Plato's Phaedrus: A Defense of a Philosophic Art of Writing by Ronna Burger

By Ronna Burger

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Socrates' interruption of the speech serves to distinguish himself from the nonlover who has just laid down the definition of eros as a premise and can now draw the proper consequences of advantage or harm for a beloved who grants favors to such a lover. In deducing these consequences, the apparently random order of Lysias's speech is organized into a descending hierarchy of harm to mind, body, and property. The underlying assumption of this argument is that one who is enslaved to pleasure will desire to make his beloved as pleasing as possible; but since the lover is sick with madness, he will find pleasure only in what is inferior to himself and therefore under his complete control (239a).

247c). 27 Lysias's nonerotic art of writing thus represents the necessary opposition that reveals the limitations of Socrates' praise for the madness of eros, awakened by desire for a particular beloved. But the speech of the nonlover, who claims to possess objectivity through the mastery of desire, discloses the germ of truth in its condemnation of eros only in light of its nature as a product of writing cop- 28 Plato's Phaedrus structed by art in the absence of desire; the silence and immutability attributed to the written word at the conclusion of the conversation (cf.

But this very need for persuasion as it is reflected in the argument of the speech raises a legitimate question concerning the lack of justification for mutual love between lover and beloved. It is precisely through this lack of justification that the nonlover achieves his victory over the lover, who desires the favors of his beloved simply on the basis of his own love. The problem of nonreciprocity in love, and the consequent absence of justice in the erotic experience, should be resolved by Socrates' description of the divine madness of eros, characterized by a self-forgetfulness which obliterates the demand for equitable returns (cf.

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