Analysis of Plato’s Relation to Love in Symposium The Symposium shows different popular views about love during Plato’s time. Plato intentionally portrays some as ignorant and others as valid thoughts on the matter of love. Within the dialogue, 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 presented certain messages he sought to communicate 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 presented by Phaedrus’s speech was that a man would rather suffer humiliation in front of many people or all of mankind itself than to suffer the loss of respect or the loss of dignity in front of their lover. When passed into modern society, this idea creates two separate suggestions when related to the male female relationship and its stereotypes. For the male, to suffer offense 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 risk in the relationship. Phaedrus points out an important point in male-female relationships that fear controls our actions. Fear of inferiority, fear of humiliation, and fear of loosing the respect of the one they love all drive the lover to doings they would otherwise not perform. 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 (Plato 55). Comparisons between the fates of Achilles and Orpheus are brought up to illustrate his point. As we learn from the legend, Achilles was a man who was rewarded for the value he put on his friend’s 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 thing 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 want 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” (Plato 89). By dying for another they would be considered a hero. This may have been a valid reasoning during Plato’s era because honor was seen as great characteristic of a man. People were judged daily on these good qualities and thus it was important in that era. Nevertheless, today our values of honor have changed. Honor is still a superior quality, but 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. Coming back to the discussion of love in Symposium, Phaedrus concludes his speech 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 acts were only those that were applied to noble and just causes (Plato 139). Pausanias believes love, when misdirected 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” (Plato 77). To this he adds that evil love is that of the body and no the soul. Evil love is one that deals with the love of money, wealth or power. Love of the mind, meaning a connection with another individual separate from the physical attributes, is the only good kind of love. Love becomes destroyed when materialistic matter enters the picture. That is why in 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 (Plato 145).
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. The gods created sex so that once the other is found we may reconnect with them. The pursuit of the other half is what Aristophanes calls love. But what is love and where does it come from? 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 states an idea that such attitude creates a double standard and 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 sinful” 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” (Plato 151). So why then are the rights of the women less than that of the rights of the man if they were made from the same being? This idea is upsetting to many because of the fact that the idea of female inferiority never seemed to be a problem for philosophers like Plato and Aristotle. 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 Plato begins to show his philosophy on the idea of love, but he goes about it in a different way than earlier philosophers. In the earlier speeches each of the men had thought of love as a god and praised this god and gave their ideas as to what this god was like. Plato, only speaking of things that he knew presents his story of his trip to a woman from which he wished to learn what love was (Plato 94).
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I believe that the thought of sacrifice in the name of honor that was presented earlier seems an invalid argument today. In the Symposium, Pausanias believes that worthy and noble love should only apply to anything of the good nature. He believes that love should be done in a perfect way and that a person of such love would not be paid back in any way. The only pay back imaginable is the acknowledgement from their lover. To this he adds that evil love is that of the body and not the soul (Plato 99). Evil love is one that takes money, wealth and power into consideration. Following these guidelines, Pausanias says that a bad act would be to lie about one’s status and intentions to have love. If one is rejected for what he truly is than he is punished for not telling the truth about it. But if this individual is dishonest about his knowledge because he tries to get more knowledge than he is good for the effort. This double standard seems to also deal with a value of honor thus proving earlier attitudes towards value of honor to the philosophers of this time (Plato 101). On the contrary, Socrates (Plato’s mentor and instructor) tells us that he believes love to be not as good as other imagine it. He learns that love is a spirit that is neither rich nor fair as the others had thought, but in fact normal (Plato 169). 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. 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 existing in society even today. These problematic issues are represented when Plato creates a mind body relation that creates a separation of two inseparable beings. The mind and body cannot be separated and the actions of the body should not be called evil. Another troublesome issue 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 avoid the other and feel like true happiness comes from within themselves only and cannot be achieved through other individuals. 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. Finally, I believe that these thoughts about the characteristics of love and the ideas that follow are outdated and are not relevant to today’s society. In our modern world the idea of love as a god is certainly unsound. Also the ideas of actions done out of honor and respect rather than love also seems to be a dated thought. Whether our motives for actions such as self-sacrifice or reproduction have gotten more respectable or less remains to be seen, but it is evident that they have altered since Plato’s era. Thus if the characteristics and motives of love have become different then the idea of love must have changed as well. This evolution of love may be a characteristic of the concept itself. Love may be an ever-changing thing that adjusts itself to the society in which it exists. Our concepts of love and what is honorable now are truly different than those in Plato’s Symposium illustrating that the concepts of love definitely change with time. There is nothing bad or negative about such state of affairs. The only thing that our modern realization of love shows us is that people do change and so does their realization of love and other matters around them.
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