Urstad7.pdf - Loving Socrates The Individual and the Ladder...

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Res Cogitans 2010 no. 7, vol. 1, 33-47 Loving Socrates: The Individual and the Ladder of Love in Plato’s Symposium By Kristian Urstad, University of Fraser Valley and Nicola Valley Institute of Technology In Plato’s Symposium , the priestess Diotima, whom Socrates introduces as an expert in love, describes how the lover who would advance rightly in erotics would ascend from loving a particular beautiful body and individual to loving Beauty itself. This hierarchy is conventionally referred to as Plato’s scala amoris or ladder of love’, for the reason that the uppermost form of love cannot be reached without having initially stepped on the first rung of the ladder, which is the physical attraction to a beautiful body or individual. A popular interpretation of Plato’s or Diotima’s description of this ascent is that the lover is supposed to give up or abandon all the previous objects or individuals as he moves upward. In other words, previous individuals are merely the first rung of the ladder; and when the lover has climbed to higher stages of the ladder, he should kick the earlier rung, and them, away. I would like to try to argue that this popular interpretation is mistaken; that Plato does not believe that each previous stage in the ascent is left behind as the lover moves to a higher stage. Far from it, in fact; not only do I not believe that Plato wants the lover to abandon the individuals he loves, but I suggest that what his ascent does is move the lover to love previous individuals in a richer, fuller and more appropriate sense. I approach this in two parts, the second of which I hope can be seen to exemplify the first. In part one I concern myself with a close analysis of the relevant bits of text, while in part two, I move on to examine Plato’s love of Socrates. Here I hope to try to show that Plato, while going on – having presumably ascended up past the lower rungs of the ladder – to produce great works of virtue and beauty, never left the individual Socrates behind.
34 (1) Let us begin by looking closely at the first three steps of the ladder, as described by Diotima. The first step is for the lover to love one body, the next, to love all beautiful bodies, and the third, to love the beauty that a soul can have (210a-c). During all this, we should take notice that Plato never has Diotima say that a previous individual is left behind during the lover’s ascent. Initially, what she says, when she is speaking of the climb upward along the initial rungs of the ladder – from loving an individual body to the beauty of all bodies – is that, upon realizing that the beauty of all bodies is identical, the lover’s obsession with the previous individual’s body will grow less intense and strike him as small ( smikron ) (210b, 210c). Several things need to be said about this. First of all, to regard the previous individual’s body as small is not to regard it as nothing at all . i To be sure, the individual’s body is now seen by the lover as far less important, nevertheless,

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