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  • The Desire for Recognition in Plato's Symposium
  • Alessandra Fussi

In Plato's Symposium, Eros unifies the multiplicity of human goals by drawing the entire soul towards the desire for the good. Since, however, we cannot find anything explicit about the composite nature of the soul in this dialogue, the unifying power of Eros does not seem to extend from the soul's goals to its internal parts. This is all the more puzzling given that the Symposium is generally thought to be very close to the Republic chronologically. One may wonder, bearing the distinctions of the Republic in mind, whether someone whose character is mostly shaped by thumos will pursue happiness by identifying goals, and ways to attain them, that are intrinsically different from those identified by someone whose character traits are marked by reason or by appetite. In other words, if we assume that the soul is not monolithic, we can expect that the unifying force of Eros will allow for different overarching goals as well as for different modalities in which such goals will be pursued.

If we look at Diotima's speech closely enough, we find some indications that she might have in mind a distinction between three kinds of "goods" towards which three different kinds of character types can be moved by Eros. For example, after distinguishing between generic love and specific love, she offers at 205d three examples of activities spurred by generic love with their respective goals: money, gymnastics, philosophy. It is certainly not difficult to detect in this tripartition a prefiguration of the three classes in Plato's Republic: the money-making class, the guardian class mainly trained in gymnastics, and the class of the philosophers. The distinction between character types in the Symposium is further highlighted when Diotima explains that there are three fundamental modes of striving [End Page 237] for immortality. Those bound to the body will beget children; those fertile in their souls—moved by the desire to be honored—will generate beautiful speeches or beautiful deeds; but only those initiated into the Greater Mysteries will be able to generate true virtue and thus become truly immortal by contemplating eternal Beauty (212b1). As G. R. F. Ferrari points out, in the realm of the Lesser Mysteries love of honor (philotimia) is the highest aspiration, while "in the Greater Mysteries it will be philosophy that leads us to the ultimate goal (210d6). The transition from Lesser to Greater bears comparison, then, with the crucial shift of focus in the Republic from institutions grounded in the honor code (Books II–IV) to those derived from rule by philosopher kings (Books V–VII)."1

Though the soul's tripartition is not discussed in the Symposium, the dialogue provides the ground for a phenomenological account of the difference between the thumoeidetic and the rational manifestations of Eros. In the Republic itself, it is not easy to discern how the characteristics ascribed to thumos fit together in a coherent whole.2Thumos in the Republic is something in-between a raw drive (the sheer aggressiveness of the lion, 588d) and a cluster of complex emotional responses, such as anger when one is convinced of having being wronged or belittled (440c, 441bc), a longing for competitive success (φιλονικία, 548c, 550b) and strong desires for glory and honor (φιλοτιμία, 475a, 548c, 549a). If properly educated, thumos gives rise to the virtue of courage, (429c–30b, 442b–c). Thumos is ultimately a motivational source rooted in the agent's self-image and emotionally linked to the esteem one earns from others. As the case of Leontion indicates, a thumoeidetic personality will be very sensitive to shame and inclined to embrace conventionally held beliefs and values.3 In this sense, someone driven by thumos will also be sensitive to injustice and ready to flare up in indignation at wrongs done. However, in contrast with [End Page 238] λογιστικόν, thumos does not strive towards universality. Judgment based on thumoeidetic motivations is thus often partial, relying on first appearances rather than on a well-examined state of affairs (at 440c, thumos is said to be enraged by the opinion of a wrong done and to start fighting for what appears to be just...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6504
Print ISSN
0004-0975
Pages
pp. 237-262
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-10
Open Access
No
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