Welcome to the second week and the second class. We were still finalizing the enrollment list, so please make sure to address any issues regarding your enrollment if you were unable to add but were given an add number or if you believe you were not marked as present. Aside from this, we dove into Greek philosophy in order to give everyone a foundation on the beginnings of modern philosophy.
Week 2: In the time of the Greeks and for a long time afterwards in philosophy, essence precedes existence. Essentialism was based upon the idea that there existed perfect, abstract forms and that existence attempted to emulate or become these already existing essences. Socrates strongly believed that Love, Justice, Beauty, Good were essential forms which, once through knowledge and enlightenment, one could reach.
All we know about Socrates comes from Plato. Plato was the pupil of Socrates, and most of what we know of Socrates are from the works of Plato. Plato only wrote in dialogue form, and many of these dialogues were of his teacher. In class, we discussed Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as well as the Ladder of Love.
In the Allegory of the Cave, what is the most important to understand is that it is metaphor, an allegory. A metaphor is a comparison or equation of two unlike things. An allegory is a sort of extended metaphor with a representation, by means of symbolic figures and actions, of truths or generalizations about human existence. The Cave, in this case, is representing a devaluation of direct experience. Consider the prisoners. Is not what they see real to them, even through they are just shadows? Does this prove that one’s experience does not reveal truth?
There is a lot to think about in the case of the Cave. For some it can be a little difficult to visualize what is described in the Cave, so try checking out the following video to help yourself out:
After the Cave, we discussed the Ladder of Love and Diotima. In this dialogue of Plato, in the Symposium, Socrates is speaking of his teacher and the priestess Diotima, and uses her words to describe the levels of love. Through this Ladder of Love is also the steps to acquiring knowledge.
The following is the Ladder of Love as described by Wikipedia:
- A beautiful body – The lover begins here at the most obvious form of love.
- All beautiful bodies – If the lover examines his love and does some investigating, he/she will find that the beauty contained in this beautiful body is not original, that it is shared by every beautiful body.
- Beautiful souls – After most likely attempting to have every beautiful body, the lover should realize that if a single love does not satisfy, there is not reason to think that many ones will satisfy. Thus, the “lover of every body” must, in the words of Plato, “bring his passion for the one into due proportion by deeming it of little or of no importance.” Instead, the passion is transferred to a more appropriate object: the soul.
- The beauty of laws and institutions – The next logical step is for the lover to love all beautiful souls and then to transfer that love to that which is responsible for their existence: a moderate, harmonious and just social order.
- The beauty of knowledge – Once proceeding down this path, the lover will naturally long for that which produces and makes intelligible good social institutions: knowledge.
- Beauty itself – This is the platonic “form” of beauty itself. It is not a particular thing that is beautiful, but is instead the essence of beauty. Plato describes this level of love as a “wondrous vision,” an “everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor ages, which neither flowers nor fades.” It is eternal and isn’t “anything that is of the flesh” nor “words” nor “knowledge” but consists “of itself and by itself in an eternal oneness, while every lovely thing partakes of it.”
There is a basic, lowly love that is related to the beauty found in the body and a direct experience with the body or bodies. The highest love is the abstract, the essence, Beauty itself.
There are, of course, issues within this ladder outside of the discussion of essences. First of all, women and the feminine are placed with the lowly love. Secondly, this dialogue belongs to Diotima, a woman, but is spoken through Socrates, which is spoken by Plato. This will be the first and the last time woman will ever speak in Western Philosophy for centuries. And, she doesn’t even speak to us directly.
For fun, here is a video interpretation of the Ladder of Love from a group of Philosophy students.
Last but not least, we discussed Sappho and her poetry. Sappho was a lyric poet from around 600BCE who lived on the island of Lesbos. She was not only a poet, but a scholar and teacher of girls and young women. She came from a rich family, and therefore very well educated, as well as very politicized. She also experience exile in her lifetime. Although she was revered in her time, not much of her poetry remained in tact and all we have today are a few poems and fragments of her work.
She was the first to introduce the subjective “I” into literature, with her poetry including herself and her experiences. She often spoke of love between herself and other women, as she would have affairs with her pupils, in very erotic and passionate ways.
Because of this, and her grand influence to literature and history, female homosexuals adopted the term lesbians in honor of her and her birthplace. As discussed in class, this has been controversial with the people of island of Lesbos, who are also Lesbians. Here is the following mini-documentary regarding this issue that we mentioned in class:
Next week: Although mentioned in the syllabus, we were unable to go over Cornelia Tsakiridou’s “Philosophy Abandons Woman” during this class (as many were not able to read the article) so please read it and be prepared for next class. There are also discussion questions available here. See you then!