Platonic Love: A Discussion on Plato’s Ideal of Love and its Relation to his
Ideal of Personal Development
Love, an ambiguous and seemingly limitless ideal, has always been a typical subject matter in literature as well as in arts and in the modern mass media. Over the years of being used to materials that express about love, this concept has been able to acquire countless names, definitions, manifestations and translations. In this light, the meaning of love became one of the most ambiguous and universal ideal in the world. A lot of great minds like philosophers and master artists have already conveyed their perception of love in different ways. Over the years, the discussion and discourse on love did not cease. And a lot of thinkers have also been known for their notable views on this ideal. One of these great minds that has been perceived to disclose one of the most interesting interpretations on the ideal of love is none other than, Plato. Plato is one of the world’s greatest thinkers who has pioneered some of the most significant discoveries in philosophy, politics, religion and psychology (Kreis). Apart from this, one of his notable remarks was on the universal ideal of love. Due to the perceived significance of Plato’s philosophies to the academe, his thoughts on concepts like this of love has also been treasured. In this light, this discussion shall delve on the explication of Plato’s views on love. Furthermore, this discussion shall also relate the philosopher’s view of love to his notion of personal development, where in he personally sees desire as the catalyst for man’s achievement of his true goal.
Plato on Love
Love as one of the most universal ideals in the world has been thoroughly studied and explicated by philosophers like Plato over the years. It has been given different labels, explanations and definitions that come from various fields that all aimed to explicate and simply it.
In Plato’s Symposium, he cites two different categories of love: t he common love and the heavenly love. Commonly love, as Plato defines it, is a kind of love which has a more physical root and leaning (Plato xxii). In explicating this ideal is a more contemporary perspective, this may be translated as the typical form of attraction and infatuation men and women feel toward each other. Plato also mentioned something about physicality. This may also imply that common love relates to the kind of attraction or relationship which has a more physical manifestation, such as physical or sexual attraction. On the other hand, Plato also mentions something about the Heavenly kind of love. This kind of love was related to a higher kind of love where people develops a more rational and virtue-directed kind of affection towards another. Evidently, Plato differentiates the two categories based on the seriousness and rationality of the lover. More apparently, Plato makes use of gender and people from different age levels as examples of how these two types of love manifest. Plato notes,
“Common Love is directed equally at women (taken to be non-rational) or boys, whereas Heavenly Love is directed only at males who have reached the age (adolescence) at which they become capable of developing rationality and virtue” (Plato xxii)
Based from this categorization, it can be observed that Plato fails to mention anything about Heavenly Love or a more rational kind of love that relates to women. Considering this definition above, it is evident that Plato only relates Heavenly Love to males of a particular age level. This may apparently post an issue on gender discrimination as this categorization may imply that women, as compared to men, are not capable of practicing Heavenly Love. However, considering this definition alone may be insufficient as Plato still has numerous of explanations as to what Love really is for him.
Apart from this categorization, Plato’s notion of love also appears to have neither a good or a bad nature. He also suggests that love is neither beautiful nor ugly, as opposed to Diotoma’s claim that love is only “ugly and bad” (Plato xxix). Plato suggests that love falls in between. Love cannot be considered good nor bad as it has to maintain a particular neutrality which makes it non-destructible to both forces. Plato notes,
“Love falls into a category that us intermediate between such opposites. On the same basis, Love is neither a god (assumed to be beautiful and good) nor a mortal but an intermediate or intermediary between these two, a ‘spirit’ (daimon)” (Plato xxix)
In this light, Plato’s perspective of Love’s neutrality makes it an ideal which is neither destructive nor passive of people’s interests and emotions. Contrary to how the contemporary generation looks at Love, Plato’s view of it was more on the safe and non-dominating kind. People nowadays would easily look at love as something which can allow a person to destroy him or herself, as Love can be considered as one of the greatest sources of man’s misery. Because of this, the contemporary generation’s notion of love as portrayed in arts, music and literature has become more negative as compared to how Plato saw it during his time. However, what appears similar between Plato and the contemporary generation’s view of love is the notion of sacrifice in relation to what we now call an unconditional love.
In Plato’s Symposium, another observable feature is his leaning on Greek mythology and the seemingly undying stories of Greek gods and heroes. In this work, the notion of unconditional or sacrificial love has been related to these stories. Sacrifice in the form of giving up someone’s own life in place of the another’s has been the most typical form of a deep love’s manifestation. Plato, together with all the followers of Greek values and ideologies saw this a manifestation of a higher kind of love, that which is ready to sacrifice its own self without the expectation of any form reciprocity from the other end. Plato notes,
“Besides, it’s only lovers who are willing to die for someone else and this is true of women as well as men […] The gods, as well as human beings, saw this as a very fine act […] This shows how much even gods value the commitment and courage that come from love” (Plato 11)
In this passage, it is apparent how sacrifice, as a manifestation of unconditional love, has been very typical during Plato’s time. However, it can be observed that this may not hold true for the present generation anymore.
Having gone through all these explications, it can be noted that Plato’s view of love is quite more simplistic than what can be expected from a philosopher who has explicated lots of more technical and equally ambiguous ideals. But apart from this, in going back to the main objective of this discussion, it can also be noted that this notion of love also holds some relation to Plato’s notion of personal development. This relationship shall be explained in the succeeding part of this discussion.
The Platonic notion of Love in Relation to Plato’s Ideal of Self-development
Contrary to Plato’s ideal of love, which appears to root from a more sentimental, emotional and even spiritual leaning, his notion of personal development appears to focus on the significance of education and personal integrity. Plato considered a society with sufficient education as a society which is ready for progress (Kemerling). He considers human knowledge as one of the most powerful prime movers of success and personal development. In Kemerling’s interpretation of Plato’s perspective of human knowledge, he notes,
“he (Plato) believed that those with the greatest ability – that is, people with a natural disposition for for philosophical study – must receive the best education engaging in a regimen of mental discipline that grows more strict with every passing year of their lives” (Kemerling).
Considering this, it may appear that Plato’s interpretation of love and self-development may have varying roots as well as varying nature. When he talked about love, Plato’s arguments appeared like they were coming from a sentimental and emotional perspective. In contrary, when Plato was discussing about personal development, it was evident that what he was pointing out is that only human intellect can offer this kind of achievement and nothing else. Hence, it can also be noted that Plato’s notion of success has a more academic leaning. A person may not be considered successful if he or she does not have a good educational foundation. Considering this, it can also be noted that as for Plato, love may not have any relation to a person’s seek for success. Furthermore, this may even hinder him as this would oftentimes require a particular level of sacrifice – as what has been discussed in Plato’s notion of unconditional love. Thus, it can be said that Plato’s perspective of love and personal development may not have anything to do with each other so to speak. Each ideal has individual roots, functions, causes and implications that also appear to be non-related to the others’ aspects.
Kemerling, Garth. “Plato: Education and the Value of Justice”. Philosophy Pages. 27 October 2001. 27 May 2010. ;http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/2h.htm;.
Kreis, Steven. “Greek thought: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle” Lectures on Ancient and Medieval European History. The History Guide. 03 August 2009. 28 May 2010. ;http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/lecture8b.html;.
Plato. Trans. Christopher Gill. The Symposium. Penguin Classics, 2003