Plato’s Philosophy and Views on Ethics, Science and Love

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Plato by Raphael
Plato developed a number of philosophical theories on topics such as knowledge, government, human conduct and the universe. His ideas have seeped into many facets of Western culture. Some scholars have argued that many of the basic doctrines of Christianity owe as much to Plato as they do to Jesus.

Plato and his mystical followers believed that source of the "real" forms he sought was in mathematics and geometry. The Platonic view of the world was built on the foundation of ideal mathematics. Over the door to Plato's academy was a sign that read, "let no one destitute of geometry enter my doors."

"A mathematical species...have a primary subsistence in the soul," wrote one of Plato's disciples, "so that, before sensible numbers, there are to be found in the utmost recesses, self-moving numbers...ideal proportions of harmony pervious to concordant sounds; and invisible orbs, prior to the bodies which revolve in a circle...we must follow the doctrine of Timaeus, who derives the origin, and consummates the fabric of the soul, from mathematical forms, and reposes in their nature the causes of everything which exists."

Although the premises for Plato's beliefs are often very lofty and metaphysical, the applications were often practical in nature but were often quite idealistic. Plato wrote that everything on earth has its ideal version in heaven. He also thought the constellations had souls.

“The immediate starting-point of Plato's philosophical speculation was the Socratic teaching. In his attempt to define the conditions of knowledge so as to refute sophistic scepticism, Socrates had taught that the only true knowledge is a knowledge by means of concepts. The concept, he said, represents all the reality of a thing. As used by Socrates, this was merely a principle of knowledge. It was taken up by Plato as a principle of Being. If the concept represents all the reality of things, the reality must be something in the ideal order, not necessarily in the things themselves, but rather above them, in a world by itself. For the concept, therefore, Plato substitutes the Idea. He completes the work of Socrates by teaching that the objectively real Ideas are the foundation and justification of scientific knowledge. At the same time he has in mind a problem which claimed much attention from pre-Socratic thinkers, the problem of change. The Eleatics, following Parmenides, held that there is no real change or multiplicity in the world, that reality is one. Heraclitus, on the contrary, regarding motion and multiplicity as real, maintained that permanence is only apparent. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

“The Platonic theory of Ideas is an attempt to solve this crucial question by a metaphysical compromise. The Eleatics, Plato said, are right in maintaining that reality does not change; for the ideas are immutable. Still, there is, as Heraclitus contended, change in the world of our experience, or, as Plato terms it, the world of phenomena. Plato, then, supposes a world of Ideas apart from the world of our experience, and immeasurably superior to it. He imagines that all human souls dwelt at one time in that higher world. When, therefore, we behold in the shadow-world around us a phenomenon or appearance of anything, the mind is moved to a remembrance of the Idea (of that same phenomenal thing) which it formerly contemplated. In its delight it wonders at the contrast, and by wonder is led to recall as perfectly as possible the intuition it enjoyed in a previous existence. This is the task of philosophy. Philosophy, therefore, consists in the effort to rise from the knowledge of phenomena, or appearances, to the noumena, or realities. Of all the ideas, however, the Idea of the beautiful shines out through the phenomenal veil more clearly than any other; hence the beginning of all philosophical activity is the love and admiration of the Beautiful. |=|

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Plato’s Works

Papyrus Oxyrhynchus 3679, with parts of Plato's Republic

Plato left behind a great number of written works, many of which were in the form of dialogues in which Socrates is the leader of the discussions conducted in a Socratic question-and-answer style. In many of Plato's works Socrates is a mouthpiece for Plato's ideas and doctrines. Many of are written in a poetic language with the use of metaphors, parables and symbols.

When or why Plato wrote his dialogue is not known. His most famous works include The Laws ; The Republic , an outline for an ideal government; Symposiums , featuring guests sitting around a banquets discussing ideal love and beauty: Apology , a compelling portrait and defense of Socrates; and Timaeus , a discussion on the nature of the universe.

“It is practically certain that all Plato's genuine works have come down to us. The lost works ascribed to him, such as the "Divisions" and the "Unwritten Doctrines", are certainly not genuine. Of the thirty-six dialogues, some — the "Phaedrus", "Protagoras", "Phaedo", "The Republic", "The Banquet", etc. — are undoubtedly genuine; others — e.g. the "Minos", — may with equal certainty be considered spurious; while still a third group — the "Ion", "Greater Hippias", and "First Alcibiades" — is of doubtful authenticity. In all his writings, Plato uses the dialogue with a skill never since equalled. That form permitted him to develop the Socratic method of question and answer. For, while Plato elaborated to a high degree the faculty by which the abstract is understood and presented, he was Greek enough to follow the artistic instinct in teaching by means of a clear-cut concrete type of philosophical excellence. The use of the myth in the dialogues has occasioned considerable difficulty to the commentators and critics. When we try to put a value on the content of a Platonic myth, we are often baffled by the suspicion that it is all meant to be subtly ironical, or that it is introduced to cover up the inherent contradictions of Plato's thought. In any case, the myth should never be taken too seriously or invoked as an evidence of what Plato really believed. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

Plato’s most famous works and their English translators:
“The Apology”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Euthyphro”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Meno”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Parmenides”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Phaedo”, translated by Harold North Fowler,
another version translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Phaedrus”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Republic”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Seventh Letter”, translated by J. Harwood
“The Symposium”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
“The Theaetetus”, translated by Benjamin Jowett
[Source: available online through Evansville University] |=|

Plato on Logic and Dialectic (Science of the Idea in Itself)

“This is to be understood as synonymous not with logic but with metaphysics. It signifies the science of the Idea, the science of reality, science in the only true sense of the word. For the ideas are the only realities in the world. We observe, for instance, just actions, and we know that some men are just. But both in the actions and in the persons designated as just there exist many imperfections; they are only partly just. In the world above us there exits justice, absolute, perfect, unmixed with injustice, eternal, unchangeable, immortal. This is the Idea of justice. Similarly, in that world above us there exist the Ideas of greatness, goodness, beauty, wisdom, etc. and not only these, but also the Ideas of concrete material objects such as the Idea of man, the idea of horse, the Idea of trees, etc. In a word, the world of Ideas is a counterpart of the world of our experience, or rather, the latter is a feeble imitation of the former. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

“The ideas are the prototypes, the phenomena are ectypes. In the allegory of the cave (Republic, VII, 514 d) a race of men are described as chained in a fixed position in a cavern, able to look only at the wall in front of them. When an animal, e.g. a horse, passes in front of the cave, they, beholding the shadow on the wall, imagine it to be a reality, and while in prison they know of no other reality. When they are released and go into the light they are dazzled, but when they succeed in distinguishing a horse among the objects around them, their first impulse is to take that for a shadow of the being which they saw on the wall. The prisoners are "like ourselves", says Plato. The world of our experience, which we take to be real, is only a shadow world. The real world is the world of Ideas, which we reach, not by sense-knowledge, but by intuitive contemplation. The Ideas are participated by the phenomena; but how this participation takes place, and in what sense the phenomena are imitations of the Ideas, Plato does not fully explain; at most he invokes a negative principle, sometimes called "Platonic Matter", to account for the falling-off of the phenomena from the perfection of the Idea. The limitating principle is the cause of all defects, decay, and change in the world around us. |=|

“The just man, for instance, falls short of absolute justice (the Idea of Justice), because in men the Idea of justice is fragmented, debased, and reduced by the principle of limitation. Towards the end of his life, Plato leaned more and more towards the Pythagorean number-theory, and, in the "Timaeus" especially, he is inclined to interpret the Ideas in terms of mathematics. His followers emphasized this element unduly, and, in the course of neo-Platonic speculation, the ideas were identified with numbers. There was much in the theory of Ideas that appealed to the first Christian philosophers. The emphatic affirmation of a supermundane, spiritual order of reality and the equally emphatic assertion of the caducity of things material fitted in with the essentially Christian contention that spiritual interests are supreme. To render the world of Ideas more acceptable to Christians, the Patristic Platonists from Justin Martyr to St. Augustine maintained that the world exists in the mind of God, and that this was what Plato meant. On the other hand, Aristotle understood Plato to refer to a world of Ideas self-subsisting and separate. Instead, therefore, of picturing to ourselves the world of Ideas as existing in God, we should represent God as existing in the world of Ideas. For, among the Ideas, the hierarchical supremacy is attributed to the Idea of God, or absolute Goodness, which is said to be for the supercelestial universe what the sun in the heavens is for this terrestrial world of ours. |=|

Plato on Science

The Greek philosophers often equated beauty and mathematics. "Measure and commensurability," wrote Plato in Philebus , "are everywhere identifiable with beauty and excellence." Describing the creation of his two sphere universe, Plato wrote: "Wherefore he made the world in the form of a globe, round as from a lathe, having its extremes in every direction equidistant from the center, the most perfect and the most like itself of all figures; for he considered that the like is infinitely fairer than the unlike."

“The Idea, incorporated, so to speak, in the phenomenon is less real than the Idea in its own world, or than the Idea embodied in human conduct and human society. Physics, i.e., the knowledge of the Idea in phenomena, is, therefore, inferior in dignity and importance to Dialectic and Ethics. In fact, the world of phenomena has no scientific interest for Plato. The knowledge of it is not true knowledge, nor the source, but only the occasion of true knowledge. The phenomena stimulate our minds to a recollection of the intuition of Ideas, and with that intuition scientific knowledge begins. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

“Moreover, Plato's interest in nature is dominated by a teleological view of the world as animated with a World-Soul, which, conscious of its process, does all things for a useful purpose, or, rather, for "the best", morally, intellectually, and aesthetically. This conviction is apparent especially in the Platonic account of the origin of the universe, contained in the "Timaeus", although the details regarding the activity of the demiurgos and the created gods should not, perhaps, be taken seriously. Similarly, the account of the origin of the soul, in the same dialogue, is a combination of philosophy and myth, in which it is not easy to distinguish the one from the other. It is clear, however, that Plato holds the spiritual nature of the soul as against the materialistic Atomists, and that he believes the soul to have existed before its union with the body. The whole theory of Ideas, in so far, at least, as it is applied to human knowledge, presupposes the doctrine of pre-existence. "All knowledge is recollection" has no meaning except in the hypothesis of the soul's pre-natal intuition of Ideas.

“Plato held the soul to be immortal. His conviction on this point was as unshaken as Socrates's. His attempt to ground that conviction on unassailable premises is, indeed, open to criticism, because his arguments rest either on the hypothesis of previous existence or on his general theory of Ideas. Nevertheless, the considerations which he offers in favour of immortality, in the "Phaedo", have helped to strengthen all subsequent generations in the belief in a future life. His description of the future state of the soul is dominated by the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration. Here, again, the details are not to be taken as seriously as the main fact, and we can well imagine that the account of the soul condemned to return in the body of a fox or a wolf is introduced chiefly because it accentuates the doctrine of rewards and punishments, which is part of Plato's ethical system. Before passing to his ethical doctrines it is necessary to indicate one other point of his psychology. The soul, Plato teaches, consists of three parts: the rational soul, which resides in the head; the irascible soul, the seat of courage, which resides in the heart; and the appetitive soul, the seat of desire, which resides in the abdomen. These are not three faculties of one soul, but three parts really distinct. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

Plato wrote in “Meno” 81: Socrates: ...I have heard from wise men and women who told of things divine...They were certain priests and priestesses who have studied so as to be able to give a reasoned account of their ministry; and Pindar also and many another poet of heavenly gifts. As to their words, they are these: mark now, if you judge them to be true. They say that the soul of man is immortal, and at one time comes to an end, which is called dying, and at another is born again, but never perishes. [Source: Plato, “Meno,” “Plato in Twelve Volumes,” Vol. 3 translated by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1967]

“Consequently one ought to live all one's life in the utmost holiness.“For from whomsoever Persephone shall accept requital for ancient wrong,1 the souls of these she restores in the ninth year to the upper sun again; from them arise” “glorious kings and men of splendid might and surpassing wisdom, and for all remaining time are they called holy heroes amongst mankind.” Seeing then that the soul is immortal and has been born many times, and has beheld all things both in this world and in the nether realms, she has acquired knowledge of all and everything; so that it is no wonder that she should be able to recollect all that she knew before about virtue and other things.

“For as all nature is akin, and the soul has learned all things, there is no reason why we should not, by remembering but one single thing—an act which men call learning—discover everything else, if we have courage and faint not in the search; since, it would seem, research and learning are wholly recollection. So we must not hearken to that captious argument: it would make us idle, and is pleasing only to the indolent ear, whereas the other makes us energetic [81e] and inquiring. Putting my trust in its truth, I am ready to inquire with you into the nature of virtue.

Plato on Ethics

“Like all the Greeks, Plato took for granted that the highest good of man, subjectively considered, is happiness (eudaimonia). Objectively, the highest good of man is the absolutely highest good in general, Goodness itself, or God. The means by which this highest good is to be attained is the practice of virtue and the acquistion of wisdom. So far as the body hinders these pursuits it should be brought into subjection. Here, however, asceticism should be moderated in the interests of harmony and symmetry — Plato never went the length of condemning matter and the human body in particular, as the source of all evil — for wealth, health, art, and innocent pleasures are means of attaining happiness, though not indispensable, as virtue is. Virtue is order, harmony, the health of the soul; vice is disorder, discord, disease. The State is, for Plato, the highest embodiment of the Idea. It should have for its aim the establishment and cultivation of virtue. The reason of this is that man, even in the savage condition, could, indeed, attain virtue. In order, however, that virtue may be established systematically and cease to be a matter of chance or haphazard, education is necessary, and without a social organization education is impossible. “ [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

In a discussion involving Socrates on good, evil, virtue and honor in “The Meno,” Plato wrote: “Socrates: Well then, for my own sake as well as for yours, I will do my very best; but I am afraid that I shall not be able to give you very many as good: and now, in your turn, you are to fulfil your promise, and tell me what virtue is in the universal; and do not make a singular into a plural, as the facetious say of those who break a thing, but deliver virtue to me whole and sound, and not broken into a number of pieces: I have given you the pattern.
Meno: Well then, Socrates, virtue, as I take it, is when he, who desires the honourable, is able to provide it for himself; so the poet says, and I say too: “Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining them. [Source: Plato, Meno, 380 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

“Socrates: And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good?
Meno: Certainly.
Socrates: Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?
Meno: I think not.
Socrates: There are some who desire evil?
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?
Meno: Both, I think.

Socrates: And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?
Meno: Certainly I do.
Socrates: And desire is of possession?
Meno: Yes, of possession.
Socrates: And does he think that the evils will do good to him who possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm?
Meno: There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm.
Socrates: And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils?
Meno: Certainly not.
Socrates: Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be good they really desire goods?
Meno: Yes, in that case.
Socrates: Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them?
Meno: They must know it.
Socrates: And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?
Meno: How can it be otherwise?
Socrates: But are not the miserable ill-fated?
Meno: Yes, indeed.

Socrates: And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?
Meno: I should say not, Socrates.
Socrates: But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?
Meno: That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.
Socrates: And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the desire and power of attaining good?
Meno: Yes, I did say so.
Socrates: But if this be affirmed, then the desire of good is common to all, and one man is no better than another in that respect?
Meno: True.
Socrates: And if one man is not better than another in desiring good, he must be better in the power of attaining it?
Meno: Exactly.
Socrates: Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be the power of attaining good?

Symposium Discussion About Love and Friendship

Edward Carpenter wrote in “Ioläus”: “In the Symposium or Banquet of Plato (428-347 B.C.), a supper party is supposed, at which a discussion on love and friendship takes place. The friends present speak in turn-the enthusiastic Phaedrus, the clear-headed Pausanias, the grave doctor Eryximachus, the comic and acute Aristophanes, the young poet Agathon; Socrates, tantalizing, suggestive, and quoting the profound sayings of the prophetess Diotima; and Alcibiades, drunk, and quite ready to drink more;-each in his turn, out of the fulness of his heart, speaks; and thus in this most dramatic dialogue we have love discussed from every point of view. and with insight, acumen, romance and humor unrivalled. Phaedrus and Pausanias, in the two following quotations, take the line which perhaps most thoroughly represents the public opinion of the day as to the value of friendship in nurturing a spirit of honor and freedom, especially in matters military and political. [Source: Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902] \=\

Seating arrangement in Plato's Symposium

Plato wrote in “The Symposium”: ““Then, said Eryximachus, as you are all agreed that drinking is to be voluntary, and that there is to be no compulsion, I move, in the next place, that the flute-girl, who has just made her appearance, be told to go away and play to herself, or, if she likes, to the women who are within. Today let us have conversation instead; and, if you will allow me, I will tell you what sort of conversation. This proposal having been accepted, Eryximachus proceeded as follows:- I will begin, he said, after the manner of Melanippe in Euripides, Not mine the word which I am about to speak, but that of Phaedrus. For often he says to me in an indignant tone: "What a strange thing it is, Eryximachus, that, whereas other gods have poems and hymns made in their honour, the great and glorious god, Love, has no encomiast among all the poets who are so many. There are the worthy sophists too-the excellent Prodicus for example, who have descanted in prose on the virtues of Heracles and other heroes; and, what is still more extraordinary, I have met with a philosophical work in which the utility of salt has been made the theme of an eloquent discourse; and many other like things have had a like honour bestowed upon them. And only to think that there should have been an eager interest created about them, and yet that to this day no one has ever dared worthily to hymn Love's praises! So entirely has this great deity been neglected." Now in this Phaedrus seems to me to be quite right, and therefore I want to offer him a contribution; also I think that at the present moment we who are here assembled cannot do better than honour the. god Love. If you agree with me, there will be no lack of conversation; for I mean to propose that each of us in turn, going from left to right, shall make a speech in honour of Love. [Source: Plato, “The Symposium”, 360 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

“Let him give us the best which he can; and Phaedrus, because he is sitting first on the left hand, and because he is the father of the thought, shall begin.
No one will vote against you, Eryximachus, said Socrates. How can I oppose your motion, who profess to understand nothing but matters of love; nor, I presume, will Agathon and Pausanias; and there can be no doubt of Aristophanes, whose whole concern is with Dionysus and Aphrodite; nor will any one disagree of those whom I, see around me.
The proposal, as I am aware, may seem rather hard upon us whose place is last; but we shall be contented if we hear some good speeches first. Let Phaedrus begin the praise of Love, and good luck to him.
All the company expressed their assent, and desired him to do as Socrates bade him.

“Aristodemus did not recollect all that was said, nor do I recollect all that he related to me; but I will tell you what I thought most worthy of remembrance, and what the chief speakers said.
“Phaedrus began by affirming that love is a mighty god, and wonderful among gods and men, but especially wonderful in his birth. For he is the eldest of the gods, which is an honour to him; and a proof of his claim to this honour is, that of his parents there is no memorial; neither poet nor prose-writer has ever affirmed that he had any. As Hesiod says: “First Chaos came, and then broad-bosomed Earth, The everlasting seat of all that is, And Love. In other words, after Chaos, the Earth and Love, these two, came into being. Also Parmenides sings of “First in the train of gods, he fashioned Love.

“ And Acusilaus agrees with Hesiod. Thus numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live at principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honour and dishonour, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonourable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonour is done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else.

Speeches on Friendship and Love in Plato’s Symposium

Speech of Phaedrus: "Thus numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any greater blessing to a young man beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live-that principle, I say, neither kindred, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? of the sense of honor and dishonor, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any dishonorable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonor is done to him bv another, will be more pained at being detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else.[Source: Symposium of Plato, trans. B. Fowett] \=\

“The beloved, too, when he is seen in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at one another's side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved, or fail him in the hour of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time- love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the soul of heroes, love of his own nature infuses into the lover."

“Speech of Pausanais: “In Ionia and other places, and generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians, the custom is held to be dishonorable; loves of youths share the evil repute of philosophy and gymnastics, because they are inimical to tyranny; for the interests of rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit, and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love above all other motives is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by experience." Ibid. \=\

Aristophanes on Friendship and Love in the Symposium


Edward Carpenter wrote in “Ioläus”: “Aristophanes goes more deeply into the nature of this love of which they are speaking. He says it is a profound reality-a deep and intimate union, abiding after death, and making of the lovers "one departed soul instead of two.”But in order to explain his allusion to “the other half “it must be premised that in the earlier part of his speech he has in a serio-comic vein pretended that human beings were originally constructed double, with four legs, four arms, etc.; but that as a punishment for their sins Zeus divided them perpendicularly, “as folk cut eggs before they salt them,”the males into two parts, the females into two, and the hermaphrodites likewise into two-since when, these divided people have ever pursued their lost halves, and “thrown their arms around and embraced each other, seeking to grow together again.”And so, speaking of those who were originally males.[Source: Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902] \=\

Aristophanes said: “And when they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children, which they do, if at all, only in obedience to the law, but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them finds his other half, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight, as I may say, even for a moment: they will pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning that each of them has towards the other does not appear to be the desire of lovers' intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she only has a dark and doubtful presentiment. [Source: Symposium of Plato, trans. B. Fowett] \=\

“Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and say to them, ' What do you people want of one another?' they would be unable to explain. And suppose further that when he saw their perplexity he said: ' Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another's company? for if this is what vou desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live, live a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of two-I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to attain this?'-there is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting in one another's arms, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need." \=\

Speech of Socrates on Love and Divine Beauty in Plato’s Sympoisum

Socrates, Aspasia and Alcibiades

Edward Carpenter wrote in “Ioläus”: “Socrates, in his speech, and especially in the later portion of it where he quotes his supposed tutoress Diotima, carries the argument up to its highest issue. After contending for the essentially creative, generative nature of love, not only in the Body but in the Soul, he proceeds to say that it is not so much the seeking of a lost half which causes the creative impulse in lovers, as the fact that in our mortal friends we are contemplating (though unconsciously) an image of the Essential and Divine Beauty; it is this that affects us with that wonderful “mania,”and lifts us into the region where we become creators. And he follows on to the conclusion that it is by wisely and truly loving our visible friends that at last, after long, long experience, there dawns upon us the vision of that Absolute Beauty which by mortal eyes must ever remain unseen. [Source: Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902 \=]

Socrates said: “He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes towards the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty . . . beauty absolute, separate, simple and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the evergrowing and perishing beauties of all other things. He who, from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end." [Source: Symposium of Plato, trans. B. Fowett] \=\

This is indeed the culmination, for Plato, of all existence-the ascent into the presence of that endless Beauty of which all fair mortal things are but the mirrors. But to condense this great speech of Socrates is impossible; only to persistent and careful reading (if even then) will it yield up all its treasures. \=\

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Allegory of the Cave

“Plato also thought a lot about the natural world and how it works. He thought that everything had a sort of ideal form, like the idea of a chair. Then an actual chair was a sort of poor imitation of the ideal chair that exists only in your mind. One of the ways Plato tried to explain his ideas was with the famous metaphor of the cave. He said, Suppose there is a cave, and inside the cave there are some men chained up to a wall, so that they can only see the back wall of the cave and nothing else. These men can’t see anything outside of the cave, or even see each other clearly, but they can see shadows of what is going on outside the cave. Wouldn’t these prisoners come to think that the shadows were real, and that was what things really looked like? [Source: Karen Carr, History for Kids]

“Suppose now that one of the men escaped, and got out of the cave, and saw what real people looked like, and real trees and grass. If he went back to the cave and told the other men what he had seen, would they believe him, or would they think he was crazy?

“Plato says that we are like those men sitting in the cave: we think we understand the real world, but because we are trapped in our bodies we can see only the shadows on the wall. One of his goals is to help us understand the real world better, by finding ways to predict or understand the real world even without being able to see it. Today we might call that real world the world of pure mathematics or physics.

Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” goes: “Compare our nature in respect to education with our condition. Imagine men in an underground cave with an entrance open toward the light which extends through the whole cave. Within the cave are people who from childhood have had chains on their legs and their necks so they could only look forward but not turn their heads. There is burning a fire, above and behind them, and between the fire and the chains is a road above, along which one may see a little wall built along, just as the stages of conjurers are built before the people in whose presence they show their tricks. . . . Imagine then by the side of this little wall men carrying all sorts of machines rising above the wall, and statues of men and other animals wrought in stone, wood, and other materials, some of bearers probably speaking, others proceeding in silenced. . . . [Do you think] that such as these [chained men] would have seen anything alse of themselves or one another except the shadows that fall from the fire on the opposite side of the cave? How can they . . . if indeed they are forced to always keep their heads unmoved? . . . . [S]uch persons would believe that truth was nothing else but the shadows of the exhibitions. Let us inquire then, as to their liberation from captivity, and their cure for insanity. . . . [What if one of these chained persons was] let loose and obliged immediately to rise up, and turn round his neck and walk, and look upwards to the light, and doing all this still feel pained, and be disabled by the dazzling form seeing those things of which he formerly saw the shadows. What would he say if anyone were to tell him that he formerly saw mere empty visions, but now saw more correctly, as being nearer to the real thing, and turned toward what was more real. Then, what if you specially pointing out to him, and made him tell you the nature of what he saw. Do you think that he would be embarrassed? Do you think that he would think now that what he saw before was truer than what he sees now? [Source: Plato, The Republic, translated by George Burgess,(New York: Walter Dunne, 1901), Internet Archive, from CCNY]

“Even if a person could force him to look at the light itself, would he not have pain in his eyes and look away? And then, would not he turn to what he really could see [without pain] and think that these are really more clear than what had just been shown to him? But if a person was then to forcibly drag him out of the cave without stopping, until he was in the light of the sun, would he not be pained and indignant? Would not he, while in this light and having his eyes dazzled with the splendor, be able to see anything that he thought was true? No, he could not, at that moment. He would need to get some degree of practice if he would see things above him. First, he would most easily perceive the shadows, and then the images of men and other animals in the water, and after that the things themselves. And then he would more easily see the things in heaven, and heaven itself, by night, looking to the light of the stars and the moon, than after daylight to the sun and the light of the sun. How else? Finally, he might be able to perceive and contemplate the nature of the sun, not as respects its images in water or any other place, but itself by itself in its own proper place.

Platonic School

Plato, Seneca, Aristotle
“Plato's School, like Aristotle's, was organized by Plato himself and handed over at the time of his death to his nephew Speusippus, the first scholarch, or ruler of the school. It was then known as the Academy, because it met in the groves of Academus. The Academy continued, with varying fortunes, to maintain its identity as a Platonic school, first at Athens, and later at Alexandria until the first century of the Christian era. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

“There were, however, episodes, so to speak, of Platonism in the history of Scholasticism — e.g., the School of Chartes in the twelfth century — and throughout the whole scholastic period some principles of Platonism, and especially of neo-Platonism, were incorporated in the Aristotelean system adopted by the schoolmen. The Renaissance brought a revival of Platonism, due to the influence of men like Bessarion, Plethon, Ficino, and the two Mirandolas Giovanni Pico and Giovanni Francesco Pico. The Cambridge Platonists of the seventeenth century, such as Cudworth, Henry More, Cumberland, and Glanville, reacting against humanistic naturalism, "spiritualized Puritanism" by restoring the foundations of conduct to principles intuitionally known and independent of self-interest. outside the schools of philosophy which are described as Platonic there are many philosophers and groups of philosophers in modern times who owe much to the inspiration of Plato, and to the enthusiasm for the higher pursuits of the mind which they derived from the study of his works. |=|

“It’s possible that Plato’s ideas about the difference between reality and the illusion we perceive are related to Hindu and Buddhist ideas about nirvana, which were forming in India about the same time. You could also compare the parable of the cave to the Indian story of the Blind Men and the Elephant, which was written around the same time. [Source: Karen Carr, History for Kids]

Platonic School and Christianity

St Augustine

Some scholars have argued that many of the basic doctrines of Christianity owe as much to Plato as they do to Jesus. Plato denounced the material world and the pleasures of the flesh, which is one reason why he was popular among Christian theologians. Plato wrote: "Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy...cities will never cease from ill, nor the human race."

Christianity modified the Platonic system in the direction of mysticism and demonology, and underwent at least one period of scepticism. It ended in a loosely constructed eclecticism. With the advent of neo-Platonism founded by Ammonius and developed by Plotinus, Platonism definitely entered the cause of Paganism against Christianity. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

“The great majority of the Christian philosophers down to St. Augustine were Platonists. They appreciated the uplifting influence of Plato's psychology and metaphysics, and recognized in that influence a powerful ally of Christianity in the warfare against materialism and naturalism. These Christian Platonists underestimated Aristotle, whom they generally referred to as an "acute" logician whose philosophy favoured the heretical opponents of orthodox Christianity. The Middle Ages completely reversed this verdict. The first scholastics knew only the logical treatises of Aristotle, and, so far as they were psychologists or metaphysicians at all, they drew on the Platonism of St. Augustine. Their successors, however, in the twelfth century came to a knowledge of the psychology, metaphysics, and ethics of Aristotle, and adopted the Aristotelean view so completely that before the end of the thirteenth century the Stagyrite occupied in the Christian schools the position occupied in the fifth century by the founder of the Academy.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy /, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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