A Multiform Desire

Dissertation, Uppsala University (2013)
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This dissertation is a study of appetite in Plato’s Timaeus, Republic and Phaedrus. In recent research is it often suggested that Plato considers appetite (i) to pertain to the essential needs of the body, (ii) to relate to a distinct set of objects, e.g. food or drink, and (iii) to cause behaviour aiming at sensory pleasure. Exploring how the notion of appetite, directly and indirectly, connects with Plato’s other purposes in these dialogues, this dissertation sets out to evaluate these ideas. By asking, and answering, three philosophically and interpretatively crucial questions, individually linked to the arguments of the dialogues, this thesis aims to show (i) that the relationship between appetite and the body is not a matter of survival, and that appetite is better understood in terms of excess; (ii) that appetite is multiform and cannot be defined in terms of a distinct set of objects; and (iii) that appetite, in Plato, can also pertain to non-sensory objects, such as articulated discourse. Chapter one asks what the universe can teach us about embodied life. It argues that Plato, in the Timaeus, works with an important link between the universe and the soul, and that the account of disorder, irrationality and multiformity identifying a pre-cosmic condition of the universe provides a key to understanding the excessive behaviour and condition of a soul dominated by appetite. Chapter two asks why the philosophers of the Republic’s Kallipolis return to the cave, and suggests that Plato’s notion of the noble lie provides a reasonable account of this. By exploring the Republic’s ideas of education, poetry and tradition, it argues that appetite – a multiform and appearance oriented source of motivation – is an essential part of this account. Chapter three asks why Socrates characterizes the speeches of the Phaedrus as deceptive games. It proposes that this question should be understood in the light of two distinctions: one between playful and serious discourse and one between simple and multiform. It argues that the speeches of the Phaedrus are multiform games, and suggests that appetite is the primary source of motivation of the soul addressed, personified by Phaedrus.
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