Fall 2008 Philosophy 201 Sample Student Work

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1st Critical Analysis Papers

Plato’s Symposium and the Discussion of Love as Viewed by Diotima and Citizens of the Twenty-First Century

Written between the years 428 and 385 B.C., Plato’s Symposium offers great insight to the various characteristics and meanings of love. While enjoying an evening of flirtatious conversation, Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon, among many other Greek characters, decide to speak on the topic of love. Each of Plato’s characters gives a detailed speech explaining their personal view of the subject. Speeches range from Aristophanes’ comedic explanation of love, stating that each person derives from a united pair of individuals who were split by the gods and now seek their other half, to the more studious example of love, as exemplified by Eryximachus, who relates the subject of love to the medical field. Each of Plato’s characters offers new ideas and insights to various aspects of love and attempts to enlighten the audience on the significance that love plays in life. However, among all of the speeches presented in Plato’s Symposium, Diotima’s dialogue seems to best capture the essence of love. Her ideas discuss the ability to become pregnant both in body and soul and emphasize the natural trait of human beings to desire immortality and wisdom. According to Diotima, the birth of ideas enhances one’s livelihood. Love allows one to seek and discover the greater good and beauty in life.

Within her speech, Diotima implies that love has very little to do with sexual attraction and physical intimacy. Rather, love is associated with man’s search for the good and the beautiful. Life’s aspects of good and beauty are found in the pregnancy of the body and the soul. Although each individual is pregnant for a lifetime, for “when he makes contact with someone beautiful and keeps company with him, he conceives and gives birth to what he has been carrying inside him for ages” (57), it is not until one is in love that one may give birth to the idea that he or she has been carrying. The act of giving birth, in accordance with Diotima, does not have the ability to contain ugliness, but is always an act of great beauty. A deed of the gods, birth, whether it is the birth of the body or of the soul, is associated with the divine and is thus always an aspect of the good.

Diotima associates the pregnancy of the body with men and women’s desire for immortality. Although human beings will physically die, each man and woman possesses the need to live forever, to create a legacy. In Diotima’s eyes, human beings capture this sense of immortality by physically reproducing offspring. When a woman gives birth to a child, which then one day gives birth to another child, a small portion of the life of the parent is passed on, and thus lives forever. Although humans cannot actually become immortal, the act of reproducing creates a sense of “forever”, and thus replaces men and women’s desire for immortality. This act of reproduction does not occur until a sense of love is established between a man and a woman. Similar to the way in which physical birth is associated with beauty, reproduction fulfills human beings’ want “to possess the good forever” (54). Thus, it is love which allows for the opportunity of reproduction and aids men and women in their search for greater good and beauty in life.

Diotima further discusses the subject of pregnancy in relation to being pregnant in soul. Unlike the idea of giving birth to a physical human being, the concept of being pregnant in soul involves giving birth to great ideas. This act cannot be completed until the subject at hand is in love. Though men and women may carry ideas within their beings their entire lives, it is not until they have been involved in a loving relationship that they can be properly inspired to give birth to their greatest ideas. In this sense, love is the sharing of wisdom between two lovers. Each partner seeks love as a means of bettering their person and of gaining a greater sense of the good and beauty in their lives. As each person seeks greater wisdom in life, he or she seeks the good. As the lovers learn and share in each other’s wisdom, they begin to learn of the true essence of beauty, “so that in the end he comes to know just what it is to be beautiful” (59). Thus, pregnancy in soul, similar to pregnancy in body, allows the lovers to gain a greater sense of the good and beauty in their lives.

As the couple uses their love as means of gaining greater beauty and good, each lover will adopt aspects of these two themes into his or her own being. Ultimately, the lessons taught by love will teach the lovers that physical love, although an aspect of the discussed concept of immortality, is not an important aspect of love. The lovers will no longer “measure beauty by gold or clothing or beautiful boys and youths” (59) but will realize “that the beauty of people’s souls is more valuable than the beauty of their bodies” (58). Although, according to Diotima, physical intimacy is necessary to achieve reproduction and a sense of immortality, it is the act of sharing wisdom and thus growing in goodness and beauty that is of the most importance. Once the lovers have acquired this higher sense of wisdom, they are capable of not only giving birth to great ideas, but of giving birth to ideas of true virtue. This sense of virtue is godly and thus divine. Thus, those individuals who possess the ability to give birth to and nurture ideas of virtue are the only individuals to truly become immortal. This fact emphasizes Diotima’s belief that physical intimacy is not a vital aspect of a loving relationship. For, according to Diotima, although physical intimacy may be viewed as a means of gaining immortality, it gains only a human-perceived concept of immortality. The only path to gaining true immortality is by means of gaining greater wisdom to the extent at which ideas of virtue, and thus a sense of the divine, are born. In Diotima’s eyes, love shared through wisdom, though not through intimacy, allows humans to grasp greater knowledge, aspects of self-betterment, and to ultimately achieve divine immortality.

Written approximately 2,500 hundred years ago, Plato’s Symposium offers excellent insight as to the concepts of love within ancient Greek society. Nonetheless, it is essential, in order to gain a greater understanding of love and its underlying principles, that the ideas presented in Diotima’s speech are compared with the image of love as viewed by twenty-first century citizens.

To begin with, Diotima’s lack of concern for physical intimacy within a loving relationship is alarming. Although intimacy is certainly not the main objective, nor the goal of a loving relationship, it is an essential aspect of love. The act of becoming one in body increases the level of closeness in all aspects of the relationship, which feeds the fire of intellectual intimacy, allowing for greater birth of the soul.

As is evident by men and women’s desire for physical intimacy, human beings strive for a sense of closeness. The closeness gained by physical intimacy allows the couple to feel comfortable with one another, which then presents opportunities for shared wisdom and personal growth. However, humans do not enter into a relationship with the means of gaining greater wisdom. Rather, men and women fall in love, and then innately grow in person. In an effort to remain physically attractive to the beloved, the lover presents the best version of him or herself, and thus seeks greater good and beauty. Just as the desire for good and beauty is achieved naturally within a loving relationship, the sharing of knowledge takes place. Although the lovers share an intimate connection, they are just as capable as Diotima’s nonphysical couple of seeking the good and beauty in life and of sharing knowledge and wisdom.

The desire for physical intimacy and the resulting sharing of wisdom imply that human beings seek immortality. Although physically intimate men and women are capable of giving birth to virtuous ideas and then achieving immortality, many couples seek immortality outside of their relationship. Although lovers certainly need the support of their beloved, couples living during the twenty-first century often seek immortality not through virtuous ideas, but through their occupation or line of work. Careers offer wonderful opportunities for citizens to leave their legacy to the next generation of workers. Furthermore, as discussed by Diotima, lovers also fulfill their desire to leave a legacy in the raising of their children and are thus pregnant in body. Traditions and memories are passed down from generation to generation, ensuring that an aspect of a parent’s life is forever remembered and kept alive.

As discussed in Plato’s Symposium, Diotima brings to life the concepts of pregnancy in body and soul within the subject of love. Although conflict lies in whether or not physical intimacy is a vital aspect of a loving relationship, men and women have common desires for immortality and shared wisdom. Though all individuals are pregnant in body and soul, men and women cannot give birth to ideas until they have fallen in love, for love is the inspiration for these births. As presented by the views of both Diotima and twenty-first century citizens, love, encompassing a sense of physical closeness, and a desire for immortality and wisdom, is the need for greater good and beauty in the lives of mankind.




Love

Written 2500 years ago, Plato’s Symposium provides insight into Ancient Greek culture. Known for providing excellent foundations in politics, war, philosophy, and the arts, Ancient Greece is one of the most respected cultures among scholars. Through Plato’s description of a Symposium, or drinking party, we catch a glimpse of a lesser-known part of society, Greek homosexuality and pederasty, a practice that today is not only looked down on in America and other parts of the world, but also one that is illegal. Additionally, the symposium shows that at least occasionally, great Greek men spent their evenings getting extremely drunk, and possibly sexually pleasing each other (though we do not see that at this particular party).

Those attending the symposium decide that they had enough to drink the previous night, choosing instead to engage in conversation on the subject of love. Through the speeches of several ancient Greeks, Plato offers a number of different viewpoints on who and what love is, each building on the previous, and eventually concluding with Diotima’s detailed explanation of love to Socrates. Despite not being present, and perhaps not even being a real person, but rather one dreamed up by Socrates through Plato, Diotima offers the most profound speech, taking aspects from all the the others, but also greatly expanding some of their points, while also arguing others. Despite being written in another language approximately twenty-five centuries ago, the rationales provided by Diotima’s view of love can be reconstructed, and than compared and contrasted with our own.

Diotima begins her speech with an examination of the origins of the god, Love. He is conceived when his mother Penia, schemed a way to lay down with Poros, and get pregnant. This is done so Penia can gain some of Poros resources. Once Love is born, he is not the great and beautiful god many people today imagine, but rather, “instead he is tough and shriveled and shoeless and homeless, always lying in the dirt without a bed, sleeping at people’s doorsteps and in roadsides under the sky (48).” The importance of this passage is two fold, first, we see a contrast in the ideas presented by Agathon, and almost certainly accepted by others present at the symposium, that love is a beautiful god. For American readers, this passage also takes on additional significance. Unfortunately, all too often marriage is cut short in this country, frequently due to economic issues. Yet, here we see Love, the god in which we invest so much hope, “is never without resources, nor is he ever rich (49).”

In her next point, Diotima answers the question, “why do we love beautiful things?” by asking one of her own, “The lover of beautiful things has a desire, what is that desire (50)?” Socrates answers that people who love beautiful things really want them to become their own. She goes on to explain that once we have the beautiful things we desire, we desire to keep them, and also desire more beautiful things. This is because humans are greedy. If we have something, we assume that we will always have it, and move on to desiring more beautiful things.

Socrates struggles with the idea of why we love beautiful things, so Diotima asks Socrates to remove the word “beautiful” and insert the word “good.” Socrates comes to a conclusion much easier, stating that a person who has good things will have happiness. Upon being questioned by Diotima, Socrates states, “this desire for happiness, this type of love, it is common to all (50).” While I agree with Socrates that all people desire happiness, and that that type of love is indeed something all people strive for, I disagree that simply acquiring good things will make one happy. If Diotima stated good things were a closeness with family and friends, and having true love, I would probably agree, but the things people desire in America, great fame, massive wealth, beautiful sexual partners, unmatched athletic or intellectual abilities, do not necessarily make people happy. There are countless celebrities and athletes who are extremely famous, make millions upon millions of dollars, and are totally and completely depressed. However, even if good things equal happiness, do we not always desire more good things. I would venture a guess that a majority of happily married people have had lustful thoughts of others in their minds, a sliver of desire for something different, just as I would imagine people often desire more friends. When we always desire more of these good things, can we really say that they alone truly make us happy?

In addition to the idea of good things making people happy, I disagreed with Diotima on another brief point. She tells Socrates, “On the basis of what you say, I conclude that you thought love was being loved rather than being a lover (49).” This quote provides a clear example of the difference in American culture with that of ancient Greece. Socrates and Diotima are among the wisest people in Greece, yet, they both believe that there are two separate roles in a relationship, the lover and the beloved. In our culture, people in a relationship are equals, in that they are two halves to the same whole, much like the creatures in Aristophanes’ speech. In Greek culture, love is not something that people share, but rather something one person does to another.

Diotima’s last and most important point is that the real purpose of love is “giving birth in beauty, whether it be in body or soul.” She than further explains this in stating, “All of us are pregnant Socrates, both in body and in soul, and, as soon as we come to a certain age, we naturally desire to give birth. Now no one can possibly give birth to something ugly, only in something beautiful.” Finally, she adds “what love wants is not beauty as you think it is. It is reproduction and birth in beauty (53). ” In essence, Diotima is saying that love is not love until something is created. While we are always pregnant in the soul, it is not until we are in love that we can give birth. This creation can be from the body, such as giving birth to offspring, or from the soul, such as giving birth to new ideas. She later explains that the cycle of reproduction is what humans have in place of immortality.

She furthers her argument in explaining that because we carry a part of all our ancestors, reproduction is essentially immortal. However, it is important to note that there is quite possibly a question of translation regarding the word immortal. In American English, immortal often means something that will live forever. Obviously, humans cannot live forever, so reproduction and pregnancy will not allow a human to do so. Similarly, the great Greek warrior Achilles was said to be immortal, yet, he was killed when Paris shot arrows through his ankle. The translation of immortal likely means, godly, rather than one who cannot be killed. This is an idea I agree with, as the idea of giving life to something, is in my opinion of a greater power. In a sense, I also agree that reproduction allows humans to have a part of them live forever, in that a child carries a part of all its ancestors with them, and than passes those parts on to their children. Similarly, ideas such as freedom, equality, and justice were born out of the soul of people long ago, yet they continue to survive today.

While, I agree that Diotima has some excellent insights on love, I feel that she leaves several aspects out of her definition. Most obviously, Diotima sees sexual intercourse as something that is done for reproduction alone. While this is its main purpose, she fails to address the connection two lovers feel during sex. Many would argue that this connection can only be found among lovers, and some have even argued it is godly. It is not surprising that my opinions differ with Diotima’s here, because of the difference in cultures. In Greek culture women were looked down upon, essentially seen as reproductive objects for men, so it would be unlikely for a Greek to believe much connection could be possible between heterosexual lovers. It would be difficult for ancient Greeks to see this without thinking men and women were equals. In addition, Diotima does not address the differences between love of a child or parent, love for one’s country, or love among friends. I agree they are different, and perhaps even not as strong, but in my opinion they are still forms of love.

Diotima offers up a definition of love by saying, “In a word then, love is wanting to possess the good forever.” As I previously stated, I do not believe that wanting to possess the good forever is love, but I do like that she offered her own brief definition. In my opinion, love takes many forms, and cannot be conformed to so narrow an idea. I believe, that in short, love is caring for something with the great passion.




A Discussion on Love

What is love, really? How can it be defined; and, on that note, who has the role of defining it? Is it real? If so, what is real? These are all questions that logically follow in asking the question, “What is love?” Plato, one of the most infamous philosophers of all time, collected and reiterated the opinions on love of six ancient philosophical icons that discussed the subject sometime between 406 and 400 B.C. In Plato’s collection, titled Symposium, the definition of love is eventually expressed by Socrates, he who seen to be more than a normal human, he who is divine in the flesh. Though the story is written by Plato and likely altered slightly according to his personal prospective on love, the essence of Socrates’ opinion is captured and expressed in the Symposium, Plato’s poetic masterpiece. Socrates’ beliefs in love are said to be formulated from a discussion he once had with Diotima, an extremely wise and philosophical woman of Mantinea who served as a tutor to Socrates. He begins his reasoning in stating that prior to discussing love with Diotima, he believed, “that love is a great god and that he belongs to beautiful things” (45). What he shortly came to find in his enlightening discussion was that love was actually neither beautiful nor good; that, at its origin, love was poor and homeless. According to Socrates, love is the child of Poros, meaning resource, and Penia, meaning poverty. Additionally, “Love is never completely without resources, nor is he ever rich” (49). Socrates believes that love falls somewhere in between wisdom and ignorance as well because of the fact that love is in love with what is beautiful, and wisdom is one of the finest beauties. This can also be proven from the statement made about his parentage, as his father was wise and resourceful and his mother was not wise and not resourceful logically leaving him, the child result, somewhere in the middle. Plato likely included some of his personal insight to this section of the Symposium as he is seemingly using an analogy of the divided line. As it is said that Socrates believed in the division between wisdom and ignorance, this thought can logically be connected to Plato’s belief in the division between lower and higher states of being and lower and higher states of knowing. In order to truly understand and be completely wise or completely ignorant, one must be able to identify a solid form for that idea. This is nearly impossible, as it is impossible to completely identify oneself with a low or high state of knowledge or being because of the lack of any form connected to those ideas Similarly related to the idea of the divided line is an idea that can bridge the gap between ignorance and wisdom; this idea of scala amoris. Scala amoris can be recognized as the dynamic force that takes one from ignorance to wisdom; more simply stated this idea can be seen as the stairs of love. This theory consists of the idea that two lovers ascend in life together working with one another to make the other better and stronger. The goal of the lovers is to work from the basis of ignorance, as newly formed couples are very ignorant to one another and have so much room for learning, and eventually find, in the perfect situation, complete wisdom and knowledge in and about one another. It takes hardships, questioning, and much time for a couple to work with one another and reach the top of the staircase, figuratively speaking. Within the idea of scala amoris lies two types of ascent that help a couple reach eternal wisdom; one being moral ascent and the other being metaphysical ascent. Moral ascent is necessary for a couple to grow as the pair must agree upon and understand each others ethical standpoints in order to solve problems without disagreement. Additionally, metaphysical ascent is necessary because the more basic of questions about life a couple can agree upon, the less disagreement they will reach when trying to answer larger questions simply because of the fact that every large questions eventually boils down to the most basic questions of life. Socrates also says that love, the lover of beautiful things, has desires; simply that love desires to be beautiful and wise and good. It is commonly known that if something is desired, that means that it is wanted and not yet obtained by the thing that wants the desired object. According to Socrates, love therefore cannot be beautiful or completely wise or wholly good because it desires to be those things. This, according to Socrates, was one of the largest realizations that Diotima helped him to understand. Accordingly, Socrates mentions that the main point is this: “Every desire for good things or for happiness is ‘the supreme and treacherous love’ in everyone” (51). The problem with identifying lovers is that they come in many forms, and it’s hard to say who is a true lover and what qualifies one as truly being in love. In response to this, Socrates says, “it’s only when people are devoted exclusively to one special kind of love that we use these words that really belong to the whole of it: ‘love’ and ‘in love’ and ‘lovers’” (51). Continuing, Socrates expresses his belief in love as immortal. He states that love wants “reproduction and birth in beauty… because reproduction goes on forever; it is what mortals have in place of immortality” (53-54). In understanding this, reproduction is an immortal thing for mortal people to do because immortality bust be desired with good, as believed by Socrates. Assuming that love wants so have the good forever, it logically follows that love must want immortality as well, as immortality and good coincide. In trying to explain how mortals are immortal through reproduction, I assume that is it because when one dies another is reborn, and, ideally, the process should repeat itself meaning that the essence of one being will keep being carried on through a series of lives and never die; essentially, this could mean that a being always exists somewhere between the Gods and the dirt. Some essence of each being should ideally be carried on through the spirit of another whether alive, in heaven, or in hell. Socrates defends his position in saying that, “I believe that anyone will do anything for the sake of immortal virtue and the glorious fame that follows; and the better the people, the more they will do, for they are all in love with immortality” (56). In summary, Socrates believes that, in the most simple of explanations, love is broader than just the term we use; love is broader than the desire to possess the good. If love desires every that is good, and ultimately everything that is good creates happiness, then therefore the conclusion must be that to truly be in love is to be truly happy. Socrates’ ability to understand what is good takes him out of present day; he leaves the stresses and drawbacks of love behind and lives for what he thinks will ultimately find him happiness, happiness that is love. Personally, my biggest feeling on love is that it can only truly be found and known in the eye of the beholder. This view would probably upset Socrates, as he believes that there is an ultimate understanding to what love is, but I don’t know if something so directly tied to the emotions one feels on the inside that is, more often than not, unexplainable by the lover, can be generalized for a group and applied to every person experiencing love. I agree with Socrates on a few accounts. Most strongly I agree with him on the idea of love lying somewhere in between ignorance and wisdom. In complete agreement, I think that couples definitely face the scala amoris, or the staircase of love, and together must grow and help each other reach the top. All couples start out innocent and young, ignorant in their intentions and unaware of what they will face together. But, as the couple ages together, they learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes of one another and continually grow. It takes a strong couple to be able to understand their weaknesses and be honest with one another so all real truths can be found. I believe that it is with every honest answer and realization about one another that a couple grows strong and, thus, takes another step up the staircase. I also understand Socrates’ point in saying that to be in love is to be happy. I would strongly disagree with any couple who could say that they were in love but not truly happy, as I personally believe that true happiness is the key to a successful life. As I agree with Socrates on a few arguments, there are others that I do not agree with him on as well. Mainly, I disagree with Socrates on his idea of love being immortal. Personally, I think that we can only apply our knowledge of love within the span of the lifetime we live, because really it’s all we’ve got. I think it would be hard to say that the love I feel will be carried on through my children and, furthermore, my grandchildren and those who follow them. I think it is most simple to understand love within the context we coherently know, being our experiences first hand, and that is only possible if we examine it at the time were living and breathing. The other area of disagreement I hold with Socrates is in his idea of the forms being attached to certain words. In this, I’m addressing Socrates’ theory that a form or object must be connected to a certain word, and if one can identify that form then, and only then, are they completely wise or completely ignorant. I think that this idea is a little far fetched and hard for the common reader to identify with because it’s very hard to understand; at least it was for me. Personally, I find love slightly more subjective than Socrates or Plato would think of it. In Plato’s poetic piece, Symposium, Socrates’ views on love are expressed and elaborated on in full, and while very interesting to read about, I find myself in disagreement with major parts of his argument. Every person experiences love at a different level and tries to make sense of the complicated phenomena. I respect the arguments of Socrates immensely as it is clear that much thought was put into his work, though, furthermore, I respect the work of Plato in collecting six different views that leave the reader with more than enough room for thought and personal interpretation. The opinions given by the six philosophers differ so greatly that a reader can distinguish which opinions they agree with and disagree with easily; at least that’s what I found in reading these stories. The stories of the Symposium, especially the expression of Socrates’ view, leaves me still wondering what love truly is, where it comes from, and why in the world it is so hard to find and identify.


Love As a State of Improvement

In Symposium, Plato presents a variety of perspectives on the definition of love. He presents his view through Socrates, who believes that love is a means to wisdom and that true lovers prod one another to fulfill their intellectual potential. I agree that love is about constant improvement to become a better version of oneself, but do not believe that in loving, one desires nobility or immortality. Rather, one who loves another seeks to become a better person through their relationship with them.

To express his view of love, Socrates relates an encounter with the wise woman Diotima. She tells the story of Love the god, whose parents were Poverty and Resource. Thus, he always lives in need, but seeks the good. In order to explain that without constant desire for work and improvement, then love dies, she says, “He is by nature neither immortal nor mortal. But now he springs to life when he gets his way; now he dies—all in the very same day” (203E). This means that love yearns for beauty, and springs to life when he gets, but that the quest ends. Since to desire wisdom, one must know that they have much to learn, and are therefore ignorant, love is in between ignorance and wisdom (204B). Ultimately, lovers aim to attain happiness, for the acquisition of good and beautiful things logically leads to happiness (205A). By this definition, those who desire wealth, power, fame, success, sports, or anything else are also in love, but not the particular type of love in which the word typically refers to, when one is “in love” (205D).

Diotima continues to explain that love is “giving birth in beauty,” which I find a little hard to swallow. Certainly lovers draw out of each other the highest level of thinking and conduct, but I do not believe this is to achieve immortality, for not everyone wants to live forever. One might say that reproduction is nature’s way to ensure immortality, but I believe we are simply programmed to continue the species. In loving another, we crave improvement so we may create the healthiest, most competitive child possible. Since many humans do not have to worry about survival, they desire a mate with intellectual capacity. Also, what must not be lost is our desire to spend time with this lover in the moment, for seeking wisdom has little to do with immortality and everything to do with participating in the highest form of cerebral activity known to man. When someone falls in love, they do not consider living forever, but rather how they may make the most of their time to live. Diotima’s final point is that one starts out appreciating the beauty of a body, then realizes that all bodies possess beauty, and finally understands that souls are more beautiful than bodies (210B). Though my theory of love corroborates the notion of love as desire, there are many details of Socrates’ definition upon which I differ.

Eryximachus states that “dissimilar subjects desire and love objects that are themselves dissimilar” (186B). His assertion that love is part of a broader phenomenon makes sense scientifically, but is only the most fundamental layer of human love. An analogy can be made between atoms and humans. An atom is attracted to, and thus bonds, with another atom that lacks the number or electrons it has in excess and vice versa. These two atoms share these electrons between them so that each one has its desired number. So as in human love, the individuals complete each other. However, this is not love, for once the atoms bond, they are both content, whereas in human love, neither is ever content because each continually seeks to acquire wisdom. Thus, Erixymachus has the right idea that many forces in nature connect and balance two opposites, as human love does, but he fails to see that the distinguishing trait of love is the perpetual desire for good and for wisdom, as Socrates points out when he questions Agathon.

In my opinion, human love is based on an innate, physical desire to reproduce, but reaches a higher level of connection and understanding with the ultimate goal of attaining wisdom. As animals derived from a long line of ancestral species, humans want to find the most suitable mate possible in order to create vital offspring. Nature has programmed each of us to find that ideal mate, by how they look, how they carry themselves, and how they perform different tasks. Studies have shown that humans and other animals often become attracted to another individual based on the compatibility of their pheromones, or chemical signals that indicate information about an individual’s genetic makeup. Thus, much of physical attraction occurs on a subconscious level. Though our animal tendencies underlie much of our actions, they comprise only the most fundamental level of attraction.

Human love is infinitely more complicated than the purely physical “love” sought by a fish or a deer. Pausanias claims that two loves—Common and Heavenly—exist (180E). A Common Lover, he says, “only cares about completing the sexual act,” while a Heavenly Lover is “prepared to share everything with the one he loves” (181B-D). I believe that the true definition of human love is the combination of the two—based on the physical, but evolved to an intellectual and emotional exercise. Diotima’s final point—that we start out loving the physical and progress to loving the soul—supports this. We seek those who can help us become the best versions of ourselves. We desire those who will push us to attain qualities that we lack. This attraction to people who “complete us,” as Aristophanes would say, probably has its roots in our drive to produce competitive offspring with as many positive qualities as possible. Ultimately, though, lovers must always continue their quest for mutual improvement, in character and in wisdom.

The highest, most ideal form of love consists of a connection between two people who effectively work as team members in the pursuit of wisdom by discussing ideas and sharing experiences. This person may not be a life partner; in fact, one may have many lovers throughout their life. In the book, Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert defines a soul mate as “a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life...they come into your life to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.” Thus, lovers seek pleasure in the present and may move from one lover to the next each time their love dies. Though a person may stay with a lover forever, they just as easily may not, since love aims for improvement until none can be made, when it dies as Diotima explains (203E).

Unrequited love can have similar effects on the lover, but can never attain the wisdom and self-knowledge that comes from a loving relationship that is completely mutual. One-way love can motivate one to act noble and virtuous in order to impress, but true love involves the perpetual desire to attain wisdom, which must be done through constant discussion and interaction with the lover. Phaedrus’ definition says that men exhibit the most honor and virtue when in love. He claims that lovers want their beloved to see them in the best possible light, and that motivates them to garner glory. However, Phaedrus just scratches the surface of what love motivates one to attain. In its ideal form, love desires wisdom and intellectual improvement, not simply virtue, for with his conscience, a person innately knows the difference between right and wrong. In contrast, humans are not born wise, but become wise through interaction and reflection with others, namely, the beloved. We know on our own whether or not an action is moral, but the person we love gives us new ideas and helps us see situations from new perspectives that did not previously exist within us. Thus, love is even greater than Phaedrus claims, for it broadens the scope of our minds and requires investment by two parties.

It is possible that one party loves more than the other. Though not ideal, unbalanced lovers may still intellectually stimulate one another but only to the extent to which the lesser lover reaches. The stronger and more equal the attraction, the more benefit both will get because they will be able to ignite one another’s best theories. The highest compatibility in conversation and in actions, when each molds and shapes the other into the most enlightened person possible defines the greatest love. Again, if this enlightenment is ever attained, the two parties cannot be in love anymore.

The love I have described thus far must be distinguished from forced love, such as arranged marriages, in which two people are forced to mate for life. In ideal love, a person seeks another with whom they have a special chemistry and compatibility to become the best person possible. In arranged marriage, the only form of love possible is that found between siblings, the type of love that comes out of attachment to the constant. Siblings love each other because a history of shared experiences has driven them to form a unique bond. The same phenomenon must occur through arranged marriage.

Plato was right that love is the desire for wisdom and betterment, based on physical attraction. However, I do not believe it is part of a larger quest for immortality, but instead a way to make the most of the time one has. Love manifests bits and pieces of itself in many ways, but in its ideal state, lovers complement each other in such a way that they ignite powerful mutual improvement. Two people may love each other for a length of time, but this ends once the two parties halt their guidance of each other. To find wisdom, one must chase a higher level of consciousness, and through love, one unites with another to catalyze this path to new awareness.

1st Philosophical Analysis Paper - Alfino's comments

I thought this was a good batch of papers and that most of you are demonstrating the kind of philosophical activity that it is the goal of the course to develop. From this starting point, I think you are in a great position to make some progress in your philosophical skills and theory building over the semester. Here are a couple of comments based on your first paper:

  1. Pay more attention to "implications" and "entailments". When someone makes a claim, and certainly when they present a whole theory, there are often implications -- additional claims that follow logically from the earlier claims. Similarly, if, in believing some claim P, you must also believe Q, we would say that "P entails Q". You should track implications and entailments more carefully.
  2. Before rejecting a view because of some strong claim (such as "People have kids because they want to be immortal.") try out some interpretations of the claim (less literal, for example). Also, try a weaker version of the claim (maybe, for example, "People want to be remembered").
  3. Summarize less, reconstruction more. Don't present a philosophical view as a set of disconnected claims or opinions on various topics. Look for the most basic claims (premises and conclusions) that constitute the view and show how that are related logically.
  4. Avoid simple relativism. Does the claim that there is tremendous subjective and cultural variability in something entail that it has no reality?
  5. Don't forget everything you learned in Comp class. Theses, a roadmap, well-formed paragraphs, clear language. Take care of your reader!
  6. Don't forget everything you learned in Critical Thinking. Arguments, explanations. Let the positions speak!

Participation Journals

I periodically encourage students to post journal entries that seem particularly successful. Below you will find a sample of these journals. If I asked you to post your work, please paste it in, using the template below. You can copy and paste the section below to create your own space. Then past your text in to the new section.


Template: Participation Journal Title

Copy this section format and fill in the journal title with the specific title of your journal. Then paste your text in place of these two sentences.

Participation Journal: The Value of Philosophy

Philosophy aims at the kind of knowledge that gives unity to the sciences. Philosophy, as opposed to science, has not produced many definite answers to questions. If something becomes known for sure, it is classified and further studied as a science. Even if philosophy has played a key role in the realization of these facts, as it did in the early studies of the heavens or the mind, it will no longer be a part of their study once they can be classified as a science. Philosophic thinking has helped shape the sciences and continues to do so, acting as a sort of glue bringing them all together, but it is in the study of those questions which have no definite answer where philosophy’s true knowledge comes. This knowledge comes from questioning those aspects of the universe which we can never fully know to be true or not. These type of questions breed speculation that broadens the mind in ways that definitely ascertainable knowledge cannot. If we sit idly by in life and allow it to pass us by, accepting the “normal” as such and not examining things beyond their base level, we are missing out on the truly intimate relationship with the universe that is attainable through philosophical thought. This relationship is at the core of perhaps philosophy’s greatest value, the greatness of the objects it contemplates and the freedom from aims of self-interest that this method of contemplation brings. By putting great value and interest in all aspects of the outside world and their place in this world, we can move from viewing the world as it affects and relates to us to viewing the world purely as it is. In order to move beyond these self-motivated ways of thinking, we must free ourselves from our innate desires for what is comforting and usual. It is hard to step outside the confines of our ways of thinking that have been engrained into us by society, but if this can be accomplished, with time, we can begin to truly understand the outside world. I would say that many do not make an attempt to abandon their old ways of thinking out of the fear of the unknown. Philosophy, in essence, resides in the unknown and, for many people, this is extremely discomforting. People, in general, like to know for certain why things are the way they are and how these things affect them. The interesting thing about philosophy is that the Self will indeed be bettered through philosophical thought, but this self-betterment cannot be sought. We must seek knowledge in and of itself, and that knowledge must regard things outside of ourselves. If we view the universe with pure objectivity, we will learn things about it we could have never known while observing it through the blurry lens of self-interest. We will, however, form questions that seem to have no answer. But that questioning, whether it produces an answer for us or not, will gain us wisdom and a still deeper connection with our universe. We simply have to be willing to embrace this uncertainty and see it as a gift and not a curse, for wisdom gained always betters the mind and soul. I saw this wisdom gained just the other day in class when we were talking about what is “real” in our groups. No one appeared to have any stunning revelations, or if so they were not voiced, but I could certainly see people gaining wisdom from one another by listening to their thoughts on what is real. Most people in our group conceded that something is real if you can touch it and dismissed the idea brought up earlier in class that physical objects are not real because they will not be here forever. These were pretty much my thoughts, along with a belief that one’s ideas are real as well, but it was just interesting to observe the level of agreement that we all shared on the topic. It is a very loaded question, with innumerable possible answers, and yet we pretty much came up with a definition in the course of a five-minute discussion. I believe that people do not actually engage in much philosophical thought in their day-to-day lives, unless of course they are in a setting such as a philosophy class where philosophical thought and discussion are encouraged. I have conversations with friends often about the state of the world, but I don’t know if I would describe them as philosophical in nature. Discussing politics, for instance, relates to the world and its state but its aim is not to become more in touch with the universe, but rather to voice one’s own opinions on people, issues, and ideals. I would say ideals can be shaped from philosophical thought, but these thoughts that form them center more around the nature of the world, not its citizens’ opinions on how it should be run. My opinion on how much people actually engage in philosophical thought is simply based on my observations, and it is an opinion that I hope is incorrect because I believe there are many advantages to philosophical reflection. Besides the obvious wisdom that can be gained from true philosophical reflection, I would say the biggest advantage is that it frees us from the mundane and makes us realize that there is far more to the universe than what we observe on the surface. The universe is full of intangible elements that cannot be seen or discovered without letting go of our own self-interests and exploring that which is not known to be true.