Plato's Theory of Eros: Unpacking Love as Desire in the Symposium

Categories: Phaedrus Socrates

In the Symposium, which is normally dated at the beginning of the middle duration, Plato presents his theory of love. First thing to note is that in Plato's theory, love is provided and its existence is not questioned. The word love leaves the matter uncertain as to whether we are discussing love in the regular, human, sense of the word, or if we are talking about desire in a much broader sense, however in this conversation we are just thinking about just love of type eros, love as a type of desire that exists in between 2 humans.

Symposium, is a discussion by Plato, about a supper celebration in honor of the tragedian Agathon, after they have actually completed consuming Phaedrus suggests that each individual in turn ought to make a speech about the praise of god of love. Symposium not just offers us theory of Forms in Diotima's discussion of the Form of Charm, however it also offers us a number of varying point of views on love.

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One more essential thing to think about is that Diotima is not known to be a historic figure, and the method which she is introduced recommends that she is likely just a literary gadget established by Plato to reveal his own ideas.

In this theory, we see Plato rejecting the romanticization of sexual love, valuing above all an asexual and all-consuming passion for wisdom and charm. Plato plainly relates to real physical or sexual contact between fans as degraded and inefficient kinds of erotic expression.

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Since the true goal of eros is real appeal and real charm is the Kind of Appeal, what Plato calls Beauty Itself, eros discovers its satisfaction only in Platonic philosophy. Unless it channels its power of love into "higher pursuits," which culminate in the knowledge of the Type of Beauty, eros is doomed to aggravation.

For this reason, Plato thinks that most people sadly squander the real power of love by limiting themselves to the mere pleasures of physical beauty. For understanding of Plato’s description of love it is very important to firstly understand his notions, about structure of knowledge and his ideas on appearance and reality . Plato has given allegory of the cave and the line to explain the difference between reality and appearance, through which Plato means to depict four ways of thinking, and he has defined the structure of knowledge by giving specific order to these four ways and knowledge according to Plato is to rise along this structure.

He puts images of the objects on the lowest level, above which he puts objects. Above the object is the concept of the object developed from the object, which lead to the highest and purest form of thinking, ‘pure concept’, concept which is independent of the object. Here the first two levels of knowledge differ significantly from the last two. Plato argues that one can only have opinions about the first two levels (objects and images), because there is no certainty about them.

They exist in the reality, so they are subject to change, and this certainty is achieved in the later of the two levels. According to Plato from the pure concept we can derive the “form”, which gives us the essence. Here one more important thing to realize is that for Plato, we are born with knowledge, it is just that we have forgotten it, so going through this ladder to achieve the form is merely a way of recollection. Love is one of the form of desire, where desire implies the lack of something.

Love as a word can be used in two ways noun or verb, thus it can mean objects of love or acts of love, and while formulating a theory of love it is very important to know which one precedes the other. In Plato’s theory of love, it is very evident that for Plato love is an object and the acts of the love are derived from the objects of love. These acts should be directed towards achieving of objects of love. After having an idea about the structure of knowledge for Plato, it is easier to understand the methods he adopts to derive the parameters for objects of love and how to achieve the form of love.

In Symposium, Socrates is just restating the account of love given to him by a woman named Diotima. In this dialogue Socrates derives various parameters of love through a series of questions, which he asks to Agathon. As mentioned earlier, love is a form of desire one of the parameter of objects of love is that it should be desirable. Also from the arguments between Agthon and Socrates, one can deduce that being beautiful is also one of the parameter to become an object of love.

Here one important thing to note is that whether something is beautiful or not is objective not subjective. Further by the example of wealth, health and strength, Socrates argues that not only desiring the object once, but also the continuance of the desirability, is a parameter for the object of love. After which Socrates asks Agathon whether good is beautiful or not, to which Agathon replies that he can not refute Socrates, But Socrates replies by arguing that Agathon can not refute the truth that is why he can not refute him.

Thus we can derive that for Socrates , being good is also one of the parameter for becoming the object of love. After discussing the nature of the objects of love and also the structure of knowledge, it is easier to understand how to achieve the form of love. To achieve the true love, first step is to love worldly images and objects, from which one can derive the concept of good beauty through the encounters with beautiful particulars.

From the concept of beauty one can derive the form of beauty or the eternal beauty, according to Plato true and pure love is nothing but the form of beauty. According to him, the person who has achieved the form of beauty will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty. Thus for Plato love is ascending from the particulars to form of beauty, which indicates that Plato believes that love for objects of love can not be true love, they are just means to achieve the form of beauty.

One can also deduce from here, that Platonic love operates through a standard. Thus the true order of going is to begin from the beauties of the worldly images or objects and mount upwards for the sake of other beauties, using these as steps only to go to all fair forms and from fair forms to fair practices and from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notion we arrive at the concept of the absolute beauty and at last know what is the essence of beauty.

Updated: Mar 22, 2023
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Plato's Theory of Eros: Unpacking Love as Desire in the Symposium. (2017, Jan 06). Retrieved from

Plato's Theory of Eros: Unpacking Love as Desire in the Symposium essay
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