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Trinity College Ancient Greek Philosophy Paper 2-Platonic Dialogues October 7, 1997 The nature of a thing called love has perplexed and confounded humans for thousand of years. Even Socrates himself, believed by many to be among the greatest thinkers of civilization as we know it, entertained the notion of Eros. In several of the Platonic Dialogues, we find wise Socrates satisfying his contemporary audiences' questions regarding Eros, and in doing so, draws countless parallels to other aspects of being. In this respect, Socrates not only speaks of Eros, but raises numerous questions regarding his unclear and often contradictory views of life. Yet upon very close scrutiny, a select few of these dialogues, including the Symposium and the Phaedrus, render possible answers to a small number of questions Plato raises, and yield tremendous insight into the mind of a literary and philosophical genius who so often allowed that his own intellect be clandestine. In the Symposium, Eros is identified as the desire to create and produce "in beauty" with the hope of attaining immortality. The process of giving birth is used by Diotima as a metaphor for this procreation, and a distinction is made between a pregnancy of the soul and a pregnancy of the body. While pregnancy of the body produces human offspring, a pregnant soul gives birth to "what is appropriate for the soul." Good senses and the rest of virtue, of which all poets are procreators...But much the most important and most beautiful aspect of good sense...is that which deals with the regulations of cities and households, the name of which is judiciousness and justice.(209a) Diotima suggests that the offspring of the soul are somewhat superior to those of the body in the context of love, for the beautiful works made by the soul have the capacity to be truly immortal.(209d) This idea lends itself to one of the ideas presented in the Phaedrus. Socrates declares that the soul is itself immortal for it the product of change itself. He says that since the soul changes itself, it never stops changing, and that which changes eternally "is the source and origin of change for all the things that change." (245c) And since the origin of a thing cannot come from an origin, "the origin of change must be change itself." (245d) The words "change itself" implies the "form" of change. Socrates concludes by stating that "since what is changed by itself has been shown to be immortal, one is not ashamed to say that this very characteristic constitutes the essence and definition of the soul." It seems that Socrates qualifies the soul and the form or change as conjoined. This implies that the form of the soul is created from the form of change, or that every soul is a form in and of itself. Socrates is clearly making some sort of distinction between the form of a soul and the rest of the forms. The distinction seems to rely somewhat on that fact that the soul is in itself immortal. Thus the form of a soul, which is by very nature of forms part divine and immortal, is portrayed as divinity which has by some misfortune, lost a portion of its divine power. From the passage quoted from 209a, we may also infer that the "form" or good sense is judiciousness. It may also be a partial explanation regarding Socrates belief that the work of the poets is inspired by the gods. "I soon recognized that they do not make what they make by wisdom, but by some sort of nature and while inspired, like diviners and those who delivers oracles."(Apology, 22b-c) As he will explain in the Phaedrus, only the soul may be close to the gods. In the Phaedrus, Socrates defines the soul as a flying object, which in its state of perfection(thus the "form" of the soul) has wings which allow the soul to partake of the universe in its entirety (246c) Subjection to those things not in accordance with the divine may injure or destroy the wings of a soul, and thus cause said soul to "fall." (246d) This type of injury makes following the gods on the circular journey to the dwelling place of the forms difficult. In this section, Socrates takes great pains to accentuate the fact that only the souls of the gods may partake fully in "that place beyond the heavens," for only the perfect souls of the divine have the ability to make the journey. In this place, the intellect, which Socrates identifies as the "pilot of the soul," may visually see the forms as they really are. Other souls may follow at some proximity to the gods and have the chance to see the forms, but only briefly. Others may only witness some of the forms, and those souls which have the most difficulties might not have the opportunity to witness the forms at all.(248a) Socrates continues along this line of discussion as he proceeds to explain the way the fallen souls are assigned to earthly bodies. His formula, which Socrates attributes to the goddess of destiny, raises an interesting point concerning what Socrates believed to be a good and worthy life. He says: ...the one[soul] who has seen the most is implanted in a seed that will become a man who is a friend of wisdom or of beauty or else someone devoted to the Muses and the affairs of love. The next...is implanted in the seed of a law-abiding king or a military commander; the third in that of a politician, a manager, or a businessman; the fourth in that of an althelete...or someone who cures the ills of the body; the fifth will lead a life involved with prophecy...the sixth the life of a poet or some else involved with the imitative arts...the seventh that of that of an artisan or farmer; for the eighth that of a Sophist...; for the ninth that of a tyrant...(248d-e) This is little more than a blue-print for the hierarchy of society, which fits nicely with what we know of Plato and Socrates from the other dialogues. Sophists, according to this plan, are allotted the souls just a step up from those given to the tyrants. Similarly, even the kings receive souls slightly less perfect than those given to the "friends of wisdom." Interestingly, Plato makes a point to describe the journey for the lesser souls. They are carried around beneath it[the region of the forms] trampling and jostleing one another as each tries to get ahead. So, there is great clamor and conflict, and much sweating... and many break their wing-feathers. Despite much effort, all these finish the journey without being initiated into the vision of what is, and afterward they feed on mere opinion.(248b) "Mere opinion" is to say that the knowledge held and professed by such souls is not of true understanding, but is instead the product of conjecture. From Diotima's speech in the Symposium, the reader may gain terrific understanding of what Socrates believed a life should be. "Here is the life, Socrates my friend...that a human being should live-studying the beautiful itself."(211d) A good life is one of contemplation of the forms. Although it is nearly impossible for any human being to understand or see the forms for what they truly are, an entire life spent in examination, in a quest to discover understanding of the form, is not life wasted. The person who would finally gain this knowledge would gain immortality, for then and only then could a person's soul give birth to true virtue, rather than an imitation of what virtue really is. (211e-212a) One might infer from all of this that Socrates entire life was spent in a desperate search for that very thing which he himself believed to be quite unattainable. He wandered and questioned every aspect of life, seemingly in an attempt to uncover some hidden answer, some definite truth. Rarely if ever in these dialogues, however, do we see any closure to his discussions. Though he often proves others wrong in their ideas, he is usually left in examination, forever drawn to an impasse which is overtly and perhaps actually insurmountable. One may question why such a wise man would spend his entire life walking down a path which would lead, if anywhere, in circles. Perhaps he thought himself to be the one mortal being with the capability of understanding the incomprehensible. Or perhaps there is no need for speculation. In order to properly grasp the concept being presented to us, we must try to take a step back and reduce Plato's assertion to their most basic and simple forms. We might begin with Eros, as defined by Diotima. Love is the desire to create and produce in beauty. This desire is caused by the human wish for immortality. Immortality may be gained by giving birth through the soul, for the soul is immortal because it is the product of change itself, an eternal entity. The ultimate goal of Eros is to witness the form of beauty, and to do this one must be able recall the vision from the time when his soul journeyed to the land of the forms. Only some of the souls make the journey to see the forms, and the best of these are given to, in Socrates words, "a man who is a friend of wisdom." (248d) The translation of the word "philosophy" literally means love(philia) of wisdom(sophia).1 In asserting that only the divine may see the forms for what they truly are, and following that by saying the only people who have any hopes of recollecting their own soul's brief vision of the forms are the philosophers, the inference is quite clear. We must also note that in the very beginning of the Symposium, Socrates claims to know the ways of love.(177d) In order to know love, one must have the ability to recall the visions of his soul and is thus "initiated." "When a man deals correctly with remembrances of this sort, he is always initiated perfectly into the mysteries, and he alone really becomes perfect."(249c) Since Socrates claims only the souls of the philoso

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