Read Fedro by Plato Free Online
Book Title: Fedro|
The author of the book: Plato
Date of issue: 1998
ISBN 13: 9788842055952
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 871 KB
Read full description of the books Fedro:“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.”
THE SCHOOL OF LOVE
Phaedrus is commonly paired on the one hand with Gorgias and on the other with Symposium - with all three combining and leading towards Republic. It is compared with Gorgias in sharing its principal theme, the nature and limitations of rhetoric, and with Symposium in being devoted to the nature and value of erotic love. The connection with Republic is more tenuous, though it contributes to the criticism of the arts of Rhetoric. Also, the psychology illustrated here by the image of the charioteer and the two horses is fully compatible with the tripartite psychology of Republic and even clarifies an important ambiguity in it.
Socrates and Phaedrus walks out from Athens along the river Ilisus. The conversation that takes place between Phaedrus and Socrates is both interrupted and motivated by three speeches - one by Lysias, and then two extemporized by Socrates himself in response, inspired to employ his knowledge of philosophy in crafting two speeches on the subject of erotic love, to show how paltry is the best effort on the same subject of the best orator in Athens, Lysias, who knows no philosophy.
The Three Speeches
The First Speech:
The first speech (purportedly by Lysias), is a shallow, badly constructed piece–a ‘clever’ piece of sophistry designed to establish the implausible thesis that the pursued (loved) should gratify someone who is not feeling love ("non-lover") rather than a true erastēs (lover).
The Second Speech:
Not surprisingly, since in this speech Socrates undertakes to improve on the form at least as much as the content of Lysias’ speech, there is considerable overlap of theme. Ethically, however, Socrates appears to have more genuine concern for the good of the ‘loved’ than Lysias did.
But most interestingly, Socrates takes the dichotomy of Lysias’ speech - of Non-Lover Vs Lover - and inverts the whole argument by subsuming both categories into Lust. It is left unsaid till the Third Speech, but Socrates has now effectively made the argument into Lust Vs Love (Non-Lover also included into Lust). Ever heard of the expression “Platonic Love”? It is far more interesting than its popular meaning!
“These are the points you should bear in mind, my boy. You should know that the friendship of a lover arises without any good will at all. No, like food, its purpose is to sate hunger. ‘Do wolves love lambs? That’s how lovers befriend the loved!’”
The Third Speech (The Palinode):
Lysias’ speech had argued that a lover is to be avoided in favor of a non-lover, and in Socrates’ first speech he seeks merely to improve upon this thesis of Lysias, but in the second he entirely repudiates the content of the first, and he calls this second speech a recantation, or palinode.
The straight-forward opposition of pleasure and the good in the Second Speech, though reminiscent of early dialogues such as Gorgias, is thus undermined in the palinode, where we see that the impulse towards pleasure is an essential part of a person’s motivation, and that if his/her rational part is in control, this impulse can be channelled towards the good.
The Palinode thus gives a less one-sided view of love - a view in which love and reason can go hand in hand, in which love is not entirely selfish but can be associated with educational and moral values, and in which, at the same time, passion and desire find their proper place. In order fully to praise love, Plato felt that he had to explain its place in the metaphysical life of a human being - through a myth, as usual.
The overall movement of the central part of the palinode is that it begins with a vision of the soul’s purpose and ends with an analysis of the human condition of love.
The suggestion is that we won’t understand human experience unless it is put into a much larger context, and that the experience of love is essential for a human being to fulfill his/her highest potential.
After these three speeches, the conversation turns to the value of rhetoric in general, and what could be done to make it a true branch of expertise or knowledge.
On Rhetoric: An Aside
A dialogue earlier than Phaedrus, Gorgias, is devoted to rhetoric and to the contrast between the rival ways of life philosophy and rhetoric promote. In Phaedrus, the question of the value of rhetoric is raised immediately after the palinode, and signals an abrupt change of direction for the dialogue: as to what constitutes good and bad rhetoric, and Socrates suggests that knowledge of truth is the criterion: persuasion without knowledge is denigrated: without a grasp of truth, rhetoric will remain ‘an unsystematic knack’.
Now, this too is a reference to Gorgias, where rhetoric was defined in just these terms. Plato does not really seem have changed his mind about it since Gorgias.
There are two main overt topics in the dialogue––rhetoric and love. Rhetoric is meant to persuade, and a lover will try to persuade his/her beloved to gratify their desires (the Greek word for ‘persuade’ also means ‘seduce’). The lover’s search for the right kind of beloved to persuade is a specific case of the general principle that the true rhetorician must choose a suitable kind of soul with the help of dialectical insight. The lovers are said to try to persuade their beloveds to follow a divine pattern - this is the highest educational aspect of love.
Thus the dialogue is about love and rhetoric, as it seems to be, but they are connected because both are forms of "soul-leading" - both are educational.
So for this reviewer, the question of which to focus on - of Rhetoric or Love - is redundant. A focus on either should serve the purpose, and the focus for the rest of this review will be on Love. Rhetoric got its space in the Gorgias review.
Love: The Guiding Light of Philosophers
The first two speeches raise the question whether or not love is a good thing, and the rest of the dialogue answers the question in the affirmative. Love is good because it enables one to draw near to another person whose soul is of the same type as one’s own, but is capable of becoming more perfectly so. This educational potential will be fulfilled provided the pair channel their energies into mutual education; this is the proper context of the praise lavished on the combination of philosophy and love.
Platonic Love: A Clarification
Before we go further, we need to address the standard criticism on “Platonic Love”: that it is about non-sexual love. More importantly, the even more educated criticism has to be addressed: that it is about Homoerotic love.
For this, we need to take a look at the Athenian society of the time:
First, the Athenians rarely married for love: a wife was for bearing children, while slave-girls were used for extra sex. Love, then, was more likely to be met outside marriage––and it might be a younger man who aroused it. And this goes not just for love, but even for the shared interests that underpin love: the educational potential of a love-affair, always one of the main things that interested Plato, was unlikely to be fulfilled in one’s marriage, since an Athenian male had few shared interests with his wife and would not expect her to be interested in education. Second, with women being seen more or less entirely as sex-objects, Plato clearly felt that it was all too easy to get caught by the physical side of a heterosexual relationship. However, since Athenian society did place a slight stigma on the sexual side of a homoerotic relationship, a lover might well hesitate before consummating the relationship in this way––and such hesitation, vividly portrayed in Phaedrus, meant that there was at least the opportunity for the sexual energy to be channelled towards higher, spiritual or educational purposes.
Moreover, the older man was expected to cultivate the boy’s mind – to be an intellectual companion. It was, in effect, a form of education. Greek education was pitiful: restricted to upper-class boys, and taught no more than the three Rs, sport, Homer and the lyric poets, and the ability to play a musical instrument. In a peculiar way, the Athenian institution of homoerotic affairs filled a gap by providing a boy with a more realistic grasp of local culture and worldly wisdom.
Thus, we can see why homoeroticism is the context - only because it was normal then and not because it was regarded as worthy of special attention against a standard of heterosexuality as ‘normal’.
Transposed on to present society, we can see that the whole enterprise should logically apply now to ‘normal’ or heterosexual relations as well - and is quite in character for the modern times - some would even say that it is the ideal!
Thus, glossing over homoeroticism as a relic of the Athenian society, we need to read instead from our own society’s standpoint. Hence, in this review you will find that the ‘love’ spoken of is directed not at a ‘boy’ as in the Platonic dialogue/society but at the ‘loved’ (as substituted by the reviewer), without discrimination. This is also the most useful (and logical) POV for this reviewer to adopt to understand the dialogue best. Also, please assume the he/she or his/her connotation if the reviewer has omitted it at places.
The Myth: Love as The Window to the Universe
It is often said that Symposium, Republic and Phaedrus should be read together. This is particularly true when it comes to the interconnected Myths that populate these three dialogues.
Poetic and inspiring myths portray the soul’s vision of reality and love in The Symposium as well as in Phaedrus:
In his myth in The Symposium, Plato has Aristophanes present the famous story about soul mates:
The myth in Phaedrus, altering this, is a description of the entire cycle of what can happen to a soul: we hear of the tripartite nature of souls and how it is essential to a winged soul to rise up attempt to see the plain of truth which lies beyond. In the Myth, we are incarnated as humans if the attempt was not fully successful, doomed for thousands of years.
A philosophically-inclined-lover, however, can use his/her memory of Forms, to regrow their wings and ascend again. This Memory is triggered by the glimpse of Beauty in his/her beloved - if his love of truth is enough to leave him with a lingering dissatisfaction with every day life. Beauty alone has this privilege, to be the most clearly visible and the most loved - and thus the trigger for the Quest for meaning.
Love & Memory: Mutual Assistants
Readers and admirers of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance would find this section particularly identifiable. Love as remembrance should also find ready acceptance among Proust readers. In fact, the image of the loved triggering a vision of beauty that unlocks the memory of life’s true purpose is just about as Proustian as it gets. ‘Loved’ then need not be a person at all - it just needs to be a store of memory, personally beautiful enough to trigger the vision of the ‘beyond’ of everyday life, but this is a digression.
In the palinode, love and memory are critically connected: love is our reaction to the half-remembered Form of Beauty (and of Truth). The starting-point is the perception of beauty on earth, and the consequent recollection of Beauty seen before. The beloved’s face acts, as it were, as a window on to the Form.
In short, love prompts recollection, recollection is the precondition for knowledge, and knowledge is the precondition for the right handling of words. In this way, all the major themes of the dialogue tie together.
The Chariot of Life: The Rider & The Horses
The Soul is divided in three at the beginning of the Myth - two parts in the form of horses and the third in that of a charioteer. One of the horses is good, the other not; one white, noble and the aide of Reason, the other unruly, Black and crazed with desire. The difference between the two is that the bad horse’s reasoning is limited to short-term goals (just as Lysias’ non-lover was too), whereas the charioteer aims for and considers the overall goodness of a person’s life as a whole.
This is, in fact, very reminiscent of The Bhagavad Gita with the Senses as the Horses and Reason as the Charioteer.
Philosophy, Love & Lust - An Inventory of Usefulness
Plato chose the term erōs from the range of possibilities because of its frankly passionate connotations. In Phaedrus he gives an astonishing analysis of what, in his view, is really happening beneath the surface of a love-affair, and focuses particularly on its ecstatic aspects - the ability of love to get us to transcend our normal bounds. Notice, then, how far removed this conception of love is from what we generally understand by the phrase ‘platonic love’, which is defined by my dictionary as ‘love between soul and soul, without sensual desire’. On the contrary, ‘sensual desire’ has to be present, because it is the energizing force.
The Two Horses symbolize Love and Lust, in a fashion:
The Black Horse/Lust/Sensual Desire is crucial to the process: It is the one that gets us close enough to the beloved/soulmate in the first place!
Thus, the non-intellectual elements of the soul were necessary sources of motivational energy and that the passions, and the actions inspired by them, are intrinsically valuable components of the best human life. The intensity of the experience of philosophical love, as Plato sees it, is precisely the intensity of the simultaneous presence in the lover of passion.
To return to the course of the myth, we are told in the second part about the development of a human love-affair. The nature of the love-affair depends entirely, we hear, on how removed the philosopher-partner is from the world (how ascetic he is, in a sense): if he is fully mired in his body, all he will want is sex with the beautiful beloved who arouses his love, but if he is a philosopher the vision of worldly beauty will remind him of heavenly Beauty, and his soul will grow wings and aspire to return to the region beyond heaven where he first caught sight of true Beauty. But Plato stresses that the philosophic lover will not want this just for himself: being attracted to someone like himself––that is, to a potential philosopher––he wants to bring out this potential in his partner. Thus, not only does the philosophical lover educate his partner, but he also educates himself: he ascends the ladder only by pulling someone else up on to the rung he has vacated. The educational aspect of philosophy is here properly fulfilled.
The implication is that the kind of lover you are on earth depends, to a large extent, on how philosophic you are, how receptive you are to the vision of Beauty. It depends entirely on you if Love opens the window to Philosophy.
The Academy of Life: Love
Erōs is the Greek word for ‘passionate love’, and in the context of relations between human beings it means primarily ‘sexual desire’, or even ‘lust’. Because erōs in this sense invariably has a sharply delineated object - it is not just a vacuous feeling of warmth or affection - it suits Plato’s purposes, since his major enquiry is to ask what the true object of love is.
Is it no more than it appears to be, or is it something deeper? In Symposium he answers that love is a universal force that energizes and motivates us in whatever we do, because its object is something we perceive as good for ourselves. Its object, self-evidently (at least, for Plato and his fellow Greeks), is beauty.
The ultimate, deepest aim of Love, Plato says, is immortality - self-procreation in a beautiful environment. The highest manifestation of this is not the physical procreation of offspring, but the perpetuation of ideas in an educational environment in which the lover takes on the education of the beloved. This is the position taken for granted in Phaedrus.
There is also a more prosaic and non-mythical way to approach the message in Phaedrus: As Plato makes plain elsewhere, when he says that someone desires something, he means that he lacks something. So when he says that love is lack, we also need to see what it is that a lover’s soul lacks, and it turns out to be the perfection of itself as a human soul - knowledge or self-knowledge. Someone in love has an inkling of his own imperfection, and is impelled to try to remedy the defect.
Though couched in terms of his own metaphysics and psychology, Plato’s description of passionate love will strike an immediate chord with any lover. Love can make philosophers of any of us. Love is important because beauty* is the most accessible Form here on earth and is the primary object of love.
* Note that it is always a very personal conception of ‘Beauty’ being referred to - which only the beloved can see - the whole ‘eye of the beholder thing’, if you please. Everyone chooses their love after their own fashion from among those who are beautiful to them, and then treats the loved like his/her very own god, building him/her up and adorning him/her as an image to honor and worship.
Hence, Love is the best school possible - a place of mutual, continuous, most interested, interesting and truly involved education that one can ever find. There is nowhere else that you can learn more about the human condition. Enroll in the school of love if you would be philosophers, if you would know the meaning of life. Know Thyself, through Love.
“You may believe this or not as you like. But, seriously, the cause of love is as I have said, and this is how lovers really feel.”
Read information about the author(Greek: Πλάτων) (Arabic: أفلاطون)
Plato is a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the foundations of Western philosophy and science.
Plato is one of the most important Western philosophers, exerting influence on virtually every figure in philosophy after him. His dialogue The Republic is known as the first comprehensive work on political philosophy. Plato also contributed foundationally to ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. His student, Aristotle, is also an extremely influential philosopher and the tutor of Alexander the Great of Macedonia.
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