Simon Scott

Simon Scott

Title : Shaming the beloved. The importance of loving well in Plato’s Symposium and the Phaedrus


A number of modern philosophers regard shame only as a negative emotion that can destroy an individual and lead to his or her removal from society or even to suicide (e.g. Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls).  In the many observations on shame Plato makes in his works, we are reminded that shame can also have a positive effect.  Recently, scholars have turned to Plato’s reflections on shame in the context of his political works, the Gorgias and the Republic (e.g. C. Tarnopolsky, R. Jenks), to examine this contrasting view.

Surprisingly little has been written about shame in Plato’s erotic dialogues despite the close attention he gives to it in the Phaedrus and its importance in two speeches in the Symposium.  Central to these dialogues is Plato’s exploration of rational love through the relation between an older man (the erastes) and his young beloved (the eromenos).  The education of both lover and beloved is explored in terms of loving well; and loving well is key to living a flourishing life.  The striking difference between the two dialogues is that, in the Phaedrus, Plato has developed his tripartite model of the psyche and he uses it to organise his analysis of erotic love.  Shame is located in the thumotic part of the psyche, the evaluative part that “is the need to believe that one counts for something, and that central to this need will be a tendency to form an ideal image of oneself in accordance with one’s conception of the fine and the noble” (Angie Hobbes, Plato and the Hero, p.30).  Recognising the importance of thumos to a healthy psyche, Plato devotes a substantial part of this dialogue to its education or cultivation.  Although I shall also comment on the Symposium, my paper will focus mostly on the Phaedrus, examining the role of shame in this cultivation of the thumos and the ethics that arises from this.

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