Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
South, James B.
Foster, Susanne H.
This dissertation responds to a long-standing debate among scholars regarding the nature of Platonic Eros and its relation to lack. The more prominent account of Platonic Eros presents the lack of Eros as a deficiency or need experienced by the lover with respect to the object needed, lacked, or desired, so that the nature of Eros is construed as self-interested or acquisitive, subsisting only so long as the lover lacks the beloved object. This dissertation argues that such an interpretation neglects the different senses of lack present in the Symposium and presents an alternative interpretation of Eros based on the Symposium's presentation of Eros as the child of Poverty and Resource.
Chapter one examines the origin and development of the position that Platonic Eros is acquisitive or egocentric and the influence this has had on subsequent interpretations of Plato's thought. Chapter two argues that Diotima's theogony of Eros that presents him as a child of Poverty and Resource is central to understanding the account of Eros propounded in her discourse. Chapter three examines the development and refinement of the concepts of lack and poverty that are offered alongside those of Eros throughout Socrates' account of Eros in the Symposium. Chapters four and five discuss the relationship of these concepts of lack to the depiction of Eros as an intermediary and the ethical consequences of this relationship. Chapter six shows how the disposition of poverty serves as the source of the erotic ascent toward the vision of the beautiful itself. Chapter seven, drawing upon the analysis of previous chapters, argues that the reexamination of the role of poverty in the Symposium reveals that the account of Eros offered there describes a katharsis of the affective element in human beings, parallel to the katharsis of the rational element described in Plato's Phaedo. This katharsis involves the embrace of poverty as a way of living, loving, and knowing. Thus, the poverty of Eros does not indicate a lack that is egocentric or acquisitive, but describes a kind of asceticism or spiritual discipline that is requisite for the philosophical and moral life.