Plato's erotic politics: A new feminist reading of the “Symposium”

Heather Wright, Fordham University


Postmodern feminists, in their wholesale rejection of the Western philosophical tradition, dangerously limit the full range of human thought. In the process of identifying the origin of contemporary women's oppression, Luce Irigaray mounts a dismissive critique of the Western philosophical tradition post-Socrates, while at the same time identifying moments in Plato's writing where what she sees as his attempts to suppress a women's perspective fails momentarily, before being taken up again. Yet she fails to consider the possibility that this move is intentional on Plato's part, and that the dialogues may be much more complex than they initially appear. I argue that Irigaray's interpretation is deeply flawed. Indeed, Plato's Symposium offers an essential antidote to the problems of anti-intellectual dogmatism with which women's studies in general, and feminist political theory specifically, are rife at present. For the Symposium is all about the negotiation of subjective and objective knowledge in the search for truth. The Symposium is at its core an extended treatment of the tendency of human beings, including philosophers and poets, to intellectual dogmatism, and in both form and content indicates Plato's hopeful vision for avoiding this destructive impulse; an impulse fundamentally linked to Eros. Only Socrates, in his moments of conversation with different others, maintains an Eros which is truly generative. This is the special role played by the philosopher and by philosophy. Ultimately, Plato suggests to us that all perspectives on reality are necessary: male, female, sophist, poetic, rationalist, pre-Socratic, intellectual, faith-based and democratic, if we are to live a fully human life with some hope of understanding both ourselves and others, an understanding which Plato suggests is essential to a healthy political community. It is only through a consideration and retention of diverse perspectives that philosophy, the endless pursuit and love of wisdom, can be obtained (and maintained), and it is this that feminists can learn, indeed must learn, from the Symposium. The truth is that Eros, like philosophy, is good for us, but only when we work to allow it to draw us outside ourselves and to inform the very particular choices we make.

Subject Area

Political science|Philosophy|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Wright, Heather, "Plato's erotic politics: A new feminist reading of the “Symposium”" (2006). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3216928.