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Essay/Term paper: The symposium: a philosophers guide to love

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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The Symposium: A Philosophers Guide to Love

Shaun Butler
Honors Philosophy
8:30am Tues-Thurs section

As much as our society has become involved in the advancement of feminism and
the equality of the sexes, there is one fact that neither gender can ignore;
none 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 it's 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 love was still a concept that was not understood and unknown.
Though many of the guidelines and characteristics of love are wise, some may not
apply to modern society.

The writing serves as a pamphlet that depicts some of the guidelines of love as
the philosophers of Plato's time saw them. The intervention of the God's in the
orations of the philosophers can be interpreted to mean the different aspects of
love and their effects on people. The text goes into many characteristics
about the god or gods that were love , yet for the purpose of this essay, it
would seem relevant to stick with the guidelines and ideals that were presented
in the speeches given by the men. It seemed as though in each of the lectures
given, Plato put a message into each one. Each man brought up valid guidelines
for dealing with love and each should be concentrated on.

The speeches started with Phaedrus who began to state many of the powers of love.
He spoke about the honor between one and their beloved and how it was a great
virtue in a relationship. The point that Phaedrus made 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. This point is definitely true yet Phaedrus failed to
make a definite cause as to why this was prevalent. It may pertain to modern
society that to suffer indignation in front of a lover as seen by the male would
be to suffer the loss of one's masculinity and the inability to protect their
lover, whereas for the female it may be the fear of inferiority that keeps the
strive towards honor a constant venture in the relationship. In any case it
seems that the main reason Phaedrus's point is valid is because in one of the
driving forces in a relation is fear; fear of inferiority, fear of humiliation,
and fear that they may lose the other person's respect.

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 in that he would sooner have his loved one die than threaten his own
existence. Because of this, Orpheus was punished. 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

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 that honorable and noble love should only apply to that of
the good and that the opposite would apply to love that concerned itself with
evil. He believes that love should be done in an honorable fashion even if it
may be viewed as honorable or flatterous 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. Following these
guidelines, Pausanias makes the conclusion that a dishonorable act would be to
lie about one's status and intentions to obtain love and if he is rejected for
what he truly is than he is disgraced for lying about it, yet if he is lying
about his knowledge or virtue in attempt to gain more virtue or knowledge than
he is noble for the effort. This double standard seems to also concern itself
with a value of honor and virtue thus substantiating earlier notions of the
value of honor and virtue to the philosophers of this time.

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 we learn that through these beliefs man and women were once
created as one being. The two were joined back to back with two faces, four
arms and four feet. We are told that the beings grew to be very powerful and
became a threat to the gods. Because of this, the beings were split in two, or
Aristophanes says, "like a sorb-apple …or as you might divide an egg with a
hair," and because of this they became irate in search of their other half. To
prevent further gaining of power the gods gave them the ability to procreate and
thus create more confusion and uncertainty as to who their original mate was.
The pursuit of the other half is what Aristophanes designated 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 on 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 thus the commonalties could
be interpreted as such a concept.

Aristophanes continues and states an idea that in itself 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 women
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 and 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. Yet in the reasoning that comes about from this idea
I found a few faults in what Plato depicts Socrates to have said. After Socrates
came to his conclusion the deliberation continued by saying, " "And what does he
gain who possesses the good?' "Happiness,' I replied "there is no difficulty in
answering that.' "Yes,' she said, "the happy are made happy by the acquisition
of good things.'" It is this statement that I find problem with. In other
readings we have heard that one cannot become truly happy through other people
or from the acquisition of material possession. If Socrates and Plato followed
this philosophy then why does this idea of love hold true.

The woman also goes on to insist that the idea of procreation is just another
attempt at mortals to come close to being immortal. By carrying on their name
or traits they are in essence carrying on themselves. Once again this idea of
immortality, I feel is outdated and does not apply to modern society.

I believe that these ideas about the characteristics of love and the ideas that
coincide are outdated and are not very relevant to today's society. In our
modern monotheistic society the idea of love as a god is certainly invalid.
Also the ideas of actions done out of virtue and respect rather than love also
seems to be a dated concept. Whether our motives for actions such as self
sacrifice or procreation have gotten more respectable or less remains to be seen,
yet it is evident that they have changed since Plato's era. Thus if the
characteristics and motives of love have changed then the concept of love must
have evolved as well. This evolution of love may be a characteristic of the
concept itself. Love may be an ever changing concept that adapts itself to the
society in which it exists. Our concepts of love and what is noble is
undoubtedly different than those of the eastern cultures and as we have seen
from the previous example, love definitely changes with time. Therefore the
concept of love may have no exact meaning except for that which the society in
which it exists perceives and excepts it to be.


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