Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Diotima's Advice on Love

So what does Socrates' "instructress in the art of love" have to say about the topic?  The issue is related to aesthetics since beauty is the most famous of the aesthetic terms, and beauty is the object of love.  I will be using the Jowett translation of the Symposium as found in Art and Its Significance edited by Stephen David Ross.  This comment is not going to be a summary or even a scholarly discussion of Plato.  I am more interested in meditating on a couple main points. First, Plato (or Socrates, or Diotima) begins by giving love an important metaphysical and epistemological position as between the gods and mortals in the realm of intermediary spirits, and between ignorance and knowledge.  It turns out that love is very much like Socrates, poor, a philosopher, a searcher after beauty. One could fairly say that love is the muse of Diotima, Socrates and Plato.  The philosopher then becomes situated also between ignorance and knowledge in the realm of opinion which, although, right, is not yet not backed up sufficiently with reasons (nor perhaps can it be).  It is inspired opinion not unlike that which Socrates elsewhere attributes to the Rhapsode Ion.  The second point, related to the first, is that love is creative activity directed towards eternal possession of the good. The object of love is not just beauty but that which is generated out of beauty. The greatest of the lovers, and the greatest of men, are the poets. But "poet" is broadly understood as any creative maker who aims after the good, not just as a maker of verses. The goal of love is the eternal, to be god-like.  One way humans can achieve a kind of eternity is through physical procreation.  Plato however considers more important a mental union of souls in which something new is created together.  Creative activity for Plato is ultimately collaborative.  The lover and the beloved work together to produce offspring in art and science and not just and not only in the physical production of children.  Bear in mind that the creation of a family, the nurturing of children, is also for Plato, not just physical. Eternal fame is the object of the second layer of love. This can be achieved in the realm of what is commonly called poetry, i.e. in epic poetry of the sort that Homer wrote.  But it can be even more effectively achieved in the political realm through the creation, or recreation, of the laws of society.  Moreover, we exist in a world of change and creativity is always a matter of recollection, of re-creation.  The individual must constantly create and re-create himself too, and this too is part of the rhythm of love.  Love loves "everlasting possession of the good" in the sense that it loves the procreative and creative process.  "Birth in beauty" is birth inspired by beauty. The true lover discovers that there can be beauty in every domain. Beauty inspires.  The Valentine's Day message from Cupid. god of love and philosophy is that the beauty of a couple's love can combine all of these dimensions or simply be focused on the friendship that Plato saw as far closer than that between those who beget moral children. Plato of course failed to see the possibility of combining the two and seems unfortunately to pose a false dilemma, where one can either love at the lowest level of the ladder of love or at the highest, but not at both.  The true lesson (contra Plato's actual position) of the ladder of love is not that the first rungs should be tossed away but that all rungs should be taken together, that it is capacity to move up and down the ladder that is philosophy.  

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