Eros in Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche

Eros in Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche: The Politics of Infinity

LAURENCE D. COOPER
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v4vp
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  • Book Info
    Eros in Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche
    Book Description:

    Human beings are restless souls, ever driven by an insistent inner force not only to have more but to be more—to be infinitely more. Various philosophers have emphasized this type of ceaseless striving in their accounts of humanity, as in Spinoza’s notion of conatus and Hobbes’s identification of “a perpetual and restless desire of power after power.” In this book, Laurence Cooper focuses his attention on three giants of the philosophic tradition for whom this inner force was a major preoccupation and something separate from and greater than the desire for self-preservation. Cooper’s overarching purpose is to illuminate the nature of this source of existential longing and discontent and its implications for political life. He concentrates especially on what these thinkers share in their understanding of this psychic power and how they view it ambivalently as the root not only of ambition, vigorous virtue, patriotism, and philosophy, but also of tyranny, imperialism, and varieties of fanaticism. But he is not neglectful of the differences among their interpretations of the phenomenon, either, and especially highlights these in the concluding chapter.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05483-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: THE ONENESS OF DESIRE—BUT WHICH ONE?
    (pp. 1-14)

    How inauspicious to begin a book on eros with a line from Hobbes. And how wrongheaded: Hobbes extolls self-preservation over nobler longings and traces those longings to impermanent and “curable” sources. Human beings desire power after power, but why? Not because they are naturally drawn or propelled to some kind of transcendence but simply because no matter how safe and prosperous they are today, they cannot be assured that they will enjoy the same conditions tomorrow.¹ Find a way to guarantee security through well conceived institutions and you will have reduced the desire for power to modest proportions.

    Yet Hobbes’s...

  6. 1 THE REPUBLIC AS PROLOGUE
    (pp. 15-48)

    If it’s possible to regard the Western philosophic tradition as a series of footnotes to Plato, then it’s at least as plausible to regard the history ofpoliticalphilosophy as a series of footnotes to theRepublic. And no more so than where political philosophy looks at the soul.

    In the present study our attention will be given more to the footnotes than to theRepublicitself. We begin with that dialogue, though, because a certain awareness of it—of what it does and what it is thought to do—is useful for understanding the texts that will be occupying...

  7. PART ONE: PLATONIC EROS—THE EFFECTUAL TRUTH
    • 2 FIRST TRUTHS
      (pp. 51-64)

      Desire and longing—what the Greek world called eros—don’t fare too well in Plato’s political dialogues. In theRepublicand theGorgias,the dialogues in which the relation between eros and politics is most extensively addressed, eros is presented as a tyrannical passion that easily leads to political tyranny and almost always leads to civically destructive selfishness and injustice. Eros is disparaged even in the private sphere, in which it is depicted as enslavement to insubstantial and evanescent pleasures. The possibility of a more benign eros is acknowledged, but such an eros turns out to be unlike anything to...

    • 3 WHAT DOES EROS WANT?
      (pp. 65-92)

      Before trying to read Socrates’ speech correctly—before attempting to determine the significance of its selectivity, its beautification of the truth, and its context—indeed,in orderto read it correctly, one would do well to read it, if not incorrectly, then naively—which, however, does not mean carelessly. Far from it. By “naively” I mean without regard for the subtleties of Plato’s art whereby he calls into question what Socrates seems to be teaching. (Such naivety is not at all inconsistent with analytic rigor or indeed much of our proudest modern science and scholarship, as Nietzsche knew so well.)...

    • 4 LOVE OF WISDOM VERSUS LOVE OF THE WISE: EROS IN ACTION
      (pp. 93-130)

      Having gone to some effort to break Socrates’ teaching in theSymposiuminto two only to argue that two do indeed become one, let me offer a summary statement of this complex unity. Some of this has already been said, but not all of it—and not all together. I will begin with that which explains and establishes the unity, which is also where we left off—that is, with philosophy.

      Philosophy may be erotic—indeed, it is himself that Socrates describes under the guise of Eros (203b–204c)—but it is not erotic in any ordinary sense of the...

  8. PART TWO: ROUSSEAU AND THE EXPANSIVENESS OF BEING
    • 5 BETWEEN EROS AND WILL TO POWER: ROUSSEAU AND “THE DESIRE TO EXTEND OUR BEING”
      (pp. 133-174)

      We all want what’s good. But whatisgood? Or, to begin with only slightly less ambitious a question, how can we discover the good? Classical philosophy taught that the route to knowledge of the good must begin with what is widely believed to be good: the good: is the desirable, and the desirable either is, or is somehow suggested by, what we actually desire. In neither case is the inquiry an easy one, if only because we desire many mutually exclusive things. If the good is suggested by or even if it is included among what we actually already...

    • 6 EMILE, OR ON PHILOSOPHY?
      (pp. 175-200)

      Rousseau’s treatments of the expansiveness of being are both brief and prosaic. To speak evocatively of extended being would likely prod those who have not been properly educated or otherwise prepared toward pursuits that woulddiminishbeing rather than enhance it. Such is the sad paradox of the human condition, as we have already seen. And the crown of that paradox is seen in Rousseau’s stance toward philosophy. Most who have called themselves or been known as philosophers have been creatures of vanity. Most who have studied philosophy have been corrupted by it—not just as social beings but in...

  9. PART THREE: NIETZSCHE’S NEW ETERNITY
    • 7 NIETZSCHE’S POLITEIA, I
      (pp. 203-236)

      The mature Nietzsche was never quite sure about Plato. About Platonism, yes: a catastrophic idealism based on two great falsehoods, the pure mind and the good in itself (BGEPreface)—catastrophic because it undermined the glorious civilization of classical antiquity. But Plato himself, “the most beautiful growth of antiquity,” remained elusive. At times Nietzsche seems to absolve Plato of any sincere Platonism—for example, in book 5 ofThe Gay Science, where the invention of Platonism is attributed to prudence, or to fear on behalf of others (372). According to this account, Plato was not himself a vengeful idealist. Though...

    • 8 NIETZSCHE’S POLITEIA, II
      (pp. 237-272)

      Book 5 of theRepublicmarks the beginning of a digression. But it’s a “digression” that continues for three full books, and rather than some sort of side trip it takes us to the defining peaks of the dialogue. For these reasons book 5 constitutes a new beginning of the entire dialogue. This is confirmed at the start of the chapter, with a scene that reprises Socrates’ “arrest” at the start of book 1. Similarly, part 5 ofBeyond Good and Evilmarks a new beginning. Having first explored philosophy’s limits and then its possibilities (parts 1 and 2, respectively);...

    • 9 WILL TO POWER VERSUS EROS, OR A BATTLE OF ETERNITIES
      (pp. 273-302)

      In trying to apprehend the basis of Nietzsche’s quarrel with Plato we are beset by the problem with which we began: a good part of Nietzsche’s opposition to Plato needs to be understood as strategic or prescriptive as opposed to philosophic or diagnostic. As we have seen, the mature Nietzsche was inclined to separate Plato a good deal from Platonism; he attributed a large part of Plato’s idealism to a well-intended even if catastrophic judgment about what was needed to ground morality and a decent politics. Yet Nietzsche was not prepared to attribute Plato’s “error”entirelyto a political (mis)calculation....

    • EPILOGUE: ONE OR MANY?
      (pp. 303-328)

      The question might be put a little more precisely: One, Two, or Three? Do Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche give accounts of the soul’s preeminent force that are consistent and complementary, the differences signifying divergent perspectives on what is regarded as essentially the same thing, or do they give fundamentally different accounts? The answer, of course, isboth. But the question is worth raising because it invites us to consider the philosophers in relation to one another and thus to reconstruct a three-party dialogue. As I suggested at the outset of this investigation, Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche not only speak to...

    • REFERENCES
      (pp. 329-336)
    • INDEX
      (pp. 337-358)
    • Back Matter
      (pp. 359-359)