When people speak about the sense of life many of them agree that the life is meaningful only when it is based on the principles of love. Thus, love is often considered as the leading aspect of the people’s life and as its ruling force. Many philosophers spent a lot of time discussing the phenomenon of love in order to understand the peculiarities of this feeling and to examine its mysterious nature.
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From this point, Plato’s Symposium can be considered as the most interesting representation of the ancient philosophers’ thought and their visions of love. Why do people usually have an irresistible desire to seek for love? What feelings and emotions lead them in their searches? In his speech, Aristophanes tried to answer these controversial questions with presenting a myth about the people’s nature which could explain that human desire.
According to this myth, people who earlier were complete and had two faces and limbs were divided into two halves by the gods. That is why, to feel completeness in the life, people need to find their halves.
The discussion of the myth presented in Aristophanes’ speech is compatible with Socrates’ visions of the issue of love because both philosophers consider love as a desire of something or a lack of an important part for people to be complete, love is also the search of the best part or the “goodness”, and the philosophers agree that love is intentional in its nature.
The nature of love is one of the most provocative questions in philosophy which can have a lot of answers according to the positions which are close to this or that philosopher. Nevertheless, there is one point considered as exceptionally significant for the discussion by almost all the thinkers.
The speeches of Aristophanes and Socrates focus on the fact that love is the realization of the definite intention. Thus, love is intentional in its character. According to Aristophanes, the ruling force of the people’s life is the search for something or the search for love which can be explained as the natural intention of a human to find his half in order to feel himself as a whole.
Moreover, this necessity depends on the people’s instincts which are typical for the human nature and affected by their origin. That is why it is almost impossible to resist to the desire or intention to feel the wholeness with another human. In his speech, Aristophanes states that “Love does the best that can be done for the time being: he draws us towards what belongs to us” (Plato 36.193d). When people know that they are incomplete they suffer from this knowledge and do not feel satisfaction.
They have the overwhelming desire to go forth and seek for their half. In this situation, love becomes the real life intention for the people. Socrates also discusses love as an intention because this feeling has the object toward which it is directed (Plato 42.200e). People are searching not for the abstract thing, but for the real object of their feeling because this object should complete their nature. That is why people suffer when the object of their love does not belong to them.
The notion of love as the intention is similar in the philosophers’ discussion to the vision of love as a need or as a desire. Following Aristophanes’ considerations, it is important to note that people try to find the object of love or their half because this desire is explained by the peculiarities of the humans’ origin.
Therefore, the feeling of love is the representation of the lack of the necessary part of a human, and it is the people’s intense want to acquire their wholeness. According to Aristophanes, “Love” is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete” (Plato 29.192e).
People cannot be happy when they are incomplete. If Aristophanes’ explanation of the people’s lack of the other person as a half is based on the myth about males, females, and androgynies, Socrates’ idea about love as a longing depends on the opinion that love is always the desire of something.
During his conversation with Agathon, Socrates draws his opponent’s attention to this fact asking him a series of questions starting with “Is Love the love of nothing or of something?” (Plato 41.199e). Agathon says that love can always be considered as the love of something.
In spite of the fact this understanding of love is more general in comparison with Aristophanes’ ideas of love, Socrates’ vision is compatible to Aristophanes’ discussion of love because love of something as the desire of something depends on the fact that person wants something when these objects do not belong to him or her. That is why love of something is the lack of something. This lack makes people consider themselves as incomplete persons.
However, is any half which was acquired during the person’s search can be discussed as appropriate to form the whole? Aristophanes pays attention to the fact that people can be satisfied only when they find their necessary halves which are ideal for them.
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He states that when a man or a woman meets his half “something wonderful happens: the two are stuck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment” (Plato 28.192c).
That is why it is possible to say that people love those objects and those people who are perfect particularly for them. In dialogues with Socrates, Diotima expands this idea presented by Aristophanes and makes it be more general.
Diotima states that people are inclined to seek not only for their best halves but also for any perfectness and goodness (Plato 44.201a). The good people or things make people happy. Nevertheless, what are the similarities of Aristophanes and Socrates’ visions of the issue? To answer the question, it is important to concentrate on the details of the discussions.
What are the main reasons for people to love something or someone? Thus, those people separated from one another by the will of the gods who are presented in the myth by Aristophanes are seeking for their halves not according to their appearances, but according to the similarities of their souls. Moreover, people love each other not because of some qualities, but because of the feeling of closeness with this or that person.
This idea is accentuated in Socrates’ dialogues where it is stated that “the beauty of people’s souls is more valuable than the beauty of their bodies” (Plato 58.209e). Thus, people love each other because they understand the value of the person’s soul which is similar to their ones. That is why people are inclined to love the best souls and the best things, but they are the best for these persons particularly and cannot fit the other persons’ souls.
Furthermore, Aristophanes focuses on the fact that when people find their halves they are so happy and they feel that they cannot be apart with their lovers anymore. This viewpoint is similar to Socrates’ one. “Love is wanting to possess the good forever” (Plato 52.206d). To complete their nature, people should not only find their halves or the best objects of their love, but also possess them during all their life to preserve the wholeness and happiness.
Plato’s Symposium includes a lot of exciting ideas on the problem of love presented in the form of the speeches developed by the ancient philosophers and historical personalities. In spite of the fact that the viewpoints performed in Aristophanes’ speech are often considered as opposite ones to Socrates’ visions of the phenomenon of love, there are a lot of similarities in the discussions of the question which allow speaking about the definite compatibility of the speeches.
Thus, the philosophers agree in their opinions that love is the intention which is realized in the desire to find the object of love. This irresistible desire is often caused by the person’s need or lack. Moreover, it is important for a person to love a man or a woman which is similar to him. That is why people are inclined to seek not for any object of love or any half, but for the best one which will be ideal for them.
Plato. Symposium. USA: Hackett, 1989. Print.