Analysis of Pausanias’ and Socrates’ Speeches in Plato’s ‘Symposium’

July 5, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates’ eulogy, though delivered with the stated intent of praising love, is not truly about love at all. Instead, Socrates claims that the typical definition of love does not exist and instead praises wisdom. In saying that love is desire, and that you cannot want what you already have, Socrates asserts that the concept of love between people is fallacious since someone’s desire, and therefore love, for someone or something fades as he or she acquires precisely that object of affection. According to Socrates in his speech, the only thing that one can truly love is wisdom, since it can never be fully acquired. It is, after all, impossible to know everything. Thus, the theme of Socrates’ eulogy is the condemnation of love in the way that the other people present in the symposium define it, and the praise of wisdom as the only truly love-worthy thing. This conception has certain parallels to Pausanias’ speech, some in agreement and some directly contrasting. Pausanias also condemns the certain type of love wherein someone is attracted to an individual for solely physical reasons. However, the speeches of Pausanias and Socrates differ distinctly, since Pausanias identifies a type of love from one individual to another that is praise-worthy, while Socrates fails to acknowledge this type of love and condemns all love from one person to another. These two arguments are in direct disagreement, and in many respects Pausanias’ argument shows Socrates’s argument to be wrong.

First, it is necessary to investigate the meaning of Socrates’ speech. The fact that Socrates’ eulogy is not about love, at least as the other philosophers present defined it, is evidenced in several ways. Unlike all the other philosophers, Socrates does not use the word “love” to refer to the bond between lovers in his speech. Instead, he uses love to mean the desire for something, as opposed to using love to mean the bond between lovers. Additionally, from the very beginning, Socrates indicates that the concept of love lacks beauty, since one cannot desire that which one has, and lovers love attractive things. However, it follows in his argument that knowledge can be loved; while one’s love for a person decreases as the two become closer, the desire for knowledge can never be quenched. Here, Socrates is belittling the love of people, as it is temporary, and praising knowledge, as it can be pursued eternally.

The theme of the value of knowledge is further emphasized when Socrates discuses one of the main purposes of love: procreation. Socrates asserts that one of the purposes of loving another person is the production of offspring, and the purpose of procreation is to leave a legacy. However, according to him, biological procreation is not the only form of procreation. When two people exchange ideas, the mind can become pregnant, resulting in the birth of knowledge (209a). Socrates’ claim that the legacy left behind by this knowledge is much greater than the legacy left behind by physical procreation supports the idea that the theme of his speech is the condemnation of love and the admiration of knowledge. Evidently, Socrates does not believe that permanent love between people exists.

The content of this speech has several parallels to that of Pausanias’ oration, despite the fact that that the speakers’ opinions on love differ substantially. Firstly, Pausanias too emphasizes the importance of wisdom. This priority is demonstrated by this belief that older men should “have affairs with young boys” “before the age intelligence beings to form” (181d). Secondly, Pausanias and Socrates both disparage a type of love for the same reason. Pausanias states that common Aphrodite, in which the attraction is purely physical, is inferior to celestial Aphrodite, in which the attraction is to someone’s mind. Pausanias even says that there should even be a law against having sexual relations with boys younger than the age of mental maturity, since it is a sign that the older lover will has the intention of “scornfully abandoning” the boy instead of being “ready to enter a lifelong relationship” (181d). From this, it can be discerned that the reason common Aphrodite is less acceptable than celestial Aphrodite is because a relationship based on physicality, instead of a mental and emotional connection, is not permanent. This is a direct parallel to the Socrates eulogy, since Socrates also claims condemns love for its fleeting nature.

Additionally, both Pausanias’ and Socrates’ speeches address the love of the mind, and both men value it over attraction to a body. In his speech, Pausanias puts forward the idea that love for someone based on quality of mind and without concern for physical beauty is good and everlasting. Socrates also references celestial Aphrodite in his eulogy, although not by name. Recounting Diotima’s speech, Socrates states that the second state in falling in love is coming to “regard the beauty of all bodies as absolutely identical” and to “value mental beauty so much more than physical beauty” (210b). Obviously, this description of the second stage of love very closely resembles Pausanias’ description of celestial Aphrodite. Although the two thinkers both acknowledge the existence of this type of attraction, their interpretations of its significance are in direct opposition. While Pausanias suggests that celestial Aphrodite can lead to everlasting love, Socrates says that celestial Aphrodite merely gives way to the next stage of love until all there is left to love is knowledge.

Another parallel connection between the two speeches is that Pausanias directly speaks out against the condemnation of love between people in general, as Socrates does. Much like Phaedrus did before him, Pausanias notes that the strength of the bond between lovers can motivate them to do awe-inspiring things. Therefore, he claims, tyrants condemn love so that their subjects cannot overthrow them (182c). Socrates completely and directly goes against this construct throughout his entire eulogy. In stating that all the types of love between people give way to the love of knowledge, he completely denies the existence of that bond.

Clearly, both Pausanias and Socrates had some similarities in their speeches but disagreed drastically on matters of the existence of love. Since they arrive at opposite conclusions on the question of whether permanent love between people can exist, one must be right and the other wrong. I believe that Socrates’ argument is shown to be flawed by Pausanias’ argument in several ways. First of all, Socrates contradicts the main reason why permanent love between people cannot exist in his own speech. He claims that the desire for something is fulfilled and goes away once it is acquired. However, he also admits that it is possible to desire to have in the future what you currently have (200d). Therefore, it would be possible for a lover to desire a person even when he is in a relationship with that person by wanting that person to be in his future as well as in his present. This means that it could be possible for people to have permanent love.

Secondly, Socrates’ argument shown to flawed by Pausanias’ argument because he fails to recognize love as more than desire. Socrates only ever refers to love as the attraction of a person to another person or thing, rather than as a bond between two people. Even if the initial attraction from one lover to another does go away over time, by not seeing love as anything more than desire he fails to take into account the strong bond that remains. On the other hand, Pausanias acknowledges that the mutual desire can lead to a bond, and that the bond of love can be incredibly strong. He supports this idea with the evidence that the local Athenian tyrants were brought down by the love of Aristogiton and Harmodius (182c).

Pausanias’s speech also shows that Socrates must be wrong because it provides evidence of long term relationships. Since Socrates indicates that love for a person cannot be permanent, and will eventually lead to the love of knowledge itself, it should be impossible for to people to continuously love each other. However, Pausanias says otherwise. The example that he provides is that of Aristogiton and Harmodius, but since he is passionate that the only good type of relationship is a lifelong one, it is fair to assume that they are not the only long term couple. If this is the case, then Socrates’ argument cannot be completely true.

Clearly, Socrates denies the existence of permanent love between people and instead praises the love for wisdom in his eulogy. He sees love as only desire, and states that it is impossible to desire something when you already have it. Therefore, love of a person’s body is replaced by a love of that person’s wisdom, which is replaced by the ultimate love, the love of wisdom in general. There are similarities in the between the speeches of Socrates and Pausanias, such as the fact that Pausanias praises wisdom, as well as that the two men recognize and discuss both types of attraction, common Aphrodite and celestial Aphrodite, valuing the latter over the former. However, that is about the extent of their similarity, as Pausanias believes and convincingly argues that love between two people can be everlasting.

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