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Essay: Plato's Symposium: An Exploration of Virtue and Love

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 983 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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Paste your essay in here…Plato’s “Symposium” is centered around the occurrence and subsequent retelling of its namesake, a drinking party or convivial discussion, especially as held in ancient Greece after a banquet. The symposium is held in observance of Agathon's tragedy winning first prize at the Lenaean festival the day before. Having been drinking excessively the night before and all–except Socrates– hung over, Eryximachus recommends that they do not drink too much this evening in the best interest of their health. He also suggests that the group engage in conversation instead of drinking; sending away the flute-girl, who was to be their entertainment. Having been conversing with Phaedrus, who had mourned the knowledge that there were songs of praise to all the gods but Love, Eryximachus recommends that each person in attendance make the finest speech they can in praise of Love, on the nature of love.

 The second speech of the evening, Pausanias’ speech contends that the main purpose of “love is to produce virtue, and love pursued for any other means is wrong, regardless of the consequence”. Subsequently, a dichotomy between virtuous love and unvirtuous love emerges in the division of  heavenly and earthly love, respectively. The earthly love is described to be rooted in physical desire–lust–while heavenly love is found in the mind–the pursuit of wisdom; the distinction between love of the body and love of the mind is dependent on a dichotomy of an individual’s physical body and soul.  The pursuit of wisdom is regarded as virtuous so the exchanging of wisdom is the source of heavenly or transcendent love. Earthly love, sexual desire, is “merely looking forward to the mere act of fruition and careless whether it be worthy or unworthy consummation”(Plato 535). The distinction between a “worthy and unworthy consummation” is placed on relations of man/boy and man/woman respectively. Found with a dichotomy of men and women as reasoned beings, it is asserted that women are not capable of understanding reason and solely contain a superficial logic, which is not suitable to the pursuit of wisdom.  The occurrence of heavenly love is dependent on both participants having the ability to obtain wisdom, the relationship between man/woman is associated with earthly love–love solely out of physical gratification. Subsequently “heavenly love springs from a goddess whose attributes have nothing female, but are altogether male” because the mentorship structured relations of man/boy is considered virtuous in that the pursuit and exchanging of wisdom is the bases of the relationship (Plato 535).

Socrates’ speech is restating an account given to him by a woman named Diotima. The point of view expresses a false dichotomy of earthly and heavenly love and the dichotomies that underlie and depend on the reasoning. The basis of Socrates’ speech is the agreement that agree that “Love must be love of beauty, which in turn implies that Love itself must be wholly without beauty.” Socrates builds off of the idea and “goes on to point out that if good things are beautiful, then love must also be lacking in good things, and cannot himself be good.” Diotima argues that not everything must be either one thing or its opposite, contending with the presence of dichotomies that Pausanias’ contentions are based on. The example given to demonstrate the logic behind Diotima’s notion of love is that having unjustified true opinions is neither wisdom nor ignorance; wisdom consists in justified true opinions, but one would hardly call a true opinion ignorant. Diotima claims that love’s function is “to bring forth upon the beautiful, both in body and in soul” in separate ways (Plato 558). The “conception and generation that the beautiful effects” is taken in a more literal, biological, sense in relation to the body–the creation of a child (Plato 558). In relation to the mind, the “conception and generation” of beauty is the cultivation and dissemination of wisdom. While contradictory to Pausanias’ dichotomies, diotima’s notions of love is complementary. As mortal beings, we maintain ourselves in existence by replacing the old with the new, and so reproduction is just one further way to achieve immortality. Diotima asserts that love is neither mortal nor immortal but “halfway between mortal and immortal” (plato 555). While the conception of offspring and philosophical notions are mortal elements, the existence of both create immortality. While the distinction between earthly and heavenly love is rejected the superiority of love based in wisdom is still in place because ideas last longer and are more valuable overall than individuals. The connection between mortal and immortal couples the idea of love as being “a very powerful spirit…and spirits, you know, are halfway between god and man.” These spirits “ply between the heaven and earth.” “It is only through the mediation of the spirit world that man can have any intercourse…with the gods” (Plato 555). With this concept, one can ascend from mortal, earthly love of particular kinds of beauty to loving Beauty itself, from which all beautiful things derive their nature.

The confessions by St.Augustine is a religiously based philosophy that discusses the nature of love.The text discusses a dichotomy similar to Pausanias in that earthly and heavenly love are associated with the body and soul, sexual desire–lust–and love of God. Being a religious based text, the love of God has the same connotations of wisdom and virtue in the Symposium. The physical attraction is associated with immorality and earthly desires while the connection with god is related to the soul and moral goodness. Both dichotomies have the moral/heavenly love connected to the acquisition of wisdom or guidance from an authoritative male figure–God and man. The notion of love being the “halfway between god and man” also are incorporated in St. Augustine's understanding of love in that the love of God is the connection to immortality.

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