Love as a Problem of Knowledge in Kierkegaard's Either/Or and Plato's Symposium

Inquiry 53 (1):41-67 (2010)
At the end of the essay “Silhouettes” in Either/Or , Kierkegaard writes, “only the person who has been bitten by snakes knows what one who has been bitten by snakes must suffer.” I interpret this as an allusion to Alcibiades' speech in Plato's Symposium. Kierkegaard invites the reader to compare Socrates to Don Giovanni, and Alcibiades to the seduced women. Socrates' philosophical method, in this light, is a deceptive seduction: just as Don Giovanni's seduction leads his conquests to unhappy love—what Kierkegaard terms “reflective sorrow”—so the elenctic method leads Socrates' interlocutors to aporia, not to knowledge. I offer a critique of Socratic irony, a stance reflected in the theory of love Socrates presents in the Symposium, and suggest that philosophy should instead be modeled on Alcibiades' and the Silhouettes' approach to love.
Keywords Kierkegaard  Plato  love  irony  Socrates  Alcibiades
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