Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium
Selected prompt 1PHIL 1000.21 Life of the Mind Fall 2020 Ingledew
Paper 2 (750-1000 words; if you get into it, you can write up to 1250 words or so). Optional first
draft due by the end of the day October 20, final draft by the end of the day November 3, in both
cases via Webcampus submission under Assignments. The paper should be in a 12-point font,
double-spaced, and accurately proof-read.
Please make use of my comments on your first papers, so that you approach the second paper as
part of a process of development within our course. Writing well is important, and you can get
better at it (even if you’re already very good). If you are unsure of what I meant by some of my
comments, check in with me. Remember the BASICS and GUIDELINES and FEEDBACK
handouts, all of which are up on our Webcampus page under the Assignments tab. Remember to
include the Works Cited page.
What the word “optional” means above: You can do the paper in two stages or drafts, or you can
skip the draft and simply hand in one final paper. If you do the draft, I will comment on it
without grading it, and you will then rewrite the paper according to your best judgment about
how to respond to my comments. This final draft is what I will grade. No rewrites of the final
draft will be allowed, whether or not you did the optional draft.
If you choose the draft option, I recommend you treat your first draft as if it were your final
draft, that is, put your best into it: this effort enables me to give more helpful feedback. But you
can also give me something rough if that’s the best you can do.
For the draft or for the final paper, if you wonder how to do something when you write, or you
have a particular grammar problem, or you wonder whether you succeeded in something you set
out to do, like write a more interesting introduction to your paper than usual, or use enough of
the text, or if you get confused writing the paper, or if you’re confused because different teachers
tell you to do different things, etc., etc., etc., let me know by inserting questions in brackets in
your paper as you write, or by writing questions in the margins (hard-copy papers), or by making
some comments at the end of your paper, or on an attachment that you submit with it. I will
The assignment. Do either (1) or (2):
1. Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium is over on page 60. There is still a significant
section of the text left for us to take in. How does this section (61-77) fit into the
Symposium as a whole? (This question boils down to saying, if Plato wanted to
communicate Diotima’s speech as the most important one in defining Eros, why didn’t he
end his work when she’d finished speaking?)
2. Don’t be put off by the length of the following prompt; it does not correlate with the
complexity of the assignment, which at one level remains simple—writing about
something from your own life in terms of our readings on ethics.
I’d like to think the readings we’ve done on ethics by Kant, Mill, and Held spark some
energy in us as readers because disagreements emerge in them. Broadly speaking, we
have first a face-off between Kant’s deontological (duty-based) theory of ethical decision
making and Mill’s Utilitarian theory (consequences-based); then we have another faceoff, a division between Kantian and Utilitarian approaches on one side, and challenges to
them made by Held on feminist grounds..
When we throw Freud’s concept of the unconscious into the mix, we have further
challenges to think about: Freud’s concept of the unconscious and of the role of two
powerful instincts (the Love instinct and the Death instinct, as he calls them) threatens to
undermine the whole idea that when we make conscious ethical decisions we really know
what we’re doing, since there’s so much in our own minds that we’re not aware of but
that motivates us without our being aware of it.
So, touching down in our own experience, we can relate our own views about “doing the
right thing” to different models.
So the field of possibilities for your own ethical theory or practice is large!
What I’d like you to do, then, is take an ethical dilemma of your own experience past or
present that you are comfortable talking about in a paper and that posed or poses a
problem for you about what the right thing to do is or (in a past situation) was. Then
quickly run the issue you’ve identified by any two of Kant, Mill, and Held that differ in
their ethical philosophies (I recommend skimming the readings first before you make up
your mind which to use). (Note: though I mention Freud above, he does not write as an
ethicist, so he’s off the main menu of choices. I mention him only as a reminder of a
perspective that can still make us see our ethical choices from a different angle. If you
feel inspired to bring him into the picture, you may add him to the mix. This is entirely
up to you.)
And then, in your paper, apply these two writers’ work to your issue. Make you’re
confident with the concept of a dilemma, a situation that presents you with choices that
you find it hard to choose between; in this case, the choices are ethical, about what the
right thing to do is. Explain how you think each of the theories would approach your
dilemma, and what action each approach might recommend; you should make strong
use of the texts by quotations and other references. Conclude by stating whether your
understanding of your dilemma has changed as a result of this exercise (it doesn’t have
to), and explain why or why not. For this option, work hard on the thesis, as usual.
A comment on both prompts: Remember to make your argument as tight and specific as you
possibly can; for example, don’t respond to (1a) with a thesis worded as follows: “The last
section of the Symposium is important in several ways”: this is vague, vague, vague. Similarly
for (2): e.g. “In [the ethical dilemma I am discussing], Mill and Held can both contribute to a
solution” is vague, vague, vague: specify what each can contribute up front in your thesis. See
GUIDELINES on the thesis