Diotoma’s Stance On The Purpose Of Eros In Plato’s Symposium
In Plato’s book, the Symposium, the premise is that of a dinner party held among the friends of Socrates. As the topic of discussion, they dive into conversation surrounding desire, and seek to find an ample description of it. Socrates adds to the conversation by introducing his own concept of desire. He recalls the teachings of a woman named Diotoma of mintinea, who told him that in order to desire something, one must lack it. In other words, in order to desire something, one must lack that object.
Another component to desire is that the object of desire, naturally, must be attractive and possess “goodness” in the qualities it possesses. Consequently, it is not only the object that is sought after, but also the goodness of it. This desire for goodness is not short-lived, it is eternal and wanted as such. In some respect, it can be said that the desire for such goodness is immortal. Diotoma describes the nature of desire as wanting to possess the good and the beautiful, forever. Diotoma suggests that the meaning of desire is also to be creative in desire. This extends into the notion of “giving birth” to ideas and allowing desire to inspire creativity. What she means by giving birth is the process of someone sharing their ideas. She specifies that there are two types of soul pregnancies, the one of poets “desire can turn anyone into a poet” and the other type is that of lawmakers. Diotoma describes a ladder, with animalistic, erotic desire at the bottom, and the forms of beauty at the very top. Being pregnant with ideas is much closer to the top of the ladder, because it is tied to knowledge, which lasts significantly longer or is more immortal than the offspring, produced by bodily pregnancy.
To further explain what she meant by this we must recall that us humans are clearly mortals, which is why we desire immortality so badly, because it is something we lack and cannot do much of anything about. This is why giving birth to ideas and knowledge is closer to the top of the ladder, because it is the side of immortality, the forms of beauty, the core of human desire itself. As Socrates was listening to Diotoma’s speech, he had confused desire itself with the loved one, leading him to call eros beautiful. She wraps up her speech by stating that people should seek the forms of beauty, the actual goodness itself, and not just the things that possess it.
Overall, Diotoma’s stance on the very purpose of eros is acquiring and possessing the goodness of oneself, and keeping it forever. This translates to people’s obvious and desperate desire for immortality, mediated through their desire. An example of this desire for immortality, is when people pursue it through actions or achievements that will outlive ones own life, by directing their desire to intellectual procreativity.