Plato’s theory of love
Plato’s theory of love is one of the philosophical proposals that have generated most interest from this Ancient Greek thinker.
The world of love and personal relationships is already, in itself, something to which we pay a lot of attention, and when this area is joined to that of the approaches of one of the great figures of philosophy the result is a theoretical legacy that attracts all eyes. However, this philosopher conceived love in a very characteristic way, since he linked it to his theory on knowledge and ideas .
Next we will see what are the main characteristics of Plato’s theory of love and how it related to his philosophy.
Before being able to understand how Plato conceived love, it is necessary to have a clear concept: dualism. This is a philosophical current to which Plato was attached, and which after his death was adopted by many other renowned thinkers, among whom is, for example, Rene Descartes.
What does dualism consist of? Well, basically, and simplifying a lot, in the belief that reality is made up of at least two independent substances and that they can never be completely mixed: matter and spirit, also understood at times as the world of goings and consciousness. These two substances are independent of each other, in the sense that although they can “come together”, they do not mix, nor is one derived from the other.
Plato believed that the human being is in essence a soul trapped in a body , which in turn moves in an environment also only material. That is, while mind belongs to the realm of ideas, everything else, the matter to which mind is anchored, is a kind of material prison.
But the mind has a natural tendency to want to be close to the rest of ideas , and that is why it is perfected every time it is able to see beyond the appearances of the material world of ideas to access the truth behind it, that which is universal and cannot be located in time and space.
The myth of Plato’s cave, for example, is a mythical tale that expresses just this: the liberation of the human being through access to truth, not allowing himself to be deceived by the appearances of the physical world.
Plato’s theory of love
And what does this have to do with Plato’s theory of love? Well, it is very related, because for this philosopher love can be understood as the state of ecstasy and at the same time of moderate frustration that is experienced in knowing that there is something beyond the physical that calls us but that, at the same time, will not be totally given to us, because as much as we do not want it, we are still chained to the world of the material, the place where we enjoy things depends largely on our proximity to them in time and space and in which it is almost impossible to stay away from the influence it has on aesthetics, on appearances.
The Platonic conception of love is, therefore, that of an impulse that leads us to want to go beyond the material in our experimentation of something, in the access to its beauty , which for the thinker has to do with its closeness to the truth and not with its aesthetics.
In the case of people, this beauty belongs to a spiritual plane that we intuit but cannot make our own, since it is not material for a reason. What characterizes love is therefore the search for the true and pure, which has to do with the very essence of beauty and belongs to a plane of existence completely separate from the physical.
Thus, in mortal life, Platonic love is full of frustration, for although beauty is intuited, it is impossible to experience it directly because of the limitations of the material.
Love as something unattainable
It is sometimes said that the essence of Plato’s theory of love is the impossibility of accessing that which one loves. However, the impossibility of directly accessing this idea of beauty is only a consequence of Plato’s distinction between the ideal and the material.
This philosopher made his theory revolve entirely around the world of ideas , and that is why he did not establish very strict rules about concrete actions that must be followed to experience love in a correct way, as if our way of moving and acting in a physical space was in itself something very important.
That is why, among other things, he did not say that love had to be expressed through celibacy, since that would contradict his principles by being based on the assumption that the experience of beauty has to be connected to the way it is experienced in the material world. This was rather a deformation of the dualistic philosophy used from the popularization of the Abrahamic religions , especially Christianity.
Thus, brass left the door open to different ways of partially accessing the spiritual world, of transcending the frontiers between matter and what according to him existed beyond this.