Impassioned by Passion: Knowledge and Eros in Plato and Spinoza

Zovko, Marie-Élise (2013) Impassioned by Passion: Knowledge and Eros in Plato and Spinoza. In: The International Plato Society X Symposium Platonicum: The Symposium. The International Plato Society, Università di Pisa Dipartimento di Filologia, Letteratura e Linguistica, Pisa, Italija, pp. 106-122.

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Abstract

Education is never a purely intellectual affair: the "education of desire" forms an essential element of any attempt to perfect human nature, and is central to the theory of virtue in Plato and Spinoza. In the Symposium, "eros" is "the name for the impulse of desire in all its forms." (F.M. Cornford) In Spinoza's Ethics, the multiple manifestations of desire are collectively signified by the term conatus. Both works present the aim of the philosopher as paradigmatic for the education and perfection of human desire. In Plato's Symposium naturalism and intellectualism are woven together by the single life force of Eros to unfurl before our eyes the uncut fabric, pattern and texture of our shared human condition and striving for its ultimate perfection. This same relationship of naturalism and intellectualism is mirrored more than 20 centuries later in the works of Baruch di Spinoza.2 It is no secret that Spinoza was familiar with works of important Renaissance Platonists like Abraham Cohen Herrera (Puerta del Cielo, Casa del Divinidad, and Epitome y Compendio de la Logica o Dialectica) or Judah Abravanel's (Leone Ebreo) Dialoghi d'amore, as well as with older authors like Proclus. The Spanish version of Abravanel's work, Dialogos d'Amor, counted among the books preserved in the remnants of Spinoza's personal library. Spinoza interpreters like Gebhardt, Dunin‐Borkowski, and Wolfson from the first half of the 20th century traced individual aspects of the complex filiation of Platonic influences in Spinoza's work as transmitted through Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Arabic sources from medieval to modern times. The philosophical significance of these influences has remained, however, controversial. Recent Spinoza interpretation has tended simply to ignore Platonic influences as irrelevant to a proper understanding of Spinoza's "naturalism", or to reject the significance of Platonic philosophy for Spinoza out of hand. Yet a comparison of the close affinities between Plato's and Spinoza's understanding of desire and virtue, knowledge and love may serve to throw light not only on Spinoza's doctrine of the affects and bondage to the affects, freedom and virtue in the Ethics, but also, in retrospect, on Plato's understanding of the relationships among the "parts" of the soul and their "characteristic desire", as well as on the ascent of knowledge to the vision of beauty and the idea of the good as revealed in the dialogues of the middle period, especially the Republic and the Symposium. In fact, the relationship of scientia intuitiva and Amor Dei intellectualis in Spinoza's Ethics represents a near perfect imaging of the relationship of knowledge and Eros as depicted Plato's Symposium. The ascent of knowledge portrayed by the Analogy of the Line in the Republic, when viewed from the perspective of the Symposium, turns out to be a journey motivated by desire, i.e. by the passion of the intellect for knowledge and truth, and by love, that is, by desire for the contemplation of beauty and the good promised to the philosopher as the reward of the ascent . The vision of beauty and the good which is the aim of the philosopher in Plato is rooted in her striving for the perfection of desire and harmonisation of the "three impulses which shape life" (Cornford), the reflective, passionate and concupiscent – just as in Spinoza the conatus or striving (to persevere in being) which comprises the characteristic life force of all things and of nature as a whole achieves perfection in the perfection of our understanding of the true causes of things and in particular of the causes of the affects which comprises the virtue of the intellect: the scientia intuitiva by whose realisation is attained the blessedness of Amor Dei intellectualis. This paper will consider the striking similarities – and some important differences – revealed by a comparison of the relationship of knowledge and love in Plato's Symposium, on the one hand, and the relationship of scientia intuitiva and Amor Dei intellectualis in Spinoza's Ethics, on the other.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Depositing User: Maja Šoštarić
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2014 12:39
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2014 12:39
URI: http://eprints.ifzg.hr/id/eprint/474

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