FREEDOM AND ATTACHMENT: PLATO’S LYSIS
The question of philia - love, affection, attachment, togetherness - is one of the earliest major themes in Greek philosophy, going back at least to Empedocles. Love in its different forms was crucial to Plato’s attempt to make sense of kosmos, nature, so-ciety and, especially, the dynamics of the human soul. Here one thinks primarily of the great ‘love’ dialogues - the Phaidros and the Symposium - where Plato addresses these issues through erotic love.
By contrast, the Lysis, where Plato portrays Socrates in discussion with two young boys, observed by a group of youths, deals specifically with philia, which is normally translated as friendship. The dialogue offers, however, an exploration of philia in a much wider sense. It is, in fact, an exploration of the many forms of human attachment or relation - family, companionship, erotic love, friendship and society. As such it raises the issue of human identity, its relation to the Good, and, in the background, to the divine. No less importantly, it raises the question of the compatibility of our various attachments: the question whether we may not need to detach or free ourselves from some attachments if we are to form others.
The Lysis is agreed to be an early or a ‘Socratic’ dialogue. It has a strong ‘dialogical’ or dramatic structure, with a vivid characterisation of the various interlocutors. In part due to the youth of Socrates’ interlocutors, Plato does as much work by showing the important things as he does by saying them. This necessitates reading the text not only philosophically, but as would a work of literature. The course will thus be in part on how to read a Platonic dialogue, examining the interlinking of the dramatic and the philosophical.
Partly for that reason the course will have a seminar rather than lecture structure. We will read the text together and discuss it as we go along. To be useful, this method presupposes active participation, and thus prior preparation, of the whole class.
The text (available in the library) will be Lamb’s translation of the dialogue, which came out as part of the bilingual Loeb edition of Plato’s works. While knowledge of Greek is not needed for the course, I will at times refer to some Greek terms, so it is useful to have the Greek on the side. Secondary literature will be placed in the library.