The Symposium: A Philosophers Guide to Love


Shaun Butler
Honors Philosophy
8:30am Tues-Thurs section

As much as our society has become involved in the advancement of feminism and
the equality of the sexes, there is one fact that neither gender can ignore;
none can survive without the other. Love and the want of a soul mate keeps each
member of man and womankind in constant search of the perfect person with whom
to become one. Yet if this bond is a necessity of the human race then why has
the meaning, purpose and pursuit of it eluded us for so many generations. There
has yet to be a one universal explanation of love and there has yet to be one
who understands it\'s powers fully. As we see from Plato\'s Symposium, even the
wisest of men in a time when the search for knowledge was seen as the pathway to
enlightenment love was still a concept that was not understood and unknown.
Though many of the guidelines and characteristics of love are wise, some may not
apply to modern society.

The writing serves as a pamphlet that depicts some of the guidelines of love as
the philosophers of Plato\'s time saw them. The intervention of the God\'s in the
orations of the philosophers can be interpreted to mean the different aspects of
love and their effects on people. The text goes into many characteristics
about the god or gods that were love , yet for the purpose of this essay, it
would seem relevant to stick with the guidelines and ideals that were presented
in the speeches given by the men. It seemed as though in each of the lectures
given, Plato put a message into each one. Each man brought up valid guidelines
for dealing with love and each should be concentrated on.

The speeches started with Phaedrus who began to state many of the powers of love.
He spoke about the honor between one and their beloved and how it was a great
virtue in a relationship. The point that Phaedrus made was that a man of any
nature would rather suffer humiliation in front of a great mass of people or all
of mankind itself than to suffer the loss of respect or the loss of dignity in
front of their lover. This point is definitely true yet Phaedrus failed to
make a definite cause as to why this was prevalent. It may pertain to modern
society that to suffer indignation in front of a lover as seen by the male would
be to suffer the loss of one\'s masculinity and the inability to protect their
lover, whereas for the female it may be the fear of inferiority that keeps the
strive towards honor a constant venture in the relationship. In any case it
seems that the main reason Phaedrus\'s point is valid is because in one of the
driving forces in a relation is fear; fear of inferiority, fear of humiliation,
and fear that they may lose the other person\'s respect.

Phaedrus soon builds on this point by stating that a true test of one\'s love for
their mate is the value of their life. Comparisons between the fates of
Achilles and Orpheus are brought up to emphasize his point. As we learn from
the legend of Achilles, a man was rewarded for the value he put on his friends
life. Achilles sacrificed his own life in an attempt to obtain revenge for his
friend. For this act Achilles was rewarded and seen as a hero. Yet on the
opposite side of the spectrum we learn of Orpheus who was punished for his
selfishness in that he would sooner have his loved one die than threaten his own
existence. Because of this, Orpheus was punished. These examples help Phaedrus
to show how the bonds of love can make a man dare to die for another.

Later on in the text we find a less dignified motive behind the sacrifice of
one\'s self for another from the woman who teaches Socrates the meaning of love.
We are once again faced with the idea of respect as one of the driving forces in
love. The woman proposes that the main motive behind the sacrifice may be that
it is a way to gain immortality. By dying for another they would be considered a
hero.. This may have been a valid reasoning during Plato\'s era because virtue
and honor were seen as great characteristics of men. People were judged daily
on these credentials and thus it is important in that era. Yet today our values
of