Bad Luck to Take a Woman Aboard

In Debra Nails & Harold Tarrant (eds.), Second Sailing: Alternative Perspectives on Plato. Helsinki, Finland: Societas Scientiarum Fennica. pp. 73-90 (2015)
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Despite Diotima’s irresistible virtues and attractiveness across the millennia, she spells trouble for philosophy. It is not her fault that she has been misunderstood, nor is it Plato’s. Rather, I suspect, each era has made of Diotima what it desired her to be. Her malleability is related to the assumption that Plato invented her, that she is a mere literary fiction, licensing the imagination to do what it will. In the first part of my paper, I argue against three contemporary ‘majority views’ about Diotima that I regard as false. The first is that we can be certain she is fictional;1 a second is that Diotima is our best evidence for Plato’s feminism; the third, that she is Plato’s mouthpiece for the higher mysteries in the Symposium. After I have set aside what I regard as false, I proceed in the second half of my paper to develop Diotima’s positive contribution to philosophical psychology, her naturalistic account of the psyche as mortal, unified, and developmental. Whether the view Plato assigns to her is one that he held I do not pretend to know; but it is a powerful, defensible, and coherent view that inspired positive aspects of Freudian psychology in the twentieth century. Freud’s insight, in fact, makes clear how erōs can be developed in relation to the bad as well as the good.
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