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Wisdom, Wonder and the World of Thought: An Introduction to

Philosophy, Conestoga College, Winter 2005

Plato: The Cave, The Divided Line, The Ladder and Love
The Conflict Between Logos and Eros

Platos Theory of Forms, Ideas and Images.

The theory of forms or ideas claims that there exists above and beyond the world
of sensible objects a world of supra-sensible objects which are the ideal forms of sensible
objects. Another way of explicating the theory is to say that sensible objects are the
mirror images of the ideal forms.
Platos complaint against the world of sense may be stated in this way. Animals
and plants, stars, rocks, tables, nature and all of our artifacts are subject to change. The
world of sense is a world of growth and decay, multiplication and disintegration, time
and passage. The world of sense is a world of impermanence. Since it is always subject
to change, no knowledge of this world can be certain. Platos concern was that society
through the dissemination of images would divorce itself from the real and from truth.
Plato is thought to have made use of the Theory of Ideas as a means of escaping
Heraclitus conclusion that everything is in flux. There are some things that are not in
flux- IDEAS. So the claim that knowledge is impossible, since all there is to know is the
unknowable sensible world is refuted. Platos account of the Forms of Ideas can be
summarized as follows:

1. Truth cannot be attained by the senses which see only copies and images:
Reality can be apprehended by a process of intellectual reasoning.
2. The Just, The Beautiful, The Good, etc, all exist as realities inaccessible to the
3. The world of sense experience contains likenesses or images of realities which
have no perfect manifestation in the material world.
4.These eternal realities are the FORMS or IDEAS which instances in the world of
the senses resemble, and in which they participate (share, take part in).
5. The IDEAS or FORMS are intelligible.
6. TRUE knowledge is knowledge of the Eternal Ideas

For Plato, there is a world of eternal intelligible realities which the soul has
known directly when in a disembodied state before its incarnation. The world we come
to know by sense experience in our present embodied life contains sensuous images of
the eternal realities which can prompt us to return in recollection to the Ideas which are
their eternal intelligible archetypes. The true philosopher strives continually to purify
himself from the perception-distorting influence of the physical pleasures and pains to
which sensuous experience gives rise and to develop his capacity for pure intellectual

thought, which alone can attain to knowledge of the FORMS.

The Dialectic of the Divided Line and The Cave


a) pure, abstract, dialectical reasoning
b) insight into, intuition of first THE FORM OF THE GOOD
principles TRUTH, JUSTICE


a) hypothetical deduction Mathematical terms
b) mathematical reasoning
c)Scientific knowledge

OPINION: PISTIS Animals, plants, artefacts, etc

a) belief


a) illusion, conjecture, Shadows, images, reflections

Socrates distinguishes four states of mind each of which correspond to one of the
four divisions of the line. The four terms Socrates uses are noesis, dianoia, pistis
and eikasia.
Noesis: is pure, abstract dialectical reasoning, reasoning which moves from hypothesis
to first principles, from knowledge of scientific truth to the ultimate principles in which
all knowledge is grounded.

Dianonia: is both the process of reasoning used in mathematics and the state of
knowledge resulting from it. Noesis and Dianonia are subdivisions of TRUE

Pistis: is belief about the visible world which may be true of false but are not genuine

Eikasia: is the term for the cognitive state corresponding to our apprehension of
shadows, images and reflections. It means illusion or conjecture. Pistis and Eikasia are
subdivisions of DOXA: opinion.

Platos Theory of Eros in the Symposium and Phaedrus

In what follows we will examine the manner in which Eros is related to

Beauty and Truth by focusing upon Platos Symposium and Phaedrus.
In the Symposium, Eros desires fulfillment through the contemplation of
Eternal Beauty. The ultimate desire of Eros is to overcome the sensual and to be
united with the eternal.
In the Phaedrus, Plato argues that the image of Beauty in this world
prompts us to recollect its Form in the True World. Sexual desire is nothing more
than a shadow of the real fulfillment we will experience when our union with the
Form of Beauty itself is obtained. True desire for Plato leads one beyond the
sensuous world to the non sensuous awareness of the Good.
In the Symposium, a middle period dialouge, Platos Socrates elaborates
the truth of Eros. The unique format of this dialouge consists in the series of
speeches. It is the only dialouge where Socrates professes to know something. He
is portrayed as a great erotic who relates what he has learned about love from a
woman named Diotima. The dramatic setting is also important. The poet,
Agathon, has won a prize at a public festival while his friends decide to give a
party in his honor. The friends give speeches on Love. Love is described as an
awesome power. It is neither good nor bad in itself but its affects on us can be
devastating, unpredictable and uncontrollable. These speeches emanate the
mythic and traditional conceptions prevalent in Greek society.
Eryxmachus, a doctor, argues that the power of love is supreme but that it
has two faces. He understands love as health and ill-health; as beneficial and as
destructive. Love is therefore a pharmakon; it is both poison and cure.
Aristophanes, the comic poet recites and ancient myth which tells us of
the bisection of ancient human beings:

Mans original body having been thus cut in two, each half yearned
for the half from which it had been severed. Whence they met they
threw their arms around one another and embraced in the longing
to grow together again.

Aristophanes goes on to tell us that Zeus had taken pity on these creatures
because they were perishing. To alleviate their plight, he moved their
reproductive organs to the front of their bodies so that the species could
continue. Aristophanes therefore argues that sex is a physical make shift. Sex is
needed, for procreation in our divided states; it may provide a rudimentary
union with another person; but in itself it does not explain the nature of love.
Aristophanes argues that the whole question of love becomes nothing more than
the problem of finding ones lost half.
For Plato, love is not a desire to be united with half or with whole. Love is
a desire for the perpetual possession of the Good. Aristophanes argues that we
look for our other half driven by the need to be healed. Or in other words, he
thinks that our incompleteness can be healed through the power of love. The
obvious problem with this position is that, you, as a person cannot become
yourself through another person. A relationship consists of two complete beings
and not two fragmented halves that form a whole. Only the Self can complete the
Self. In other words, as Individuals, we must strive for our own completion.
Agathons speech elaborates the nature of the god of love. Love is the
youngest and greatest power. For Agathon, love is love of beauty in all its forms-
sexual, cultural and civic. The power of love is equal to the power of beauty.
Love is that which is supremely beautiful. Love is the source of vitality and
creativity. Beauty for Agathon is impersonal. Love is Beauty IN a person and not
Beauty OF the person. Agathon argues that love is love of something. Therefore
it is relative, and if love is relative, love cannot be a God, because God is
absolute. Socrates shifts the conversation into a different position. The question
no longer is, who must one love and under what conditions can love be
honorable both for the beloved and the lover, but what is love in its very BEING.
Platos Socrates inquiry is therefore Ontological rather than existential.
Diotima, the woman who teaches Socrates about love, inquires into the
BEING of love, while neglecting the manner in which love exists concretely.
Socrates wants to argue that the pleasures of love should be directed to the Soul.
But how can a sharp line of demarcation be drawn between love of the body and
love of the soul? Perhaps Michel Foucault provides and answer when he writes,
that it is not exclusion of the body that characterizes true love in a fundamental
way; it is rather that beyond the appearance of the object, love is a relation to
Socrates is a philosophical erotic because he, as master of erotic truth
teaches his students how to overcome their bodily desires. He points out that by
understanding the true nature of Eros, we will understand the Truth. We will be
released from our chains. In the language of the Phaedrus, we must turn to the
right, to noble love and beauty, away from the affects of vulgar love. Contrary to
Aristophanes assertion, Socrates argues that we not seek our other half, if such a
half even exists, but the truth to which the soul is related.
The ethical task for the Socrates of the Symposium, is to discover and hold
fast without ever letting go, to that relation to truth which was the hidden
medium of our love. The quest for erotic truth requires that the person become
ascetic after a period of promiscuity to achieve exposure to truths disclosure.
Socrates is moved by the force of true love while knowing how to truly love the
truth that must be loved.
Philosophic Eroticism requires the right ordering of desire; to achieve that
ethical position which would make the right ordering of desire possible. The
basis of Eros in human nature is negative because we can only love what we
dont have. Love is a desire that ceases when the desire has been obtained. The
gods could not love because love is a sign of imperfection. The more imperfect an
individual is the more that individual would love. A perfect being does not love
since desire has been eliminated.
Diotima teaches Socrates that love is neither beautiful nor ugly. Love is in
the middle between these two. Love is placed in the middle between positive
and negative. One who is totally bad cannot strive for truth, nor can one who is
totally good. Striving occurs in that middle ground. Our present condition is
negative because our striving is directed toward the future, which was our past,
according to Platos Theory of Forms. Diotima teaches Socrates that all life is
directed towards the Future. With such a theory, the present moment is
A living being is temporal, but no living being accepts death. The
temporal wants to partake of the eternal. This dualism illustrates that nothing in
nature is natural. The True World for Plato is beyond this Unnatural world.
Diotima points out that most individuals desire immortality through fame or
glory. But the ultimate desire for immortality should be fulfilled by beholding
the Forms themselves which are THE BEAUTIFUL.
Diotima teaches Socrates that love is the pursuit of the Beautiful, so that
one might posses it forever. According to legend, Eros came into being when
Plenty mated with Poverty. Their child was Eros. Eros is a mixture of Plenty and
Poverty. These opposites live together in one daemonic being. When a person
loves, they desire to posses one who is beautiful. The desires of the body lead
one to beget children of the body. The person who is pregnant with spirit desires
to give birth to noble thoughts. Diotima informs Socrates that even he can enter
into these lesser mysteries but he may not have the strength to climb the ladder
of love.
The ladder of Love, exemplifies the Platonic education in Beauty. As
Diotima instructs Socrates:
For let me tell you the right way to approach the things of
love....beginning from these beautiful things to mount for that
beautys sake ever upward, as by a flight of steps, from one to two
from two to all beautiful bodies and from beautiful bodies to
beautiful pursuits and practices and from practices to beautiful
learnings so that from learnings he may come at last to the perfect
learning which is the learning solely of that beauty itself; and may
know at last that which is the perfection of beauty.

We are told of a dialectical movement by which we love one body, then several
bodies. The next step advances the person to the knowledge that the soul/mind
is more beautiful than the body. From their the person sees the beauty of laws
and institutions and science until at last the person apprehends Beauty itself.
For Plato, this world was in flux. Nothing was constant. The Real world of
Forms was constant, unchanging and eternal. In the world of becoming the
person is in a state of desirous ignorance. Through striving the person overcomes
aesthetic Eros to reach epistemic Logos. The desire for the Good/Beautiful
reminds the person of that from which we were separated. In other words, re-
union implies a previous union.
The Soul in the Phaedrus is tripartite. It is compared to a chariot pulled by
a black and white horse and steered by a charioteer(Reason). The various winged
souls trample each other in their desire to obtain a vision of the Forms. Many
souls have their wings broken; these souls fall to earth and become embodied but
they retain a recollection of the partial vison of the Forms.
Platos epistemology is based on recollection or remembering an Idea that
was forgotten. This forgetting is necessary and unavoidable. Plato developed his
theory of recollection throughout his writings. For example, in the Phaedo Plato
argues that we have certain ideas such as the idea of Equality. This idea could
not have been acquired in this world of particular sensible objects. Plato argues
that we, as human beings must have existed as souls prior to our being born into
an earthly body. Our task in this life is to re-collect the Ideas we encountered
before our embodiment.
Platos doctrine of recollection can be criticized for in its epistemological
and psychological aspects. Plato, with his two world metaphysics argued in
favor of a separate world of Forms. It was this world which was Real. In our
unreal embodied world an individual could only have opinion. In order to obtain
knowledge, the person would have to practice a form of death, by devoting
his/her life to the development of the Soul. In Platos epistemological network,
there cannot be any new knowledge. New knowledge cannot be acquired since
all knowledge is a recollection of what we already knew. Acquiring knowledge
in this life is nothing more than an act of re-collection. The doctrine of re-
collection also points out that reunion presupposes a prior communion. In order
to make sense of this statement, an examination of the Phaedrus is required.
In the Phaedrus, Plato gives his analysis of the relation between Beauty and
Truth. He writes:

But it is not every soul that finds it easy to use its present
experience as a means of recollecting the world of reality. Some had
but a brief glimpse of truth in their former existence; others have
been os unfortunate as to be corrupted by evil associations since
they fell to earth, with the result they have forgotten the sacred
vision they once saw...But Beauty was once ours to see in all its
brightness, when in the company of the blessed we followed Zeus
as other followed some other of the Olympians, to enjoy the beatific
vision and to be initiated into that mystery which brings supreme
felicity. Whole were we who celebrated that festival unspotted by
all the evils which awaited us in the time to come and whole and
unspotted and changeless and serene were the objects revealed to
us in the light of that mystic vision. Pure was the light and pure
were we from the pollution of the walking sepulchre which we call
the body, to which we are bound like and oyster to its shell.

What strikes us in this passage is Platos attitude toward the Body. The soul is
imprisoned in the body waiting to be set free. The Soul must be freed from the
body so that it can attain pure knowledge. The more the soul detaches itself from
bodily elements the closer it comes to the Forms. The two fundamental theses of
Platonism are that the souls union with the body is accidental to the soul and
that the Soul is the Person. The person is a soul that used the body. The body is
an inhibiting factor which must be overcome and transcended. In the
Symposium however, the body or the sensuous realm becomes the springboard
into the Forms. In this dialouge, the pleasure of the body is not despised, it is
needed, although it plays a secondary role. Needless to say, Platos thought is
full of inconsistencies. He mixes ascetic thoughts with erotic formulations. The
body should be despised yet at the same time, the love of the body leads one to
the love of the soul. One wonders who is speaking. Is it Plato, is it Platos
Socrates or Socrates himself? It appears that Plato would prefer the logos without
Eros and that Socrates favored a mixture of Eros and Logos.

In the Phaedrus, Socrates teaches that madness of a certain kind can be

valuable. Erotic madness is the source of philosophy. Through divine madness
the philosophic erotic can use reason to make celibacy possible; thereby
furthering the quest for orderly and philosophical knowledge. Socrates was an
erotic not only because he knew the nature of love but also because he knew the
value of the erotic experience. In the Symposium, Alcibiades describes Socrates
to be like Silenus who was the constant companion of Dionysus. In other words,
Alcibiades states the Socrates wisdom is concealed beneath an coarse exterior. He
also compares Socrates to Marsyas the satyr. The satyrs were also connected with
Dionysus are were beings with goat-like characteristics addicted to very kind of
sensuality. While declaring Socrates to be sensuous, Alcibiades also points out
that Socrates had self control and courage and that no one has ever seen Socrates
drunk. This portrait of Socrates is different than the one Plato paints.
Plato argues that the Idea of Beauty occupies a unique position in the realm of
Forms. Beauty is the Form most suited to sight. For Plato, sight is the beginning
of knowledge. The ascent of the soul to the intuition of Beauty is parallel to the
ascent of the soul to the knowledge of the Forms. The sight of beauty motivates
us to aspire toward Absolute Beauty. Thus Eros becomes a desire which
transcends sexuality. Eros and Truth are related because, the Good, is the only
object worthy of being loved or capable of giving knowledge about reality. Here
we see Plato advocating an intellectual, rational, non-erotic, transcendental
union. How is it possible that physical stimulation can lead to metaphysical
gratification? If in fact the philosopher must turn away from the world of flesh in
order to attain an intellectual insight, why is there a need to bother with physical
stimulation in the first place? Thus Platos recommendation of promiscuity as a
means of liberation is inconsistent. Plato uses individuals as a means towards an
end. He writes:
We cannot love another person for himself, but only as a vehicle
and partial embodiment of what we really want- The Good.
Individuals for Plato are only vehicles used in obtaining the vision of the Good,
and as such, the vision of the Good is achieved at the expense of the individual.
Exiled to earth, the Soul remains alienated, and is in a state of homelessness until
it achieves re-union with the Forms.