plato's theory of desire

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Plato's Theory of Desire Author(s): Charles H. Kahn Reviewed work(s): Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Sep., 1987), pp. 77-103 Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 24/01/2012 08:08Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers,


Plato's Theory of Desire Author(s): Charles H. Kahn Reviewed work(s): Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 41, No. 1 (Sep., 1987), pp. 77-103 Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 24/01/2012 08:08Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Philosophy Education Society Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Review of Metaphysics.


1YJ.Y middle

aim here dialogues.

is to make


of Plato's to unify


of desire what

in the are

To do that

I need

or reconcile

at first sight two quite different accounts: the doctrine of eros in the in the Repub Symposium and the tripartite theory of motivationlic.1 It may be that the two theories are after all irreconcilable, the Republic.

that Plato simply changed his mind on the nature of human desireafter writing theories This the Symposium end in failure. and before composing must but

But that conclusion can be justified only if attemptstwo The attempt project, of the psyche, in a systematic is primarily a historical

to reconcile thefirst. some con

be made one with

temporaryto formulate articulate his view

interest.a full-scale the concept


in the Republic,

is the first philosopherand hence way. from the first to Furthermore, view today's On to antici depth

theory of desire

of the some

provoke other hand, pate some

subject critical

Plato of the

assumptions. is perhaps the only major philosopher of twentieth-century central discoveries But view it will within

remote is sufficiently on our own reflection

to the


that is, of Freud and his school; I shall end withbe more the context

somein of

Plato and Freud. between comparisons to begin Plato's structive by presenting the contemporary of action. theory

I It is commonly a voluntary plain at supposed, or intentional least that to ex by philosophers, we must a action both identify

1 I ignore whatever For present there may be differences purposes of the Phaedrus between and I and that of the Republic, the psychology to deal with the complications in later works introduced make no attempt I briefly discuss of and Timaeus. the treatment such as the Philebus such as the Gorgias and Lysis. desire in earlier dialoguesReview Metaphysics of Metaphysics 41 (September 1987): 77-103. Copyright ? 1987 by the Review of

78 desire and a belief on the part of the agent:

CHARLES H. KAHNthe agent's could desire for a

certain goal and his belief that the actiongoal. to act; agent this A belief there it is assumed, alone, must be an appropriate of the passions. "the thoughts and find the way and are And

in question willnot motivate in every desire was

lead tothe case.

Thisought Hobbes, spies,

is the view that lies behind Hume'sto be the who to range slave said

claim that reasonHume desires thing

is and

to the to the

only echoing as scouts and desired."2


I wantembodies common cized

to call attention

to the fact that this notion of desireis not simply of action a deliverance has been criti of

a philosophical theory sense. The belief-desire recent

in some


embedded, reasons theory ence,

theory It is but it is still widely discussions, accepted. treatment in Donald for example, Davidson's influential for action: a reason The is just a desire-belief pair.3 one significant old. With differ very is that, he for action, explanation is funda that motivation difference it, "we desire something we because (no?sis)" The

in question is, in fact, can be traced back it Aristotle avoids give the Humean does

to Aristotle. a two-factor

although explicitly mentally because desire

non-rational. it seems it. For

assumption As Aristotle puts than

good to us, rather the starting-point that makes all

it seeming good is rational thought

(Metaphysics A.7.1072a29).pattern by Hobbes For Aristotle ultimately the slave, ing action. nant form

It is the reversalthe difference.4 double-factor it remains

of this explanatorytheory, the master reason and is not

his then, despite in charge of our actions;


it needs the cooperation of desire though can play this role because Reason boul?sis, in human is fully rational. of desire beings, theory may rightly be regarded as the

in initiat the domi

Neverthe of the

less, Aristotle's




that human


is to be explained


2 Leviathan 1.8. the comments of John Cooper, Compare of Human Motivation," Theory History of Philosophy Quarterly3-21.

"Plato's 1 (1984):

on Ac See D. Davidson, and Causes," in Essays "Actions, Reasons tions and Events (Oxford, 1980), 3-19 (although Davidson speaks not of but more generally desires of "pro-attitudes"). to the For a challenge Humean view see T. Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism 1970), (Oxford, 4 or Leviathan 1.6: "But whatsoever is the object of any mans Appetite that is it, which he for his part calleth Good" (Hobbes's Leviathan, Desire; ed. C. B. Macpherson [Penguin Books, 1968], 120).29-30.


PLATO'S THEORY OF DESIREreference or, to two distinct terminology, are to have and factors: contrasting reason and will. reason

79and desire,

in a later if we

It is essentialregard theory. Plato, seem It is hard because this

to take note of the originalityan accurate imposing become sense. view to avoid view has

of Aristotlequite to us

in thisdifferent

of Plato's

a double-factor so familiar

upon theory that it may

And there may be passages Plato in the dialogues where himself flirts with such a view.5 But in the Republic, and most mature is his fullest psychological theory, In the Republic not a double-factor at all. is no con there theory can be contrasted with and in this sense that reason, cept of desire of desire. The fun does not have Aristotle's concept simply can be illustrated the two views at the between damental difference of terminology, is also particularly level to be good), and pride), where clear. the historical Aristotle connection recognizes between three species them of

to be the merest



desire: boul?sis (rational desire for the good?or(self-assertive thymos and epithymia (appetite three embraces these

for what

is judgedanger The in gen

genus eral;

which and

with connected feelings or desire for pleasure). is orexis, desire species is to orektikon clear based that upon

principle corresponding psychic of desire). Now the names alone make faculty are directly of desire Aristotle's three species


(the two out of the tri

partitionPlato has

of the soul in the

(See the diagram below.)


term. term and no generic The genus comparable never occurs no accident. in his writings; orexis and that is (desire) he may Aristotle the word, have deliber did not invent Although to fit the needs of his theory.6 at stretched its meaning Plato, ately least in the Republic, has no place for a generic concept of desire, as

like Gorgias 51 have in mind passages and Meno 468a-b, 509d-510a, Socrates claims that everyone desires what is good and 77b-78b, where hence implies that doing evil is to be explained in cognition by a mistake out to me (by Alexander rather than volition. It has been pointed Ne to construe be tempted the contrast that one might the between hamas) as a distinction in the Phaedrus and the two horses charioteer be myth tween reason and desire; but I think that would be a misconstrual. The not reason alone but rational desire: he relies upon charioteer represents the horses for his locomotion but not for his motivation. His desire to is precisely the desire for knowledge behold the Forms and the good that (I will argue) is constitutive of reason in the Republic. 6 The only earlier use of orexis is in three fragments of Democritus at least two of which appear genuine (DK B.72, 219, 284), (no.s 219 and seems to use orexis and epithymia Democritus 284). interchangeably.


CHARLES H. KAHNPlato (psyche) Reason Desire Aristotle (psyche) Sensation Nutrition



2. ?

1. logistikon (rational) 2. thymoeides("spirited", anger)

(orexis) 1. boul?sis2.


3. id (libido)

3. epithymia ("appetite")

3. epithymia

opposed to some other psychic faculty. The tripartition of the Re public is not the division of a faculty of desire but a division of theitself. psyche the soul can reason appears all From also another be described not as some of view, Plato's of point tripartition as a partition But of desire. then distinct but as a particular principle

form of desire.distinguishes

When Aristotleth


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