I am currently in the Humanites Honors track of my college and we just finished reading “The Symposium” by Plato. It makes me think all kinds of things regarding reason.
Before I begin, I would like to get off my chest that a symposium, even though it is called “a meeting of the minds”, it is a drinking party. In the piece, which was written during the time when there were symposiums, Socrates was getting all cleaned up so he could go to a party. When he went to the event, the party-goers decided that they would have no drinks and no “flute-girls”. (This was a very sad symposium).
Now, onto my real topic. The party-goers decided that they would discuss love and what they think it is. Each person told a story that would make the teller seem the smartest and they would all build on each other. The first guy, Phaedrus, says that Love is the oldest of gods and that if one does anything for love, then that person will be rewarded. Doing crazy things for love is heroic. This is easy to say when Phaedrus is clearly one of those guys who chases.
Pausinas says that love is the youngest of gods and that it comes in two forms: physical attraction and intellectual attraction. The physical attraction is manifested in the people called “lovers” and the intellectual attraction is manifested in the people called the “beloved”. The beloved are considered beautiful and the lovers are considered to be without beauty, so they chase what they do not have. But of course, the beloveds need to get something out of the relationship, so they are to seek to “learn” something of value from the lovers. This makes Pausinas look good because he considers himself a beloved and takes serious concern with his looks.
Eryximachus says that what his two buddies said were all well and good, but they got it wrong. Love is everything. It is lawless and order at the same time. It’s a perpetual harmony, like how the doctors cure people by bringing the humors back into harmony. Guess what his profession is. Yup, he’s a doctor.
Aristophanes says that man used to have four arms and legs, two heads in two directions, and were separated by Zeus. All the people want is to become “whole” again. This is the playwright who tells this story, and he is grandiose and colorful with his words to mask that what he’s saying isn’t very earth-shattering at all.
Then of course our man, Socrates, comes up with a story that takes elements from everyone else’s story. The original concept he seems to bring about is that love is not a god, it is an energy. It is neither good nor evil, it just is.
None of the party-goers, except for Socrates, is a philosopher. They just say what they believe and do not pry open their beliefs, and Socrates, wanting to have a good time at a symposium, has no intention of prying open their arguments.
I’m not going to finish telling you the piece, you can read it from this point. Just keep in mind that there really is no philosophy in the words. It’s when you think about what it is everyone says and does with the philosophy reveal itself. Maybe that’s the most heroic part of Plato’s writing. He does not tell the reader what to believe, but lets the reader figure it out for onself.