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Plato's Theory of Desire Author(s): Charles H. Kahn Reviewed work(s): Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 41, No.

1 (Sep., 1987), pp. 77-103 Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20128559 . Accessed: 24/01/2012 08:08
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PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


CHARLES H. KAHN

1YJ.Y middle

aim here dialogues.

is to make

sense

of Plato's to unify

account

of desire what

in the are

To do that

I need

or reconcile

at first sight two quite different accounts: the doctrine of eros in the in the Repub Symposium and the tripartite theory of motivation
lic.1 It may be that the two theories are after all irreconcilable, the Republic.

that Plato simply changed his mind on the nature of human desire
after writing theories This the Symposium end in failure. and before composing must but

But that conclusion can be justified only if attempts


two The attempt project, of the psyche, in a systematic is primarily a historical

to reconcile the
first. some con

be made one with

temporary
to formulate articulate his view

interest.
a full-scale the concept

Plato,

in the Republic,

is the first philosopher


and hence way. from the first to Furthermore, view today's On to antici depth

theory of desire

of the some

provoke other hand, pate some

subject critical

Plato of the

assumptions. is perhaps the only major philosopher of twentieth-century central discoveries But view it will within

remote is sufficiently on our own reflection

to the

psychology,

that is, of Freud and his school; I shall end with


be more the context

some
in of

Plato and Freud. between comparisons to begin Plato's structive by presenting the contemporary of action. theory

I It is commonly a voluntary plain at supposed, or intentional least that to ex by philosophers, we must a action both identify

1 I ignore whatever For present there may be differences purposes of the Phaedrus between and I and that of the Republic, the psychology to deal with the complications in later works introduced make no attempt I briefly discuss of and Timaeus. the treatment such as the Philebus such as the Gorgias and Lysis. desire in earlier dialogues
Review Metaphysics of Metaphysics 41 (September 1987): 77-103. Copyright ? 1987 by the Review of

78 desire and a belief on the part of the agent:

CHARLES H. KAHN
the agent's could desire for a

certain goal and his belief that the action


goal. to act; agent this A belief there it is assumed, alone, must be an appropriate of the passions. "the thoughts and find the way and are And

in question will
not motivate in every desire was

lead to
the case.

This
ought Hobbes, spies,

is the view that lies behind Hume's


to be the who to range slave said

claim that reason


Hume desires thing

is and

to the to the

only echoing as scouts and desired."2

abroad

I want
embodies common cized

to call attention

to the fact that this notion of desire


is not simply of action a deliverance has been criti of

a philosophical theory sense. The belief-desire recent

in some

of

embedded, reasons theory ence,

theory It is but it is still widely discussions, accepted. treatment in Donald for example, Davidson's influential for action: a reason The is just a desire-belief pair.3 one significant old. With differ very is that, he for action, explanation is funda that motivation difference it, "we desire something we because (no?sis)" The

in question is, in fact, can be traced back it Aristotle avoids give the Humean does

to Aristotle. a two-factor

although explicitly mentally because desire

non-rational. it seems it. For

assumption As Aristotle puts than

good to us, rather the starting-point that makes all

it seeming good is rational thought

(Metaphysics A.7.1072a29).
pattern by Hobbes For Aristotle ultimately the slave, ing action. nant form

It is the reversal
the difference.4 double-factor it remains

of this explanatory
theory, the master reason and is not

his then, despite in charge of our actions;

even

it needs the cooperation of desire though can play this role because Reason boul?sis, in human is fully rational. of desire beings, theory may rightly be regarded as the

in initiat the domi

Neverthe of the

less, Aristotle's

source

traditional

assumption

that human

action

is to be explained

by

2 Leviathan 1.8. the comments of John Cooper, Compare of Human Motivation," Theory History of Philosophy Quarterly
3-21.

"Plato's 1 (1984):

on Ac See D. Davidson, and Causes," in Essays "Actions, Reasons tions and Events (Oxford, 1980), 3-19 (although Davidson speaks not of but more generally desires of "pro-attitudes"). to the For a challenge Humean view see T. Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism 1970), (Oxford, 4 or Leviathan 1.6: "But whatsoever is the object of any mans Appetite that is it, which he for his part calleth Good" (Hobbes's Leviathan, Desire; ed. C. B. Macpherson [Penguin Books, 1968], 120).
29-30.

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


reference or, to two distinct terminology, are to have and factors: contrasting reason and will. reason

79
and desire,

in a later if we

It is essential
regard theory. Plato, seem It is hard because this

to take note of the originality


an accurate imposing become sense. view to avoid view has

of Aristotle
quite to us

in this
different

of Plato's

a double-factor so familiar

upon theory that it may

And there may be passages Plato in the dialogues where himself flirts with such a view.5 But in the Republic, and most mature is his fullest psychological theory, In the Republic not a double-factor at all. is no con there theory can be contrasted with and in this sense that reason, cept of desire of desire. The fun does not have Aristotle's concept simply can be illustrated the two views at the between damental difference of terminology, is also particularly level to be good), and pride), where clear. the historical Aristotle connection recognizes between three species them of

to be the merest

common

Plato

desire: boul?sis (rational desire for the good?or


(self-assertive thymos and epithymia (appetite three embraces these

for what

is judged
anger The in gen

genus eral;

which and

with connected feelings or desire for pleasure). is orexis, desire species is to orektikon clear based that upon

principle corresponding psychic of desire). Now the names alone make faculty are directly of desire Aristotle's three species

the

(the two out of the tri

partition
Plato has

of the soul in the Republic.


no

(See the diagram below.)

But

term. term and no generic The genus comparable never occurs no accident. in his writings; orexis and that is (desire) he may Aristotle the word, have deliber did not invent Although to fit the needs of his theory.6 at stretched its meaning Plato, ately least in the Republic, has no place for a generic concept of desire, as

like Gorgias 51 have in mind passages and Meno 468a-b, 509d-510a, Socrates claims that everyone desires what is good and 77b-78b, where hence implies that doing evil is to be explained in cognition by a mistake out to me (by Alexander rather than volition. It has been pointed Ne to construe be tempted the contrast that one might the between hamas) as a distinction in the Phaedrus and the two horses charioteer be myth tween reason and desire; but I think that would be a misconstrual. The not reason alone but rational desire: he relies upon charioteer represents the horses for his locomotion but not for his motivation. His desire to is precisely the desire for knowledge behold the Forms and the good that (I will argue) is constitutive of reason in the Republic. 6 The only earlier use of orexis is in three fragments of Democritus at least two of which appear genuine (DK B.72, 219, 284), (no.s 219 and seems to use orexis and epithymia Democritus 284). interchangeably.

80
Freud

CHARLES H. KAHN
Plato (psyche) Reason Desire Aristotle (psyche) Sensation Nutrition

1.

ego

2. ?

1. logistikon (rational) 2. thymoeides


("spirited", anger)

(orexis) 1. boul?sis
2.

thymos

3. id (libido)

3. epithymia ("appetite")

3. epithymia

opposed to some other psychic faculty. The tripartition of the Re public is not the division of a faculty of desire but a division of the
itself. psyche the soul can reason appears all From also another be described not as some of view, Plato's of point tripartition as a partition But of desire. then distinct but as a particular principle

form of desire.
distinguishes

When Aristotle
three from

divides desire

into three parts, he


and the like.

reason,

sense-perception,

When
out

Plato divides
Platonic to us that that

the psyche
concept it may even

into three parts, he divides


as a form a kind of desire of category who have

it with

remainder. This of reason seem those to be is so unfa mistake. correctly

miliar Perhaps have

is why

commentators

noted that the tripartition


not generally of rationality theory Aristotle of love. that what will belong drawn and

of the Republic
the for his necessary

is a tripartition
consequences of philosophy

of desire7
for Plato's as a form

Plato's, good,

conception in mapping his remarks, or the rational he calls boul?sis, in Plato's logistikon, "in the

onto tripartition desire for what is calculating

rational,

part of the soul" (De Anima 3.9.432b5), but this is an understate ment. For Plato the rational desire for what is good just is the
part of the soul. reason itself. for Plato, rational Aristotle's rational principle of desire is,

I begin with a sketch of this extraordinary the Republic, in the context of the tripartite
7 Notably Press, 1977),
Motivation,"

theory of reason in conception of the

T. H. Irwin, Plato's Moral (Oxford at the Clarendon Theory "Plato's Theory of Compare Cooper, p. 192 n. 20, p. 195.
\*. 5-6.

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


psyche. desire, After I turn a brief look at earlier where

81
on the subject of dialogues a unified account Plato gives

to the Symposium, can be made

of eros.
theory

And
of love

I end by considering
compatible

the question
with the

how this unified


tripartite psychol

ogy of the Republic.

II To begin with
reason be there regarded are as

the theory of the Republic: My description


of desire implies and will interpretation defense. require an For what

of

as a form

that may

controversial

Plato says at Republic 9.580d7 is that for the three parts of the soul
to each part, and similarly "one proper pleasures, to each part). and three rules" there are three desires (one proper seem more to construe It might to reason natural the desire proper or property reason not as reason which itself, but as an attribute there three has. I think, but however, between that any such distinction between reason

and its desire


property principle.

cannot be a distinction
two essential characterizes

between

the thing and its

only Plato regularly

of a single psychic aspects on the one this principle

hand as the capacity to calculate and to think things through (to logistikon) and as "that by which we learn" (580dl0), but also, on the
other hand, as the philomathes, so that it is called the part which loves to learn, and

which
things

is "always wholly
stand,"

directed

to knowing
"lover of

the truth of how


(philo-mathes)

learning

and lover of wisdom (philo-sophon)" (581b9, in book 9). It was the notion of to philomathes (intellectual curiosity and precisely by
love of learning) followed that Plato first introduced us to the rational prin

ciple in book 4 (435e7), where


ately (436a9). by which

the mention

of this love is immedi

we to the part learn" by a reference "by which Thus the two descriptions, "lover of learning" and "that we we calculate"), are used both learn" in (or "by which

book 4 and in book 9 as alternative


part.8 8 What Plato means, I think,

designations
is that nothing

for the rational


could cause us (or

to the four passages cited see book 4.439d5 (hoi logizetai), "Lover of learn and 586e4 (to philosophon). (h?i manthanomen) is of course a standard of the philosophic ing" (philomathes) description both in the Republic temperament, (5.475c2,6.485d3,490a9, etc.) and in the Phaedo Socrates (67b4, 82cl, d9, etc.); in the Phaedrus, applies the term to In addition 9.583a2

82

CHARLES H. KAHN

us want to learn. So although the soul) to learn if it did not make we may and conceptually between the capacity distinguish verbally to know, to know and the desire between just as we may distinguish the theoretical ity to calculate In each Plato. are to know capacity and deliberate, case?theory the these truth are and not the practical capac real distinctions for

only distinguishing This unity principle. that he never makes Aristotle's distinction between Plato's thought in contemplation, exercised wisdom and the theoretical sophia, in action wisdom exercised and delibera the practical phron?sis, tion. This unity of that of what has as and practice theory of truth must the knowledge is worth pursuing, so that

reason and desire?we practice, a single two aspects of what is, for Plato, in is so fundamental of theory and practice and

presupposition edge of value,

a consequence or also be a knowl the desire to know

the truth will ultimately be a desire to know and to possess the good. As Plato tells us inRepublic 6, the good is "that which every
soul pursues and for the sake of which it performs for Plato a desire all its actions"

(505dll).

And
and

since the Form

of the Good

is the source of all


must ultimately part of the but be

all reality, rational desire knowledge a desire the good. to know and obtain be not only soul is (or essentially comprises) a desire like Aristotle's for the good, also come clearer The three as we

So the rational

boul?sis.

for knowledge This will

our sketch of the tripartition. complete are introduced in book 4 by a distinction parts

be

tween: (1) the philomathes,


himself

the love of learning and the principle by

16 [1971]: As Richard has noted Robinson (Phronesis (230d3). the parts of the soul both as instruments by which 46-47), Plato describes we do things and also as agents in their own right. the instru However, or faculty, view of the parts must be seen as an expository device mental, to introduce since it is our actions them at the level of the explanandum, The agent-view of the parts ("lover of learning", that are to be explained. "lover of honor," etc.), on the other hand, represents them as theoretical Plato's of human character entities with explanatory power. explanation in terms of the interaction of these parts. and conduct is given exclusively There is no room for a person or self over and above the three parts on the over in book 9 to the person "handing level of the explanans. References a pictur the throne of his soul" to one or another of the parts constitute not to be taken literally feature of Plato's esque but eliminable exposition, as part of the explanatory It remains model. to be seen how far an to the model. of the three parts is essential conception anthropomorphic see Julia Annas, of anthropomorphism discussion For an interesting here, An Introduction toPlato's Press, 1981), 'Republic' (Oxford at the Clarendon
142-46.

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE

83

which we learn, (2) the thymoeides, the principle "by which we get principle (to philokhr?maton) or angry," and (3) the money-loving
the part begetting we desire the pleasures with concerned food and "by which are distin Thus the parts and the like" (435e-436a).

to so many from the beginning different by reference guished types or impulse.9 or appetitive The third of drives, desires part (to

epithym?tikon)
into biologically non-necessary nal show

will
desires

be elaborately
and further

subdivided
subdivided

in books 8-9, first

necessary are

non-necessary

and then the desires, into lawful and crimi

are latent in everyone, which These criminal desires, impulses. as Plato in a famous in dreams, describes themselves anticipa the rational ele tion of the Freudian "then, when Oedipal insight: . . ment the wild and beastly and is freed from part. sleeps, [wakes] It does not hesitate to try to have inter or with in imagination, anyone else, man, god or beast; it is ready for any deed of murder, and will abstain from no transi, after Shorey). kind of food" (9.571c-d Plato's of the picture all shame and course with a mother epithym?tikon thus corresponds with rather nicely to Freud's depiction reason.

of the id. Struck by this parallel


correlating reason

and by the obvious possibility


ego, some interpreters

of

the Freudian

have

tried to find the superego


moeides),10 nation, kon, which victory, he describes and

in Plato's

principle

of anger

(to thy
to domi

prestige, (philoni to win") and philotimon 'lov "loving literally, "loving victory," " terms As these honor' Plato's indicate, ing principle (9.581a-b). is self-assertive to competition and directed outwards with others, internalized affinities In view and with of this like the superego.11 self-punishing the love of power and with the desire essentially social character, the It has to be is

as "always wholly impelled and hence called 'ambitious'

not closer first.

thymoeides

See 436b2: The question is whether it is with a different in principle each case "or with the whole soul that we engage in these activities, when we are impelled to do so (hotan horm?s?men)." 10 A. J. P. Kenny, in Plato's Republic," "Mental Health in The Anat omy of the Soul (Oxford: Blackwell, 1973), 1-27. 11 In the Leontius does seem to act the part of the story the thymoeides in reproaching the eyes for their compulsion to gaze at the superego, cannot be its essential But self-reproach corpses (439e-440a). function, since in the parallel (at 441b) from Odyssey 20.17 it is Odysseus' example reason that upbraids his thymoeides (for urging punishment immediately, without regard to the larger plan of action).

84 perhaps cept. wisdom reason ians will "good more But Plato's like Aggression we will focus here of reason than on the like any the

CHARLES H. KAHN
other part. social Freudian con

rational at

picture of the guardians

begins in book 4: they Now

level

with

the

represents counsel"

in the psyche.

be essentially their practical: or "goodness in deliberation."

in the state what represent the knowledge of the guard excellence will be euboulia, They must deliber

ate on behalf
judgment

of the whole

city, and their wisdom


of the city

will

be good
The cor

concerning

the welfare

as a whole.

responding

virtue
which

for the individual will


deserves

be the excellence
the

of the
which

part psychic naturally "calculates (analogisamenon)

to rule, what concerning

logistikon or worse" is better

(441cl); which "has a care for the whole soul" (441e5) and "deliber ates on behalf of the whole soul and body" (442b6). Wisdom con
sists in this part's and ruling the whole person which and giving orders based

on "the knowledge
of the parts

of what
for

is advantageous

(to sympheron)
is common to all

for each
three"

the whole

(442c5-8).
has and as

But if the rational part, both in city and in individual,


function the practical by its very part that of what is good knowledge nature be able to know and to learn" must also love

its specific

it must advantageous, what is best. The pursue

"loves

to know and obtain what


second controversial

is (orwhat
I shall

it takes to be) good.


defend reason for here: that

This is the
in the

thesis

reason

Republic
good. tageous three; whole at At

is not only essentially


the level of the for each the part level of

desire but essentially


aims the whole aims of rational nor the at

desire for the


is advan of all of the as

individual, of the soul and the city, the goal wisdom

at what

composed the welfare

community.

Hence

desire,

of reason

such, is neither
said

the good of the individual alone (as it is sometimes


the good of the commu or the in general good of argu

to be, on egoistic of Plato) readings but the good in every case, nity alone, as such. Good This reason identification, with for desire or at the least can this be

necessary confirmed

convergence, from the

good

ment which Plato uses to establish


and

the distinction

between

reason

as an example a thirsty man Plato who proposes appetite. on the basis from drinking himself of a resistance that prevents comes "from reasoning" thirst pulls him on to drink, (ek logismou): but this pull is "over-powered" force drag (kratein) by a rational

ging him back (439b3-d8).

Plato has just emphasized

that thirst

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


here must be construed simply as desire for drink and not

85
as desire

This passage has sometimes been for good drink (437d-439a). thought to imply that the appetite (epithymia) in question is a
"blind course, desirable. elemental for other no cognitive with of its object;12 grasp craving," but, as drinkable its object thirst must and hence recognize So a minimum appetite. appetitive A more drives, of gets the angry of cognition complex such as the even is implied form of cognition love of money for the most is required or the pursuit of as

of a sexual object.
are characteristic which moeides, been wronged. component emphasizes

And quite definite


intermediate when

judgments
of the

of a moral
the

sort

So a cognitive in all three parts that thirst as such

part soul, thy it thinks it (i.e., the person) has element of some kind is an essential soul.13 The for drink reason is a desire why Plato as such, and not

of the

a desire for hot drink or good drink, is not because he wants

to deny

a cognitive to appetite to insist upon element but because he wants to all considerations the appetite's other than getting indifference reason it wants. what In order to establish the distinction between

and appetite Plato must here define, for the first time, the notion of a desire that is essentially independent of any judgment concerning
what or advantageous beneficial, as synonymous). In earlier dialogues, as desire for something construed desire is good, these three terms (taking Plato had systematically to be good or bene judged

ficial.14
view

Opinions will

differ as to how far this "intellectualist"

of the historical the position the represents Socrates, more or (as I believe) a delib naive Plato, of a younger, psychology on Plato's erate to make the part, designed simplification plausible in the Socratic contained On any reading of insights paradoxes. this earlier Plato must with it in order break to view, decisively of desire reason factors and in the as separate con and potentially appetite as a desire It is precisely soul. for what is

distinguish flicting

judged to be good and beneficial


appetite and the thymoeides.15

that reason

is set apart

from

12 J. to Plato's Introduction 'Republic' 139. 13 Annas, This has been argued at length by Jon Moline, "Plato on the Com of the Psyche", Archiv f?r Geschichte der Philosophie, 60 (1978): plexity 14 77c-78b. See Section Gorgias 468b-c, 499e; Meno III, below. 15 195: reason of consists So, rightly, Irwin, Plato's Moral Theory, "rational desires for the over-all good." Plato's Theory Similarly, Cooper,
1-26.

86 We must bear in mind that all three

CHARLES H. KAHN
parts rational of the soul are

represented sense. The

as at by Plato two nonrational

ing their objects; to attain soning with reason.

of recogniz only capable must some use of means-end rea also make they their goal, at least in the intra-psychic competition very or appetite of spirit possibility since it obviously takes some form to succeed (How this con seizing or analogue

least minimally parts are not

in the Humean

The

as much, trol implies of intelligence for these parts reason for their own ends. seen below.) But what if all

in enslaving to use reason, is to be understood will be represented are its twin as minimally goals: (a) the

three

intelligent,

is distinctive

are parts of reason

theoretical

love of knowledge,

and (b) the practical pursuit of what

concern it is primarily the second, more is good. And that practical reason on the in the arguments to distinguish Plato must rely upon For it is not any theoretical basis of psychic conflict. conclusion about the nature of the beverage but only the practical decision that

itwould be harmful
resists impulse In order to see the

to drink which can explain why the thirsty man


to quench his the connection thirst. between this argument in book 4

and the fuller psychology


three the levels rule at which of reason in the notion

of books 8-9 it will


understand Plato

help to distinguish
to be speaking of

we might soul. of the

1. In the weakest has no role action

rule

of reason, ends these

rational

deliberation

guiding desire will

to play in fixing the towards and desire as rational if are

to be pursued but only in ends. On this view, any pursued, when considered." its

count

However, fied, as

things is independently advantageous speci reason con in the hedonistic of the Protagoras: calculus not the ends. we may trols only the means, in fact while Now is not a case that Plato will this as a rational this life, regard as one in which reason describe "rules" he may (archei); though what

consequences

judged as counts

it is lucidly "all advantageous

21 n. 18. But Cooper distinguishes about the of Motivation, "judgements the good" from "desires for good that follow upon them," thus introducing Aristotelian of rational and rational desire. bifurcation judgement (On p. 6 he thus speaks of reason having desires.) I do not think this does justice to the radically Platonic of reason as constituted different conception by
desire.

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


say that reason

87

in any particular to decision "prevails" (kratei) from acting.16 2. A stronger notion of the rule of reason that the ends of requires not only the means) be rationally For action determined. (and this means that if reason will rules, the goal to be pursued Plato, act or refrain be defined mum by a specific of which version of human the mini welfare, conception is given of virtue in the by the account

Socratic dialogues
the aims introduction at a good life,

and in the early books of the Republic


of philosophy specified in book in terms The rule 5). of the harmonious

(before
develop

of reason

ment
3. In the to be

of bodily health and psychic excellence.


strongest pursued notion, and reason rules guiding in (2) the action the ends only by fixing towards these but by ends, of reason is strictly not

constituting
activity.

the goal of human life through its own philosophical


function prac

Whereas

tical, here it is both practical and theoretical: it is as knowledge of reality and the Forms (including the Form of the Good) that
reason These progressively sively stronger between both three specifies levels and of provides the rule of the content are of the good life. reason distinguished by to progres corresponding as the goal virtue of rational

richer

accounts

of reason,

characterizations

of the good

action.
ference

The distinction
Plato's

between
account

(2) and (3) coincides with


of pre-philosophic

the dif
in Repub

lic 4 and the account of philosophic


is not an

virtue

in books 5-6.

(But the
and speech of the Re

innovation here: both Diotima's view stronger the doctrine of the Phaedo these later books anticipate

public by identifying
including composed philosophy, 4 access to as a defense Plato

the best human life with the life of philosophy,


the

is explicitly Since the Republic Forms.) as a defense of justice and only secondarily of does not emphasize the distinction between (2)

and (3): it is almost without


Plato's is replaced by references the

our noticing
of reason"

it that the just man of book


8-9. seem of many as be ambiguous Hence

philosopher to "the rule

in books

tween (2) and (3). But the contrast between


16 At

the purely instrumen

that it be reason 439c7 it is essential that prevails (kratein), role for though, as we shall see, Plato hints at a more than instrumental reason here. in the In the case of the repression desires of spendthrift but of some appetities oligarchic soul, he speaks not of reason prevailing others dominating kratousas, (epithymias epithymion [554dl0]).

88

CHARLES H. KAHN in (1) and its teleological role in (2) and (3) is
as slave the and and slavish pains, wisdom

tal role of reason

reason marked: this is the difference between sharply as master of the passions. Thus the Pha do deprecates of virtue based upon a balancing of pleasures conception in contrast to the life of genuine virtue determinedly

(68d-69c). The Gorgias had argued earlier that no version of (1) can be fully coherent unless it coincides with (2), and hence that the only rational life is one that accepts the Socratic notion of the good.17 A similar argument is implicit in the account of the deviant lives of Republic 8-9, where the rule of reason is identified with the life of the just man (here equated with the philosopher). If reason is able to rule in the soul, itwill specify the life of virtue (the life of philosophy) as the good to be aimed at. If it does not succeed in
doing so, that that can is because it has been so "overpowered" of the good, other even has the by an spirit or

appetite that itmis-identifies


part form any the domination

the good.

Since it is only the rational


erroneous

conception, consequence parts reason a mistake of causing to make in its recognition of the ends to be pursued. it means That is what to be enslaved.18 for reason

conception of the

Reason

can rule only if it is enlightened


in a virtuous soul. And

in regard its object, that is


can be fully realized?as

to say only

its rule

in (3)?only
philosophy. Plato of reason does not

if it is fully enlightened,
could his present the before 4, even the weaker not

that

is, only in the life of

full-strength appearance view for After

in book need

of the rule conception of philosophy. But he his initial in argument all, the tripartite model not only to virtuous Plato's example the notion is of

of the tripartite support psychology. to apply is designed to human beings men, much to philosophers. only so as not under-described, less

generally, Hence

skillfully

to presuppose

reason ruling in the soul that will be specified in the following definition of the virtues.19 All he requires is a single instance in
17 See my "Drama and Dialectic in Plato's Gorgias," in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 1, ed. Julia Annas, (1983), 113-18. 18 Here I am agreeing with Cooper (Plato's Theory ofMotivation, p. 19 n. 9 and p. 20 n. 18), against lives as Irwin, who speaks of the deviant a "rational following plan," being "controlled by (the) rational part," or from "a rational resulting choice, made by the rational part" (Plato's Moral I see no textual support for this interpretation. Theory, 227-34). 19 The application seems quite general, of Plato's since the argument is not explicitly limited to the case where reason sets the ends of example

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


which someone refrains from drinking as a consequence of

89
some

calculation tion

of reason

of long-term established

advantage. by such How thirst?

of this result. is capable over intense ment prevail answer Plato's here, a primitive contains, tially derivative geous. soul what duct ment urge That is what

But the weakest concep an argument how it must explain can a faculty and judg of cognition

even

the good is "what every is acts": the good it always and for the sake of which pursues our con Whenever we all want in so far as we are rational we can say either it is a judg that is under rational control, to claim that our action that determines is advantageous a rational is good. On Plato's for what desire led by the the good and wanting is no gap between there knowing be that we desire statement something (Even Aristotle's what it seems good to us might have been rejected by Plato as

to pursue it means

is that reason I submit, just is, or essen non for the good, an irreducible, desire to be good and advanta it takes what

concerning or that we are

view good. cause

misleading,
distinct book

since it suggests
or events.) the good function

that the judgment and the desire are

episodes

4, wanting to perform its these

of in terms of the psychology Now means each part of the soul wanting just In the anthropo in a harmonious way.

morphic
will one

language with which


reason's desire its own third as commands

Plato

describes

the interaction

of

parts,

judgment. and its judgment thing, over and above to rule is just the expression its desire is beneficial: for what desire is beneficial.20 or the spelling-out for what of its desire that the other reason in ruling, succeeds Whether is, whether in the soul is not some

be expressed and with another

concerning to them

of the soul the other parts with to perform in harmony to rule desire So reason's

use of reason in what Plato calls include the instrumental action but might Plato cunningly "slavish virtue" However, calculus). (as in the hedonic in the described rule of reason (which is gradually the virtuous insinuates that the desire to drink in his pages, 440a-441e) by suggesting following or disease" "affect (path?mata) is due to excessive (439d2), thus example If is aimed at health and welfare. calculation that the rational implying we would the role of reason were thought of here as merely instrumental, to establish in fact not get the division of psychic parts that Plato wants 7-8 n. 9). reasons developed Plato's Theory of Motivation by Cooper, (for 20 with Cooper to be a disagreement Here there seems (p. 6) who In the end, however, to reason "an innate taste for ruling." ascribes desire for good (p. 8). this from the more fundamental Cooper too derives

90

CHARLES H. KAHN to obey (peithesthai) reason's judgment is

parts will be persuaded


another matter. must

In order for appetite to listen to reason, and anger be properly hence the need for the scheme of they trained; education in books 2-3. too must Reason be pre-philosophical

properly trained in order to give the right commands; hence the need for philosophy, and for the theory of knowledge and higher education in books 5-7.21 By the end of book 6 we know that the
learning part of the soul will not be adequately prepared to rule

until it reaches the highest

form of learning (tomegiston math?ma),

the only knowledge that can satisfy its desire, of namely cognition the Good "which in all its actions." soul pursues The every itself, we find in earlier which such as the Gorgias and principle dialogues the Meno, the universal of reason. and which was cited in book 4, that "everyone desires

good things" (438a3), thus reappears


desire Once we of all human realize that

in book 6 in a double form: as

and as the essential desire beings for Plato all knowledge culminates

in knowledge
knowable see that the

of the Good, since it is the Good that makes


as making learning them that real and true the love of characterizes

all things

as well

we (6.508e-509b), rational part of

the soul is ultimately


shared by all mankind, doctrine we do not and and still is easy

identical with
but which, to state see

the love of the good that


to Plato, hard can be fully

is

according but

realized only by lovers of that Form which


This because clearly less do we

is truly the Good.


to understand

knowledge, real things these

knowable.

can be an object how for see why or how the Good makes other I have no solution to propose to here even without an explication of the

extremely the Good

difficult

problems.22

But

21 The theory of the virtues in book 4 is not self-contained, as we can see if we ask what activity of reason constitutes wisdom to book according 4. If reason rules, it aims at the welfare of each part and of the whole as well. But what is the welfare of the rational And what is it for part? reason to do "its own proper work"? for an occasional mention of Except there is no hint of an adequate knowledge (428b6ff., 428cll-d8, 442c6), answer until we reach books 5-7. We can give no non-circular account of what Plato means to by the rule of reason until we can give some content the autonomous as love of (non-instrumental) activity of reason, conceived and pursuit of the good. And here the notion of what is good knowledge must be specified by more than civic concord and psychic harmony, since these both presuppose the notion of the rule of reason. 22 see G. Santas, For discussion of the Good "The Form in Plato's in Essays in Greek Philosophy, vol. 2, ed. J. P. Anton and A. Republic", Preus P. White, Plato (Albany: SUNY, 1983), 232-63. Compare Nicholas on Knowledge and Reality Hackett, (Indianapolis: 1976), 100-03.

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


supreme rational common and principle desire to all for of the Good, the we can see how the psychic

91
factor

defined by the love of knowledge


good?for beings. of our human sides

and truth can coincide with


welfare For these or happiness?which are just the theoretical

the
is

rationality. of the soul have a cognitive seen, all three parts of desire. But only at the level and all three are also forms aspect of reason do the cognitive and desiderative elements fully coincide,

the practical As has been

essential

so that their highest


though Plato correlation, is essentially sium always the erotic

fulfillment must
avoids ascent mechanical

be achieved
repetition of Beauty ascent

together.
and

Al

one-to-one

to the Form

equivalent

to the dialectical

in the Sympo to the vision

of the Good inRepublic 6-7. Without begging the question whether the Form of Beautiful is to be taken as strictly identical for Plato
with the Form the precisely same of Good, role we can recognize dialogue, scheme desire that the two Forms in each as terminus play for the scheme

of philosophical
tion

enlightenment.
this whole as a universal is structured for the good. by the no A cursory

In the Symposium of eros presented

glance at the earlier dialogues inwhich this theme is developed will help us appreciate the rather different ways in which this desire is articulated in the Symposium and Republic.

Ill
The Gorgias discussion the earliest with any system is, I believe, dialogue of desire. And it is the only dialogue the before a contrast to recognize and Republic between rational desire (expressed by the verb by Callicles boulesthai) as and sensuous

atic

Phaedo aiming desires

at the good for

desires aimed at pleasure


pleasure,

(expressed by the term epithymia)P


constituting the

The
life

praised

23 Aristotle's distinction between boul?sis terminological (rational is inherited from the Gorgias, probably by desire) and epithymia (appetite) in the Academy. The Charmides also men way of semi-technical usage a terminological distinction between epithymia tions, in passing, aiming at and boul?sis aiming at some good (167e, where eras is said to be pleasure The author of the Gorgias and Char directed towards something kalon). not suffering from any "Socratic" mides was obviously illusion that all desire is desire for the good. the description of erotic (And compare emotion at Charmides 155d.)

92 goal anger where of a naturally or "spirited" One passage are superior drives even man, as well.24 correspond

CHARLES H. KAHN
roughly to the "appe

titive" part of the Republic,

though they probably would


of "the there

include the

appetites

speaks prophetically found" But (493a-bl).

part of the soul is no correspond

ing attempt to define a rational part of the soul. The psychological The possibility of a theory of the Gorgias is at best incipient.
conflict rational (500a; the Gorgias what he between choice cf. 491dll, thinks desires between is not the envisaged, satisfaction although of good wants we and do hear bad of a desires

505a-b, 507e2). that what implies he wants: A

In addition, a person related really be mistaken paradox no one wants

a famous

of argument is not always true

we may closely

as to the

of our own Meno:

desire.25 desire

all men

good

things; this

object is argued for in the what is bad (Meno claim that "no one

77cl, 78b4).
The Meno wants one to be of Socrates' supports unhappy" protreptic serves as the paradox with Similarly takes the (78a4-5).26 arguments in the Euthydemus, its premiss: "We

as

all

want

to be happy"

(282a2).

As we

shall see in a moment,


for the Platonic

this

also premiss love in the Symposium.

starting come We

point even closer In a famous "X is dear suddenly

of theory to the doctrine of the

Symposium
"dear structs dear

in what

the Lysis has to say about something


passage introduces which for the sake

that is
con

for its own sake." (philon) the regress, and then breaks for the sake of Z, etc.," Socrates

of Y, Y is the notion

of the primary or truly dear thing "for the sake of which all other things are dear" (219c-220b). This alone is truly called dear; other things are dear only for the sake of this primary object, of which

24 in the Gorgias. There is no trace of the thymoeides Presumably Plato had not yet thought of it as a distinct type of desire; but in any case it in the Gorgias. A third there would have been no reason to introduce class of impulses would have spoiled the neat dualism by which Calliclean are opposed to Socratic boulesthai. appetites 25 Here again we have a paradox that Plato echoes in Gorgias 468b-c. do what it wants ruled soul will by no means the Republic: the tyrannically an boul?th?i) Rep. 9.577el-2; 468e5 and d5-7. cf. Gorgias (ha 26 is of course questionable. The logic of these arguments For an to defend in my view makes them too tame, see G. them which attempt and Henley: Socrates Kegan Paul, Santas, (London, Boston Routledge as protreptic must be understood I think these arguments 1979), 187-89. rather than deductive.

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


they are as it were the deceitful "images" (eid?la, 219d3).

93
The

"original" is left open in the Lysis, identity of this mysterious though an interpretation in terms of the good is hinted at (222c4, d5;
cf. 221e3-4). and primarily For dear a fuller we turn account now of what Plato regards as truly to the Symposium.

IV

to the priestess which Socrates attributes great speech into two parts. falls The first and longer section Diotima presents or lesser mysteries of love based upon the universal the preliminary The desire for happiness. The concluding portion of Diotima's speech,

designed for full initiates, describes the philosophic ascent to the Beautiful itself outside of time and place. It will be necessary to
between get clear on the relation to reconcile before we attempt the this exoteric theory and with esoteric the doctrines ac tripartite

count of desire in the Republic. The initial account of love is prefaced by a general definition of desire (epithymia) as wanting (boulesthai) to get what one lacks or keep what one has (200b-e). Although bodily appetities other than
sex are not mentioned, and the analysis is broad enough to apply to

them as well;
money, fame,

it is explicitly
learning,

extended
in addition

to love of children,
to erotic desires

sports,
proper

(205d, 208c ff.). Eros is first specified as desire for what is beauti ful, which includes or is identical to what is good (201c; cf. 204el,
206al). desire ther desire things the possession of good things is happiness, nor admits this desire neither needs happiness; explanation (205a). as for happiness forever and Diotima that the then is, as pursuit eros, as hence reinterprets the desire of But and all men of any the fur

universal good

to possess

immortality

by procre

ation in beauty, beauty either of body or of soul (206b7). At first sight this definition picks out the erotic as a special case of the
general pursuit that all human of happiness. become beings But pregnant since Diotima and have goes on to claim a natural to desire

procreate, and that at the biological level this can be seen as a pursuit of immortality shared even by the animals, it turns out that specifically sexual activity connected with begetting counts less as a
species lastingly than as a sample of eros structure The good. conceived revealed in the as the pursuit of what case of biological is

94 procreation artists, will lawgivers be found and in every type of eros.

CHARLES H. KAHN
Heroes, kinds poets and

ordinary

parents

live different

of erotic

lives because they identify in different ways what the Lysis calls "that which is truly and primarily dear," that for the sake of which
all other are valued. things Thus the more popular characterized different by theory choices surveys of the different ultimate forms erotic of love,

object. in

But the Lysis had pointed to a single proton philon.


for the erotic makes unique enterprise object announces the last section, where Diotima love, The "for the sake desire of which for lasting informed One must these other universal the

The notion of a
only of mysteries exist" (210al). is good, by pro

its appearance final

possession

mysteries of what

creation
erotic session

in beauty, can be fully satisfied only if one is rightly


correctly of the beautiful. concerning pass from the the

led in

matters,

nature and pos love of one beau

tiful body to the love of all beautiful


love of souls, of moral

bodies,

then upwards

to the

of knowledge, to the and finally excellence, true knowledge of true beauty, the Beautiful itself. the phi Only can achieve in contact the Form with what every human losopher being wants, immortality in possession of the good, since only the

Form is itself wholly good and lasting, imperishable (211a-b) and divine (211e3). Diotima's ladder of love is not only the true way to
philosophic ness. That this present cal associates knowledge; is, I suggest, doctrine it is also the has true path to human to have with why Plato not in intimate arranged conversation happi Socrates

philosophi but at a prominent social occasion (as in the Phaedo) a group in Athenian of leading before life and culture. The figures over the poets crown in the contest for the of victory philosopher's wisdom public Plato is not claim chose the achievement the teacher of some narrow to be this of what all men but specialist want to know. of Forms a If (as the

occasion

to reveal

his mature

doctrine

I believe,
Beauty

for the first time) and in connection with


it was to make clear that the reality

the Form of
was

alone,

of Forms

highest
momentous

object not only of knowledge


concern account to all men of the and lover's

but also of desire, and hence of


not only to philosophers. ascent clearly implies that it is

Diotima's

a single desire that begins by taking beautiful bodies as its object and ends with the beatific vision of the Form, just as in the Republic
it is a single around, turned cognitive faculty from the shadows that on must the converted, literally cave wall to the vision of be

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


in the objects for procreation sunlight. in beauty lover The characterization of eros as

95
the desire

the metaphysical only goal, which can fully attain.

serves precisely to link the carnal lover to as participants of a common in the pursuit the metaphysical lover, the Platonic philosopher, us with of Plato's the problem But that presents subject of desire.

consistency

on the

The theoretical

unification

of desire in the Symposium

ismade

reason of desire between the bifurcation only by ignoring possible was in the Gorgias, and documented which and sensual appetite,

which reappears in the Phaedo before being replaced by the trifur in In following the Meno and Euthydemus cation of the Republic.
as a rational desire for happiness desire the universal in effect considers of Diotima is good, the doctrine only the alto calls boulesthai, and ignores the Gorgias kind of desire which As a con of Calliclean the broader "appetites." spectrum gether which conflict of psychic the phenomena it also sequence ignores construing for what of the richer so large in the Republic. Once we take account the conception how are we to reconcile of the Republic, psychology sources of desire with Diotima's of three or more there independent loom doctrine production of eros, but which ends begins with with the sexuality contemplation for the and the of drive to re

incorporeal

Beauty?
Forms?

How

is the sexual drive rooted in the epithym?tikon


into a rational we admit passion that the theory truth, of eros that

to be

"transformed"

is, for the

Or must

in the Sympo is certainly an

sium is simply incompatible with


Now the innovation, human motivation hint tripartite a new model and psychology designed the facts

the psychology
of the Republic to do

of the Republic?
to the

of tripartition trace of it in the

in the Phaedo, Symposium or

of diversity justice there is a of conflict. Although there is as far as I can see no clear in any earlier dialogue.27 The

27 the at Phaedo of tripartition We have a foretaste 68cl-3, where else rational love of wisdom and learning here, philomathes (philosophos "love of the body" with the non-rational e.g., 67b4) is contrasted where, as "love of money and honor, either one or both." which is characterized as soon as Plato splits these two "corporeal" loves emerges Tripartition 82c5-8. Some scholars have found the apart, as he does in fact at Phaedo

96 question then is not whether the Symposium

CHARLES H. KAHN
anticipates the Re

it is incompatible public theory of desire but whether as at first sight it might seem to be. theory,
There are, however, several considerations against

with
the

this
as

sumption that the two dialogues are flatly incompatible on the subject of desire. The first consideration is the doctrine of Forms, identical in the Symposium, Phaedo, and which is substantially It would be strange (though of course not impossible) Republic.
that Plato three should have one dialogues, his mature metaphysical presented a psychological contains of which theory doctrine in in

compatible with that of the other psychology of the Phaedo, though the Republic, is entirely consistent the fact that Plato in the other
abandoned the

two. (I indicate below how the less fully articulated than that of with it.) Even more striking is two dialogues has certainly not
The account is not speech Plato in his by of philo only not presen

of the Symposium. theory of Diotima's love in the last part sophical taken for granted but actually contradicted tation of philosophy as a form of eros

in the Phaedo

and Republic.28

On this score it is not only the metaphysics but also the psychology None of this of the three dialogues that forms a unified whole. is compatible with tripartition; but it proves that Diotima's theory
does at least I suggest be to take of any eros an attempt justify two different ways not as restricted but as an to reconcile in which the two. try nor source ta combine we might desire

the theories of the Symposium


part, single or motivation libido eros will as

and Republic.
to rational undifferentiated parts, instinctual with other

My first proposal will


as the desire of psychic of the Freud second but in a

energy ian

for all

three

on the model energy. desire

id or

proposal complex The

a pool of be identified

On my

rational

with the relationship or quasi-Freudian, first,

view

two parts of eros

alone, of the soul. is suggested

by

an

at reference the "three vaguer types of life" in the much or love of 205d to "those who turn to eros in money-making Symposium or love of wisdom So Cornford, (philosophia)". sports (philogymnastia) in G. Vlastos, "The Doctrine of Eros in Plato's Symposium", ed., Plato: A also 2 (Anchor Books, Collection Critical Essays 1971), 123. Cornford of at Symp. 208c3 with "the spirited the pursuit of fame (philotimia) connects we have only the raw part of the soul" (ibid., 125). But in the Symposium it is on its way to being organized in the Phaedo for tripartition; material in triads. 28 490b2-7. Phaedo 65c9, 66b7, 66e2-3, 67b9, 68a2-7, Rep. 6.485b-d, doctrine of

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE

97

on the rechannelling of desire in Republic 6. passage important a person's we know in one direction, incline "When desires strongly in other directions, that they will be weaker like a stream of water directed to flow off into one channel. and So when the someone's desires have set towards with be concerned like, they will itself and will abandon the plea by is truly a lover of wisdom (philo-sophos)" itself literally, the part of the notion of some desires leav

the pleasures sures of the Republic,

learning of the soul if he Taken

body,

(6.485d). would to which

ing the channel


learning cording

of bodily pleasure
contradict each the

to direct
soul

themselves

towards
ac de

standard

of the Republic theory has its own distinctive to different

since sires, learning introduce But if we here source desires objects. plaining Freud, for the desires direction in one The

and

belong parts. pleasure bodily a generalized notion of eros as the common of of each part, we see how the strengthening will result

in weakening for other desires in ex model is used by Freud very hydraulic of sublimation. Libidinal his concept says impulses, to one another like a network of communicating "are related same that the is, for abandoning same towards impulse This is the process on their sexual is more aim and

canals filled with fluid"; these impulses show a great "capacity for
displacement," redirecting ble or acceptable. calls "sublimation," original an aim that accessi

of rechannelling which Freud the grounds the that society will recognize a view of eros as aim as "higher."29 The parallel surrogate suggests a common to be distributed between the of motivational energy pool for one means that more in such a way less for three psychic parts Plato's reference force. to rechannelling is not a random is of central The view expressed and their unity claim in wisdom. with

another. image

out

doctrinal theory

for his

of the virtues

importance Both here

in the Republic and also in the Phaedo


make psychologically and love for wisdom other plausible truth will will Plato's

(see 69a-b) this view helps to


the philosopher's his possession of the other that and other pleasures an object less

virtues:

pursuits the Forms.

guarantee seem petty

desirable
perfection

to one who
of

is gratified by intercourse with


In comparison with such

the being and


nei

29 viere,

S. Freud, A General Introduction (Garden City, N.Y., 1943), 302.

to Psychoanalysis

trans.

Joan Ri

98 ther any ance profit serious will nor power nor

CHARLES H. KAHN
and sensual will hold luxury indulgence so that the virtues of honesty and temper temptations, be trivial of this redirection of desire into consequences image of rechannelling so understood might permits be causally us to see respon

eros. The philosophical how the pursuit of wisdom sible for moral The for many and also virtue. of eros in view

conception reasons, the

as a pool of libidinal is attractive energy of the fascinating with Freudian parallel

insights at other points of Plato's


self, would

psychology

(the tripartition
already noticed). points

it
It

of Oedipal dreams recognition one of the more to explain help

puzzling

in the

psychology
the tyrant's represents less called This

of the Republic,
soul, which the extreme

namely

that the dominant

passion

in

by identical

is essentially criminal and destructive and of philosophical is neverthe eros, opposite the very same name: er?s or lust (9.572e5, 573b7, d4). nomenclature for the two polar extremes would then

point to eros as the underlying


expression eros the in the desires of each

unity of psychic
part.30

energy that finds this view of


for of of 9.

Attractive
radical

as itmay be, I very much doubt whether


to Plato. three It would parts

can be attributed

motivation, psychic can

of the divergence and consequently that are the

do nothing to account as independent sources to account for in books the facts 4, 8 and

conflict

nothing center of attention

Nor does it shed any clear light on the dynamics


control the other two with strictly incompatible sium in terms of the universal parts. psychic the presentation boul?sis Above

by which

reason

of eros

for good

is all, this view in the Sympo on the part of things as prefiguring both

everyone
we find

(205a).

For this is just that rational desire for the good


Meno, and Euthydemus

in the Gorgias,

boul?sis and Plato's conception of the logistikon in the What these parallels with Aristotle and with other Republic. works of Plato strongly suggest is that eros in the Symposium
30 This Freudian eros in terms of libido was of Platonic interpretation See his "Group Psychology and the Analysis accepted by Freud himself. of the Ego," in the Standard Edition of Freud's work, vol. 18, p. 91, where he cites studies by Nachmansohn and Pfister that treat Plato as a precur sor of psychoanalysis. is a similar comment There in the preface to the on Sexuality", 4th edition of "Three Essays Standard Edition I 7, p. 134. am indebted here to some unpublished work by G. Santas.

Aristotle's

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE


should directed more be seen not as undifferentiated for what eros that energy psychic is good. And can do but

99
as desire

justice between the erotic ascent of the upon coincidence, verging of the Cave and the cognitive and the Sun. progress Symposium in then becomes: The question how can the interpretation of eros parallel, terms of rational desire explain a solution desiderative the the broad scope of eros in the Sym

concern by a rational of rational conception

it is only this to the close

posium and the rechannelling


I want which at the suggest and cognitive so that to

of desire
that

in the Republic?
emphasizes to degree in hand go hand the the rule as alter seen, in the it is of

every level, over the other reason descriptions succeed

native

parts of the same

components of desire and rechannelling of the soul can be understood phenomenon. reason for their As we own

have

by perverting
lower parts

our judgment of what


in using And

is good and desirable


ends

that the
de

viant lives of Republic 8-9: that iswhat


"enslaving" reason can reason. it is not by

lies behind the metaphors


force but by persuasion,

of
by

gaining acceptance
rule over

for its own judgment of what


the other

is beneficial,

that

and thus can harmonize principles and integrate the psyche soul," by its by its "care for the entire of what is advantageous for each one and for the whole "knowledge

which

is common to all three" (441e5,442c6).

What

lies behind the

and the rule of reason is the com of psychic metaphors harmony or resistance of emotional interference absence to, the with, plete is in our best rational of what interest. appraisal We reason have in the Phaedo by the sl vivid lower to be enslaved of what it means for description of the soul, which in this parts

dialogue are presented as the desires (epithymiai) connected with the body. The philosopher, who is here designated as the philo
the mathes, and fastened from which (82e-83a). bodily these tense will of learning, that his soul is fettered recognize in a cunning to the body constructed of desire, prison it by gentle he must release admonition and persuasion as far as possible will abstain from The philosopher lover and desires because he sees that to undergo pains, one feels is to suffer harm: "when in cognitive a given and true, so that object, although it takes one is forced it is not. to . . .

pleasures,

experiences or pain concerning pleasure as clearly real this thing regard to the body and makes

Each pleasure and pain is like a nail which clasps and rivets the soul
it corporeal, for real what

100
ever the body cave declares to be so" (83c-d).31 Unless

CHARLES H. KAHN
it is enlightened

by philosophy,
tive ambition one's and

reason is obliged to live in the darkness of the cogni


by the sensual competition pursuits. for honor: Conversely, of the lower or by thymos, appetites one's ontology is affected as reason is progressively by by en

constructed

favorite

lightened

(and assuming

that good moral

training

is also available),

the guidance of the cognitive aspect parts accept reason what is to their own advantage and will moder concerning to the judgment of reason. ate their own claims is This according as the rechannelling described of de phenomenon is the progressive of reason's half reinforcement sire. (The other own preoccupation It is not that with and the Good.) knowledge or political is transformed ambition into the love sensual appetite one half of the of wisdom; proper reason. directed economy How these by definition, But they now objects. As a result of this to its own proper desires operate remain within attached the the limits desires to their own

will

object

subordination, will be predominant is explained of carnal

by assigned of reason

in the over-all

of the psyche. takes this change The

place

in the desire

ladder

of love

in

the Symposium.

prison-house

is represented

by the first stage, in which the initiate is enamoured of a single beautiful body (210a). But a skillful erotic guide will use the initial
triggering effect of sexual attraction sense-perception get the lover exemplar in the Phaedo's to see his desired principle of effect (like the triggering account in order to of Recollection) as beautiful, as an and hence object that is to be found elsewhere as

of a desirable

well.

This is the first step in the cognitive liberation of the rational principle that will permit it to turn its attention towards its proper object. What is affected by this first step is not the sensual desire to the epithym?tikon) but the as such (which belongs essentially
cognitive component to the extent that it represents the rational prin

to a lovely body, as ciple temporally trapped in the attachment to be good and real and hence as an object of something judged
misplaced rational desire. What happens in the course of erotic

cites William James In this connection (who Shorey appropriately the most in turn to Locke and Berkeley): "Among all sensations, appeals or of pain." W. James, are those productive of pleasure belief-compelling 2 (Dover, in The Principles 1950), 306, cited by Shorey of Psychology, in G. Vlastos, "Plato's Ethics," ed., Plato 2, p. 28 n. 129.

31

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE initiation


to the when passion will desire.

101 is directed
and the "he will thinking

is that this rational element


as this "one

"upwards," first
in all this it a small bodies: intense mat relax

of beauty recognition the lover has reached for a single in the body,

same"

despising

stage it and

ter" (210b5-6).
result The

Thus the cognitive


and then

shift to a higher form of beauty


hence weakening, of sensual in in a recognition to the upward of "beauty movement.

devaluation, continues process that

soul as more precious


cognitive r??valuation

than that in body" (210b6-7): again


is the key

it is the
In

the Symposium,
metaphysical

the rechannelling
takes place

of desire from physical


by an essentially epistemic

lust to
pro

passion

cess of altering

the description

under which

the object

is initially

the lover's attention from a view of the and thus converting desired, a vision as consisting to of individual world bodies of the incorpo from which this phenomenal real principles world derives whatever beauty and rational structure it possesses. initiate may of a higher Beauty. come This cognitive the redirec

tion requires just the sort of dialectical


Republic images 6-7, precisely so that the as images

exercise that is described


to see Like beautiful the conversion

in

of the "eye of the soul" in the Republic,

the education of eros in the


the liberation of and its object which is knowl

a cognitive is essentially Symposium enterprise, to an inadequate attachment from rational desire redirection to its proper goal, "the true knowledge

edge of Beauty itself" (211c7). What the Symposium makes clear is what is only partially indicated by the description of rechannelling
in the Republic: the same time that the process a process of enlightenment for reason of reeducation for the desires.32 is at

VI

has view

In conclusion, certain definite of reason id. and

I want

to suggest both also over

that over

Plato's

theory

of desire

advantages desire and

the Humean-Davidsonian the Freudian is that conception reason for Plato of as

ego and

The

advantage

in both

cases

a faculty of cognition

and judgment

is at the same time equipped

32 account

Irwin, Plato's Moral of the ascent.

Theory,

167-71,

gives

a partially

analogous

102

CHARLES H. KAHN
source of moti

if not simply identical to, its own autonomous with, as good the recognition of an action Hence vation. or contribution as a component to one's welfare?is of reason, and in favorable the act. of the circumstances a sufficient this practical power Admitting of inventing artificial necessity decision view issues seems all only over Freud's "the ego to me a part

or beneficial? ipso facto motivation, in reason itself a for

performing us relieves desire

a pre-existent even more of the

whenever The advantage For Freud,

a rational

in action.33 signif id, a part

icant.

is after

purposively modified by its proximity to the dangers of reality. From a dynamic point of view it isweak; it borrows its energy from
the id."34 Freud of rational with which babies, derives has principle begins theory fantile of the ego, as the conception his genetic because of he knowledge, approach: sense of "reality." who have a very weak But a such limited the a

of rational from an in faculty cognition to understand is poorly rational equipped pleasure-principle to account unable for the development and wholly decision-making the motiva and mathematics. of theoretical science By deriving tion sires hand for rational the to know knowledge truth and and obtain action what irreducible de basic, is good, and on the other structure of reason the from from

the content and by deriving as structured of intelligibil of things by objective principles can do more for the existence and than account of science ity, Plato for some people, for example, He can also explain why, philosophy. nature

for a devoted
the world, when we

scientist,
cannot

knowledge
bring

is the most
it is such

important

thing in

and why, somehow

for all of us,

ourselves

a frustrating experience to do something that we

know very well

is the best

thing for us to do.


is best is seen

The frustration
as the frus

of akrasia in an experience involved for what desire tration of a rational

understood to be good.35

33 rea in conceiving For a sensitive discussion of the issues involved see C. M. Korsgaard, son as a source of motivation about "Scepticism 83 (1986): 5-25. The Journal Practical Reason," of Philosophy 34 on Psycho-analysis, trans. Lectures Introductory Freud, New 107. York: Norton, W. J. H. Sprott 1933), (New 35 or eudaimonia If one appeals here to a standing desire for welfare we have in effect Aristotle's to explain notion the efficacy of deliberation, of boul?sis or rational desire, which gets focussed on a particular action by a judgment to act (prohairesis), the fusion of issuing in a choice or decision reason and desire the fusion, saw Plato, recognizing (NE 6. 2,1139b4-5). no advantage in splitting the two apart. On the question of whether his see Section VII. is defensible, position

PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIRE VII


Postscript. that factor view, simply incoherent. It might Plato's What suggested, by a partisan as a form of reason conception be happens to the element of the

103

two is or

of desire

of judgement same

belief
Although content,

that

is fundamental
a belief and represent

in any analysis
may very them have different can

of rational
the

thought?

a desire

propositional

tudes; as a difference we require construed

surely they and the contrast of "fit":

between

atti propositional be vividly characterized

our beliefs to fit the world, "We require but to fit our desires."36 If the desire is for good as an effort to change to see how it is hard it the world, the world

could be identified with


itself grant thought as in a judgement reason that Plato of as a single

the urge to know the truth, which manifests


to what and the is in fact desire the for case. So even might coherent if we be to knowledge it does not seem

psychic

principle,

identify this principle with desire for the good. Plato might well respond by suggesting that desire for good is
to be our construed not as an effort ourselves own to an objective in order, soul and our pattern: and this will to change to "imitate include but reality the divine" setting with to conform by setting cognitive nature of

our the

capacity

judgements imitate the

in conformity divine. But

things.
means

Coming to know the world as it iswould be part of what


for us to for Plato knowing

it
the

world
knowing

as it is will
the good more of to the

include knowing what


and loving have it will be only said

is good.
notionally such

At
not

the limit,
psycho But are of

logically distinct.
Much something prepared love and would this sort to be to defend a view. unless we ladder is surely his elaborate of the cave implied by Plato, the between parallel as a mere coincidence.37

interpret climb out

The 36 Richard

University

of Pennsylvania

The Thread of Life (Cambridge: Harvard Uni Wollheim, versity37 Press, 1986), 53. An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the University of Helsinki in March 1983 and before various audiences since then, including a lecture at the Catholic of America in October 1983. I am University indebted to my auditors for many valuable and am particularly comments, to Myles and Alexander Nehamas for their detailed grateful Burnyeat criticism.