Eros, Paideia and Arête: The Lesson of Plato’s Symposium

Abstract

Commentators of Plato’s Symposium rarely recognize the importance of traditional Greek conceptions of Eros, paideia and arête in understanding Plato’s critique of the various educational models presented in the dialogue. I will show how Plato contests these models by proposing that education should consist of philosophy. On this interpretation, ancient Greek pedagogy culminates in a philosophical education. For this new form of education, the dialogical model supplants the traditional practices of kléos and poetic mimēsis, inextricably bound to archaia paideia and traditional forms of education. Plato’s Socrates is searching for knowledge and immortality through an application of the philosophical method, one that relies on a conception of Eros and propagation. For Plato’s Socrates, it is through Eros that ancient Greek paideia educates in matters of arête, but eros is not a passion for kléos or for a beautiful young man. Rather, eros is the passion for Beauty itself, a passion that is pursued through philosophical conversation with another, a life of arête. Thus, our investigation serves to define and criticize the various educational models and defend the claim that philosophy is best suited for educating the citizens of Athens.

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