Much recent work in moral psychology (empirical and philosophical) has explored how the emotions have a cognitive component in providing us with judgments of value. Plato's analysis of human motivation is noteworthy because he thinks reason also has an affective component. This "erotic" aspect of reason is most on display, he believes, in the practice of philosophical inquiry and argument. Almost all of his dialogues depict an encounter between Socrates and some character or another passionately engaged in argument, and during the final hours of his life, Socrates speaks memorably in the Phaedo about the dangers of hating argument. Curiously, however, Plato says little in the dialogues about what a proper love of argument actually requires.
This course will examine how the way in which we approach argument typically reveals something at a deeper level about our desires and motivations. We will focus in particular on the importance of developing a proper attitude toward argument and the appearance of this theme in four of Plato's most famous dialogues on love and rhetoric: the Gorgias, Symposium, Republic, and Phaedrus. In each of these works, Plato presents Socrates alongside various other lovers of argument whose aims differ substantially from his own: Although they do not typically share his commitment to philosophy, these characters do share with him a commitment to discussion. Even those interlocutors who show utter contempt for philosophy are motivated to engage with Socrates in their respective dialogues. They are, according to Plato, lovers of argument but not lovers of wisdom. Through a careful reading of these works along with relevant secondary literature, this course will advance our understanding of some key texts in the Platonic corpus and explore how a commitment to reasonable discourse can have far-reaching implications for how we should relate to others and how we ought to live.