The therapeutic Symposium : poverty, resource, and shame in the philosophic condition.
Access changed 12/14/20.
Plato’s Symposium is one of his most celebrated dialogues – a dialogue so eventful, with such memorable characters, that it has received significant scholarly attention. Perhaps precisely on account of the Symposium’s many memorable characters, however, Apollodorus and Aristodemus, two characters who contribute the Symposium’s narrative frame, have mostly been forgotten. I call for new attention to these two characters, arguing that together with the more famous Alcibiades, they jointly dramatize a shared problem to which Socrates is actually attempting to offer a kind of solution – a therapy – when he gives his speech in praise of Love. Specifically, these three characters experience misplaced shame that is obstructing their sincere and fruitful participation in the philosophic life. Socrates teaches that Eros himself is in-between poverty (penia) and resource (poros), and that this is true of the philosopher, as well. Thus, a philosopher must learn to coexist with both poverty and resource. It is their failure to cope with both that has inspired obstructive shame in these characters. Unfortunately, a sad twist to Socrates’ attempted therapy is that although Apollodorus and Aristodemus are apparently able to repeat Socrates’ lesson (as part of their narration), they do not seem to have learned the lesson. My dissertation examines the role of shame in Plato and discusses attempts by Socrates – as dramatized in the Symposium and in other dialogues, also – to contribute to his friends’ and interlocutors’ preparation for the philosophical life. Socrates would like to acquaint his friends with philosophical methods, dismantle obstacles (such as obstructive shame) to their participation in the philosophical life, bolster their spirits, and call upon them to come to the defense of their own souls. However, as the dramatic situation of the Symposium demonstrates, we can allow that Socrates is trying to help his friends without the implication that he is succeeding. I suggest that Plato has actually posed this problem for Socrates, so that Plato himself can treat the therapeutic Socrates as a point of departure, pointing ahead to his own use of the dialogue form and suggesting how he can exceed Socrates at creating preparedness for philosophy.