They've all got it wrong concerning how consciousness works; read this...
Statement on Consciousness
by David M. Petersen - Ancient Philosophy - T-TH 9:00AM
There are a number of different views of Eros put forth in the Plato's Symposium, from Phaedrus' view of Eros being the God responsible for the love between men that holds society together, and Eryximachas' view that Eros is a sort of universal force both positive and negative, to Agathon's view that Eros is a young and tender God that is passive. However, the one that of course emerges as dominant is Socrates' view, which I will proceed to summarize. His view of Eros relates quite well in a number of interesting ways to some of Plato's own views, which I will also summarize, namely Plato's ideas for a perfect society, the divided line, and the myth of the cave as outlined in The Republic. The move from the thinking of Socrates to the thinking of his student Plato is clearly a naturally linked evolution of thought.
The likely evolutionary path of the human race:
The future of Man
Socrates' view of Eros is an interesting one. Instead of Eros being a God, as all the other characters in the Symposium contend, Socrates takes the view that Eros is a spirit that forms the contact through which the Gods and man can communicate. This spirit of Eros moves between the Gods and men, and "All association and communication between them, waking or sleeping, takes place through Eros" (Baird 198). Socrates' Eros is not ugly, but is also "neither beautiful nor good" (197). This is because Eros is the lover, not the object being loved. Men are associated with Eros essentially because they desire immortality, and are pursuing Eros when they pursue immortality, either by reproducing or creating things in the world. The key concept in Socrates' view is the so- called "Ladder of Beauty." According to Socrates, when men pursue Eros they naturally travel up this ladder. On the first step of this ladder, a man loves only the physical beauty of one individual. He then comes naturally to the conclusion that the physical beauty of one body is the same for all bodies and he develops a general appreciation of physical beauty, and then is less ardent about his original one passion. The next stage is that he begins to see the higher level of beauty of mental attractiveness than that of physical attractiveness. At this point he can turn outward and appreciate all the beauty in the world and see his earlier obsessions as unimportant. Finally, at this last point he is able to reach the contemplation of a level of beauty "of a breathtaking nature" (204), that exists eternally.
Plato's views are also very interesting, specifically, his ideas of a perfect society, his "divided line" system, and the myth of the cave. To begin with, Plato's vision of a perfect society relies heavily on education of an elite group of people, "They must have the right sort of intelligence and ability" (231), he writes. He also saw the proper placement of all individuals according to their abilities as essential. Also, Plato believed that math was the way to place people in society; he believed that failing to do this, as well as educating the right people, would result in mob rule or tyranny. He also believed there should be three groups of people in this society and that the top two groups, the guardians and the rulers, should not have any private possessions, including wives. "None of them must possess any private property beyond the barest necessities" (233), he writes. These social ideas correspond roughly to Plato's "divided line/ cave analogy" system, in that it is clear that he thought the lower classes were only intellectually able to access the lower levels of this system. This divided line/ cave analogy system consists of five levels, with a divided line separating levels one and two, which are merely opinion, from levels three, four, and five, which are truth. Level one, imaging, corresponds to people trapped in a cave so that there only reality is their shadows on the wall; they are absolutely sure of their perception of reality because they can't see anything else. In level two, that of belief, people are allowed to escape and see the other people as well as the shadows; here a person is apt to believe that the shadows are still reality and the people are not, although ambiguity is now introduced. Level three, math, involves people escaping from the cave and seeing the reflection of the sun (representing level five) in a body of water, showing that math is not the highest type of knowledge because its so hypothetical. Next, we have level four, the forms, where the people see the actual sun (representing level five), illustrating the fact that the forms are perfect representations of everything that exist and the final step in reaching level five. Level Five, then, which represents "Goodness", is the highest form of knowledge.
One similarity between these two men's views is that Socrates' view of Eros and Plato's "divided line" system have a kind of "slightly negative moving to completely positive" structure. To begin with, Socrates refers to Eros as an entity that is not exactly a positive character. "For a start, he's always poor, and so far as being soft and beautiful (which is most people's view of him), he is hard, unkempt, barefoot, homeless, and need is his constant companion" (199). This is because Eros is the lover, not the object being loved, which is beautiful. However, according to Socrates, the pursuit of Eros is a positive thing, and yields great creative works as well as producing children who are beautiful. In a similar way, Plato's divided line system is also moving in an abstract way from positive to negative. The first two levels of Plato's divided line, imaging and belief, really have somewhat negative connotations. Since they are both opinion and not classified as truth, Plato clearly doesn't have a great deal of respect for these two levels. He has a lot more respect for levels three, four, and five, since these are classified by him as truth. More to the point, Plato respects people who can reach these levels of truth, and merely tolerates those who are stuck down at the level of opinion. "On intellectual grounds they are hardly worth including in our society -- hired labourers, as we call them" (227), he writes, illustrating that he seemed to value intellectuals more than the common people.
Both Socrates' "Ladder of Beauty" and Plato's "Divided Line/Cave Analogy" are moving step by step to the same goal, "Goodness." In other words, both of these systems are stepping up through levels, getting closer and closer to abstract perfection. From the perspective of Socrates' Ladder of Beauty, first of all, a man loves only the physical beauty of one individual. This corresponds well to Plato's level one, imaging, where the people are trapped in a cave so that their only reality is their shadows on the wall; both of these ideas have a sort of similar limited quality. The man then comes naturally to the conclusion that the physical beauty of one body is the same for all bodies, and he develops a general appreciation of physical beauty, and he will then be less ardent about his original obsession. This corresponds well with Plato's level two, belief, where the people are allowed to escape and see the other people as well as the shadows; Both of these ideas are broader than their preceding ideas in about the same amount of scope, and also involve ambiguity. Next in Socrates' Ladder of Beauty, the man begins to see the higher level of beauty of mental attractiveness than that of physical attractiveness. Correspondingly, level three in Plato's system, math, is also very "mental" in nature, involving abstract thought. At this point the man can now turn outward and appreciate all the beauty in the world and see his earlier obsessions as unimportant. This corresponds well with Plato's level four, the forms, in that the forms are perfect representations of everything and are thus beautiful and all pervasive. Finally, at this point in the Ladder of Beauty the man is able to reach the contemplation of a level of beauty that is ultra-powerful and permeates everything, corresponding quite well in an abstract way with Plato's level five, "Goodness," or the highest form of knowledge.
Because of the close association of the Ladder of Beauty and Plato's Divided Line system, Socrates' Ladder of Beauty concept in relation to Eros is basically incorporated into Plato's vision of the beautiful, perfect society. As mentioned before, Plato believed that the ability to do mathematics was what placed a person in society. In other words, he believed that people who couldn't do math belonged in the lower rungs of his "commonwealth," because they were basically unable to perceive the first level approaching truth, or mathematics, and so according to Socrates' system did not possess 'mental beauty.' The Guardians and Rulers in Plato's perfect society would be chosen for this beauty or ability, and then educated well in order to allow them to approach ultimate knowledge, or Goodness, or the "beauty of a breathtaking nature" according to Socrates, by comprehending both math and the forms. Clearly Plato was heavily influenced by Socrates' Ladder of beauty and believed that because the rulers and Guardians where capable of obtaining these levels of seeing beauty or having intellectual ability, they were the ones qualified to rule. Also, because of their comprehension of these levels of truth and their ability to see the all pervasive beauty, they would rule wisely. "As long as they observe our principles of upbringing and education, they will not subvert the important institutions of our commonwealth" (247), he says.
As shown, Socrates view of Eros in the Symposium relates well to Plato's ideas for a perfect society, the divided line, and the myth of the cave as outlined in The Republic, and was clearly a natural evolution of thought from the former to the later. It is fascinating to read these early accounts of rational human thought and trace the evolution of the search for the ultimate utopian society, as well as the search for ultimate knowledge, through these ancient texts put forth by Plato.
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Baird, Forrest E. and Walter Kaufmann, Philosophic Classics, Volume 1: Ancient Philosophy, 3rd edition, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2000.
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