not all of it—and not all together. ...

Part II: Rousseau and the Expansiveness of Being

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5 Between Eros and Will to Power: Rousseau and ‘‘The Desire to Extend Our Being’’

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pp. 133-174

We all want what’s good. But what is good? Or, to begin with only slightly less ambitious a question, how can we discover the good? Classical philosophy taught that the route to knowledge of the good must begin with what is widely believed to be good: the good is the desirable, and the desirable either is, ...

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6 Emile, or On Philosophy?

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pp. 175-200

Rousseau’s treatments of the expansiveness of being are both brief and prosaic. To speak evocatively of extended being would likely prod those who have not been properly educated or otherwise prepared toward pursuits that would diminish being rather than enhance it. Such is the sad paradox of the human condition, ...

Part III: Nietzsche’s New Eternity

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7 Nietzsche’s Politeia, I

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pp. 203-236

The mature Nietzsche was never quite sure about Plato. About Platonism, yes: a catastrophic idealism based on two great falsehoods, the pure mind and the good in itself (BGE Preface)—catastrophic because it undermined the glorious civilization of classical antiquity. ...

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8 Nietzsche’s Politeia, II

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pp. 237-272

Book 5 of the Republic marks the beginning of a digression. But it’s a ‘‘digression’’ that continues for three full books, and rather than some sort of side trip it takes us to the defining peaks of the dialogue. For these reasons book 5 constitutes a new beginning of the entire dialogue. ...

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9 Will to Power versus Eros, or a Battle of Eternities

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pp. 273-302

In trying to apprehend the basis of Nietzsche’s quarrel with Plato we are beset by the problem with which we began: a good part of Nietzsche’s opposition to Plato needs to be understood as strategic or prescriptive as opposed to philosophic or diagnostic. As we have seen, the mature Nietzsche was inclined to separate Plato ...

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Epilogue: One or Many?

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pp. 303-328

The question might be put a little more precisely: One, Two, or Three? Do Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche give accounts of the soul’s preeminent force that are consistent and complementary, the differences signifying divergent perspectives on what is regarded as essentially the same thing, ...


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pp. 329-336


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pp. 337-357

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271053134
E-ISBN-10: 0271053135
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271033310
Print-ISBN-10: 0271033312

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2008