Philosophy Series Contents (to be updated with each new installment)
Philosophy Series 1 – Prelude to the Philosophy Series
Philosophy Series 2 – Introduction
Philosophy Series 3 – Appendix A, Part 1
Philosophy Series 4 – The Pre-Socratics – Hesiod
Philosophy Series 5 – A Detour of Time
Philosophy Series 6 – The Origin
Philosophy Series 7 – Eros
Philosophy Series 8 – Thales
Philosophy Series 9 – An Interlude to Anaximander
Philosophy Series 10 – On the Way to Anaximander: Language and Proximity
Philosophy Series 11 – Aristotle and Modernity: The Eternal and Science
Philosophy Series 12 – Levinas and the Problem of Metaphysics
Philosophy Series 13 – On Origin
Philosophy Series 7
If Eros is anything, he is not rational. Eros does not come in the Form of idea. Eros is between presence and absence, life and death, light and darkness. A later Greek myth portrayed Eros as the son of Aphrodite (the Goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and pro-creation) and Hermes. Hermes (where we get hermeneutics), the god of speech and dialog which, like Eros, was able to go between worlds as a messenger. The question of Eros’ progeny is contradictory in Greek myth:
1) In Hesiod’s account Eros is not born…but then afterwards Broad-breasted earth, a secure dwelling place forever for all [the immortals who hold the peaks of snowy Olympus], and misty Tartara in the depths under the wide-wayed grounds and Eros who, handsomest among the deathless gods a looser of limbs, in all the gods and in all human beings overpowers in their breasts their intelligence and careful planning
2) In Aristophanes account, given by Aristotle, Eros is born…Firstly, blackwinged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Darkness, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Love (Eros) with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest2
3) In Aristotle Eros is the first of all the Gods……Those thinkers, then, who held this view assumed a principle in things which is the cause of beauty, and the sort of cause by which motion is communicated to things. It might be inferred that the first person to consider this question was Hesiod, or indeed anyone else who assumed Love or Desire as a first principle in things; e.g. Parmenides. For he says, where he is describing the creation of the universe, “Love she created first of all the gods . . .” [Parmenides Fr. 13 Diels] And Hesiod says, ” First of all things was Chaos made, and then/Broad-bosomed Earth . . .And Love, the foremost of immortal beings,” thus implying that there must be in the world some cause to move things and combine them.3
4) In the Orphic Hymn 5 Eros is first born…O Mighty first-begotten [Protogonos, first born Eros], hear my pray’r, two-fold, egg-born, and wand’ring thro’ the air,4
5) In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates recounting parts of Phaedrus’ speech, Eros is born (“notably in his birth”) but has no parents (“parents of love there are none”)…First then, as I said, he told me that the speech of Phaedrus began with points of this sort—that Love was a great god, among men and gods a marvel; and this appeared in many ways, but notably in his birth. “Of the most venerable are the honors of this god, and the proof of it is this: parents of Love there are none, nor are any recorded in either prose or verse. Hesiod says that Chaos came first into being—”and thereafter rose Broad-breasted Earth, sure seat of all for aye, And Love.” Acusilaus also agrees with Hesiod, saying that after Chaos were born these two, Earth and Love. Parmenides says of Birth that she “invented Love before all other gods.” “Thus Love is by various authorities allowed to be of most venerable standing; and as most venerable, he is the cause of all our highest blessings…
Eros is portrayed as unborn, the first and oldest of the Gods, the youngest of the Gods, having parents, not having parents. This kind of thing is perhaps not unusual in Greek mythology but it does underscore both the importance of Eros and a certain erratic, a-rational acceptance of love even in a time of critical examination of phusis and philosophy.
Later in Plato’s Symposium, Socrates asks Diotima, a female philosopher, “What is love”? She replies:
What then is Love?” I asked; “Is he mortal?” “No.” “What then?” “As in the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two.” “What is he, Diotima?” “He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.” “And what,” I said, “is his power?” “He interprets,” she replied, “between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all, prophecy and incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through Love. all the intercourse, and converse of god with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar.
He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father’s nature. But that which is always flowing in is always flowing out, and so he is never in want and never in wealth; and, further, he is in a mean between ignorance and knowledge. The truth of the matter is this: No god is a philosopher. or seeker after wisdom, for he is wise already; nor does any man who is wise seek after wisdom. Neither do the ignorant seek after Wisdom. For herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself: he has no desire for that of which he feels no want.” “But-who then, Diotima,” I said, “are the lovers of wisdom, if they are neither the wise nor the foolish?” “A child may answer that question,” she replied; “they are those who are in a mean between the two; Love is one of them. For wisdom is a most beautiful thing, and Love is of the beautiful; and therefore Love is also a philosopher: or lover of wisdom, and being a lover of wisdom is in a mean between the wise and the ignorant.5
Diotima says that love is between mortals and immortals (202d). Diotima is not suggesting that love (Eros) is a substance or thing in the middle of two other substances or between the ideas of mortal and immortal as modernity might think it. Diotima thinks of Eros as thematically unresolved, as neither “one or the other” (Hegel), indeterminate AND yet, somehow, differentiated as a ‘mean between’ mortal and immortal. The ‘mean between’ is μεταξύ or in the midst.6 The ‘mean between’ is not a substratum derived from mortal and immortal or mathematical middle but in the midst of mortal and immortal. Diotima is not giving us a principle or an idea or form but an existential of sensation and affect, a simple experience even “a child may answer” of openness to sensation and affect which has not yet congealed into idea and form but interrupts us in the midst of, lived life, mortal and immortal. The congealing of a subject or ego between two intentional objects (as mortal and immortal), has not yet happened in Diotima’s fragile thought.
For Hesiod, Eros has an odd similarity to chaos in that both are differentiated and indeterminate, as not one or the other, and both are without paternity. Yet for Eros, “but then afterwards” indicates a doubling, a between and in the midst of determinate and indeterminate. Eros is unborn but the God of progeny. Eros is differentiation which faces us before factual determinations, the gap or void that is not genetically conjoined to chaos; “but then afterwards’ earth, Tartara and Eros are determinate.
In contrast to the Theogony, Diotima speaks of Eros’ “father’s nature” as neither mortal or immortal, alive and flourishing at one moment and dead at another. The riddle which Diotima speaks is how love is bounded and unbounded, alive as with origin (genitive) and dead as non-being without origin (an-archic) in moments with no apparent causal relation. The ‘between’ is not a polar relation but a ‘in the midst’. The beauty of love is erratic, erotic, always (ἀεί, aei; throughout time) flowing in existence and thus, always flowing out of existence. Note the difference in Hesiod and Diotima: Diotima wants to think love as in the midst as a middle way while Hesiod thinks love in myth and poetry as Eros who is both genitive (γενετ᾽, genet’) and yet unborn, an-archic (without prior geneology).
Eros, himself, is desire which cannot be satisfied, a yearning which is no mere semantic disjunction but a doubling of the disjunction we already found in chaos and origin. Here chaos is not merely a gap, as if a neutral phenomena of the modern notion of physics, but indefinite in its refusal of mere semantics or neutrality. This doubling reminds us that the chaos of Hesiod’s cosmogony should not easily be type cast as non-human, a neutral ‘thing’. Eros as a archê-trace of chaos is not simple need or want. Eros is not a sensation such as hunger which can be satisfied by eating. As desire, Eros is like what Levinas calls “metaphysical desire”,
The other metaphysically desired is not “other” like the bread I eat, the land in which I dwell, the landscape I contemplate, like, sometimes, myself for myself, this “I,” that “other.” I can “feed” on these realities and to a very great extent satisfy myself, as though I had simply been lacking them. Their alterity is thereby reabsorbed into my own identity as a thinker or a possessor. The metaphysical desire tends toward something else entirely, toward the absolutely other. The customary analysis of desire can not explain away its singular pretension. As commonly interpreted need would be at the basis of desire; desire would characterize a being indigent and incomplete or fallen from its past grandeur. It would coincide with the consciousness of what has been lost; it would be essentially a nostalgia, a longing for return. But thus it would not even suspect what the veritably other is. The metaphysical desire does not long to return, for it is desire for a land not of our birth, for a land foreign to every nature, which has not been our fatherland and to which we shall never betake ourselves. The metaphysical desire does not rest upon any prior kinship. It is a desire that can not be satisfied. For we speak lightly of desires satisfied, or of sexual needs, or even of moral and religious needs. Love itself is thus taken to be the satisfaction of a sublime hunger. If this language is possible it is because most of our desires and love too are not pure. The desires one can satisfy resemble metaphysical desire only in the deceptions of satisfaction or in the exasperation of non-satisfaction and desire which constitutes voluptuosity itself. The metaphysical desire has another intention; it desires beyond everything that can simply complete it. It is like goodness—the Desired does not fulfill it, but deepens it.7
Satisfaction of need does not tame Eros. Desire does not lend itself to light (and its darkness), to a goal or horizon. It is not an Idea that calls us in desire. Certainly the erotic is a kind of doubling of desire and need. The caress from the lover both satisfies and interrupts satisfaction. The loving touch from the other increases satisfaction while withdrawing from fulfillment. When sexual intimacy is over we are only left with ourselves not the other desired. The other is not captured by satisfaction but becomes more elusive in the impossibility of final resolution. Eros pops in and out of existence without regard to reason and spatio-temporal limits. The face of the beloved overflows my satisfaction as infinity overflows my idea of it. I cannot over power the beloved and subsume him or her8. I am powerless to dominate and control her or him. The erotic caress of love deepens hunger for the beloved which cannot be satisfied once and for all because this hunger knows not what it longs for. There is no ‘idea’ of Eros. There is touch, interruption, his or her face in proximity but not close, not enclosed, or brought near. When Eros is most near, Eros most recedes. Eros cannot be tamed by idea, rationality or sanity. Eros touches but cannot be touched. In the simple sensation of existence, as opposed to the thought of existence, Eros caresses with interruption, with infinity, which deepens desire for we know not what. The outside and the inside are metaphors which fail the radical encounter with infinity in the simple encounter with the face of the other.
In Eros we can begin to understand that classic Greek thinking is not merely the transition from mythos to logos. The Greeks understood and puzzled deeply over emotion, simple sensations, love, concern, affection, sexual intimacy. When they thought of privation, withdrawal, infinite deeps of Darkness and deep Abyss with dark Chaos they assumed Love or Desire as a first principle in things. The distance with which much of modern scholarship has approached classic antiquity reflects more on the ‘transformation of the interpretation’ than the infinite proximity of the texts which remain and in doing so has denied the excess of proximity to origin, my origin and the chaotic gap, the disruption of origin (which in nowise should be leveled off into mere neutrality, il y a).
Philosophy Series 8 – Thales
1 Love is a concept that has thoroughly confused philosophers for ages. For philosophers, Hegel is much easier to comprehend than love. The Greeks reflection on love confused us from the beginning by compounding love into loves. The four words for love in ancient Geek were: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.
Agápe (ἀγάπη) is unconditional love. It has been used to refer to the love of a parent for a child or for a spouse. It was used in Christianity for the ‘love’ of God.
Éros (ἔρως) is passionate love. It is sensual desire or longing. It does not have to be erotic love. According to Plato it can initially be a feeling but it can also see beauty in a person. It can also go beyond that to the appreciation of beauty itself. Éros helps the soul recall the knowledge of beauty. It also helps us understand spiritual truth. Sensually-based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence; that is, finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence. Lovers and philosophers seek truth through éros. For Plato éros is the ideal form of youthful beauty. For the Greeks, éros leads to the uncreated, the lack of origin and genealogy.
Philía (φιλία) is friendship. It can also be affection. Aristotle thought philía was dispassionate virtuous love. It demonstrates loyalty.
Storgē (στοργή) means affection. It is the natural affection in family.
2 Aristoph. Birds 695, See Link
3 Aristot. Met. 1.984b, See Link
4 Orphic Hymns 5, V. TO PROTOGONUS, or the FIRST-BORN, See Link
6 See Link
7 Totality and Infinity, Emmanuel Levinas, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1961, page 33-34
8 Levinas has been criticized by some feminists for his use of the feminine. He has also been defended by other feminists for his use of the term. I understand and abhor the history of violence which thinks binaries of masculine and feminine, domination and submission. This subtle encoding as restricted economy has resulted in violence and silencing of the feminine. My personal view is that these binaries have been totalized as history just as the ‘loving God’ has been the God of vengeance and war. Once history has redefined love as acts of hate or the feminine as opposite active, virility, light and idea, the feminine is relegated to passive, receptacle, silence, utility and both binaries totalize without excess. This is not what Levinas intends. When Levinas writes of reconstituting metaphysics he simultaneously acknowledges the history of totalizing in metaphysics. Levinas wants to awaken the radical alterity of the other not reduce it to the same. In the face of the other we are “the passivity more passive still than any passivity”. We do not face the other in symmetry but in asymmetry, a non-reciprocal interruption not a symmetrical, reciprocal relationship of mediation, of idea. For Levinas the feminine marks this non-reciprocity, this utter passivity in the face of the infinite other which can only interrupt our ‘ontologies’ of the face, our violent efforts to replace the other with simulacrum, facsimile, metaphor and idea. Any attempt to silence this direction in the thought of Levinas regarding the feminine would have to take leave or find an ‘excess’ to Levinas’ thought that would lead to yet another binary, an unintended opposite, in the ‘margin of the text’ which would reaffirm violence and set the stage for any deconstruction of alterity, excess, and infinity. In Levinas’ this act of neutralization would be the incessant buzz of the il y a, the ‘there is’ which is the evitable graveyard of ontology where idea levels off and mediates the other into ghosts, the virility of death as authenticity or absolute idea, and ‘singularity’, ‘alterity’, ‘other’ become merely signs in [infinte] relation to signifiers in a general economy. The face of the other as Levinas intends is merely re-appropriated into the same, the violence of the same, the symmetry of totality. While the notion of the feminine in Levinas has been criticized along these lines, it seems to me that this merely underscores the importance of Decision regarding Ethics. Each has to decide if ‘there is’ dominates or if my freedom finds limits in the radical alterity of the face of the other.