Mariangela Esposito

Mariangela Esposito

Title : The emotions of beauty and Eros in Plato



Eros is one of the most powerful pathè described by Plato. Furthermore, its power is reinforced by the manifestation of beauty that often accompanies and precedes Eros. The two phenomena are indivisible in the same way that Aphrodite and Eros appear together when they want to exercise their power (Symp.180d-e).

When one experiences beauty, one becomes completely subjugated by erotic pathos. In this sense, it is possible to assert that beauty and Eros provoke a loss of control in the rational faculty of the soul, because instead they empower the emotional faculty. Thus, beauty and Eros lead to a lack of reason and every human should avoid these pathè in order to protect their soul – as it is argued in the first discourse by Socrates in the Phaedrus (237a-241d).

Eros and beauty in Plato’s psychology appear to weaken the soul as other strong pathè do. This interpretation is probably one of the most established, even though it is put into question by Socrates himself in the Phaedrus with his palinode (244a-258b).

This paper intends to argue against this widely accepted interpretation and it will be composed of two parts, the former will be destruens, while the latter will be construens.

The pars destruens aims to argue against the common view of beauty and Eros as negative affections of the soul, by showing the actual but limited nature of this interpretation. My interpretation will rather show that beauty and Eros are not dangerous pathè because they do not weaken the rational faculty of the soul when they are pursued dialectically and for the sake of truth.

The pars construens aims to argue that beauty and Eros are emotional resources that provide human beings with access to and participation in “The True Goodness” which is something divine. Consequently, these pathè empower the entire soul, the emotional as well as the rational faculties. In fact, thanks to the correct use of pathos, it is possible to initiate a development of the soul that eventually leads to deeper and divine knowledge.

In order to hold this position, in the pars destruens there will be considered: the second discourse by Socrates in the Phaedrus (244a-258b); the different kinds of beauty that characterise Socrates and Alcibiades as narrated in the epilogue of the Symposium (213a-222c); the educative function of Eros as described in Alcibiades I (124b-c), and Laws (VII,837a-d).

Instead, in the pars construens there will be considered: the mythological origin of the two pathè as recalled by Diotima in the Symposium (the myth of the birth of Aphrodites, 203b- 204a), and especially the philosophical nature of Eros (both as pathos and daimon); the possibility that Eros provides to humankind in order to participate in the infinite, either through physical procreation or through philosophical procreation (206c-207a); the role of wonder which is the symptom of being subjugated by beauty, but it is also the feeling that identifies authentic philosophical investigation.

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