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In Book III of The Republic by Plato, Socrates introduces the idea of correct or right love between a man and a boy. He does not condone sexual relations between the man and boy, rather he is more interested in their unique relationship as lovers, similar to a father and son type of bond, which can help the youth to grow into a mentor or guardian himself. This is one of several examples in the book that discusses the temptations of life according to Socrates. Temptation as discussed by Socrates and Glaucon is pertinent to our knowledge of The Republic as readers. It improves our ability to understand the idea of true and correct love, and the difficult but not impossible avoidance of what we would now refer to as, “the seven deadly sins”.  Socrates wholeheartedly believes in the denial of temptation and passion as a way to achieve supreme knowledge or enlightenment, though I find that there is more of a connection between motivation, which Socrates deems acceptable, and emotional desire, which Socrates claims all guardians should strive to avoid throughout the entirety of their lives.

Socrates adamantly rejects any connection between love and sexual pleasure. He understands that a connection can exist, but mustn’t because of the madness and pain that one can potentially endure by becoming involved with another being. “Can you tell of a greater or keener pleasure than the one connected with sex? (III, 403a)” While Socrates is willing to admit to Glaucon that sexual relationships are the highest form of pleasure, it is also because of this reason that they should be forbidden. With great pleasure can come great pain, which he argues no man should have to endure, especially when on the path to righteousness. “This pleasure certainly mustn’t approach love,”(III, 403b) Glaucon vehemently agrees with Socrates’ point and the two men continue discussing the importance of educating young boys in the study of music, as music is the ultimate art form which will help all youth to gain knowledge. To Glaucon and Socrates, the pure love of a young boy and the education of music will give all youth the strength and motivation to seek higher knowledge.

One of the strongest points that Socrates makes throughout his discussion of temptation and education is that action occurs because of desire. What does not make much sense to me, is the fact that Socrates does not seem to accept the connection between motivation and emotional desire, yet he admits that action and ultimately achieving knowledge stems from the desire to learn. Socrates states throughout Book III that men should not succumb to temptations of any sort. Drunkenness, laziness, and sweet or indulgent foods are all considered to be negative things that will keep any guardian from his goal to acquire divine knowledge. All guardians must have good fitness and health of the mind and body, which is said to be impossible if one is indulgent, lazy, and does not stay fit mentally or physically. This is somewhat true, but not impossible. I strongly feel that anything is possible to achieve as long as done in moderation. For example, in order to become physically fit, one must not cut out all sugary substances. Surely the end result may be achieved at a faster rate if sugar is eliminated, but it is more important for the body and mind in the long term to moderate all variables that impact fitness such as the intake of sugar, amount of sleep or exercise per day, etcetera. “Don’t even the athletes know that if a body is going to be in shape it must keep away from everything of the sort? (III, 404d)” There is an element of superficiality and hypocrisy in this quote from the text. More importantly, Socrates is later quoted as believing that possessing a good soul is the most important part of a healthy body which is not at all what he implies in section 404 d.

Socrates wants to believe that all guardians will be motivated to achieve ultimate knowledge because of their education and training from their mentors and guardians. However not all men can be motivated as easily by the same types of motivators. In fact, I think it is more likely that men would become more motivated by difference aspects of education and learning, but this would go against Socrates’ idea of ‘one man, one art.’ For it is such that Socrates believes that music is the most important art for all youth to learn before they grow up and begin the individual art or task which they were born to do. But can all youth be stimulated and driven by music? And can all youth be inspired to gain knowledge by their adult lovers? It is important to have a healthy love or appreciation of the physical body, but I think that is slightly hypocritical. “It doesn’t look to me as though it’s a sound body that by virtue makes the soul good, but the opposite: a good soul by its own virtue makes the body as good as it can be,” (III, 403d). This is the closest that Socrates has come thus far in The Republic to accepting the body as beautiful in it’s raw, untouched form without having to be altered by diet, sex, or fitness to become as good or pure as it can possibly be. The body, while an art form in itself, is also a temptation. To use the physical body as motivation or inspiration to better oneself and improve ones knowledge is just as damaging to the psyche as using food, fitness, or sex as a motivator. In order to accept the belief that the physical body can be appreciated and loved without obsession or indulgence, Socrates would have to accept that emotional desire is in fact very closely related to motivation, and without emotional desire or temptation, one may not ever become properly motivated.

20 Responses to “The Connection Between Motivation and Emotional Desire in order to Achieve Supreme Knowledge”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    The conversation at 403a is with Glaucon, of course. Later he agrees with the claim that he is an erotic, but importantly he agrees “for the sake of the argument” (475a). It isn’t clear, in other words, that he agrees with the assessment. This may be why he is not the one to object to the proposals concerning common wives at the beginning of Book 5. At least one commentator thinks Glaucon doesn’t object because of his preference for boys over women, but I am not sure about this.

    As you note, though, it is probably pertinent that the conversation around 403a concerns love of a boy. However, it seems to be explicitly non-sexual; Socrates even remarks that he should treat the boy as a son and that the relationship should “never be reputed to go further than this” (403b). So the connection between eros and sex here is far from clear, much less the connection between eros and pederasty.

    I am not convinced that sexual desire the fundamental motivator for the guardians. As you note, there are all sorts of motivations. I think eros for Plato can certainly entail love that is not sexual; this even survives in English, in fact (Platonic friendship).

    As you note, sex is perhaps even something of a temptation on Socrates’ account. So how to regulate it? That seems to be a key concern of Books 5-7.

    KH

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