-1. Experience machine.
0. Remarks on Greek homosexuality.
1. Pausanias. A somewhat more philosophical account. Pausanias starts by saying that when we consider an action in itself, we cannot tell if it is good or bad.
· Consider, for instance, the pressing of a knife into someone’s chest. This is bad if done by a murderer and good if done by a surgeon.
· Or consider the physical taking of money from a table. This is bad if done by a thief and neutral if done by the owner.
· But is it ever right to murder someone? If we consider the action of murder in itself, is it not clear that it is wrong?
o Self-defense, war, capital punishment? Maybe killing is acceptable then. But the person who acts in self-defense, kills in war or executes a justly condemned criminal is not said to commit murder. “Murder” is by definition a wrongful killing.
o So, it’s true by definition that murder is wrong. But this does not refute Pausanias’s point. For he will say: “Look at the action in itself.” The pressing of the trigger, the pushing in of the knife. This action can be good or bad depending on circumstances, ultimate and proximate goal, etc.
o The word “murder” is morally loaded. It already includes moral assessment in the word. It is killing plus wrongness.
· So what Pausanias is claiming is that we can always describe an action on a level on which it is not morally loaded, on a level from which we cannot tell if the action is right or wrong. Moreover, Pausanias thinks that the word “love” is not morally loaded: love can be good or bad, depending on what actions are associated with it. 184de
2. Aristophanes. Let’s start from the end. At 192cd, we are told that sex can’t be the main reason for love. There is something else that one seeks…
· First, humans were either male or female or hermaphrodite and had four legs and four arms. Then Zeus split them down the middle so they wouldn’t get too powerful, and turned heads towards gash. Yearning for unity with other half led to death of hunger. So, Zeus turned the genitals around, allowing for union with other half. This allows for halves to reunite.
· This gives us an explanation of why there are heterosexuals and homosexuals.
· Yearning for utter unity.
· Bridging gulf between human beings.
· Therefore, young men who are originally slices of a male do well in seeking sexual gratification through boyhood. Remember, though, that Aristophanes is a comic poet. This might have sounded very funny to the Greek.
· What philosophical point is made by this? Search for original unity with a specific other… A search for something nameless…
· Socrates will criticize this: Why should I want to be united to the other person, unless the other person is good?
3. Agathon. His play just won. First, complaint that the nature of love has not been explained. All that has been explained is various attributes of love. People have praised love, but not explained what love is.
· And so Agathon goes into praise of love. Love is young and delicate. Love lives with the young. Love is very beautiful. He loves flowers and good smells. He is not violent. (Note the contrast to the “realism” of Eryximachus and Pausanias.) He has all the virtues. Justice, courage, moderation.
· Moderation is power over pleasures and Love is the most powerful pleasure. (196C) This is clearly a sophistical argument! Moderation is a virtue that has power over pleasures, and is not just the pleasantest of the pleasures.
· Unfortunately, throughout the speech Agathon did not say what love was.
4. Hence the complaint of Socrates. Flattery not praise. Socrates thought he would do well speaking because he knows the facts, but clearly facts are not what wins out here.
· Love is relational. It is always of something. Of what? Of beautiful things. Now, love desires the object of itself, which is always something it needs, something lacking. (Aside on continuation of present states. A person who has money may love continuing to have money, and this continuation is something he does not yet have.) Hence love lacks beauty. If it had it, it would not need it. If it does not need it, it does not want it.
· Agathon ends up contradicting himself. He is forced to admit love is not beautiful and not good. He complains that he cannot contradict Socrates. Socrates corrects him: Agathon cannot contradict the truth.
· Doesn’t the argument assume that love itself has desires, rather than that the lover has desires? The argument still sort of works when corrected. The lover has love—and love is beautiful according to Agathon. Thus, the lover already has something beautiful—love. So why does he need another beautiful thing? This is not as strong an argument as the one Socrates gave, since one might want another beautiful thing. Or perhaps a more beautiful thing. But if love is the most beautiful thing, then how can the lover want something more beautiful? And if she wants another beautiful thing, it is not beauty alone that attracts her, but beauty combined with something else, such as variety.
· In any case, Agathon certainly thinks that love itself is drawn to beauty (197B). So it is a fair argument against Agathon, an ad hominem argument to show that Agathon doesn’t know what he is talking about?
· Another objection: Surely something can be superfluous and yet desired. I may not need a chocolate cake but will still desire it.
o Does this destroy Socrates’s argument? No: For I still need the cake for pleasure. Socrates needs to establish that we love only what we do not have. But in the case of the superfluous, if we want it, we evidently don’t have it.
· Doesn’t this argument, however, slide from love of the beautiful to love of beauty? Isn’t there a difference between love of the beautiful thing and love of beauty itself? I can lack beautiful things while not lacking beauty, surely.
o But if I already have beauty then why would I want something more? The lover wants the beautiful thing because it is beautiful, i.e., because of its beauty. But if the lover already has beauty, then she does not need beauty.
o Here a distinction can be made. She has some beauty. But she does not have all the beauty there is. The beauty she has is incomplete. If it were complete—if she had infinite beauty—she would not want any more beauty for herself. This is why we’re going to be told later that the gods do not love, because they already have perfect beauty.
· What goes for beauty goes for goodness. The word for “beauty” here (kallos) encompasses beauty, nobility, fineness. One might also have translated by saying that love is a love of fine things, where things can be of all sorts: character, action, body, etc. A fine action or a fine character will be a good action or a good character. At this point, beauty and goodness appear to be interchangeable.
· Hence, Love is not good, Socrates concludes.
5. We now get a speech by the priestess(?) Diotima. She doesn’t actually appear in the dialogue. Rather, Socrates tells us about his meeting with her earlier in his life. It’s quite likely that Socrates doesn’t expect the other people at the Symposium to take this literally. Thus, Diotima need not be a historical character like they are. There is a hint that Plato is portraying Socrates as making up Diotima for the occasion in that Diotima refers to Aristophanes’ idea of an original unity between human beings, whereas of course the chat with Diotima is set before Aristophanes’s speech. We will talk later about why Socrates doesn’t say these things himself but puts them in the mouth of Diotima.
· When Socrates was young, he agreed with Agathon. He thought Love was beautiful. Diotima showed him that he was wrong, essentially by using the same argument as Socrates used against Agathon.
· Now, when someone makes a philosophical mistake, it is very nice to be able to point out why the mistake was made. Diotima explains the mistake of Socrates and Agathon thus: A. and S. thought of Love as present in the beloved who is beautiful. But of course Love is present in the lover. (The beloved need not even know she is being loved!)
· Diotima tells us a myth about Love—unlike the myths told by Agathon and Phaedrus, it is clear that the speaker intends this to be purely allegorical. Love was conceived on the same day that Aphrodite, the goddess of sexuality, was born. That is why Love is supposed to follow Aphrodite. What can this mean?
o The connection between Aphrodite and Love is rather coincidental in this story and not very important to it. Is this the point? That the tie between sexual attraction and love is more tenuous than what is thought? But we still notice that sexual attraction, Aphrodite, is an occasion for love. It’s where love starts. But is it where love ends up?
· Love is born of Poverty and Resourcefulness. It is poor, in that it lacks that which it loves. But it is resourceful, in that it can attain it.
· There is something between wisdom and ignorance. The ignorant person doesn’t have any idea that she is lacking anything. Think of a self-satisfied fool who has an opinion on everything and is unwilling to listen. It is being in between, neither wise nor ignorant, that love is tied to. Those who are neither wise nor ignorant are those who love wisdom, i.e., the philosophoi.
o Does this have anything to do with sexual love? Is there a connection between knowledge and love? One speaks of “carnal knowledge” in English (a phrase coming from the fact that in Biblical Hebrew yada`, to know, is a standard term for sexual union).
· Likewise, love lacks beauty. Love is described tough and shriveled
· All in all, love sounds like Socrates. Socrates’s deepest commitment was to the claim that he knew nothing other than that he knew nothing. Thus, Socrates was not the ignoramus ready to speak authoritatively on subjects he knew nothing of. But neither was he wise: He did not take himself to know the true philosophy.
· Moreover, Socrates was an ugly snubnosed fellow. We need to be a little careful, though. Love is not said to be ugly. Just as it is between wisdom and ignorance, so too it is between beauty and ugliness. Presumably, if we are to think of Socrates as the embodiment of Love, then we should think of Socrates as between beauty and ugliness: he is ugly of body and beautiful of mind or soul.
· In all this, Love is modeled on the lover. We will talk later about what this means.
6. The object of love is a beautiful or fine thing. If you love something, you love it because it is in some way beautiful or fine or good—these terms are going to be more or less interchangeable for Plato. The apparent exceptions prove the rule. Someone might love a pug for being ugly. But this is a case where the contorted features of the little dog contribute to a sort of cuteness, to a puggish sort of beauty. Often something is ugly in one way and beautiful in another. Take Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will. This film was made to glorify Nazism. It is an incredibly powerful film. One feels pulled in, pulled in to admire… There is a definite aesthetic quality to the film, to what it portrays, that makes it in one sense beautiful. But at the same time, the glorification of Nazism is something hideous in another sense. We have both beauty and ugliness mixed in. Someone who focuses solely on the aesthetic qualities of the film will love it; someone who focuses on its moral qualities alone might well hate it.
· Or take someone who loves Hitler’s actions. Quite possibly this is somebody who is confused. She may not know what Hitler did. Or she may not know that what Hitler did was in fact ugly. So, although Plato doesn’t say so, it seems like you might love an ugly thing if you are mistaken and think it is beautiful when it’s not. We might think beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we can’t be wrong about it, but surely we can. What Mother Teresa or Ghandi did was beautiful. What Stalin and Hitler did was ugly. Anybody who thinks that killing millions is beautiful is just mistaken.
7. Recall we are trying to figure out the nature of love. We now have one ingredient. The object of love, that which the love is of, that which the lover loves is a beautiful thing, which is loved because it is beautiful.
· But we still don’t know what this love of beautiful things is. What does the lover of beautiful things want with them? Socrates answers: “That they become his own” (204D).
· This still doesn’t answer the question: What does it mean to have them become one’s own?
· We now get a digression. We find out that everybody loves good things, namely the things that give us happiness. But doesn’t that mean that everybody is in love, and not just the people we say are in love? The answer is that when we say: “Some but not all people are in love”, we are separating out people who are devoted to one special kind of love. The special kind of love we will be interested in is the more direct and ardent pursuit of good or beautiful things.
· Next we get a criticism of Aristophanes’ story. Why should we want to be re-united with our other halves? Surely only if the other half is good. If I lose a cancerous tumor, I don’t want to be re-united with it. So, it’s not because the other half was ours that we want it, but because it is good.
· Everybody, Diotima tells us, wants the good. They want it to be theirs and forever.
· 206A. Wanting to possess the good forever is what love is about we learn.
· But now Diotima wants to make things a bit more precise. She talks of the “object of love”, which is the possession of good things forever. This is what the true lover, the kind of lover who fervently seeks happiness, loves. He loves goods things as possessed by us forever. But this still leaves a question. What is the purpose of this love? What is this possession of good things for? 206B.
· Here we have a distinction between the object of love, that which the love is a love of, and the purpose of the love, that which the lover strives to achieve. The purpose seems to be simply the object, but with more detail.
o The pizza lover tries to possess pizzas, not for the purpose of a collection, or a great tower of pizza, but for the sake of eating them. The object of her love is the pizza or maybe the possession of it. But the purpose is something more specific. It is the eating of the pizza.
o Sometimes two loves can have the same object in a sense, but a different purpose. I once got a bit of spam about stuff for “animal lovers”. Now the object of being an animal lover is animals, or maybe the possession of animals. But there can be multiple purposes. This ad was offering pornographic materials about bestiality. The zoophile, the person sexually attracted to animals, is an animal lover, in that the object of his love is the possession of animals, but the purpose spells things out more precisely. The zoophile is after sexual possession of animals. The ordinary animal lover is after having animals in her home, or perhaps simply protecting the animals that we have on earth and possessing them collectively.
o If we’re told someone loves money, we know what the object of his love is: The possession of money. But we don’t know yet what “possession” means. The collector of money loves money. And Scrooge loves money. But their possession is different. The collector’s purpose is to have different varieties of currency. Scrooge’s is just to have a large amount of money.
· So what about the people who are most truly in love, the people who are most deeply and ardently seeking the eternal possession of the good?
· Diotima now tells us: “It is giving birth in beauty, whether in body or in soul” (206B).
· This is a mysterious phrase. What does it mean? Well, there is a bodily level. A man might conceive a child in a beautiful woman, and we can call this “conceiving” a “birth”. A woman might give birth to this child in beautiful surroundings—Socrates thinks the beautiful surroundings call forth birth.
· And there is a mental level. One might give birth to an idea in the presence of a beautiful soul. In another dialogue, Socrates compares himself to a midwife. He helps other people produce ideas. Someone might have some idea about what love is, and Socrates will help him refine the idea by showering him with criticisms. In fact, we see this happening right there and then. Diotima, with her beautiful soul, is helping to draw out of Socrates the idea of what love is. In another dialogue, the Meno, Socrates shows how by simply asking questions he can draw out of a slave boy some geometrical ideas.
· So we now realize we were a little bit off, and need to refine our ideas. Diotima had been merely going along with Socrates’ idea that love is of beauty. Love was not seeking beauty. Rather, love was seeking the possession of goodness. What sort of possession of goodness? Reproduction and giving birth in beauty. We thus have a distinction here between beauty and goodness. Beauty is what calls forth the reproduction and giving birth. The reproduction and giving birth is the goodness.
· Why? Well, Diotima now gives us a story about why animals reproduce. They reproduce to be eternal, if only through their children. The species as a whole strives for eternity.
· In our lives we keep on changing. Parts of our flesh die and new pieces come in their place. Plato thought this, and we now know this is true: most of the cells in our bodies do die and new ones come to take their place. We cannot really achieve eternity, because we change, becoming slightly different persons. But we can achieve eternity as a species, through physical reproduction, and through our ideas. Our ideas endure.
· Mortal things are preserved by a process of copying and death, like manuscripts. We do not have the original manuscript of the Symposium. What we have is a copy of a copy of a copy—we don’t even know how many intermediate copies there were. This is even true of our ideas. We keep on forgetting things, and our minds have to keep on refreshing our knowledge, by producing fresh copies of our knowledge.
· In the Meno, Plato argued that all learning is remembering things from a past life. How is it that just by asking questions one can teach someone about geometry? It is because he already knew it, but it was forgotten, and the questions remind him.
· The youth, then, who is pregnant with an idea seeks beautiful people. The reason he seeks them is to give birth to thoughts. He is better drawn to people with more beautiful bodies. If he’s lucky enough to find someone with a beautiful soul as well, then things go really well: he just keeps on producing thoughts about virtue. He conceives and gives birth to what he had had always.
6. We now get Diotima’s famous ladder, a story about how a man progresses in wisdom.