The Search For Truth In Love And Beauty

January 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

Platonic literature is famously recorded in the form of the dialogue. Dialogue is the method by which synthesis can occur in its purest form. Plato’s contemporaries were fundamentally fearful of writing, which was a new technique at the time, because when compared to dialogue, prose did not offer the possibility for immediate clarification of ideas. Platonic dialectic involved not only the step-by-step creation of ideas that inevitably resulted after a statement; the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis were all created by a person who had bias in presenting these ideas. In prose, this bias cannot be questioned, and everything must be accepted as fact because the author is to be assumed the expert; in dialogue, the backgrounds of the persons involved can be taken into consideration, and the reader is allowed to question the truth and validity of the participants’ statements.Symposium is a prime example of Platonic dialogue. The prologue to the seven discourses on love and beauty immediately identifies the reader as being alarmingly distant from the narration of the story. While Apollodorus tells his companion that he is an expert on the happenings of the intellectual party, he admits that the party took place many years before the actions in the prologue occur. Furthermore, he himself was not at the party, but rather was told what had transpired by Aristodemus, whose account of the party was later verified by Socrates. Because the narrator is so unreliable (how much of his memories of a secondhand account of this party can really be trusted?) the reader is inevitably placed in a perpetual struggle towards the truth. Such is the nature of the Platonic dialectic. In Symposium, the participants force upon themselves the search for true forms of love and beauty. Plato incorporates the prologue into this string of speeches to make his readers an external participant. In this way Symposium is a very interactive piece of literature; as the participants themselves attempt to make sense of their discussion, we must make sense of their musing.Part of the reason for struggle to find the truth is the organization of the speeches in the Symposium. The scene is a party at which conversations are taking place while under the influence of alcohol, so the he potential for rhetorical and logical error is already increased depending on the speaker’s level of intoxication. The guests decide that instead of drinking, their time would be better spent in a meditation on every aspect of love. Socrates is repeatedly revered as the most important figure in this dialogue, and the person whose speech the reader should most anticipate. This naturally implies a hierarchy in the delivery of the speeches. Phaedrus’ speech is not without its merits, but it is certainly inferior to those that follow it. We are inclined to believe that will be the case for all subsequent speeches, but a flaw emerges in our argument when Aristophanes’ speech is interestingly delivered before Agathon’s speech, the content of which is significantly less impressive. But this circularity is the essence of what a symposium is, a veritable all-male Athenian salon. It seems unrealistic to expect all the speeches to bear equal weight in terms of content, but that is the supposition one must make; each speech is a critical part to the whole of the symposium. The consequence of this is that each speech must be dissected in such a way to remove its errors and retain the bits that will lead to the truth.While Plato himself is not a participant in the party, his presence is duly noticed. There are, indeed, multiple layers of narration but it ultimately Plato who is narrating the story for us. He deliberately inserts a system of checks a balances into the speeches to serve as a filter for which conclusions the reader should process and which ones should be dismissed. For example, Pausanias identifies a source of error in Phaedrus’ speech:I think there’s a problem with the topic we’ve been set, Phaedrus, in that we’ve been told to speak in unqualified praise of Love. That would be fine if Love were uniform, but in fact he isn’t, and given that he isn’t, it would be better to begin by defining which kind of Love we have to praise. (Symposium, 180c)Pausanias describes two distinctions of Love: the Common and Celestial. Common love is the love of ordinary people; it is the most basic and human love there is. It encompasses love of all types of people, including women and the uneducated. It is a love based on lust and the need for reproduction. It is the love of people clouded by longing for sensual, hedonistic objects and feelings. Celestial love, on the other hand, is a divine love. It is on par with philosophy, that is, a love of wisdom. As a result, this is the love that is to be experienced by two men. Thus in his speech, Pausanias explains that to love properly is to love divinely because, “A lover is bad if he is of the common type, who loves the body rather than the mind. This makes him inconstant, because there’s no constancy in the object of his desires; as soon as the physical bloom that attracted him fades, he ‘flies away and is gone'” (Symposium, 183e).Plato wrote the Symposium as a serio-comical drama, which means that while the speeches are deliberations on the truth and love and beauty, an element of lightheartedness will periodically emerge. Plato notifies the reader of the potential for error in Eryximachus’ speech by giving Aristophanes hiccups that remain incurable throughout it; how could the speech be taken seriously with such a silly soundtrack? Only when Eryximachus is done speaking do Aristophanes’ hiccups go away, and he is able to take his turn. Perhaps the distraction of the hiccups implies how unnecessary it is to listen to the entirety of Eryximachus’ speech. The error in the speech of Eryximachus was that he broadened the definition of love so much, calling love “omnipotent” that it ceased making sense. (Symposium, 188e) This prompts Aristophanes to bring love back to a human, or Common level, and he does so successfully by telling the tale of the third gender. “Love,” he says, “is just the name we give to the desire for and pursuit of wholeness,” the wholeness the humans lost when the gods feared the third gender as being too perfect. (Symposium, 192a)The circularity of the speeches is evident in such interactions of content. Aristophanes’ speech was a reaction to the previous one, and Agathon reacts to the previous speeches by expressing his disappointment in how much emphasis has been placed on humans and how little the god Love himself has been praised. Agathon’s main argument is that “Love is himself without equal in attractiveness and in goodness, and secondly is responsible for similar qualities in others” (Symposium, 197a). In essence, Agathon makes Love a too perfect being. His speech seems warranted enough, and the other guests applaud his effort but expect a rebuttal from Socrates. This serves as another guidepost in the story — if the thinkers themselves are still questioning the truth, then the reader should continue to do so, as well.In his speech Socrates makes the all too important connection between Common and Celestial by constructing the metaphor for the ladder of beauty, which moves humans progressively away from the earthly (deemed not good) to the spiritual, intellectual, and ultimately the ideal, which is embodied in the platonic forms. Socrates explains, “Love is a love of something,” and “that something is a something a person currently lacks” (Symposium, 200e). If a person has a lover, then love becomes the desire to keep that lover in the future. Once something is attained, it is no longer desired in the same way it once was because it has been acquired. This is how Socrates refutes Agathon’s speech; Love cannot be beautiful because we love all things beautiful because we do not have them, so Love does not have beauty. This applies to knowledge, wealth, and every other good characteristic. Love is the offspring of Plenty and Poverty, says Socrates, which means it is the middle ground between the two extremes. Agathon’s mistake was that he thought of Love as the object of love, rather than as the lover itself. Love as a lover is the spirit that communicates between the Common and the Celestial. The Celestial in its most beautiful form is ultimate knowledge, and in this way Socrates indirectly represents Love because as the personification of philosophy, he is on an endless quest for knowledge. Humans will always have a need for love because the fundamental problem of humans is that we are in flux. The Socratic method is practiced by asking a series of questions that will ultimately lead to the truth. The birth of knowledge is the only way to reach the divine level of beauty the gods have, and the only way to attain knowledge is to seek it of others. This is why homoeroticism is praised so highly; it is not thought of solely as a sensual relationship but also as an apprenticeship between the young and the old. The prologue indicates that the story of the symposium was asked to be told once before, and this is many years after the party took place. The symbolism of this is that people are still discussing these topics and asking questions; people still have a desire to know what happened but must muddle through the layers of narration that serve as symbols of sensory obstacles blocking the path divine knowledge. Works CitedPlato. Trans.. Waterfield, Robin. Symposium. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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