Erôs and Education : Socratic Seduction in Three Platonic Dialogues

Abstract: Plato’s Socrates is famous for claiming that “I know one thing: That I know nothing” (see e.g. Ap. 21d and Meno 81d). There is one subject that Socrates repeatedly claims to have expertise in, however: ta erôtika (see e.g. Symp. 198d1). Socrates also refers to this expertise as his erôtikê technê (Phdr. 257a7–8), which may be translated as “erotic expertise”. In this dissertation, I investigate Socrates’ erotic expertise: what kind of expertise is it, what is it constituted by, where is it put into practice, and how is it practiced? I argue that the purposes this expertise serve are, to a significant extent, educational in nature. After first having clarified the dissertation’s topic and aim, as well as my methodological approach, I present an initial account of erôs and Socrates’ erotic expertise. While discussing what constitutes Socrates’ erotic expertise, I account for two erotic educational methods: midwifery and matchmaking. I further argue that these methods tend to be accompanied by two psychological techniques, namely charming and shaming. I argue that these methods and techniques are systematically applied by Socrates when he puts his erotic expertise into practice. In the dissertation, three dialogues where Socrates practices his erotic expertise are scrutinized: Lysis, Charmides, and Alcibiades I. I focus on Socrates’ encounters with the eponymous youths of the dialogues, and each dialogue is devoted a chapter of its own. I show how these dialogues are erotically charged, and also how Socrates in these dialogues demonstrates his erotic expertise. I argue that Socrates’ expertise on erôs plays an essential role in his attempts to engage the three youths in the processes of self-cultivation, learning, and the very practice of philosophy. In the final chapter of the dissertation I turn to some questions that arise in light of my readings, and summarize the results of my investigation.