Love And Rhetoric In Plato

’s Phaedrus Essay, Research Paper

In Phaedrus, Plato discusses different aspects and degrees of love and rhetoric. The work is centered on three speeches and a final discussion of truth. Phaedrus reads the first speech, written by Lysias, to Socrates. It suggests that a person should not fall in love, or give favors to those that love them. Lysias defends his position by proclaiming that the lover is mad. He also says that by falling in love, one loses all sense of logic and reason. Socrates takes the position of Lysias in the second speech. He poetically gives love a definition and describes several negative effects that it can have on the beloved. Socrates decides that his first speech does not contain truth and rectifies it with a second one. In this speech, he says that love is a form of madness, however it is good and not evil. Socrates then moves into a discussion about truth and rhetoric. He states that one must be providing the truth in order to attain pleasure from speaking or writing. From the three speeches and the discussion of truth, parallels can be drawn between the lover and the philosopher, the improper lover and the poet. The morality of each is based upon truth. The lover and philosopher withhold high morals because their pleasure is justified by truth. In contrast, the improper lover and poet can not justify their pleasures with truth and are immoral.The non-lover, although claiming to be reasonable, in fact proves himself to be unreasonable and immoral by pursuing pleasure without seeking truth. His description of himself as a non-lover is a deception. He is not the opposite of the lover, but a lover that that manipulates reason in order to satisfy his appetite for pleasure and only pleasure. Lysias attempts to convince his audience that the way of the non-lover is the true and reasonable one. Knowing that his way of life is not moral and looked down upon by society, Lysias begins his manipulation of reason, “Whereas the man not in love, having better control over himself, will probably subordinate reputation to what is in fact the best coarse”(232). Lysias claims that he is in control of himself. In reality, he only controls his own reasoning and allows himself to be directed by the appetite for pleasure. In this way, he shows himself to be unreasonable and immoral. In Socrates’ first speech, while pretending to agree with Lysias, he argues that the non-lover is rational and that a lover can only be rational once he has abandoned his beloved. Upon leaving the beloved, the non-lover can not keep the promises that he once made. Socrates states:When the time comes to pay his debts he is under the sway of a new influence; rational self-control has replaced the madness of love, he is a different man and has forgotten is darling he is ashamed to say that he has changed, but does not know how to fulfil the oaths and promises which he made when he was the slave of irrational passion. (241)Assuming that the lover and non-lover are opposites, Socrates infers that the non-lover is rational by claiming that the lover is a “slave of irrational passion”. Socrates does not mean for this statement to be taken seriously, as he will later explain. His motive is to show Phaedrus the false logic behind the non-lovers line of reasoning and deciding what is and what is not rational. The proper lover is inspired by a divine madness and seeks the truth through his love, justifying any pleasures that he may receive from his beloved. The lover is not the opposite of the non-lover but rather a moral lover who attains truth through the beauty of his beloved. When the lover looks into the eyes of his obsession, he stares with awe and respect because he is seeing something divine. According to Socrates, the soul is immortal. If the soul does not follow the gods in a proper way, it loses its wings and falls to the earth. Here the soul must wait until it can once again grow wings. While the soul is on earth in the form of a human being, it occasionally sees a glimpse of the divine place from which it has come:

This then is the fourth type of madness, which befalls when a man, reminded by the sight of beauty on earth of the true beauty he fixes his gaze on the heights to the neglect of things below this is the best of all forms of divine inspiration it is when he is touched with this madness that the man whose love is aroused by beauty in others is called a lover. (250)Socrates explains that although love is a form of madness, it is from heaven and is inspired. Those that fall in love should be seen as though they have received a gift from the gods. Unlike the non-lover, the lover seeks the truth with his partner and is in that way reasonable. The sophist is much like the improper lover because he does not seek the truth but rather deceives with the use of speech and writing in order to get the reaction that he desires. Just as the non-lover manipulates reason in order to satisfy his appetite, the sophist manipulates words. Socrates speaks to Phaedrus about different devices used in contemporary speeches. As he describes these methods, Socrates condemns and ridicules the sophists for their lack of respect for the truth:Shall we leave buried in oblivion men who saw that probability is to be rated higher than truth, and who could make trivial matters appear great and great matters trivial simply by the forcefulness of their speech Once, however, when Prodicus heard me talking of this last accomplishment, he burst out laughing, and declared that he alone had found the secret of artistic oratory, which is that speeches should be neither long nor short but of suitable compass. (267)Socrates is describing the way that a sophist can control an audience and make them believe what he wants, whether it is true or not. The words from Prodicus further describe the manipulation of the sophist. He conveys the same idea using many words or using few words, depending on what is appropriate for a certain audience. This is another sign of the sophist’s power to manipulate words and deceive like the improper lover. The philosopher is like the proper lover in that he seeks truth and for this reason can justify the pleasure that he receives from the use of words. Socrates himself gave into the temptation of words through his metaphors and poetic first speech. He is, however justified in his pleasure, unlike the sophist, because he uses these techniques to present the truth to Phaedrus. Unlike the improper lover and the sophist, the philosopher receives pleasure in the pursuit of truth. Socrates explains that it is difficult to overcome the temptations of the sophist, “This, however, is a goal that cannot be reached without great pains, which the wise men will undergo not with the object of addressing and dealing with human beings but in order to be able to the best of his power to say and do what is acceptable in the sight of heaven” (274).Socrates describes the intent of the philosopher to present the truth without any attempt to deceive. Like the proper lover, the philosopher sees a glimpse of the truth and regards it with awe and respect. According to Socrates, in the last pages of the dialogue, the power of the written word does not have the same authority as that of the spoken word. Plato warns that this dialogue is not to be taken as absolute truth, but only as an example of what may be true. It is up to the individual to decide what is truth, like love and philosophy, and what is simply a deception, like the non-lover and the sophist.


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