Love & Diotima’s Ladder

socrates

I did an online course about Plato and one of the assignments was to rewrite part of a dialogue where Socrates is asking Euthyphro what justice and piety are. As usual. Plato makes Socrates’ debating partner look a bit dim so I have redressed the balance. ‘Love’ in Socrates’ philosophy is ‘love of knowledge’ as well as love in relationships.

SOCRATES: As it is, I know well enough that you think you have true knowledge of what’s holy and good and what is not. Tell me, then, most worthy Euthyphro, and don’t conceal what you think it is.

EUTHYPHRO: Well, dear Socrates, as you know there are the four virtues; justice, prudence, courage and wisdom. You yourself have talked endlessly about your Theory of Forms, where the virtues reside as universal perfections. In my understanding they reside with the gods.

SOCRATES: Goodness, Euthyphro, I am amazed you remember my discourse of a year ago! However, you still haven’t told me what holiness or goodness actually is.

EUTHYPHRO: I remember your Allegory of the Cave where you talk about true goodness being like the sun but that we humans live in semi darkness mistaking the shadows for reality.

SOCRATES: Again I am humbled by your memory and understanding. Please continue; tell me how we become the best people we can be.

EUTHYPHRO: Can I remind you of another person who sheds light on this subject as well as yourself Socrates?

SOCRATES: Of course.

EUTHYPHRO: Do you remember the wise lady Diotima?

SOCRATES: Of course. Are you going to tell me about her Ladder?

EUTHYPHRO: Yes, Diotima says that a young man should first of all love a person for their beauty. This is how most of us are attracted to each other isn’t it Socrates?

SOCRATES: Yes, indeed.

EUTHYPHRO: After a while, say a few years, the young man should realise that many other people are just as beautiful. He will ascend a few steps on Diotima’s Ladder.

SOCRATES: So, is the idea that he becomes less obsessed with his first love?

EUTHYPHRO: You could say that but really he must venerate wisdom above physical beauty.

SOCRATES: Yes, but this demands a complete change in how we usually view love.

EUTHYPHRO: Exactly, we must have an experienced guide at this stage on the ladder.

SOCRATES: So, tell me about the next few rungs of the ladder.

EUTHYPHRO: Next he should widen his love and appreciation to include animals, institutions, buildings and anything else in the world which is beautiful. In short he must learn not to take sense-experience as his main source of knowledge.

SOCRATES: Now we are getting to the crux of the matter. Please go on Euthyphro.

EUTHYPHRO: He must develop intellectual contemplation and leave behind likes and dislikes dependent upon sense experience.

SOCRATES: I am astonished once again at your understanding Euthyphro. And next?

EUTHYPHRO: Well, the culmination of his meditations is nothing short of a glimpse of the Eternal, Socrates. What he’ll see doesn’t come and go or cease to be and doesn’t increase or diminish.

SOCRATES: So starting off with worldly love he ascends from the things of this world until he can bear the brightness of the sun in our allegory Euthyphro?

EUTHYPHRO: Exactly.

SOCRATES: You mentioned a guide before. Who is this Guide?

EUTHYPHRO: We all remember you talking of your Daimon Socrates! It is the inner voice of conscience sent by the gods to be our guide in choosing right from wrong.

SOCRATES: Well said Euthyphro. So, the Daimon is the mediator between we humans and the gods. Is that what you mean?

EUTHYPHRO: This is what you yourself have said Socrates and Diotima agrees with you.

SOCRATES: I think we can sum up now. For us to be truly happy we have to live a virtuous life. We have to listen to our Daimon and cultivate contemplation of the Forms. The highest good is unchangeable (like the sun) and if we catch sight of it gold and clothing and good-looking youths will pale into insignificance beside it.

EUTHYPHRO: Well put Socrates. And what about rebirth? Do we come back again and again until we learn these lessons?

SOCRATES: I’m afraid Euthyphro, that question will have to wait for another day.

 

 

 

Cat Blog

Phoebus the philosophical cat

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My human cohabiter is acting strangely. He has changed my name from Catkins to Phoebus and says I can have my own blog. You may have already read a scandalous story involving me, a dog and a house mouse. I have to inform you that these two creatures are no longer counted as friends.
In this case it’s not my place to reason why my human associate has asked me to blog, although you will find, if you continue to read my blog, that ‘reason’ is indeed my main operative mode. You may have heard that one of our traits is ‘curiosity’, and that is partly why I have agreed to embark on this blogging business. I am curious about the world and wish to embark on an intellectual adventure with you.
My blog, I have decided, will be addressed to those amongst you who have asked the question, “There must be more to life than this.” The ‘this’ in this case refers to having a family, a job of some sort (or not) and the pursuit of various goals and ambitions – not to mention the consumption of various kinds of chocolate and cake, appearing on television talent shows, or being immersed in a virtual reality where the object is to annihilate your enemies. Before I dive into the not so deep end, I need to clarify something else. You may have heard the slanderous jibe that we sleep 20hrs out of 24. This is nonsense! Even those of you who agree to share your dwelling places with us, and have allegedly observed us in a so called sleeping mode are barking up the wrong tree so to speak. The appearance in this case, as in so many, is not the reality. We are not asleep during a large part of this observed ‘sleep’ – we are in fact meditating!
I’m afraid now I’ll have to bite the bullet and bring up the slippery subject of ‘philosophy’ as I was, you may already have guessed, trained in this discipline in ancient Greece. (How else do you think I’ve gained immortality?) I wish to illustrate a general point crucial to your so called ‘human condition.’ The subject in question is Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I had the good fortune to be among Socrates’ students and can assure you that old Plato got most of his discussions down more or less correctly.
So, here goes; it goes something like this. (I’m recollecting the story in good old Platonic fashion, not reading from notes!) Imagine a group of humans living in a deep cave. They are restricted in such a way that they cannot turn their heads to look behind them. (I can’t hold a pencil very well in my paw but I’ve tried my best to illustrate the scene.)

 

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The star-burst shapes represent an ever-burning fire. In front of the fire is a platform on which actors process and perform. Their shadows are thrown onto a large screen in front of the poor humans. These poor humans have never been out of the cave and take these ever changing shadows for reality. They know nothing of the actors behind them as they can’t turn their heads. Now this is an allegory so can be applied to your lives now. Please take a coffee break and contemplate what the allegory means to you.
Refreshed? Good. Well, this is what I think. You believe everything your senses tell you. For example you used to believe the sun circled the Earth because that’s what you saw; that’s how it appeared. You believe your thoughts without questioning them. A great many of you are under the delusion that you are your thoughts! The shadows in the allegory represent all the ideas and opinions you hold onto so tenaciously. Most of the opinions you hold have not been scrutinised to gauge their veracity. Another example: if you are asked to flick your wrist did you know that the action is preceded by almost a second of measurable brain activity? It’s almost as if your brain decides what to do before you do. In a nutshell, you think you have more free will than is the case.
I put it to you that many of you are still cave dwellers. All is not lost though. I hope to show you a way out of the cave in my subsequent blogs. It will be a long journey however, so I hope you will be patient with me. Those of you who insist that you have escaped the confines of the dark cave may also enjoy coming on our intellectual journey. I can’t promise to find happiness for you but I’ll do my best to lead you along some interesting paths. (Remember I’m over 2000yrs old so have a little of what you call ‘life-experience’ and am an expert on climbing walls and following interesting-looking paths.) That’s all for today. Hope to catch you again soon.