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Plato's Symposium notes.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Ronniede Sousa

- Phaedrus says love is one of the oldest of the gods and does the most to promote virtue in people - Pausanias draws a distinction between common love, which involves simple, mindless desire, and heavenly love, which always takes place between a man and a boy - In the case of heavenly love, the loved one sexually gratifies the man in exchange for education in wisdom and virtue - Eryximachus suggests that love promotes moderation and orderliness, and can be found outside human interaction in music, medicine, etc. - Aristophanes draws a myth that says we were once all twice the people we are now, but our threat to the gods prompted Zeus to cut us in half - Ever since, we have wandered the earth looking for our other half so we can rejoin with it and become whole - Agathon says love is young, beautiful, sensitive, and wise - He sees love as responsible for planting virtues in us - Socrates questions Agathon’s speech, suggesting that Agathon has spoken about the object of love rather than love itself - Socrates relates what he was once told by a wise woman named Diotima - According to Diotima, love is not a god at all, but a spirit that mediates between people and the objects of their desire - Love itself isn’t wise or beautiful, but the desire for wisdom and beauty - Love expresses itself through pregnancy and reproduction, either through the bodily kind of sexual love or through the sharing and reproduction of ideas - The greatest of all knowledge, Diotima says, is the knowledge of the form of beauty, which we must strive to attain - At the end of Socrates’ speech, Alcibiades burst in drunk and delivers a eulogy to Socrates because he has never managed to seduce Socrates because Socrates has no interest in physical pleasure - Plato rejects the romanticization of sexual love, valuing it as an asexual and all- consuming passion for wisdom and beauty - He concludes that the philosopher’s search of wisdom is the most valuable of all pursuits Part I: - Phaedrus says that both gods and humans regard love as great and awesome because it is the oldest god and has no parents - Love teaches us shame in acting poorly and pride in acting well - The shame we feel when we are caught acting badly is far greater when we are caught by a partner than by a parent or a friend - Phaedrus says an army made up solely of lovers and loved ones would be unmatchable because they would rather die than show cowardice in front of their partner - He tells the story of Alcestis who was willing to die for her husband Admetus, when Apollo told him that her would die unless he could find someone to die in his place - Only his wife, Alcestis, was willing to take his place, and the gods were so impressed that they brought her back to life - The gods have only allowed a small number of people to return from the underworld, which suggests that love is something they value supremely - By contrast, Orpheus did not have the courage to die for his love, but went to Hades to find her while still alive, and returned empty-handed and was soon killed - Achilles accepted death in order to avenge his lover, so the gods sent him to the islands of the blessed when he died - Phaedrus concludes that love is the most ancient and honored of gods and most capable of ensuring courage and happiness in this life and the next - Male-male relationships in Athens would exist between an older man (lover) and younger man (loved one) - The older man takes the initiative in the relationship and is the dominant partner in sexual intercourse - Life-long partnerships between men were rare, and most of the time the lover was also married to a woman - Male-male love was often considered purer than male-female love because it was considered less practical Part II: - Pausanias points out that there are two kinds of Aphrodite, the goddess of love - There is heavenly Aphrodite, who is the goddess of Uranus, with whom he associates heavenly love - Then there is common Aphrodite, who is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, who is younger than heavenly Aphrodite and with whom he associates common love - Pausanias says loving in itself is neither good nor bad - If it is done properly, it’s good, and if not, it’s bad - Common love is bad because its attraction is indiscriminating, directed towards bodies instead of towards minds - So people who are motivated by common love are equally interested in women and boys, and the less intelligent the better so they can get what they want more easily - Heavenly love is associated with the daughter of Uranus who has no mother, so it is directly towards males - It has a noble purpose and delights in the intelligent nature of man, and has no wanton or lust - It is generally directed towards boys of developing maturity who show signs of intelligence and with whom a life-long partnership is possible - He criticizes those who take advantage of young, foolish boys or women for sexual gratification, since this behavior gives love a bad name - He says laws should be made to prohibit such behavior - He says good love takes place when the lover makes the loved one good and wise, educating him and teaching him virtue, and when the loved one gratifies the lover and is eager to acquire the wisdom his lover can share - Either partner is then justified in doing all sorts of outlandish favours for the other, ex. a person sleeping on another’s doorstep to win his love - Lovers can still get away with breaking oaths that would otherwise not be tolerated because those in love are granted every kind of indulgence, both from humans and from the gods - While lovers are encouraged to go to great lengths to win the favour of their loved ones, loved ones are discouraged from allowing themselves to be caught up in their lovers’ charms - The loved one who is too easily won over by influence or money is clearly not after the wisdom of his lover and should be ashamed - The main purpose of love is to produce virtue, and love pursued for any other means is wrong, regardless of the consequence - A loved one who gratifies his lover in the hopes of gaining virtue is partaking in heavenly love, while gratification given for any other reason is simply common love - Male-male love is treated differently in different places - Heavenly love is reserved for older boys because they are rational and have the capacity for virtue, while women and younger boys are irrational, so love for them cannot be heavenly Part III: - Eryximachus says Pausanias limits himself when he considers all love to be expressed in emotional responses between humans - He says love can also be expressed in the bodily responses of plants and animals - It’s right to gratify good people and wrong to gratify bad people, and in medicine one should gratify the good and healthy parts of the body and deprive the diseased parts of the body of satisfaction so they won’t be diseased anymore - The doctor’s role is to implant one type of love in the body and flush the wrong kind out to reconcile and create love between antagonistic elements of the body like hot and cold or wet and dry - Not only medicine but also music, agriculture, and sports are governed by the god of love, ex. harmony and rhythm in music consist of creating agreement between divergent notes or tempos - All creation of agreement and concord is a product of love - In practicing love, one is promoting order and thusly improving people - This heavenly love is associated with the heavenly muse, as contrasted with the muse polymnia, which is associated with common love - With common love, one must be careful to gratify the recipient without rendering him self-indulgent - For instance, good cooking must taste good, but it mustn’t make diners ill - In all things, both kinds of love are present and we must proceed with moderation - Eryximachus extends the scope of love to include the seasons as well because they contain the same opposite elements that must be reconciled in the body - When those contraries can be reconciled, there are good harvests, but when they can’t be, there is bad weather and famine - Love is ever present and all powerful since it is the cause of self-control, happiness, and justice and produces good actions Part IV: - Aristophanes tells a myth where long ago, there were three genders: male, female, and androgynous - Each person was twice what they are now, with four hands, two heads, etc. - Males were descended from the sun and females from the earth and the androgynous from the moon - These people were powerful and made threatening attacks on the gods - The gods didn’t want to destroy them because they would then have to forfeit the sacrifices humans made to them, so Zeus decided to cut each person in two - He also said that if this didn’t settle humans down, he would cut them in two again and they would have to hop around on one leg - Because they longed for their original nature, people kept trying to find their other half and reunite with it - When they found their other half, they would embrace and stay together, not wanting anything else - Eventually people started dying of hunger or inactivity - Zeus took pity of them and moved their genitals around so they would be facing frontward, so this way when they embraced, they could have sex, and those who were formerly androgynous could reproduce, and even two men who came together could have sexual satisfaction and then move on to other things - This is the origin of our instinctive desire for other human beings - Those who are interested in members of the opposite sex are halves of formerly androgynous people, while men who like men and women who like women are halves of what were formerly whole males and females - Aristophanes applauds male-male relationships between men and boys since such couples value boldness, braveness, and masculinity, both in themselves and in others - When we find our other half, we are overwhelmed with affection, concern, and love for that person - This great amount of care can’t result simply from a desire for sex, but we have difficult articulating just what makes us care so much, even though we don’t want to be separated from that person - Love is the name we give our desire for wholeness, to be restored to our original nature - Aristophanes says if we are disobedient to the gods, Zeus might split us in two again, so we must behave well towards the gods - So love is our leader, and if we work against love then we will find ourselves on the wrong side of the gods - This myth suggests that we aren’t attracted to certain qualities in a person so much as the person himself - A certain person is right for us not because that person has certain qualities we find appealing but because that person’s character is similar to ours and resembles our other half - We find that person’s qualities attractive because they belong to a person whose nature we appreciate, not the other way around - When we find someone with a similar nature to ours, we want to bond with them and live a shared life with them - So our attraction to our other half is a noble pursuit since it makes us whole again - Aristophanes suggests that life-long partnerships are ideal because they involve a perfect matching of two halves Part V: - Agathon points out that all the previous speeches have only spoken of the benefits humans have gained from love, but none of them have discussed the god Love himself - Love is the happiest of gods because he is the youngest of the gods, so the most beautiful and the best - All the horrible things the gods did to each other in ancient times they did because of necessity and not love - Since love has ruled amongst the gods they have been far more peaceful - Love is sensitive - Rather than settle in the hard parts of humans and gods, on the ground or in the skull, love settles in our minds and characters - Love will only settle in those with soft natures and will move on when he finds someone with a tough nature - He can pass unnoticed in and out of our mind fluidly - Love is just because he never uses force; everyone consents to his authority - Love practices moderation since he can master pleasures and desires - Love is braver than Ares, the god of war, because Ares fell in love with Aphrodite and was thus mastered by love - Love is wise since he is the inspiration for all other acts of wisdom - Love is responsible for beauty, excellence, mildness, wisdom, goodness, and excellence - Plato wants us to be skeptical of this argument because it is rhetorically structured and poorly argued - The idea of wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation as the four cardinal virtues (as proposed by Agathon) contains many logical fallacies, ex. making a tenuous connection between controlling oneself (moderation) and mastering one’s desires because a greater power (love) is acting as the master - Agathon also fallaciously suggests that since love motivates us to wisdom, it must also be wise - Agathon (like Eryxmichaus before him) seems to be speaking more about desire in general than love in particular, ex. our desire to innovate and create, where Agathon
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