P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 151
7th April 2010
I. 'Pleasure in Plato's Phaedo' by Kristian Urstad
II. 'Lou Salome and Rilke' by Matthew Del Nevo
III. 'Desire and the Future' by Tim Taylor
IV. 'Dilemmas in Social Philosophy: a Resource for use in Schools' by
Matthew Del Nevo
For over two and a half thousand years, philosophers have pondered
the nature of human pleasure and desire. What is it that motivates,
or ought to motivate, human action? What exactly is the nature of the
satisfaction we seek in pursuing 'the good life'? Are all human beings
ultimately alike, in what they want? Exactly what kind of mental state
is desire, or its satisfaction?
In his great dialogue Phaedo, Plato recounts the very last day of
Socrates with his friends before he drank the hemlock. Through the
mouthpiece of Socrates, Plato presents a the case against a life
dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. Yet, as Kristian Urstad shows,
Plato also had some very positive things to say about the pleasures
of the pursuit of philosophy and the intellectual life.
Are men and women fundamentally the same? Lou Salome, friend to
Nietzsche and Freud, in her book Die Erotik explored a form of
feminism which insists on a deep-rooted -- one can almost say
metaphysical -- difference between the sexes, and its bearing on the
nature of art and religion. Matthew Del Nevo traces the influence
that Salome's association with the poet Rilke had on her view of how
for the artist, life and art are inextricably bound together, and the
essential connection between art and the feminine.
In recent years, philosophers investigating the nature of human
well-being have been drawn towards the notion of satisfaction of
desires, as a seemingly objective and neutral measure of human
'happiness'. However, as Tim Taylor explains, there remains a
difficulty with this view because human beings are evidently not
always happy when they get what they thought they wanted, and indeed
can be made happy by things they didn't have an antecedent desire
for. This leads him to pose the question, Is it always true that
desire is aimed at the future?
Finally, I am pleased (!) to announce that a new resource has been
added to the Pathways Downloads page at
http://www.philosophypathways.com/download.html, 'Dilemmas in Social
Philosophy' by Phil Washburn and Matthew Del Nevo. In his second
article for this issue, Matthew Del Nevo explains the thinking behind
this study resource, which has so far been used very successfully with
Australian school students.
I. 'PLEASURE IN PLATO'S PHAEDO' BY KRISTIAN URSTAD
What is Plato's view of pleasure in his dialogue the Phaedo? He
clearly (and famously) rails against bodily pleasures, seeing them as
shackles of sorts which prevent the soul from attaining its proper
perfection apart from the body, but does he leave room in the carnate
life for some other forms of pleasure? These are some of the questions
I would like to try to address in this paper. As it turns out, I argue
that Plato does indeed recognize other types of pleasure, of the sort
which figure as important items of value in the good life.
It is important, to start off with, to say something about who
exactly the views expressed in the Phaedo belong to. The scholarly
consensus is that this dialogue does not provide an accurate view of
the historical Socrates' (or Socratic) doctrines. While in Plato's
earlier work, the Apology, Socrates remains agnostic and undogmatic
with respect to life after death, in the Phaedo, he spends
significant time devoting himself to arguments intended to prove that
there is an afterlife, arguments which involve both appeal to a theory
of reincarnation and to what has become known as the 'theory of
Forms'. Since none of these theories can be found in Plato's early,
so-called Socratic dialogues, I follow scholarly consensus in
assuming that Plato in his Phaedo to a large extent uses Socrates as
a mouthpiece for his own views.
Kicking off the dramatic introduction to the discussion (60b),
Socrates, having just had his fetters taken off, rubs his legs and
makes the following remark:
What a strange thing that which men call pleasure seems to
be, and how astonishing the relation it has with what is
thought to be its opposite, namely pain! A man cannot have
both at the same time. Yet if he pursues and catches the
one, he is almost always bound to catch the other also,
like two creatures with one head... This seems to be
happening to me. My bonds caused pain in my leg, and now
pleasure seems to be following.
Plato's point here seems to be that bodily pleasure is always linked
to pain or distress. Although they do not coincide (see Gorgias
495e-497d), bodily pleasure will either be followed by pain, or
perhaps alternatively, will involve antecedent pain. In either case,
the presence of one entails the presence of the other. Part of
Plato's message in this passage may be that anyone who decides to
spend a life pursuing bodily pleasures will have to contend with an
equal or proportional amount of counter-balancing pain. The more
bodily pleasures one pursues, the more one has to endure distress.
Such an existence would presumably be a difficult and distracting
one, seemingly not an optimal candidate for the good life.
Yet, Socrates is made to say something in this passage which suggests
he has in mind a much stronger and articulated position. Note the
'that which men call pleasure'. The insinuation here seems to be that
bodily pleasures are somehow not really or truly pleasant. This can be
seen to anticipate and given sense by two much larger, overarching
discussions, one at 64c-69e and the other at 80c-84b, both concerned
with the contrast between the proper life of the soul or the
philosophical life and the life of attachment to the body and, among
other things, its pleasures.
In the first discussion, Socrates describes the philosopher's (his
own) preparation, while still corporeally alive, for the true life
which he will live after he is separated from his body by death. The
philosopher, in training for death, will, Socrates says, pay no
attention to 'so-called pleasures' of the body and only, as far as
possible, with the things of the soul. The reason for this is because
the proper activity of the philosopher, thought, is best employed when
it is free from the distractions of the senses, bodily pleasure
included. The body, Socrates goes on to describe, fills us with all
sorts of nonsense and confusions, making it impossible for us to
This contrast between the soul and the body, and, in particular, the
life of the soul in communion with reality, is picked up again later.
Philosophy, Socrates says, persuades the soul to withdraw from the
senses and to trust only itself and whatever reality, existing by
itself, the soul by itself understands. What is examined by the
senses should not be considered true, and the reason for this appears
to be something like the following. What the senses examine is
different in different in circumstances, whereas the objects the soul
grasps are fully real in that they are what they are without
qualification. However, what the pursuit of bodily pleasures do,
Socrates claims, is rivet the soul to the body, welding them
together, making the soul corporeal so that it believes that truth is
what the body says it is (83c-d).
The idea here, though somewhat obscure, seems to be that pleasures of
the body make us take as real or true things that are not real at all.
Because the objects of bodily pleasures are both fleeting and (as
previously mentioned) always accompanied by pain and so less than
fully real, so also the pleasures themselves must be seen as illusory
and less than fully satisfactory. Whatever the exact details, the
upshot here is that Plato almost certainly views bodily pleasures as
not belonging to any conception of the good life.
Given this sustained and emphatic attack on, and excising of, bodily
pleasures, we might wonder if Plato thinks that there are any other
sorts of pleasures which have any significant role to play in the
good life. Or are we to understand Plato, in this work, as suggesting
that no pleasure of any kind has value for human life? It is my
contention that he does indeed leave room for other types of
pleasure. I would like to suggest that he has at least two types in
mind, namely, intellectual pleasure and what we might loosely
understand as an adverbial form of pleasure. In what follows, I
attempt to extrapolate these from the text and provide an elucidation
of their nature.
Though it is not often noticed, there are at least two brief mentions
of intellectual pleasure in the dialogue. First, in the opening scene,
the narrator Phaedo, remarks that 'it's always the greatest of
pleasures for me to recall Socrates', followed by mention of the
pleasure he used to take in their past philosophical discussions
(59a). The second reference to intellectual pleasure occurs much
later at 114e. There Socrates claims a man will be of good cheer if,
during his life, he has ignored the pleasures of the body, and
'seriously concerned himself with the pleasures of learning'.
There are several things to take notice of here. To begin with, both
Phaedo and Socrates are clearly saying that these pleasures belong to
the carnate life, not to the life hereafter. Second, there is no
indication that they are to be disparaged or excised, like bodily
pleasures are. Presumably this is because the objects of these
pleasures, philosophy and higher learning respectively, are to be
understood as less evanescent and less mixed with pain than those
belonging to bodily pleasures. As we recall, intelligible entities
such as goodness or certain geometrical proportions to which the soul
is akin are fully real in that they are what they are without
exception. Though the soul is not entirely free from the distortive
effects of the body while in a carnate state, the implication here
seems to be that for Plato intellectual pleasures still figure as
important items of value in this life. This is both because of the
truer conception of reality to which those pleasures give rise -- an
intrinsically valuable experience, and because cultivation of such
pleasures helps to prepare us now for our eventual journey to the
next world (114e).
I turn now to what I believe is another type of pleasure Plato
recognizes, one which can be seen to be permitted by a variety of
Greek idioms concerning pleasure, but which, though embodied, is
nevertheless not clearly articulated in the dialogue. What I am
referring to here is, as mentioned, something I will call, for better
or for worse, adverbial pleasure. It is, I think, revealing and
significant just how joyful Socrates is made to appear throughout his
ordeal and the good cheer or contentment he is made to show in the
face of his death. This is something Phaedo clearly noticed, as his
remark to Echecrates at the outset of the dialogue reveals:
'for the man appeared happy both in manner and words as he
died nobly' (58e).
And later, during Socrates' last moments, Phaedo narrates:
'And he offered the cup (hemlock) to Socrates who took it
quite cheerfully... and then drained it calmly and easily'
Indeed, Socrates himself even speaks about the good cheer of his own
soul as he awaits his journey to the underworld (114e).
What exactly is going on here? It is clear that this joy has little
to do with bodily pleasure -- not only do the obvious physical
circumstances (prison, shackles, hemlock poisoning , etc.) speak
against it, but, as we have seen, Socrates, throughout, is made to
explicitly repudiate this type of pleasure. But neither,
interestingly, does it seem to have much to do with intellectual
pleasure, as previously construed. That is, his joy or pleasure does
not appear to be derived from a connection to, or contemplation of,
an intelligible entity or object. Rather, Socrates' joy, it might be
suggested, seems to be born of someone who realizes that his state of
mind is entirely within his own power and is the sort of thing that no
one can take away from him, whatever else they make take away. People
can impose physical pain on Socrates, and even deprive him of certain
types of pleasure, but they cannot, it seems, prevent him from
adopting a certain pro-attitude to things or approaching things in a
certain joyful way. If this is on the right track, then what we might
take Plato to be doing, through his description of Socrates' approach
to his impending death, is introducing a third type of pleasure.
Pleasure or enjoyment here amounts to something like the way in which
a certain activity is approached, the manner of approach to the
activity enjoyed. To say, for example, that Apelles enjoyed painting
is to say that he approached this activity with something like vigour
and attention. Similarly, Socrates' joy, it is suggested, might be
understood as his particular mental set, frame or disposition of
mind, towards his state of affairs. To say that Socrates is
experiencing joy is to say that he approaches his death with
something like deep calm, stability and psychological independence of
Yet we still might wonder how it is such a conception of pleasure
enables us to understand its role and importance in life. Would Plato
consider this type of pleasure to play an important role in the good
life? Surely he would. Plato highly prizes the value of
self-sufficiency, and thinks it a mark of the good person and an
important criterion for happiness. Consider this bit of text from
'Isn't a good person, insofar as he is good, sufficient to
'And a self-sufficient person has no need of anything, just
because of his self-sufficiency?'
And Socrates' rhetorical or ironical statement in the Gorgias:
'So then those who have no need of anything are wrongly
said to be happy?'
It is important to see that there is an intimate relationship between
Socrates' joy, as described, and the self-sufficiency Plato values.
His joy is born of an internal state of mind, a self-created way of
approaching things; it is not dependent on external factors or tied
to outer circumstances and contingencies. His enjoyment is completely
within his own power and is not the sort of thing that others can take
away from him. In effect, Socrates' happiness is invulnerable.
Gill, C. 1973. 'The Death of Socrates' The Classical Quarterly. Vol.
23 No. 1. 25-28.
Gosling, J. C. B. 1969. Pleasure and Desire: The Case for Hedonism
Reviewed, Oxford University Press.
Gosling and Taylor. 1982. The Greeks on Pleasure, Oxford University
Seneca. Epistles. Loeb Classical Library. Trans. by Gummere. Vol.
(c) Kristian Urstad 2010
University of the Fraser Valley
II. 'LOU SALOME AND RILKE' BY MATTHEW DEL NEVO
Lou Salome was born in St. Petersburg in 1861. When she was 19, she
began study of theology at the university of Zurich, the only
university at that time that accepted women. In 1882, for health
reasons her mother (who had accompanied Lou to Zurich, as to travel
unaccompanied as a young woman of class in her day was inconceivable)
took her off to Italy, where in Rome she met Paul Ree and through him,
his friend, Nietzsche. Both men fell for her. Right away, of
Nietzsche, she could intuitively tell that while he was fascinating
and creative, suffering and loneliness were written all over his
destiny, hence his awkwardness and his masquerading; a masquerading
which she believed came through in his work, to the advantage of its
subtlety. But it is interesting that Lou should extol Nietzsche's
masks, because, perhaps like many people of her class, in her time
and place, she had her own.
Lou married neither suitor -- neither Ree nor Nietzsche -- but
instead, quite suddenly and surprisingly, she married the academic
Orientalist, Karl Andreas. This was a few years later in 1887. She
was then 26. And they remained married until his death in 1930, at
the age of 84.
In 1892, she published Hendrik Ibsen's Frauengestalten (Ibsen's
Heroines), and two years later in 1894, her book on Nietzsche,
Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken. By this time Nietzsche was in
an asylum for the mentally insane. In the next ten years Lou wrote
another six books and fifty articles. With the Ibsen and the
Nietzsche books alone she achieved literary fame. We ought to note,
in passing, as we shall be talking about Lou's feminism, that in the
Ibsen book she analysed six of his plays in terms of the social and
cultural captivity of women and their sometimes tragic and
self-destructive attempts at freedom. Ibsen's plays dramatically
pitted a woman's conjugal duty against her freedom. His plays were
seen as fanning a revolutionary spirit and were banned from theatres
across Europe; however, private theatre companies like Bruno Wille's
in Berlin, where Lou was living at the time, had begun to appear all
over the place, and staged them instead.
Ibsen's theatre was realistic and in describing his female characters
and their feminine predicaments in her book, Lou took him at his word,
reading the characterisations as real and analysing them. Lou wrote:
I can neither base my life on models nor make of my life a
model for anyone; instead, I will most certainly fashion my
life in my own way, whatever may come of it. With that, I
need not represent any principle but something even more
wonderful -- something that resides within oneself and is
warm and resounding life, something that is jubilant and
Lou never sexually consummated her marriage with Andreas. They only
had extra-marital relations. Being married prevented them getting in
too deep with their lovers; but this kind of marital arrangement
encouraged them to have lovers -- which suited Lou more than Andreas,
who actually didn't like the arrangement, given what a femme fatale
his wife was, but he didn't have a choice. In April 1897 Lou went
from Berlin to Munich with her friend Frieda von Bulow, who was going
to give a public lecture on her explorations in Africa. In Munich Lou
was introduced to a lot of people, a lot of men she hadn't met
before, but who had heard of her, among them, a 22 year old Austrian
man who had just moved to Munich from Prague, who was introduced to
her as a poet. His name was Rene Maria Rilke.
He was a slight rather short and effeminate man with huge bulging
eyes brushed back hair and a fuzzy little goatee beard. Until this
time, Lou had been celibate. Her extra-marital affairs had not been
sexually consummated. But this meeting would change her life. Not
only would this unlikely looking fellow break her sexual fast, but
this young man -- whom she would re-baptise Rainer rather than the
girly Rene Maria -- would become the greatest lyric poet in Europe
and one of the greatest poets ever to write in German, and moreover
she would be right alongside him through his ascent, in fact, keeping
him on the straight and narrow; she would be his soul-mate, his
therapist, and most of all, his muse, until his death twenty-nine
years later in 1926.
Lou's affair with Rilke lasted two and a half years, until she called
a stop to it. After that they corresponded and met from time to time.
The break worked for both of them.
After the affair with Lou, Rilke married but then quickly separated.
During this period, Rilke had written to Lou in 1903 about working
with the sculptor Rodin and how it was affecting his notion of work.
It was on this subject, of the relation of artist to work that in a
letter of August 10th 1903 Lou pointed out to Rilke that a poet's
relation to his material is quite different to Rodin's, and
necessarily so. The sculptor sculpts physical matter; the poet's
material is inward, Lou pointed out, at 'the point that art and life
become one'. Her words helped to steer the poet in a mentoring kind
of way. But she makes a powerful observation which is reflective, in
a broad sense, I think, of her philosophy. She says this:
We must all seek our own combination, our own personal
balance point between art's life and life's art.
To do this, she says, we need to stand apart from ourself, in a
sense, and we need solitude. She continues:
... and indeed I could say of myself that I (although no
artist) have denied myself motherhood in response to the
demands of both.
What Lou Salome is talking about here, I think, is life-style. On
grounds of life-style, she eschewed motherhood, and also a
conventional marriage -- conventional relationships of any sort in
fact. This is her philosophy in a nutshell.
Lou's important work Die Erotik, (Eroticism), published in 1910, the
year before she met Freud, sums up her thought of the previous decade
or more, that is, the Rilke years, when they were collaborators on one
another's ideas. They would remain intimate, but after Lou started
training in psychoanalysis, her language would change. They would
still be in love, but she would be less and less dependent upon him.
She had found herself as a psychoanalyst. Martin Buber first
published Die Erotik in his serial journal Die Gesellschaft, which
published monographs in social psychology.
Lou's feminism is very much tied to her understanding of the erotic,
given in her book. But reading her on the erotic and narcissistic,
one must remember what we have said, that behind her notion of
womanhood is the sense of the integral nature of art and life. In Die
Erotik, sexual love, artistic creativity and religious fervour are
three aspects of one life force, which Freud would call libido. The
erotic, the artistic and the religious are three ways we are
possessed, and this possession we call 'passion'. To be passionate
about religion, is to be possessed by the religious spirit, which
religious persons, if they are Christian, might refer to as the holy
spirit, or their religious vocation and so on. Sometimes two aspects
overlap, for instance the artist who chooses erotic themes and gets
mixed up with his subject matter erotically, as in the case of the
poet Baudelaire, or a painter like Toulouse Lautrec. The passion for
religion often expresses itself erotically, as in some of the
veneration of the Virgin Mary, or pagan goddesses, or in tribal
religion, in the sacrifice of virgins, or sacred prostitution, or
totems and taboos of sexual nature. In these ways the erotic,
artistic and religious overlap or co-inhere with one another.
Lou's philosophy was that underlying the libido, is a desire for
union. In other words, behind sexual attraction and the sexual urge,
is a deeper unconscious longing for oneness. Art, religion and sex
are really about oneness. Sexual passion is really about union with
one's lover. The religious passion is about oneness with God;
achieving nirvana is about achieving unity with all that is or with
nothing; religious union may be conceived in terms of a unity of
being (God) or non-being (nirvana). In art, the oneness is with the
work. The work stands in relation to the soul of the artist more
intimately than the artist's everyday self. The authenticity of the
artist is in his or her work, not in the incidental matters of
These are conclusions that Lou had come to mainly through her own
work, especially her fiction, because her fiction is very much like a
mode of self-analysis, containing strongly biographical or
autobiographical elements. Her first novel, A Struggle for God, is
like this, and a number of her other novels as well. But alongside
her thought of desire for union as the unconscious of religious,
sexual and artistic passion, is a masochistic theme: a woman who
while seeking freedom from constraints, like Ibsen's heroines, also
desires to be subjugated by a strong, even brutal, masculine will.
The tension between the man of iron will who can have his way with
her and strict celibacy which allowed no man to have her, runs
through her fictions. In terms of the three-fold desire for union --
the erotic passion, the artistic passion and the religious passion --
her fantasies might have echoed the tension and connection between the
debauched woman of erotic passion and the holy maiden of religious
passion, who we will call madonna, the holy woman, the woman set
apart. We can see in Lou, in her fiction, and perhaps her fantasy,
mistress and madonna are held together in the unconscious life; and
madonna is both the holy woman and the young maiden.
Psychologically, madonna and mistress form what Freud would later
call a complex. A woman can be torn by her passion in either
direction, mistress or madonna. To the eyes of society a woman may be
a young maiden, or an old maid, while in her secret fantasy, being the
mistress, or vice versa, being known as someone's mistress while
harbouring secret desire for the purity of spiritual holiness. These
tensions according to Lou Salome can be found in real women, she
found them in herself, and they indicate a friction between reality
and fantasy in femaleness. In the description just given, a woman is
both madonna and mistress -- and of course this is the stuff of the
Another example of the tension between modes of femaleness may be
taken from Lou's biography. This is given by Lou's switch from being
Rilke's lover to being his mentor. Going by hints from Lou, Rilke was
very physically forceful in sexual matters, belying his rather puny
looks, so the switch would not have been easy. Being Rilke's mentor
was more of a mothering role. This was a switch Rilke was able to
make, because in fact his work needed a mother more than it needed a
monogamous quasi-marriage. But the inner experience here is the
tension between mother and lover.
Alongside the mistress, the mother and the madonna as modes of
femininity tied to a life of art and an art of life, is a fourth
mode. This is the mode that 'stands apart', the scientific mode,
which can look back at and describe the others. In her own art, Lou
would switch, after she met Freud, from semi-biographical and loosely
autobiographical fictions, which are interior to the phenomenon they
investigate and show it forth, like an art work, to the exterior mode
of the scientific paper. Scientific or psychoanalytical discourse
enabled her to stand apart from herself in her modes of femaleness.
Perhaps her true self, then, was the analyst.
Lou detested what in her day was known as 'the blue stocking', this
was a type of woman determined to do and be everything a man can do
and be. For Lou, this was to deny the essential difference. Such
stridency in a woman was a problem Lou argued about with her friend
Frieda von Bulow, the explorer, who had helped found an African state
and also founded hospitals in Zanzibar and Dar el Salaam. They got on
well, but had opposed views on feminism. For Lou, a woman had a
softness which bound sex to gender, and this natural softness and
ability to be passive was not just so in the physical sense, although
it may well be physical too, but it indicated a receptivity and
inwardness that a man doesn't naturally have, at least not the same
extent. For Lou, if a woman lost her essential psychological
softness, then she lost her femininity, and this was a problem that
she saw with a lot of what passed for feminist liberation. A woman's
ambitions, Lou thought, should be subordinate to her sex.
Lou would argue about all this vociferously with Frieda von Bulow. In
von Bulow's mind, a woman who forfeits her ambitions for some notion
of sex, has, roughly speaking, forfeited herself. We might note that
this difference between Lou Salome and Frieda von Bulow is a
difference within the structure of historical feminism.
Lou saw being a mistress as positive and creative. She saw the
tension between being a mistress and a mother. She eschewed
motherhood at the same time as she pursued dangerous liaisons with
various brilliant and well-to-do men. She was a symbolic mother, to
Rilke, and more actually to her husband's illegitimate daughter, who
she spoilt as if she were her own. At the same time Lou was a madonna
in the sense of a hieratic figure, celibate until her late 30s,
regarded with awe and honour in Freud's circle, where her old
connection with Nietzsche was legend. Lou held the three parts of
womanhood (as she saw it) together: the mistress, the mother and the
madonna; just as she held together the three passions that rule a
life, erotic, artistic, and religious. In this she remained true to
her advice to Rilke about keeping our own personal balance point
between art's life and life's art.
Lou learnt more about this 'personal balance point' years later, when
she had begun her studies with Freud.
Her study of the myth of Narcissus, which she began with Rilke, led
Lou to realise that behind the mistress, the mother and the madonna,
was a psychological truth, captured in the myth. Lou thought the myth
of Narcissus principally through Rilke's poem of that title, which he
sent her, handwritten, in July 1913. In the myth of Narcissus Lou
discerned the double direction of the soul: self-love and
According to Lou, in the myth, Narcissus sees his reflection in the
water, but he also sees it in two aspects. First, he experiences that
he is not an integral part of this world, for he can see the stones
beneath the water, indifferent to him, and in an altogether different
element, which he is outside of and to which his image is surrendered.
His image floats in another world. Second, simultaneously, he sees his
image and experiences love of it, self-love, which instantly enchants
him, backlit as he is by the blue of heaven.
It became evident to Lou that every person has this double-direction
in the soul: self-love and self-surrender and these form an
unconscious tension deep within a man or a woman. But the deep
unconscious tension is not the same for a man as it is for a woman.
Lou's starting point here, as always, is sexual difference. The
tension between self-love and self-surrender has a meaning for a
woman whether mistress, mother or madonna, that the tension cannot
have for a man.
The mother is where the tension is best resolved. The mistress and
madonna both surrender themselves, the mistress to her master or
lover, the madonna to God or her religious ideal. But their
self-surrender outweighs their self-love, therefore such a woman is
carried away by her womanliness. This is not the case for the mother.
The mother surrenders totally to her child, but this child is also a
continuation of the mother and embodies, or re-embodies the self-love
of the mother. For the mother self-love and self-surrender intersect
in a way that they don't for the mistress or the madonna; for the
mistress is not mirrored in her lover or the madonna in her God as
perfectly as the mother is mirrored in her child. Her position on
this question of femaleness with regard to motherhood is another
reason that Lou is rejected, or suppressed, by ideological
Femaleness, in her view, has a biological dimension, it has social
construction mounted on it, but essentially, it is psychological. The
famous photo taken in 1911 of the founding members of what would
become the International Psychoanalytical Society, at the Weimar
Congress, which has Freud and Jung standing side by side, and Lou
seated in front of Freud, in furs, is symbolic of the softness which
Lou thought was an essential female quality. No woman in her right
mind, but only a man, would make weapons, hunt, kill and skin the
animal; but when the dirty work was done, then the man would give the
beautiful fur to a woman and she would receive it with pleasure and
its enveloping softness would lend itself to her own.
1. Unsourced quotation taken from cover of Ibsen's Heroines published
by Black Swan Books (1985).
2. See Rilke and Andreas-Salome, A Love Story in Letters, Transl.
Edward Snow and Michael Winkler (New York: Norton, 2006) 75.
3. The madonna is young maiden (virgin), old maid (celibate) and holy
woman (saint) in three aspects of purity within this erotic aspect of
4. In the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy woman and the
virgin coalesce, as two kinds of purity, within the one passion.
5. Mistress, mother and madonna then are not just 'roles' which
downplays their psychological reality and psychological truth along
with it. Behaviourism is not really psychological at all, but a form
of philosophical pragmatism.
6. Hedwig Dohm and Rose Mayreder, two feminist contemporaries, argued
against essential sex difference on ideological grounds that it was
supposedly self-limiting and apologetic.See Peter Davies, Myth,
Matriarchy and Modernity: Jacob Bachofen in German Culture 1860-1945
(Berlin, New York: De Gruyter, 2010) esp. Ch.5.
(c) Matthew Del Nevo 2010
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy
Catholic Institute of Sydney
99 Albert Rd
Strathfield NSW 2135
III. 'DESIRE AND THE FUTURE' BY TIM TAYLOR
The most prevalent theories of human well-being in recent decades
have been those which seek to define it in terms of the satisfaction
of desires. This approach offers a number of advantages: unlike the
previously dominant hedonistic theories of well-being, it
accommodates our intuition that states of the world, as well as
states of mind, can make a difference to how well our lives go. And
desires, as revealed by choices, make well-being more tangible and
measurable than it could be if defined in terms of pleasures and
pains. However, the desire approach itself has attracted a number of
criticisms. Some of those criticisms reflect views about the nature
of desire itself, and in particular the claim that desires are
essentially prospective -- focused on the future -- which is thought
by some to undermine its suitability as the basis for a theory of
well being. Others have challenged such claims, countering that
desires can be focused upon the present and even the past. This paper
will consider the arguments for and against the view that desires are
essentially prospective, and the implications for desire-satisfaction
theories of well-being.
1. The Prospective View of Desire, and its Implications
When a person desires something, it is usually to have some object
which is not currently in his possession; to do some action or have
some experience which he is not currently doing/ having; or for some
state of affairs which does not currently obtain to do so. There is a
school of thought which holds that desires are always directed at the
future. An influential exponent of this view is Wayne Sumner, who
Desires are always directed on the future, never on the
past or present... In being future-directed in this way,
wanting... contrasts with liking or enjoying. I can
(occurrently) enjoy only what I already have, while I can
want only what I have not yet got.
Sumner refers to this claimed feature of desire as its
'prospectivity'. I shall refer to the view that desire is always
focused on the future, borrowing Sumner's terminology, as 'the
prospective view' of desire. Sumner believes that this property of
desire causes two serious problems for desire-satisfaction theories
of well-being. On the one hand, our well-being sometimes seems to
benefit from things that were not desired beforehand, such as
pleasant surprises. On the other, the satisfaction of even
well-informed desires can sometimes leave us disappointed and fail to
enhance our well-being.
As Sumner puts it:
Since our desires always represent our ex ante
expectations, there is always room for these expectations
to be mistaken. But in that case the satisfaction of our
desires does not guarantee that our lives will go well;
only our ex post experience will do that.
Thus, if the prospective view of desire is correct, the satisfaction
of desires seems to be neither necessary nor sufficient for well
being. It seems to be our attitude to an event or state of affairs at
the time when we experience it, or are aware of it, that matters for
well-being, not whether it was desired beforehand.
The prospective view has considerable intuitive appeal. The paradigm
case of a desire is indeed of an attitude focused upon some object
which is not presently in the subject's possession, or upon some
future state of affairs. Common sense seems to support Sumner's claim
that 'I can want only what I have not yet got'. Support is also
provided by the philosophical literature on the role of desire in
initiating action. A desire is a state 'with which the world must
fit', which implies changing, or at least, influencing, the world to
fit the propositional content of the desire. It seems obvious that
desire can only play this role if its object is in the future. One
cannot bring about a desired state of affairs if that state of
affairs already obtains.
We should also note that the traditional empiricist view of desire is
that once satisfied, a desire is extinguished. Indeed, Locke thought
that it was the need to escape the 'uneasiness' associated with
desire that provided its motive force in explaining action. If
that is so, clearly this would also sit well with the view that the
object of a desire must be in the future.
2. Weaknesses of the Prospective View
2.1 Feldman's Challenge
However, there is an important challenge to the prospective view in
the fact that, whilst desires typically follow the future-regarding
paradigm discussed at the start of this article, there appear to be
some cases where we genuinely have desires regarding present, or even
past states of affairs. This has been pointed out by Fred Feldman,
explicitly in response to Sumner's exposition of the prospective
Feldman argues that a person reflecting on the final days of a loved
one might say 'I now want it to be the case that she was free of pain
during those last days before she died.' He goes on to observe that,
in some cases, it makes little sense to say that what is desired is
either future, present or past. His example is of a person who is
concerned about an aeroplane which is due to land at approximately
the time when he is thinking about it, but might be early or late.
The person wants it to be the case that either the plane did land, is
landing, or will land safely, and does not care which of these is the
In order to clarify further the implications of Feldman's challenge
let us consider a further example. Picture a palaeontologist who has
just unearthed the end of what appears to be part of a large fossil
bone. We can imagine her saying, overcome with excitement, 'I want
that to be the thighbone of a triceratops.' Clearly, if the object is
the thighbone of a triceratops, that has been the case for tens of
millions of years. The state of affairs which is the propositional
content of her desire is one that, if it obtains, does so in the past
and present. So, like Feldman's examples, this seems to be a case
where desire is not directed towards the future.
2.2 Two Possible Defences
There seem to be two ways in which a proponent of the prospective
view might seek to explain away these apparent counterexamples.
Firstly, he might seek to redescribe the examples in a way which
places the object of the desire in the future. Thus, for example, he
might describe the palaeontologist's desire as a desire to confirm
that the object she has discovered is the thighbone of a triceratops.
In some cases, perhaps including this one, that may be plausible. But
it does not seem possible that this tactic can work in every case. It
does not help with Feldman's first example: someone can want it to be
the case that a loved one was free of pain before she died, even if
there is no way of confirming this.
Another possible tactic for the proponent of the prospective view is
to claim that these apparent examples of desires directed at the
present or past are not, strictly speaking, desires at all and that
we should use some other term, such as 'hope', for such cases. It
does seem reasonable to describe our palaeontologist as hoping that
the object she has discovered is the thighbone of a triceratops. On
the other hand, it does not seem unreasonable to describe her as
desiring this. In my view, this approach is overly stipulative and
rules out much of our everyday use of 'desire' and 'want', without
Indeed, one can think of examples where 'want', or 'desire', seem to
tally much better than 'hope' with how we would be inclined to
describe the case in everyday language. Imagine a football fan
watching a recording of his team playing in a vital match. The match
is already over, but he does not yet know the result. 'Hope' does not
seem adequate to describe his mental state as he watches, cheering
wildly at every attack by his team. It is natural -- and, I submit,
entirely correct -- to say that he wants his team to have won.
Indeed, to all intents and purposes his mental state as he watches
the game is indistinguishable from what it would have been had he
seen it live, when there would be no argument about whether what he
was experiencing was desire. It is also arguable that the concept
of 'hope' involves, or at least, implies, desire, in which case, even
if it were legitimate to reclassify these apparent counterexamples as
hopes rather than desires, this would not help the proponent of the
prospective view out of his difficulty.
3. What should we put in its place?
3.1 What is Right about the Prospective View?
I conclude from the above discussion that the prospective view is
false insofar as it conceives of desire as necessarily or invariably
focused upon the future. However, finding exceptions where desires
appear not to be focused upon the future does not alter the fact that
these are exceptions and that, as I noted at the start of this
article, desires are typically focused upon the future. This is
something which stands in need of explanation, and suggests that the
prospective view reflects, albeit imperfectly, a genuine feature of
desire. What the palaeontologist example, and Feldman's, seem to tell
us is that it is a mistake to identify that feature directly with the
location in time of the object of desire. We need, therefore, to find
some other way of isolating this feature of desire.
I suggest that we need to define the relevant feature of desire in
terms, not of the tense of the state of affairs which is the object
of the desire, but of the epistemic relationship between that object
and the subject of the desire.
3.2 Identifying a Necessary Condition for Desire
One thing that the prospective view seems to get right is that there
is something wrong about asserting both 'p is the case' and 'I desire
that p', at least when the latter bears no implication that the desire
is that p should (continue to) be the case in the future. If I assert
'I met Stanley Kubrick on 14 July 1985', it seems odd to say 'I
desire to have met Stanley Kubrick on 14 July 1985'. Putting one's
finger on exactly what is odd about this is not easy, but it seems to
reflect the fact that desire is essentially conative, that it is a
state 'with which the world must fit'. Where the world already does
fit, and there is nothing further to be striven for, such as that the
world should continue to fit, there is nothing for desire to, as it
were, get its teeth into. If this is indeed the core truth about
desire that underlies the prospective view, what does this tell us
about the epistemic relationship that the subject of a desire and its
It is not that desiring that p is incompatible with p's being the
case. I can of course desire that p if p is the case, since I may not
know that p is the case. One might therefore come to the conclusion
that desiring that p is incompatible with believing that p. However,
this does not quite work. One can imagine a conversation with our
palaeontologist who has just declared her desire that the object she
has discovered be the thighbone of a triceratops. We might ask her,
'so what do you think it is, then?', and she might say, 'well, it
looks like a thighbone, the rock is of the right age, there have been
other triceratops found in the area before. I believe it is the
thighbone of a triceratops.' There is nothing here that is
incompatible with her earlier declaration of desire.
So should we say that desiring that p is incompatible with knowing
that p? This does not seem to be right either. This article is not
the place to analyse and assess the various competing accounts of
knowledge. However, I subscribe to the widely held view that what is
required for belief to count as knowledge is at least in part
something objective, something external to the mental states of the
subject of the belief. It requires, if nothing else, that the belief
be true, but also, on the more plausible accounts, something about
the way in which the belief was formed which makes its truth
But what is incompatible with desire seems to me to be something
subjective. In our latest example, what makes the palaeontologist's
belief that p compatible with her desire that p is the fact that,
though she believes the object is the thighbone of a triceratops, she
is not sure. It might turn out to be something else. If we change the
example to one where she is quite certain that the object is indeed
the thighbone of a triceratops -- perhaps she put it there herself a
few minutes ago -- it once again looks odd for her to say (sincerely)
'I want that to be the thighbone of a triceratops'. It seems to be
this subjective certainty that p obtains which is incompatible with
desiring that p. This suggests, conversely, a necessary condition for
desiring that p:
(A) In order to desire that p, a subject must be able to entertain
the possibility that not-p.
However, this condition may perhaps be too demanding for those
desires that are focused upon the future. We can imagine a death row
prisoner on his way to the execution chamber. He is one of those
prisoners who is not merely resigned to his death but now actively
wants it. As he walks towards the chamber, we can imagine that he now
sees no possibility whatsoever that he will not be executed, yet we
can still imagine him saying 'I want to die'. For such cases, I
think, we have to shift our focus to the fact that the desired state
of affairs -- the subject's being dead -- does not currently obtain.
Even if the subject does not entertain the possibility that p will
not be the case in the future, it remains true that p is not the case
now, and this seems sufficient for it to be intelligible that the
subject desires that p. Or rather, it is sufficient that the subject
believes that the desired state of affairs does not currently obtain.
We can therefore reformulate the necessary condition for desire as
(B) In order to desire that p, a subject must either believe, or be
able to entertain the possibility, that p is not currently the case.
It is possible that there are also other necessary conditions. In
particular, it is arguable that the converse of my condition also
applies: that it is it also necessary that the subject be able to
entertain the possibility that p might be the case, either now or in
the future. In the palaeontologist case, it seems odd for the subject
to say 'I want this to be the thighbone of a triceratops' if he knows
very well that it is not. The palaeontologist might well wish that
this were the thighbone of a triceratops, but we might regard wishing
as something distinct from desiring.
My aim in this article, however, is not to produce a comprehensive
list of the conditions that must be met for a mental state to count
as a desire, but to evaluate in particular the prospective view of
desire. For this purpose, I believe that the necessary condition B)
set out above expresses the truth about desire that is imperfectly
captured by the prospective view.
Whilst the prospective view, as expressed in its simple form by
Sumner and others, is not quite correct, I believe that the above
discussion demonstrates that it is not far from the truth. We can
reasonably say that the paradigm case of a desire that meets the
necessary condition I have set out above is a desire that some state
of affairs which does not obtain in the present should obtain in the
future. In these core cases, as we might call them, desire fulfils a
distinctive role in motivating action, wherever the subject is in a
position to bring about, or make more likely, the desired state of
affairs. However, there are also non-core cases, where desire does
not fulfil this role. This is true of some future-directed desires,
where the subject has no means by which to exert influence over
whether the desired state of affairs will come about. As we have
seen, there are also cases where the desired state of affairs is in
the present or even the past and desire gets a hold because the
subject is unsure whether that state of affairs obtains or not. But
we can reasonably see such cases as parasitic upon the core cases
where desire is indeed focused upon the future, as the prospective
view holds -- wrongly -- that it must always be.
Does the necessary condition upon desire that we have substituted for
the prospective view still pose a challenge to desire-based theories
of well-being? The problems that this view posed for desire-based
theories were, firstly, that our well-being sometimes benefits from
things that were not desired beforehand, such as pleasant surprises;
and secondly that the satisfaction of even well-informed desires can
sometimes leave us disappointed and fail to enhance our well-being.
The present- and past-focused desires that we have admitted as
genuine counterexamples to the prospective view of desire do not
remove either of these problems. For these are all cases where the
subject is not aware (or at least, not sure) whether the desired
state of affairs obtains. We can be neither pleasantly surprised nor
disappointed by a state of affairs until we are aware that it
obtains, and in these exceptional cases, even though the satisfaction
of the desire is not in the future, our awareness of its satisfaction
is. And as we discussed earlier, it seems to be our attitude to a
state of affairs when we are aware that it obtains -- not its having
been the subject of a desire -- that matters for well-being.
I have concluded that the prospective view of desire -- the view that
desires are always directed at the future -- is false, since we can
identify some clear exceptions. However, this view does seem to true
of typical or core cases of desire. I have argued that the
prospective view reflects, imperfectly, a truth about desire which
can be captured by the proposition that it is a necessary condition
for desire that the subject must either believe, or be able to
entertain the possibility, that the desired state of affairs does not
currently obtain. The problems for desire-satisfaction theories
identified by proponents of the prospective view still arise on this
modified view of desire.
1. L. W. Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, New York, Oxford
University Press 1996, p. 129.
2. Sumner, Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics, p. 130.
3. See for example, G. E. M Anscombe, Intention, Oxford, Basil
Blackwell, 1957, pp.56-57; M. de B. Platts Ways of Meaning, London,
Routledge and Kegan Paul 1979, pp. 236-7.
4. J. Locke, ed. J. W. Yolton, An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding, Everyman, London, 1976, Book II, Chapter XXI, 31-2
5. F. Feldman, Pleasure and the Good Life, New York, Oxford
University Press 2004, pp. 62-3. See also Kryster Bykvist, 'Sumner on
Desires and Well-Being', Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32(4), 2002,
6. See, for example, J. P. Day, 'The Analysis of Hope and Fear',
Mind, Vol. 79, No. 315,1970, p 369: ''a hopes that p' is true if and
only if 'a desires in some degree, however small, that p and a
believes that it is probable in some degree, however small (e.g. 1/
1000), that p' is true.'; L. Bovens, 'The Value of Hope', Philosophy
and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 59, No.3, 1999, p 674: 'Hoping
just is having the proper belief and desire in conjunction with being
engaged to some degree in mental imaging.'
(c) Tim Taylor 2010
'DILEMMAS IN SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY: A RESOURCE FOR USE IN SCHOOLS' BY
MATTHEW DEL NEVO
The International Society for Philosophers has put up a new free
resource for Philosophy in Schools, Dilemmas in Social Philosophy by
Phil Washburn edited by Matthew Del Nevo.
Phil Washburn published The Vocabulary of Critical Thinking (New
York: Oxford University Press, 2009) last year and it will be
reviewed in the Pathways Journal in due course. However, his previous
work, Philosophical Dilemmas: A Pro and Con Introduction to the Major
Questions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, 2007) is a
practical introduction especially useful to teachers working with
groups of young adults or in adult education. One may browse the
Contents on Amazon, but I may take the liberty here of inserting a
little summary of what you will see if you do. There are five
chapters each covering a major philosophical question or area. Each
chapter is divided into six questions which are set before us in the
form of dilemmas.
The five areas covered are:
1. God, immortality, and faith
2. Liberty, Equality and Justice
3. Happiness, Obligations and Values
4. Free Will, Mind and Human Nature
5. Knowledge, Science and Truth
Working with Phil Washburn, I have taken the second chapter which has
basically to do with social philosophy and edited it for use with
secondary school students. As a result we have a separate booklet.
The editing has mainly involved changing American examples into local
ones, as generic as possible, for use in Australian and English
schools. For instance, we don't really talk about 'race' in England
or Australia, but we do talk about 'ethnicity'. The notions of race
and ethnicity have very different connotations, so by changing the
word 'race' for 'ethnicity' I had to adjust the language in the
accompanying lines of argument in the dilemmas, without altering the
substance of the arguments. Ultimately the dilemmas are not
completely transposed from the American context, because that would
be then a completely different book; a minimalist rather than
maximalist approach to the editing was taken.
The social dilemmas in the free downloadable booklet are as follows:
1) Is society based on a contract?
2) Is liberty the highest social value?
3) Is equality the highest social value?
4) Is Capitalism just?
5) Should we establish a world government?
6) Is ethnicity essential to identity?
For each dilemma there is a short magazine-length argument for, and
another against, the question. Specialist vocabulary is listed so
that teachers and students can cover definitions together and each
dilemma comes with a contextual introduction and a follow-up article
which unpacks the arguments in the articles.
A separate Manual for Teachers accompanies the Philosophical Dilemmas
booklet, which contains ample help for teachers, taking them through
the booklet point by point. There is also a test quiz provided for
each dilemma. I put these quizzes into an online format for students
so that they did them online and they were automatically marked.
I would get the students to read the articles and form a position
before class. I would read the articles myself as well as the
follow-up article which unpacks the arguments in the articles. This
is especially helpful for teachers without a lot of specialist
background in philosophical argumentation. Obviously, as a dilemma,
it is not about who is right, let alone taking 'a winning side', but
about the arguments and what they involve. The dilemmas encourage
unpacking the difficulties within the arguments as far as they will
allow. In the end, with regard to a student's view, background value
judgements will come to bear -- but these are well worth teasing out
and discussing in themselves and we did this in our classes. This can
make for a series of sessions on any one dilemma, but this doesn't
matter where it is about the process not the outcome, and about the
mental work that needs to be done, rather than any particular content
that has to be covered and digested.
I used the booklet with Year 10 here (ages 15-16). This was with
above average well-motivated students however. Using the booklet with
senior students would be ideal (ages 16-18). Also, it should be
mentioned that because there is still quite a bit about the U.S. in
the actual articles the students read, they may also be learning
something about the history and culture of North America. In
Australia students already have quite a strong and familiar sense of
American culture, simply because of the prevalence of it in our own.
This may not be the case for everywhere in Britain and so British
teachers may want to check the material first. I didn't find any
cross-cultural problems with the booklet as it stands, and
furthermore, where illustrations in the articles remain American, I
felt it was of important things that seniors students ought to know
as general knowledge anyway. These decisions turned out to be correct
because I didn't have any problems -- nor did the students -- with the
illustrations from American culture in my class, but then I am in a
very multi-cultural environment here. Teachers elsewhere may need to
make their own call on this.
Philosophy in School is a growing area and it is always helpful to
have good material. We have trialled the booklet we have produced
here in Sydney schools and the International Society for Philosophers
is pleased to make it available for free, at
Good luck, let us know how you are going!
(c) Matthew Del Nevo 2010
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy
Catholic Institute of Sydney
99 Albert Rd
Strathfield NSW 2135
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