Plato’s higher love

“Nothing in excess” and “Know Yourself,” the oracular Delphic rules humans have always found so hard to follow, are nowhere more challenging than in affairs of the heart. That’s our CoPhi subject today, as Plato offers advice to the lovelorn and points to a higher love atop Diotima’s ladder. At this end, though, delusion and hubris block our ascent. Boundless self-confidence and pride hook up with ignorance and incompetence. Narcissus, blinded by his own image, can’t find the first rung. Ignorance and vanity trump love, giving hate an open invitation to strategize and rule.


Thrasymachus and Callicles were a pair of deluded Platonic egoists stuck under the ladder, in love with their own presumptive power and privilege, entitled to whatever they could get away with. “Makes me smart,” you can almost hear them boast. No, it makes them antisocial and unlovely. But there’s no denying their charismatic appeal, to a certain sort of disaffected lovesick mentality. “They jump off the page.”

The Athenian golden boy Alcibiades jumps at us too, described as a brilliant orator, soldier, lady killer, and lunatic, a uniquely irresistible but flawed figure whose lust for Socrates was unrequited. He placed gratifying his own ego above the welfare of his community, a great sin in old Athens. There were other notorious forms of love in old Athens we’d consider more sinful, though “changing views on sexual morality” have indeed brought us closer to their world. Even the President-elect says marriage equality is now a done deal.


Plato doesn’t get our version of Platonic love. “Must it be asexual? Is it romantic or aromantic? What distinguishes it from ordinary friendship?” Good questions. I’d suggest a screening of “When Harry Met Sally,” Plato. “Platonic” is what we call love when we think we don’t want to climb the ladder.

6 am/6:25, 37/68, 4:38

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