Plato And Love Essay, Research Paper
Society s current strides in the advancement of feminist ideas and the equality of the sexes, tends to create ideas that women and men can sufficiently survive without the other. However, in a time a homosexuality and liberation of women s subordination of men, humanity cannot ignore the fact that neither sex can survive without the other. Love and the want of a soul mate keeps each member of man and womankind in constant search of the perfect person with whom to become one. Yet if this bond is a necessity of the human race then why has the meaning, purpose and pursuit of it eluded us for so many generations. There has yet to be a one universal explanation of love and there has yet to be one who understands its powers fully. As we see from Plato’s Symposium, even the wisest of men, in a time when the search for knowledge was seen as the pathway to enlightenment, couldn t adequately define love and its implications on the human spirit.
Though many of the guidelines and characteristics of love set forth by Plato provide important incite to the meaning of love, some have become antiquated and cannot apply to modern society. The Symposium outlines the different popular views about love during Plato s time. Plato intentionally portrays some as ignorant and others as valid thoughts on the phenomenon of love. Within the discourse, the speakers told of the characteristics of the gods related to love as a definition of what love is. Within each of the lectures given, Plato injected certain messages he sought to relay about love and its effect on people.
The speeches started with Phaedrus who stated many of the powers of love. He spoke about honor between someone and their beloved as a great virtue in a relationship. The major point relayed by Phaedrus s speech was that a man of any nature would rather suffer humiliation in front of a great mass of people or all of mankind itself than to suffer the loss of respect or the loss of dignity in front of their lover. Our beloved stirs within us emotions that lead to noble actions. When interjected into modern society this idea creates two separate connotations when related to the male female relationship and its stereotypes. For the male, to suffer indignation in front of a lover translates into the loss of one’s masculinity and the inability to protect their lover. For the female, it may consist of a fear of inferiority that creates a striving towards honor and providing for the male a constant venture in the relationship. Phaedrus points out an important truism in male female relationships that fear guides our actions. Fear of inferiority, fear of humiliation, and fear of loosing the respect of the one they love all drive the lover to nobler actions than they would otherwise be inclined to undertake.
Phaedrus soon builds on this point by stating that a true test of one’s love for their mate is the value of their life. Comparisons between the fates of Achilles and Orpheus are brought up to emphasize his point. As we learn from the legend of Achilles, a man was rewarded for the value he put on his friends life. Achilles sacrificed his own life in an attempt to obtain revenge for his friend. For this act Achilles was rewarded and seen as a hero. Yet on the opposite side of the spectrum we learn of Orpheus who was punished for his selfishness, because he chose his own life over the life of his beloved. These examples help Phaedrus to show how the bonds of love can make a man dare to die for another.
Later on in the text we find a less dignified motive behind the sacrifice of one’s self for another from the woman who teaches Socrates the meaning of love. We are once again faced with the idea of respect as one of the driving forces in love. The woman proposes that the main motive behind the sacrifice may be that it is a way to gain immortality. By dying for another they would be considered a hero. This may have been a valid reasoning during Plato’s era because virtue and honor were seen as great characteristics of men. People were judged daily on these credentials and thus it is important in that era. Yet today our values of honor have changed. Honor is still a superior quality, yet the degree to which someone will go to gain the respect of another seems to be more relative to what the relation is between them and the person to be impressed. We are generally more concerned with gaining the respect of those who have an actual relation to us (Father, friend, acquaintance, etc.) than to the average stranger. Therefore this idea of sacrifice in the name of honor seems an invalid argument today. Soon Phaedrus concludes his oration and Pausanias steps up to deliver another set of guidelines for love.
Pausanias concerns himself with a topic much like Plato’s guidelines in the Ideal Republic where he stated that honorable and virtuous acts were only those that were applied to noble and just causes. Pausanias believes love, when misdirected and sought after without noble intentions, can lead to evil. He believes that love should be done in an honorable fashion even if it may be viewed as honorable and that a person of noble love would not be compensated in any way other that virtue or knowledge from their beloved. To this he adds that evil love is that of the body and no the soul. Evil love is one that concerns the love of money, wealth or power. Pausanias creates the classic mind body dichotomy found in the thinking of Plato and many philosophers since then. Love of the mind, meaning a connection with another individual separate from the physical appetites, is the only good kind of love. Love becomes tainted when physicality enters the picture. That is why in Socrates and Plato love between men was viewed as a higher more pure form of love than that between man and woman because the desires of the body cloud the mind.
Soon after Pausanias completes his lecture, Aristophanes is heard. Aristophanes relays a legend to the group on the beginning of the world and the creation of man. In this myth, Aristophanes tells of the Greek legend of the two-faced, four-armed, and four-legged ancestors of present day humans. We are told that the beings grew to be very powerful and became a threat to the gods. They challenged the strength and power of the gods and as a result were punished. Each individual was split into two separate halves left to roam the earth in search of their other halve in order to feel complete again. The gods created sex so that once the other is found we may momentarily reconnect with them and temporarily curb our burning desire to merge with the other. The pursuit of the other half is what Aristophanes designated as love. The legend as Aristophanes portrays it is much like that of the modern new age philosophy of the soul mate. Many modern faiths and cultures believe that each person is originally a part of one being that is split in two and that their other half is their one true love. This idea may be a basis to explain the need for humans to find one person that best suits them and their needs. Aristophanes continues and states an idea that in it self is a troubling double standard that is proof that even philosophers were blinded by sexual prejudices. Aristophanes states that after the separation of the beings that were like women that don’t care for men and have a female attachment were lascivious and adulterous where the men that followed other men were not shameful in fact, “they do not act thus for any want of shame, but because they are manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them.” This remark I consider a double standard because as stated before the beings were once a singular entity which was identical both front and back. Aristophanes has said that they were divided like an apple or an egg, which even the mathematical oriented philosophers would agree are symmetrical. So why then are the rights of the women less than that of the rights of the man if they were begotten from the same being? This idea is unsettling due to the fact that in most of the articles that have been written on human and social cooperation, the idea of female inferiority never seemed to be a problem. If the philosophers truly thought that beings were identical in creation then why are the rights of one half greater than those of the other?
Eventually Socrates begins to convey his philosophy on the idea of love, yet he goes about it in a different way than his predecessors. In the earlier speeches each of the men had thought of love as a god and gone about praising this god and giving their ideas as to what this god were like. Socrates, only speaking of things that he knew of through fact relays his story of his trip to a woman from which he wished to learn what love was. Through his story Socrates tells us that he believes love to be not a god nor is love a mortal. Socrates learns that love is a spirit that is neither rich nor fair as the others had thought, but in fact normal. The being is the mean between ignorant and wise and between good and evil. Socrates goes on to question what the nature of love is. After much deliberation Socrates comes to the conclusion that love is the everlasting possession of good things.
Above is a broad overview of several different views of love expressed by Plato. When combined certain problematic themes arise that point to certain prejudices prevalent in society even today. Plato creates a mind body dichotomy that creates a separation of two inseparable entities. The mind and body cannot be separated and the actions of the body should not be denounced as grounded evil. Thinking of this sort, leads to the demonization of the body by groups like the Catholic Church and philosophers like Aquinas. This thought greatly set back philosophical theory holding a prejudice against the body in favor of the mind. However, it is only through the connection of the two that one can truly achieve love and happiness.
Another difference present in the thinking of Plato and modern thought, is the idea that self-fulfillment comes only through the other. Plato believed it is within that connection between two individuals that one achieves happiness. Currently we live in a time dominated by I. People tend to shun the other and feel true happiness comes from within only and cannot be sought through another. In fact if one does attempt to find happiness through another it is viewed as a problematic psychological condition of dependence. One cannot love another if they do not first love themselves is a common phrase of the modern person which indicates this line of reasoning. Instead of such extremes, the answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle. Through a healthy relationship with another, one can better themselves and use that relationship to become a better person. However, one cannot fully give of themselves and provide a positive contribution to relationship without first having a grasp on their own value and worth. Through the combination of a healthy self-image and healthy, loving relationships an individual can truly become the best he or she can be.