Symposium, Lysis

1. We now get Diotima’s famous ladder, a story about how a man progresses in wisdom.

·        First, led by Love, he meets a person with a beautiful body and begets ideas in the presence of that person.

·        Second, he looks around and finds that there are more people who are beautiful.  And bodily beauty is the same, in whomever it might be found, and hence he loves all beautiful bodies.

o       Discussion. 

o       This seems wrong.  One person may have beautiful hair and another beautiful lips.  Surely their beauty is not the same!

§        This objection seems insufficient.  For then it is not the person as a whole who is beautiful, but the hair or lips.  And maybe the beauty of the hair and the beauty of the lips is the same?

o       Is the beauty any different in different people, or is it simply exhibited differently?  I can have two ten dollar bills or one twenty dollar bills.  It is the same amount of money in either case.  It is exhibited differently.

o       But surely there are different kinds of beauty.  The beauty of a man is one thing and that of a woman is a different thing.  A beautiful man may be beautiful through a severity of features while a beautiful woman may be beautiful through softness of features.  One woman might be beautiful through her great classical symmetry and harmony of features, and another through the uniqueness of her face.  Is the beauty the same in all of these cases?

o       Well, presumably, in all cases it is beauty.  There has to be something they have in common, since otherwise we couldn’t use the same word “beauty” in all the cases, except the way the word “bank” is used to cover the side of a river and a financial institution.

·        Third, he progresses to look at the beauty of souls, of activities and laws.

·        Fourth, he sees the beauty in knowledge.  He sees beauty now not in one example, but in many things.  In mathematics, in astronomy, and so on.  “[T]he lover is turned to the great sea of beauty, and, gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom, until…” (210D)

·        Fifth, until he sees something that does not change, that isn’t beautiful only in one respect and not another, or in one relation or not another, or here but not there.  This beauty is not bodily or just in one kind of knowledge.  He started with loving boys, and now has come to… “this very Beauty” (211C).  This is Beauty Itself.  The Form of Beauty.

·        Question: What do you give birth to in the presence of this Beauty?  (Some of the other things?  Beautiful customs and souls and all forms of knowledge?)

2. Why is this framed in the speech of Diotima rather than directly of Socrates?  Two suggestions.

3. Alcibiades enters.  He accuses Socrates of many things, including the terrible accusation of being hubristic, of being full of himself and thinking himself superior.  This no doubt comes from the fact that Socrates at least knows he knows nothing, and he keeps on showing other people that they know less than he does—they don’t even know this!  He seems to accuse Socrates of pretending to ignorance only on the surface, but in fact having lots of knowledge.  We know Socrates had various views such as that virtue was good.  But perhaps Socrates would say these were opinion, not knowledge.  Opinion is something one does not understand fully and cannot give a proof of or defend fully in argumentation.

4. But there is a nagging question.  What is this Beauty?

5. So when I love my wife, I ultimately love her because she exemplifies the Form of Beauty, the Form of Goodness—it is the same Form probably.  At the same time, I want to exemplify the Form of Goodness.  One of the characteristics of goodness is eternity.  Thus, I want to possess eternity.  I do this by reproducing together with my wife, thereby achieving an eternity of descendants.  In doing so, I come to possess more good in myself: I achieve the good of eternity, not just in soul, but in body.

6. Lysis.  This is a different sort of dialogue from the Symposium.  Whereas in the Symposium we learn Plato’s views about love, we don’t directly learn anything in the Lysis.  It is an aporetic dialogue, in that it ends in aporia, a puzzle, an inability to find a way forward.  But something is established: we learn that we do not know what friendship is.  The aporetic dialogues like the Lysis give one a very good picture of the activity of Socrates rather than the thought of his student Plato.  This is what Socrates did: he went around and chatted until people learned that they didn’t know.

7. Next we look at an old principle, that like is a friend to like

8. We now get an official definition (219B): “That which is neither good nor evil is a friend to good on account of an evil to which it is an enemy, for the sake of a good to which it is a friend?”

9. Socrates now refines his official definition.  Do we actually need sickness to love the physician?  We have a desire for health.  Imagine all sickness disappeared from the world, but everything else stayed.  Well, the desire for health would stay.  And we would still be friendly to health.  Thus, the reason for friendship is not an evil such as sickness, but a desire for a good.

·        But what is it that one desires?  Socrates thinks we desire that which naturally belongs to us human beings.  Our desires are for what is a part of being a human being but is lacking in us.  But the beloved must have it.  So, there must be a commonality between us and our friends.

·        But if there is such commonality, then we will be loved in return. 

o       Why?  Imagine someone else has something we want: e.g., wisdom.  Now, wisdom is something human, in the sense of being the sort of thing that makes up a full and complete human being.  So we have a commonality with the beloved.  Even if the beloved is, say, a goddess, she still has something in common with us: she has wisdom which we lack, but which is a human thing, i.e., a thing a human at least can have.  But this commonality need not mean the goddess returns our love.  For it is not commonality alone which is the cause of friendship.  Rather, it is commonality and one person having what the other lacks.  But the goddess, we might suppose, does not lack anything that belongs to us.

·        Moreover, this commonality means that we are back to the idea that evil people love evil people, because they have something in common.

·        But does evil belong naturally to a person?

o       One might even say in favor of this theory that it nicely allows for both similarity and difference, getting around the earlier criticisms of the like-loves-like theory.  For instance, if I love you for your ability to help me with my French homework, I love you for something natural to human beings—a highly developed ability to learn languages—for something that by nature belongs to me, even though I do not in fact currently have it.  Or, if it’s awkward or un-platonic to say that the ability belongs naturally to me when I don’t have it, I can say that the appropriateness of learning languages belongs to me…

10. Socrates gives up, expressing puzzlement that we haven’t been able to figure out what friendship is even though we think we are friends.  This is interesting.  Is Socrates suggesting that until we know what friendship is, we are not really capable of being in a friendship, and so we only think we are friends?  Or is he pointing to the strangeness of us being friends and not knowing what friendship is?