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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Essay on Plato's Symposium - Philosophy Essay

Essay on Plato's Symposium

            Two of the characters in Plato’s Symposium are Diotema and Phaedrus.  Each of these two characters gave their own opinion about the concept of Love.  Phaedrus, as discussed in the dialogue, is a handsome young man who is also an admirer of Socrates while Diotema is described as a woman from Mantinea whom according to Socrates, also another character in this dialogue, he once met and who taught him what he knows about love. 
            Phaedrus begins his explanation about love by referring to Eros, the God of Love.  He argued that by virtue of prominence of birth alone Love is already supreme.  Eros, according to him is considered as the eldest among the gods.  He proceeds to explain that there is no account in history of Eros’ parents.  He offers as a proof that Eros is the eldest among gods the statement of Hesiod, to wit: “First Chaos came, and then broad-bosomed Earth, The everlasting seat of all that is, And Love.” (Symposium)    For Phaedrus therefore, it is only Chaos who comes before Eros in maturity. 
            Phaedrus adds that Eros is the source of the greatest benefit to all people without which there will be chaos and confusion.  He elaborates by explaining that Eros is the most powerful force that maintains order in this world.  It is not honor, wealth or any other motive.  He stressed that it is love that inspires people to do good and perform acts that are respectable and noble.  Because of Eros the people desire to live a noble life and perform acts that give the impression of dignity to others. 
            Consider the case of a young lover who is in love with a young woman.  According to Phaedrus, this young lover will do his best just so he could give the impression of being noble and dignified in the eyes of his lover.  For Phaedrus, the young lover would suffer more if he is seen by his lover doing a dishonorable act than if he is seen by his father or by his companions, to wit: “And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonourable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonour is done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else. The beloved too, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover.” (Symposium)  It is this fear of that a person will suffer humiliation and shame in front of his lover that impels me to do great and noble deeds.
            Phaedrus adds Love teaches one person the value of sacrifice.  He gave as an example that it will be better if the states or armies will be composed of lovers.  This way the state will be assured that everybody will help each other.  Desertion in times of war, surrendering to the enemy and abandonment of posts will be avoided since such would cause humiliation before a person’s lover.  This great love towards another will make a person want to die on the battlefield rather than see his lover suffer in pain or in agony. 
            On the other hand, the teachings of Diotema as recounted by Socrates are that love is a lover of beautiful things.  Because common sense demands that one pursues as a lover something which one does not yet have, it can be inferred that love lacks the qualities of divinity.  It lacks the qualities that a god is believed to possess otherwise it will not be in pursuit of beautiful things.  Love is also not mortal but rather somewhat lies in the intermediate between mortal and divine.  Diotema adds that Eros or Love continuously pursues good things and as such he uses beauty as its object to be able to attain its goal. 
            Diotema also explains the dual nature of love – heavenly love and the earthly love.  The heavenly love is more superior in the sense that it is for an honorable purpose and is devoid of lust and desire while the Earthly love is the love of the physical body which is temporary and short-lived, to wit: 
 “He who from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end.  And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is,” (Symposium).   
Diotema explains that a young boy may at the start be attracted to the physical body.  This is the first level of love.  At the first level, the person identifies with the body and sees a distorted image of beauty as referring to the physical beauty.  The young lover should later on realize that physical beauty is commonly possessed by other individuals and that this is not the person’s higher goal.  He will learn that his higher goal is to fully realize that beauty is not only limited to the physical beauty but also the beauty of the soul. 

            A comparison of the opinions and philosophies of Diotema and Phaedrus reveals that their opinions about love are in contrast with each other.  Phaedrus’ concept of love is limited to the physical and erotic love. His concept of love is that of the physical beauty which is felt by a male towards a female person or vice versa. 
            For Diotema, however, love consists of two levels.  There is the physical love which is what most people are familiar with.  This is the kind of love that only attracts the physical senses and satisfies the lust and desire.  This is the materialistic love that is common to people who aspire wealth, fame, power and influence.  Diotema considered this love as a weak love because it is temporary and fades away after the object of love is gone.  The other kind of love is the heavenly love.  It is heavenly love that is more pure and noble.  It is also the kind of love that is lasting and permanent.
            The opinions of Diotema about love are actually very similar to Plato’s Theory of Forms.  It reflects the views of Plato about the dualistic nature of reality.  According to Plato, reality is divided into two: the World of Forms and the materials World. Everything that is found in the physical life is part of the materials world which he characterized as temporary, debase, short-lived and mutable.  On the other hand, everything that can be found in the World of Forms is described to have the capacity of permanence and immutability.  To explain further, Forms are actually the abstractions and generalizations of particulars things.  For example, the Form ‘Humanity’ is just a generalization of particular humans such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.  “Good” is just a generalization of particular acts of goodness such as returning a lost wallet or respect for the elders.  Plato continued by saying that all these Forms reside in a world different from our world.  He called this world the World of Forms.           The concept of the Material World and the World of Forms is significant considering that Diotema distinguished between two kinds of love – the Common Love and the Heavenly Love.  

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