On Plato’s Lysis

"On Plato's Lysis," ms. 1994. In The Argument of the Action, 2000.


In the Lysis Plato has Socrates present himself at his sleaziest. He reports how he undertook to pimp for the silly Hippothales and succeeded first in smashing the false pride of Lysis and then in breaking down the distinction between love and friendship, so that Lysis could not but accept Hippothales into the same association he shared with Menexenos. The puzzle, Who is a friend? served as a cover for the display of Socrates’ erotic technique. That he did it for free seems to make it all the more reprehensible, since he did not have the excuse of his own advantage for disillusioning Lysis about his family and advancing Hippothales’ interests. If we disregard the frame and consider the arguments about the friend in themselves, we imitate Socrates, who argues for the neutrality of body, soul, and other things, if each is taken by itself, as if there ever were a living body that was neither sick nor healthy. The theoretical attitude that Socrates exemplifies, in urging the perspective of neutral being, is as false to the nature of things as is the detachment of the perplexities of friendship from a setting that determined from the start the triumphant assimilation of philiein to eran.