Unfamiliar Voices: Harmonizing the Non-Socratic Speeches and Plato's Psychology

In Pierre Destrée & Zina Giannopolou (eds.), Plato's Symposium: A Critical Guide. Cambridge University Press. pp. 28–47 (2017)
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Commentators have often been puzzled by the structure of the Symposium; in particular, it is unclear what the relationship is between Socrates’ speech and that of the other symposiasts. This chapter seeks to make a contribution to that debate by highlighting parallels between the first four speeches of the Symposium and the goals of the early education in the Republic. In both dialogues, I contend, we see Plato concerned with educating people through (a) activating and cultivating spirited motivations, (b) becoming lawful and taking virtue as a goal, (c) harmonizing the opposing forces in their soul, and (d) minimizing the appetites and making them orderly. While these are familiar points from the moral education of the Republic, I argue that they also map onto the first four speeches of the Symposium respectively. Because in the Republic this moral education is necessary to make progress on the epistemic ascent, we can speculate that there is a similar point to be made in the Symposium – without first training our character adequately, we will not be able to climb the ladder of love. While the positive effects of Eros described in the early speeches of the Symposium are only imitations of the ideal education regime of Kallipolis, they nevertheless improve one’s character in such a way that better prepares the soul for philosophy. Finally, I argue that the importance of this moral education is dramatized at the end of the Symposium through Agathon’s amicable refutation by Socrates on the one hand, and the drunken entrance of Alcibiades on the other. Agathon shows potential for philosophy whereas Alcibiades is the exemplar of what happens when somebody comes to philosophy without a harmonized soul.

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Jeremy Reid
San Francisco State University


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