Home > Free Essays > Philosophy > Philosophical Concept > Plato’s Theory of Eros in Nussbaum’s Interpretation
Cite this

Plato’s Theory of Eros in Nussbaum’s Interpretation Term Paper


Plato’s valuation of Eros within the Symposium and Phaedrus dialogues is an important subject analyzed by many scholars. Thus, Martha tries to articulate the methods that were described during Socrates’ speech. She uses Plato’s notion, which explains there is a connection between the method and the overall doctrine guiding the method. Plato’s philosophy tries to show the importance of ethical quality to improve human relations among people. The terms ‘Platonic love’ and ‘Eros’ are major concepts covered in this essay. In this regard, Nussbaum has been able to provide an accurate interpretation of Plato’s theory of Eros in the Symposium and Phaedrus (Schott 15).

Martha Nussbaum’s interpretation of Plato’s theory of Eros in the Symposium and the Phaedrus

In the Phaedrus, Socrates reveals his head when he delivers his speech about Eros. According to Nussbaum, this was done to hide the shame that had occurred because of being forced to deliver in the style of Attic rhetoric. This is a cynical defense used by Socrates about a thesis that was meant to describe Eros as an irrational appetite for immediate enjoyment. Later on, Socrates removed the veil and continued with a serious philosophical speech, whereby he praised Eros. Nussbaum described this moment as the most important as Socrates was able to reveal a testimony that describes the orientation of Plato about the concept of erotic (Newell 107). Nussbaum also interprets this speech as intending to withdraw previously held beliefs and thoughts. It was a means used by Socrates to correct the problems that arose due to the supposed intellectual and ascetic theory of Eros within The Republic and the Symposium. The two theories had initially led to the acceptance of non-philosophical Eros, thereby becoming an expensive alternative.

During the dialogue, Socrates critiques the idea that an individual should praise everything about their love and be at their service at all times. This is done so that in the end there is a way that the individual can be able to conquer or attain the trust of the other party. Socrates considers this as selfish and imprudent because the intended consequence is not for their beloved good, but the lover’s satisfaction and recognition. This only makes his beloved more unattainable and arrogant. Nussbaum also rightly interprets that Socrates predicts that the lover’s main objective should be to attain more understanding and knowledge in his beloved to guarantee a positive response (Lewis 4).

This sketch of the philosophical theory of Eros in the Phaedrus can be considered accurate, yet it is neither a correction nor a countercharm to the original beliefs. Nussbaum uses readings from the Lysis and the Symposium suggesting that the accuracy can be assured. Thus, the development and enchantment of an erotic theory arising from Plato were always in existence. In the current scenario, Socrates and Phaedrus were presenting it under the most appealing external conditions possible. Nussbaum mentions that, ‘…a delightful resting place, with this tall spreading plane, and a lovely shade from the high branches…’ thereby describing the environment in which the action occurred (Scott 87).

Nussbaum also disagrees with the identification of Diotima’s view when explaining the meaning of the dialogue. She reminds the reader that after Socrates finished his speech, Alcibiades appeared as the next choice for an applicable ideal in comparison to Socrates’ belief that an individual should be excellent and deaf at the same time. Political application to the argument is used to show that Eros cannot be limited to the private realm. If this were the case, Nussbaum ponders whether it would also affect the public realm. Personal relationships are constantly under focus within the Phaedrus and Symposium, while the Symposium itself gives a clear description that the passion arising from such relationships is only one form of Eros. Moreover, all desire for happiness and good is only a result of the great but minimal power of the Eros. The desire for political goods is also considered as the Eros (Cooper 29).

A closer analysis of the dialogue can reveal that Socrates distinguishes two kinds of couples; those of other lovers and those of lovers who end up being philosophers. The philosophers’ souls become winged upon their passing. Socrates adds that neither human moderation nor divine madness can result in a better blessing than this. Nussbaum further adds that Socrates does not simply reason that this blessing arises from erotic madness, where Eros is a form of erotic madness (Bloom 12). The other couples are said to have gained a lesser price, in this case, they will have to stay with one another in the afterlife. This was considered as a continued union, although Nussbaum explains that there was no mention of what the philosopher will gain as a prize in the end.

In this regard, Socrates’ words have been effective in advancing the belief that the Eros should not be considered as responsible for the excellence that the philosophers have been able to gain, although it helped in its achievement. Nussbaum further adds that this is the suggestion that concurs with the conclusions in the Symposium speech. This speech also showed that it would be harder to find a better helper than Eros for human nature (Nussbaum 211). It should be noted that the speech does not say whether such a helper cannot be found or whether human nature must have a helper.

Authors like Newell have argued that Socrates must mean to imply that the philosopher’s prize results from erotic madness. Moreover, it cannot be said without a doubt that the rest of Socrates’s speech can approve this exclusion (Newell 27). It should be noted that it is a coincidence that Socrates describes no philosopher prize for erotic madness and establishes their continued union within the prize. However, it does not consider such an aspect of the philosopher’s prize. Some scholars have argued that this belief can be seen to rise above the Eros. According to Nussbaum, Socrates suggests that Eros should be identified as a particular form of mania during the beginning of his speeches. Mania can be described as a kind of obsession or enthusiasm. He attaches great importance to encouraging Phaedrus that it can be an over-simplification to consider that mania is the opposite of a controlled situation where the circumstances and the resulting consequences are known. Thus, mania is considered to be bad.

Despite this, as poetic, medical, and prophetical mania clearly shows, the greatest goods are given to the individual through mania. Doctors, poets, and priests, who are considered as level-headed, although not inspired or possessed, usually achieve minimal good. As Nussbaum emphasizes, it is a doubtless reminder that specific non-intellectual elements within us are vital for motivating our energy. They are important in establishing the growth of an individual. They also result in positive results based on the activities of the person. Moreover, they are important in facilitating our aspirations for knowledge and practical reason. Philosophical interpretation also becomes easier for the person who justifies the initial definition (Schott 314). This is where erotic mania is linked to philosophical activity.

Nussbaum’s interpretation

Socrates is characterized by the use of many philosophical ideas and concepts. These can be inclusive of beliefs like the doctrine of the division of the soul, localization of a person’s soul within the ontological hierarchy of entities, and an almost scientific-natural proof of the immortality of the soul. Nussbaum explains that it is easy to notice the clear differences that exist between Socrates’s praises on Eros in the Symposium and Phaedrus, but regarded it with harshness in the Republic (Schott 129). Many have noticed these differences, but this limitation only ends here because some people have considered the harshness that can be seen in how Socrates views the Eros within the Symposium similarly still in the Republic, but differences are seen when the Phaedrus is considered. This means that although Socrates may have a positive view of Eros in both Phaedrus and Symposium than in the Republic, the Eros that has been praised in the Symposium cannot be called love, as we know it (Scott 28).

Despite this, it is the love of the human, what we are now aware of, that Socrates praises in the Phaedrus. Nussbaum has provided a further description of these differences. Her arguments start by describing Gregory Vlastos’s influential paper, “The Individual as Object of Love in Plato” (1973). Vlastos notes that the indications provided by Socrates in Symposium begin where he states that love is for a person’s abstract quality. These qualities can be goodness or beauty (Newell 144). With that in mind, beauty is seen to go above all else and become the ultimate goal. Vlastos also explains that Plato’s theory has not been able to capture this idea. Thus, Plato’s theory is seen as never having meant to be about personal love for persons. This can also be described as the love that is only reciprocated. Thus, it should be between people and not love for an object or things, or an abstract material (Levy 412). Vlastos also points out that Socrates’ treatment of love in the Symposium can be equated to his beliefs in the Republic. This was dependent on what was loved within the specific person. Moreover, this love would only last as long as it produced positive benefits.

Vlastos’ teachings

Nussbaum continues from Vlastos’s teachings by explaining that the Symposium is, indeed, applicable as the interpretation of Socrates’s speech. Moreover, she continues to provide a comparison of the two by considering the view Socrates held towards the treatment of Eros in the Phaedrus. Nussbaum also describes that there are a new definition and description of Eros, whereby the love held towards another person cannot be separated from philosophical insight. Thus, passions that are erotic tend to be the applicable components of having the best human life (Nussbaum 350). Nussbaum also comments that Plato’s thinking had evolved from the Symposium through to the Republic because Plato was particularly critical on the passions and love that exist for another human being in the Phaedrus. This is seen as a suggestion that Plato went through some form of development of his thinking process over the period. For instance, there was a stark change in Socrates’ statements concerning madness. Socrates is mainly opinioned about madness in the Republic. He criticizes it throughout the text in comparison to the Phaedrus. Within the Phaedrus, Socrates tries to differentiate between divine madness and human madness. He goes ahead and praises divine madness, thereby categorizing Eros as a form of divine madness (Nussbaum 356).

Nussbaum utilizes this change in Plato’s consideration of madness as further support for her argument that his thought has undergone a development from being characterized by passionate rationalism in the Republic (Nussbaum 286). Furthermore, Nussbaum argues that the Symposium and the Republic are unified through Socrates’ condemnation of the love of individuals and his anti-passionate rationalism. In this regard, the Phaedrus is easily set apart from them.

The recommendation of development of Plato’s part from the time he wrote the Republic and Symposium to the period he wrote the Phaedrus must challenge a vital discontinuity that is clear from the Republic to the Phaedrus; namely, the Symposium’s rejection of the soul’s immortality. Thus, the proof given by Socrates about the soul’s immortality is through his praises of love in the Phaedrus that lacks any doctrine of immortality arising from the soul. Moreover, such a doctrine would apply to Socrates’ speech on Eros because he identifies Eros as a concept that possesses the good for all time. This is only limited to the places where it can be seen that he refers to the soul’s immortality. In reality, Socrates is seen as denying it and provides an argument that immortality for a mortal individual arises through procreation or leaving behind another like oneself (Levy 47).

According to Nussbaum, it can be seen that the Republic and Phaedrus are more closely together based on matters about the immortality of the soul in comparison to the Republic and Symposium. Moreover, the teachings about Eros in the Republic and Symposium are quite applicable because a person’s understanding of Eros is dependent on how they regard the soul as immortal, as can be seen from the initial parts of Socrates’ speech in the Phaedrus. This only results in increasing awareness about the differences that exist between them (Scott 88).

The symposium

The Symposium is seen as dealing with three complexes that arise because of erotic matters. Moreover, it also answers many of the important queries that arise because of these problems. The questions are developed because sometimes we follow the phenomenology of being in love, sometimes called the earthly Eros in the Symposium. This concept first develops at the beginning of the Phaedrus and Lysus, although at the same instance it follows Plato’s Socrates in determining the identification of Eros with being in love as the main reason for having a moral concern (Cooper 56). In this regard, it is important to clarify to what extent the identification is acceptable and how ‘true’ Eros differs from being in love. The three complexes of problems that are described in the Lysus and dealt with in the Symposium cater to this differentiation. The relationship between love and friendship is considered a vital concept in need of consideration.

The Symposium is also seen to teach us that it is not the act of love itself or being in love that causes moral concern. Thus, love cannot be attributed to the moral feeling that a person believes in. It is a level of hierarchy that should be maintained and is identified as Eros and the absence of any initiative to cause a change and acceptably overcome the act of love in the wide spectrum of erotic attitudes. This can show the way towards the diagnosis and acts as a confirmation (Cooper 55).

The examples are shown of the differences in how Socrates treats Eros within the Republic, Symposium, and Phaedrus; that is, his view of love for the person, beliefs on the immortality of the soul and his evaluation of madness can be said to lead to more differences. However, these differences on their own can be applicable in raising doubts as to whether Plato’s Socrates has any single view that comprehensively covers love and can be used in the justification of his claim of knowledge in erotic matters. It can also be seen that each treatment of Eros is characterized by important similarities when considered at different angles. There is also a lack of a single account of Plato’s development that could lead to the final understanding of the concepts. For instance, Nussbaum queries whether we can consider Phaedrus’s apparent praise of the love for an individual as progress that affects Socrates when it comes to the belief in the soul’s immortality (Schott 411).

Various limitations exist in how Socrates considers Eros, although it cannot be argued that he lacks a unified view. Instead, it becomes important to consider the differences that arise. The changes in Socrates’ statements about Eros have the same basis of the dialogue, although Socrates’ also discusses the various limitations inherent in discussing the different aspects of a sensitive and complicated subject. The complexity has attained a level that it becomes harder to scrutinize the subject itself. Thus, once they have been interpreted within their unique contexts and with consideration of Socrates’ diverse aims, the different beliefs about love points can be realized in a single coherent understanding of love.

Nussbaum’s interpretation can be considered an accurate description of Socrates’ speech and provides information that can be regarded as effective in analyzing the current situation. Nussbaum has been able to assert that the Symposium is a work dealing with a passionate love that can also be considered erotic. This is a connection that would be hard to establish as many criticisms have arisen about erotic love. Nussbaum uses the example of James A. Areti, who advances the idea that the Symposium is not related to the nature of love (Schott 156). Thus, for Areti, the Symposium does not give an accurate description of love and it is applicable in daily life. For him, the Symposium was about the means of making pronouncements about god. This means that beliefs should not be made based on reality, but lack a basis that makes them believable or lack a basis in an argument.

The basis of a fully developed philosophy of the soul and the mind is provided by Plato who utilizes the image of the chariot of the soul and the charioteer’s plumage within the Phaedrus. This can give an accurate identification of divine Eros. This is the same as the inspiration for erotic attitudes in the effort to gain self-transformation within their realm. This state lies between eternity and mutability. This change results in an even closer interdependence of Eros, knowledge, and sensuality in comparison to what was developed in the Symposium. No other text within Plato’s dialogues goes as far as the detailed speech in praise of Eros in the Phaedrus, whereby the physical feeling of pleasure is attached to the erotic attitudes of philosophy (Lewis 4).

Nussbaum also suggests that the general position of the Symposium should not be ignored as it provides further support. Thus, the poets and the figure of the Alcibiades turn into a philosophical erotic of Diotima’s speech can see its goals within the framework whereby it integrates the speeches. Based on the Phaedrus physical pleasure, sensual awareness of the beautiful and the reciprocity in personal friendships cannot be considered as the initial stages that would result in philosophical Eros, thus all philosophical knowledge. I concur that, according to Nussbaum, the appearance characterized by changes in how Socrates viewed Eros can be considered to be the result of incomplete interpretations from a brief analysis of often-overlooked details within the Phaedrus and Symposium (Newell 402).

The ladder of love

In my opinion, there is an increase in many unconventional conclusions within the study as a whole, but Nussbaum is still able to provide conclusive evidence in her interpretations. First, we can reconsider Eros for the individual as it appears in the Symposium. Vlastos’s opinion is dependent on the so-called ‘ladder of love’. Moreover, this is the part that Socrates describes how an individual may ascend from having a love for another individual’s body to loving the soul and finally being able to recognize what is beautiful. Going through each level at an increase, those ascending the levels end up having a lower estimation of whatever beauty that was previously a characteristic of them. Thus, it becomes clear to see that Plato’s theory is more interested in the love or attraction to abstract qualities, instead of love for another person. The love has been replaced and cannot easily exist in its previous form without the individual having to advance through the levels again (Newell 102).

It should be noted that at a key moment is when the individual has developed from loving a beautiful soul to view the beauty that is science or Eros, and the term for love no longer becomes part of Socrates’ account. It can be seen that Socrates referred to Eros to define only other human beings, their souls, and their bodies. Still, other beautiful things are sought, but Socrates does not say that they are loved. Thus, human beings and other abstract things enjoy some element of love, though Socrates does not intend to identify them in the case of non-human things (Levy 78). Also, it can be seen that Eros drops from Socrates’ dialogue, but other scholars hold the belief that Socrates did so because he did not believe that there was an Eros to describe these other beauties or what is considered beautiful and is not human.

It can be said that Socrates is providing a limited but precise meaning of Eros, thus privileging accurately that Eros the alleged neglect of which Vlastos critiques. Despite this, it cannot be said that the statements are done to describe that Socrates has made it easier to overlook his limitation of Eros to only apply to other human beings by mentioning, earlier in his dialogue, to Eros for nonhuman objects. It can be agreed that Nussbaum was right by interpreting that Socrates subordinated his Eros for another individual to concerns that are considered greater, thus creating the ladder of love. Moreover, this ladder of love is a result of criticizing Eros itself, suggesting that even though Eros in itself will guide philosophical education; this is also something uniquely un-erotic about the philosophical life (Newell 67). Phaedrus describes this love in far more glowing terms than it can be seen in the Symposium. Socrates can develop the un-erotic aspect of philosophy and makes it harder to notice it in the Phaedrus.

Nussbaum also recommends that we see the world as a Diotima’s is, thus eroding the motivation for considering Alcibiades’ beliefs. The person would then devote himself or herself to a particular loved person, even having the love for one city beyond any other city. The Diotima’s is seen as a description of politics. Thus, love may also exist for politics in the sense that it can be comparable to the love for a person. This is summarized by the agreement that, ‘… a contemplative life is a natural choice’ (Nussbaum 181). Politics are also regarded as too specific to be considered as an object of Eros. Ideally, the philosopher is expected to move beyond it. Nussbaum proposes an opposite standpoint to Diotima’s speech. This provides proof that the traditional reading of the Symposium is wrong for assuming that Plato’s theory of Eros tries to advance the idea of a model of impersonal intellectualism and asceticism.

Tension is also seen to exist between the philosopher and politics as the philosopher is always seen to dislike politics. These two elements in society have a strong influence on the person. They are controlled by the beliefs and opinions held by individuals, thus they have a human influence. Philosophy will not be acceptable to the politicians the same way that the philosopher will not like the concepts held by politics. Again, what holds for Eros also holds for philosophy. For instance, if the philosopher challenges and questions the political order, then it can be said that Eros guided him. This leads to a comparison of Eros to a tyranny that leads a person to ignore the existing norms, thus it encourages the person to treason. Of course, such a belief will lead to the political establishment disregarding Eros due to the threats perceived as arising from it. It will also be backed up by the response that it would lead to stability and order for the political order of the day, as was seen by Athens and Socrates (Newell 104).

Nussbaum is right in her conclusion that beauty lies in institutions and laws. These are considered a form of Eros at a higher level. It cannot be compared to the Eros that arises for the love of humans. It may not be the highest form of Eros, but it can still be considered as a significant expression of Eros. Moreover, the reality that Eros could encourage other people to challenge the political order is regarded as one of the blessings of this belief. In many cases, political orders are characterized by injustice, thus they need to be challenged. A constant focus on the highly ordered and controlled Gallipolis within the Republic can be used to mean that Plato sees the disruptive potential of Eros as a negative (Schott 76).

The three dialogues act as a reminder of Socrates’ fate. Undoubtedly, Plato is seen as portraying the tension that exists between politics and philosophy. Accepting the presence of tension, however, cannot be equated as having established an antithesis. Moreover, the pursuits that arise due to tensions can also be seen as beneficial to each other. As Socrates mentions in the Republic, “until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophize, that is until political power and philosophy entirely coincide…” Therefore, if politics needs philosophy, then it needs Eros, the ultimate form of Eros. Philosophy’s contribution to politics is also an Eros contribution (Nussbaum 259).

In conclusion, Martha Nussbaum provides an accurate interpretation of Plato’s theory of love in the Symposium and the Phaedrus. Nussbaum has been able to explore Plato’s apologia in the Phaedrus for understanding love in Diotima’s ascent passage within the Symposium. She also goes further to counter Vlastos’s belief on Plato’s love, while defending the objectification of excellence in regards to the lovers in the Phaedrus. Nussbaum’s radical and original interpretation of Plato’s love theory has also detailed the superior guidance of reason and advances that the non-intellectual elements of the soul are vital to establishing the valuable components that make up the best human life.

Works Cited

Bloom, Allan. The Republic of Plato. New York: Basic Books, 1991. Print.

Cooper, John M. Plato, Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997. Print.

Levy, David. Eros and Socratic Political Philosophy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

Lewis, Rick. “Plato on a Plate.” Philosophy Now 90 (2012): 4-4. Print.

Newell, Waller Randy. Ruling Passion : The Erotics of Statecraft in Platonic Political Philosophy. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Print.

Nussbaum, Martha C. The Fragility of Goodness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Print.

Schott, Robin May. Cognition and Eros: A Critique of the Kantian Paradigm. New York: Penn State Press, 2010. Print.

Scott, Gary Alan. Plato’s Socrates as Educator. Albany, N.: State University of New York Press, 2000. Print.

This term paper on Plato’s Theory of Eros in Nussbaum’s Interpretation was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Need a custom Term Paper sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

301 certified writers online

Cite This paper

Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2020, July 23). Plato's Theory of Eros in Nussbaum's Interpretation. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/platos-theory-of-eros-in-nussbaums-interpretation/

Work Cited

"Plato's Theory of Eros in Nussbaum's Interpretation." IvyPanda, 23 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/platos-theory-of-eros-in-nussbaums-interpretation/.

1. IvyPanda. "Plato's Theory of Eros in Nussbaum's Interpretation." July 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/platos-theory-of-eros-in-nussbaums-interpretation/.


IvyPanda. "Plato's Theory of Eros in Nussbaum's Interpretation." July 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/platos-theory-of-eros-in-nussbaums-interpretation/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Plato's Theory of Eros in Nussbaum's Interpretation." July 23, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/platos-theory-of-eros-in-nussbaums-interpretation/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Plato's Theory of Eros in Nussbaum's Interpretation'. 23 July.

Related papers