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15 October 2007 @ 01:09 pm
As i said in a previous entry about my schedule this semester, in Philosophy we only have to write one paper on one of four subjects all due at different times. I wrote the first paper about Platonic love and what it meant when Plato came up with it. If anyone is interested, I am posting it and you can read it. I got  an A =D

Platonic Love


            Plato first came up with Platonic Love when he wrote Symposium and brought it up again in Phaedrus.  He claimed that love was the fourth type of madness and told how it corresponded with the soul. In this paper I will discuss Plato’s definition of Platonic love, the popular definition of platonic love and criticize the popular definition against Plato’s.

            Platonic love is essentially self control. According to Plato in Phaedrus, translated in 1995 by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff, there are three parts to the soul (love).  The smallest part, Reason (Truth), control the two larger parts, Temperance (Good) and Raw Desire (Beauty).  All three parts must come into play and get what they need in order for the soul to get all the nourishment it needs to grow back its wings and return to the heavens from whence it came.  In relationships where Raw Desire is not restrained by Temperance and Reason one gets less philosophical harmony out of the relationship and therefore the soul cannot gain back its wings.  Class notes say that either we can bring philosophical harmony to the soul by having all three parts satisfied in this true platonic relationship or we can have a general relationship which will be weaker but still productive.  Per my notes, sex is not a problem in a platonic relationship because it is possible to have a sexual relationship and control Raw Desire.  In this way, all three types of love in the soul are engaged equally.  A relationship with platonic love, Plato says, is better because it is an extremely mutual relationship and there isn’t the regret of giving favors to the beloved like that of another relationship that isn’t as controlled.

            The soul of the one in love chooses whom it wants to love. In Phaedrus, Plato writes that in the heavens the souls are flying around with the gods and associating with the god it likes the most, falling in love with the qualities of that god.  Then, unfortunately, the soul loses its wings for one reason or another, and falls to earth.  When it is in a body, searching for a lover, it will search for someone with the qualities of that god.

In the beginning of a platonic relationship the man in love wants to “be with” their beloved.  Unfortunately, their beloved is not yet in love with them. The man in love has to control himself; Reason and Temperance have to get control of Raw Desire, so that the beloved is not scared away by this man who is slightly crazy in love. The soul of the one in love has recognized the qualities of the god it seeks and the beauty it needs to nourish itself in its beloved and wants to get it.   There has to be an equal relationship for the soul to get everything it needs (Truth, Good, and Beauty).   Reason and Temperance reign in Raw Desire so the potential lovers can form a more lasting relationship through establishing a foundation of friendship.  The control of Raw Desire keeps the beloved from being frightened off so that they can see that the relationship is one of good will. The beloved, through backlove, begins to mirror the feelings of love.  “The boy’s bad horse (Raw Desire) has nothing to say, but swelling with desire, confused, it hugs the lover and kisses him in delight at his great good will. And whenever they are lying together it is completely unable, for its own part, to deny the lover any favor he might beg to have…Now if the victory goes to the better elements of both their minds, which lead them to follow the assigned regimen of philosophy, their live here below is one of bliss and shared understanding.” (Plato 47).  If they both let their raw desire take over when they are together, it is not a philosophical relationship and not as rewarding.

There is an example of platonic love from a television show.  In the show “Grey’s Anatomy” two of the main characters, Meredith and Derek, had been in a relationship but broke up.  When they got back together Meredith declared they would not have sex yet because their relationship had started with sex (a couple of hours after they met) and it didn’t work out very well. There was Reason and Temperance along with controlled Raw Desire during the time Meredith and Derek just kissed, hugged and held each another.  Still, with it being television and they not being philosophers, they did, eventually, give in to Raw Desire.  

The popular definition of platonic love is a relationship without sex – like that of two friends or siblings.   It has also been called a spiritual relationship between a man and woman without need of a physical relationship.  I think the non-erotic form of platonic love was possibly contrived from what happened with the two lovers who had sex without controlling their Raw Desire and chose to be in a close friendship relationship instead. The non-erotic definition of platonic love is used very widely today. I remember about nine years ago when I read some fan fiction for the television show “Forever Knight”. The word ‘platonic’ showed up to describe the relationship between the two main characters who were denying they felt any thing from the raw desire part of the soul.  I looked up the word and learned the popular definition, however, I always wondered how they came up with the word.  Today, platonic love means almost the exact opposite of what it used to mean.

Webster’s online dictionary defines platonic love as “a pure, spiritual affection, subsisting between persons of opposite sex, unmixed with carnal desires, and regarding the mind only and its excellences; - a species of love for which Plato was a warm advocate.”   That doesn’t totally correlate with Plato’s argument.  Platonic love does not have to be between people of the opposite sex, no love does, but that is a completely different argument.  It doesn’t have carnal desires only because Raw Desire is controlled so that the relationship can focus on the mind but, as in my class notes and stated before, there can be sex in a platonic relationship.  It would be interesting to see how the definition of platonic love changed over time to mean what it does today.

Plato’s love is the balance between Reason, Temperance and Raw Desire.  Without this balance Plato believes that you cannot have true platonic love.   By his definition, platonic love is the balance of those three things.  Modern day definition gives platonic love an entirely different meaning.  Today it is love without sex.  It is fascinating how this term has evolved, or devolved, over time.