Rebirth of Reason


Seddon's Salvos: Long on Plato - Part III
by Fred Seddon


Seddon: I love the Symposium, it’s my personal favorite and I love teaching it. How does Long do with this dialogue?

Plato: He doesn’t do too much with the Symposium. In fact, he quotes it right after quoting Republic 517e thinking that they make the same point, i.e., that rationality “turns out to be substantive rather than merely procedural.”

S: Was that your point?

P: I don’t have a speaking part in . . .

S: Yes, I know that answer. But isn’t someone making some kind of point here.

P: Who is the speaker of these lines? And what is the context?

S: It’s Diotima. This is the famous “ladder of love” section of her speech.

P: Sorry, I think you’re mistaken. The speaker is Apollodorus and as far as I know, nobody ever was silly enough to claim that this “fan” of Socrates speaks for me.

S: Wait a minute. I have the text here. Oh, I see what you’re driving at. This is one of those “recollected” dialogues, like the Phaedo. Apollodorus is telling someone, Glaucon, I think, how he heard about the banquet given for Agathon for winning the tragedy contest.

P: But with a twist. In the Phaedo, Phaedo gives a report on what Socrates said and did on his death day, an event that took place about a month before the dialogue takes place. But I make it clear that Phaedo was there in person. In the Symposium, Apollodorous is reporting on events that he himself did not witness. He got the story “second-hand” from Aristodemus who was indeed there and claims to have the story word perfect, but we find out he fell asleep during the banquet. And remember, the banquet took place about 16 years before Apollodorous tells of it to Glaucon.

S: That’s some distance.

P: But there’s more. The lines Long quotes are attributed to Diotima who told them to Socrates when he was young. Socrates was 56 at the time of the dialogue and so if Diotima told this to him when he was, say 20, you have to add 36 to 16 years. That means 52 years separate Apollodorous’ account from the lines Long quotes. That is the time context.

S: And what was your purpose in distancing us so much from what seems to many to be the center piece of the dialogue?

P: That is something I do not indicate in the dialogue. Let me hide myself here. But surely one thing it means is that it is a dangerous disregard of the genre that I consciously adopted to assume I am speaking, or that Diotima, or Socrates, or Aristodemus, or Apollodorus speaks for Plato.

S: What use does Long make of the Symposium.

P: The first is a paraenthetical remark on p. 12. I almost tempted to let this pass since Long himself does place it in parenthesis.

S: No, please give us your analysis.

P: Well, to begin with we must note his context. Since I insist on this with respect to my work, it’s only fair that I give the same consideration to Long.

S: And what is the context?

P: He is trying to avoid Hume’s conclusion that rationality is only instrumental. Recall the title of the section is “Rationality: Substantive but Mystical.” His argument begins on p. 11 and the parenthetical reference to Symposium is on p. 12.

S: And?

P: Since I will be addressing this later when we talk about the Republic, I can shorten what I have to say and focus it on what Long says in the parenthesis. He writes, “What we ultimately grasp--the first principle that is no mere supposition--is what Plato calls the Form of the Good (or, sometimes, the Form of the Beautiful).” (12) He then writes in endnote 18 “I take Symposium 204c-206a as evidence that the Form of the Good and the Form of the Beautiful are meant to be one and the same thing.” (57)

S: And this means that we have to look at 204c-206a, doesn’t it?

P: We surely do.

S: We have already seen how questionable it is to assume that what is spoken there represents you. Not to mention just trying to figure out who the speaker is.

P: Let us consider just one small point, viz., the claim that the speaker (and Long assumes that the speaker speaks for me) equates the Form of the Good with the Form of the Beautiful.

S: Yes, let’s do that.

P: Long seems to be focusing on 204e where I have Diotima respond to Socrates who complains he is having difficulty answering her question about the use of the beautiful. She then says, “Well, imagine that the object is changed to the good instead of the beautiful and I ask you this ‘Tell me, Socrates, what does the lover of the good desire?” And Socrates answers, “To have the good for himself.” And then when Diotima asks what is the good of that Socrates then says, “That’s easy, having good things makes one happy.”

S: Well, where’s the stuff about the Forms?

P: Not here. Here the speakers are talking about “beautiful things” and “good things.”

S: Hm. But what about the other quotation from the Symposium?

P: On p. 12, near the bottom, Long is trying to show that, “the Form of the Good is, epistemologically, the first principle of practical reason, because it is, metaphysically, the first principle of value. Pursuant to that end he quotes Republic 517c and Symposium 210e-212a assuming that the context of both dialogues is irrelevant to what is going on there.

S: Let’s hold on the Republic quotation until later. Tells us what is going on in the Symposium at 210e-212a.

P: Diotima is talking about the Beautiful itself by itself with itself (auto kath auto meth autou). Nowhere in Long’s quotation does the word “good” appear, yet he concludes that Diotima in the Symposium is saying the same thing as Socrates in the Republic. Since we have just seen how questionable that equation is, am I being too hard on Long to demand more proof.

S: Not in the least.
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