The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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It is a commonplace that Plato seems to entertain two rather different pictures of our access to knowledge of the forms. On the one hand there is anamnesis, remembering a knowledge that we had before our incarnation and that we have since forgotten – thus the Phaedo and the Meno. On the other, there is something that looks far more like abstractive generalization from sensible particulars – the Symposium is the best example, though there are elements of it also in the Republic and the Sophist. This paper argues that there is also a third epistemological model at work, which, for want of a better term, one might call ‘mystical intuition’ – the Phaedrus, the Republic, and the Seventh Letter are the main loci. This mystical strain in Plato’s epistemology is explored in general terms, and with particular attention to its connection with sexual erôs.

The paper concludes with some thoughts about whether and how these three different conceptions of the road to knowledge of the forms might be rendered compatible with one another.


John Thorp presented “Sex and Mysticism in Plato” to the Society at its meeting with the American Philological Association in Atlanta in 1994. It has not been otherwise published.

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