44408359_Diotima’s Eudaemonism in Plato’s Symposium

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  • 8/12/2019 44408359_Diotimas Eudaemonism in Platos Symposium


    Phronesis 54 (2009) 297-325 brill.nl/phro

    Diotimas Eudaemonism:Intrinsic Value and Rational Motivation

    in Platos Symposium

    Ralph WedgwoodMerton College, Oxford OX1 4JD, UK


    AbstractTis paper gives a new interpretation of the central section of Platos Symposium(199d-212a). According to this interpretation, the term , as used by Plato here, standsfor what many contemporary philosophers call intrinsic value; and love () isin effect rational motivation, which for Plato consists in the desire to possess intrinsicallyvaluable things that is, according to Plato, to be happy for as long as possible. An

    explanation is given of why Plato believes that possessing intrinsically valuable things,at least for mortals like us, consists in actively creating instantiations of the intrinsicvalues, both in oneself and in the external world, and in knowing and loving these intrin-sic values and their instantiations. Finally, it is argued that this interpretation reveals thatPlatos eudaemonism is a different and more defensible doctrine than many commenta-tors believe.

    KeywordsPlato, Symposium, intrinsic value, rational motivation, eudaemonism

    0. Introduction

    Te heart of Platos Symposium(199d-212a) consists of a series of claimsand arguments that are represented as being put forward by Socrates, ashis contribution to a discussion of the nature of love (). For most ofthis part of the dialogue (from 201d onwards), Socrates is represented asattributing these claims and arguments to a mysterious priestess whom hecalls Diotima. As I shall argue, these pages in fact contain a brilliant and

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    perceptive analysis of the nature of rational motivation an analysis that isnever fully recapitulated in any other Platonic text.1

    Te portion of the dialogue that I am concerned with falls into threeparts:

    1. Te first part is concerned with characterizing the natureof :this part begins with Socrates cross-examination of his host Agathon(199d-201c), and continues with the account of love that Socratesattributes to Diotima, culminating in her identification of love withthe desire for happiness (201d-206a).

    2. Te second part turns to the characteristic action() orfunction() of love, and focuses on the rather surprising ideas of givingbirth and procreation (206b-209e).

    3. Te third part focuses on what Diotima calls the final and highestmysteries of love, which involve the lovers finally coming to stand ina special relation to the Form of the Beautiful itself (210a-212a).

    In the first three sections of this paper, I shall present my interpretation ofeach of these three parts of the dialogue in turn. In the fourth section, I

    shall explain what this interpretation tells us about what exactly Platoseudaemonism comes to. Finally, I shall try to support my conclusion thatPlatos analysis of rational motivation, when correctly interpreted, is bothmore plausible and more perceptive than is generally appreciated.

    1. Te Nature of

    Te first part of the dialogue that I shall focus on here (Symposium 199d-206a) concerns the natureof where is the kind of love thatinvolves some sort of passionate desire(such as sexual desire). In this sec-tion, I shall first briefly summarize the claims that Socrates is representedas endorsing in this part of the dialogue. Ten I shall present a series of

    1) Even though it is one of the best-known texts of classical Greek literature, the centralityof the Symposiumfor the understanding of Platos moral psychology has not been widelyappreciated by scholars working within the tradition of analytic philosophy. Scholars whohave appreciated this point include Irwin (1995, chap. 18), Kraut (2008), Moravcsik(1971), Nussbaum (2001, chap. 6) and Price (1989, chap. 2). In my view, however, all of

    these scholars have missed a crucial part of Platos view; in a couple of cases, they have alsoembraced some interpretive claims that seem to me implausible and ill-supported.

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    exegetical puzzles that these claims give rise to. Finally, I shall present myinterpretation, and defend it by showing that it provides a satisfying solu-

    tion to these exegetical puzzles.Te part of the dialogue that we are concerned with begins with Socrates

    cross-examination of Agathon (199e-201c). Socrates gets Agathon to agreeto a number of crucial principles about :

    i. Love is always love ofsomething that is, has an object (199e7,200e9).

    ii. Whenever one loves something, one also desires it (200a4).iii. Whenever one desires something, it is something that one currently

    lacks, not something that one already possesses (200a7, 200e).iv. Te gods love things that are beautiful (), since it is impossible

    to love things that are ugly () (201a5).v. All things that are good () are also beautiful () (201c2).

    Many of these claims are confirmed by the statements that Socrates reportshaving heard from Diotima:2

    It is because of Loves lack of good and beautiful things that Love desires these thingsthat it lacks (202d1-2).

    Love is love with respect to what is beautiful () (204b2; cf. 203c3).Te lovable is what is in reality beautiful and graceful and perfect and blessed (204c4).

    Here Diotima seems clearly to be ascribing to Love (whom she is conceiv-ing as a semi-divine being) the features that she regards as characterizingthe lover. So far, then, it would seem clear that Socrates conception ofis as a state that (i) has as its object something beautifulthat one lacks,

    and (ii) involves a desirefor that beautiful thing.3More precisely, this desire

    2) All translations are mine, although I have consulted the translations of Waterfield (1994),Rowe (1998), and Nehamas and Woodruff (1989), as well as the edition of Bury (1932).3) Socrates infers the further conclusion that the lover must himself lack beauty (201b3),and so cannot himself be beautiful (201b5-6). Nussbaum (2001, 178) objects strenuouslyto this inference: as she complains, the lover may be quite beautiful, for all we know. Inlight of the interpretation that I offer later on of what lacking something comes to, how-ever, we should interpret this claim that the lover is not beautiful to mean only that

    the lover is notperfectly beautiful in the way in which the gods are which would involvebeing unqualifiedly beautiful (that is, maximallybeautiful in every wayboth eternallyand

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    for beautiful things is a desire that those beautiful things should becomeones own(204d); this seems to be treated as coming to the same thing as

    the desire to have or possess such beautiful things.As we have seen, Socrates and Agathon both accept that everything

    good is beautiful (201c2). In fact, it seems clear that Socrates also acceptsthat everything beautiful is good. Diotima plainly assumes that the answerto the question, What happens to you when the beautiful things that youdesire become your own? is exactly the sameas the answer to the questionWhat happens to you when thegood things that you desire become yourown? (204e5). But this assumption would be indefensible unless every-thing beautiful that anyone desired was also good. So it seems overwhel-

    mingly plausible that Socrates and Diotima assume that the conceptsbeautifulandgoodare in fact coextensive: even if using these two conceptsinvolves thinking about the things that fall under the concepts in two dif-ferent ways, there is in fact nothing that falls under either of these conceptswithout falling under the other concept as well.4

    It follows, then, that love involves a desire that thegoodthings that onecurrently lacks should become ones own. Tis, Diotima claims, is quitesimply the desire for happiness (205a). Moreover, she claims, love also

    involves the desire that these good things that one currently lacks shouldbecome ones ownforever(205a and 206a); we may assume that this desireis simply the desire to be happy forever.

    Tese claims give rise to a series of exegetical puzzles. More specifically,I shall focus on the following puzzles:

    a. What exactly does Plato mean by the terms beautiful () andgood () here? Why does he treat these two terms as coexten-sive here?

    necessarily). As I shall explain in Section 2 below, such a perfect being would indeed beincapable of as Plato understands it.4) For more evidence that Plato believes that everything is , see e.g. Protago-ras 360b3, where Socrates thinks that it is obvious that if courageous acts are , theymust also be . Te point that and are distinct but coextensiveconcepts is understood correctly by Price (1989, 16). Prices interpretation is disputed

    wrongly in my view by Gerson (2006), who claims (without any evidence that I can see)that according to Plato the beautiful is hierarchically subordinate to the good, and by Lear(2006, 104) who claims that Plato only thinks that everything beautiful that is desiredis

    good because no one desires anything unless it is good (although this latter claim does notseem to me clearly supported by the text of the Symposium).

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    in peoples souls (which seems to include the beauty of customs andlaws, and of branches of knowledge) is more precious () than

    the beauty of the body (210b7). Finally, it appears to be implied that theForm of Beauty is the most beautiful thing of all () (210e5).

    So as it is used here does not apply only or even primarily tothings that are physically or sensuously beautiful. Te term could equallywell have been translated by such terms as fine or admirable or evenhonourable. (Indeed, in such works as De Offi ciis, Cicero translated theStoics use of by the Latin honestum.) Fundamentally, I believe,the term stands for the property of being something that is an appropriate

    object of a certain sort of pro-attitude, on the part of anyonewho is in aposition properly to appreciate the object in question.6 Specifically, therelevant sort of pro-attitude includes bothadmiration andall the attitudesof appraisal that involve contemplating something with fascination anddelight. So the attitudes in question are those that are characteristicallyexpressed by enthusing about something, praising something, or cherish-ing something, and the like.

    o say that what is is an appropriate object of such pro-attitudes

    on the part of anyonewho is in a position to appreciate the object ade-quately is to say that being is in a way an agent-neutralfeature of theobject in question. What is is simply what merits being admired orpraised or valued by anyone. Tis explains why the property of being is not agent-relative in the same way as the property of beinggood for me.Statements of the form xis beautiful or xis admirable are capable of beingstraightforwardly true or false; but xis good for cannot be true or false only x is good for y can be true or false. (In other words, . . . is goodfor. . . . is a 2-place predicate, while . . . is beautiful is a 1-place predicate.)

    6) Enthusiasts for contemporary ethical theory will recognize this as the so-called fittingattitude (FA) analysis of evaluative properties. For examples of philosophers who haveembraced this FA analysis, see Brentano (1969, 18), Broad (1930, 283) and Ewing (1947,142). I am not claiming here that Plato endorses this FA analysis; I am endorsing this FAanalysis myself, as an essential analysis (or real definition) of the property that Platos useof the term refers to. (Plato could be referring to this very property even if he isignorant of its real definition or essential analysis.) However, I am only invoking this FAanalysis for the very limited purpose of clarifying Platos use of the term . Nothingin the rest of my arguments will depend on whether or not this analysis is correct. So even

    those who reject the FA analysis can accept these arguments, so long as they succeed inlatching onto the sense in which Plato is using the term here in some other way.

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    In short, I think we can say that Plato is deliberately using the term in a very broad way, so that when the term is used in this way, it

    applies to everything that has agent-neutral, non-instrumental value. Forshort, I shall say that the term simply refers to everything that hasintrinsic value.7(Some philosophers most notably, Christine Korsgaard(1983) have insisted that in the end we need to distinguish betweenintrinsicvalue and other sorts of agent-neutral, non-instrumentalvalue. Ishall assume that this distinction does not matter for the purposes of Pla-tos theory; in effect, I shall assume that Plato does not recognize any kindof agent-neutral non-instrumental value other than intrinsic value.)

    What about the term (which, like everyone else, I have trans-lated good)? As we have seen, Plato seems to treat the terms and as coextensive (at least in this context). However, he also treatsthe two terms as differing in meaning, since he thinks that it is easier tojudge that one becomes happy whengoodthings become ones own thanto judge that one becomes happy when beautiful things become onesown (204d-205a); if the terms were synonymous, there would be no dif-ference at all between the judgment expressed by one of these terms andthe corresponding judgment expressed by the other. So what exactly is the

    difference in meaning between these two terms in Platos usage?I tentatively suggest that, as it is used in this context, has aconceptual tie to the notion of thegood life: something counts as in the relevant sense just in case it is one of the constituents of the goodlife where it is assumed that the good life is the happylife, and the lifethat we have most reason, all things considered, to wish for ourselves. Atall events, Diotima seems to commit herself to the biconditional claim thatone will become happy if and only if good things become ones own. Sheclearly asserts the right-to-left half of the biconditional, when she claims

    that whenever good things become ones own, one will become happy(204d7-e7). She also claims that all happy people are happy by virtue ofpossessing good things (205a1), which seems to entail the left-to-righthalf of the biconditional. So this supports the interpretation of as standing in this context for the constituents of the good life (that is, thehappy life). On this interpretation, then, Diotima is claiming that a life

    7)o clarify: I am not claiming that Plato has twonotions one that he expresses with and another separate notion of intrinsic value. I am saying that the notion that



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