Dr. Raymond Angelo Belliotti is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Fredonia. He is the author of 20 books, including Justifying Law (1992); Good Sex (1993); Seeking Identity (1995); What is the Meaning of Human Life? (2001); Happiness is Overrated (2004); Posthumous Harm (2011) Shakespeare and Philosophy (2012); Jesus or Nietzsche? (2013); Dante’s Deadly Sins (2014); Machiavelli’s Secret (2015); Power (2016); and Dostoevsky’s Legal and Moral Philosophy (2016). He has also published 100 articles and reviews in the areas of ethics, jurisprudence, sexual morality, medicine, politics, sports, ethnicity, Marxism, Nietzsche, and legal ethics.
Plato & Soul-Searing Love
The Symposium may be Plato’s most evocative, imaginative, and aesthetically appealing dialogue. Plato’s paramount lesson resounds: Each of us is constituted markedly by whom and what we love. The objects and activities we cherish and the people with whom we are intimate reflect and sustain our identities. Through the characters in his dialogue, Plato grapples with a host of distinct but overlapping questions: What do our loves reveal about who we are? What attracts us to this rather than that lover? What is it the object and basis of our love? Is erotic love rational or is it emotionally obsessive? Is whom we love purely a matter of choice or are aspects of discovery involved?
As is well known, in much of his writing Plato celebrates reason, harmonious souls, and the superior values of the intellect, while denigrating passion and poetry as either misguided distortions or mere representations of external objects that are themselves transient particulars. Surprisingly, in another Platonic dialogue on love, the Phaedrus, Socrates delivers two speeches, the last of which describes philosophy informed by passion and personal love. The madness (passion) surrounding love is a gift from the gods that facilitates happiness. Most important, intimate human relationships are critical to the good life. The proper sort of madness, then, is required for acute insight. Erotic relationships between particular people aid the mutual quest for self-perfection. Each lover begins to perceive his or her own spark of the divine reflected in the gaze of the other.
Plato perceives the self-sufficient and self-possessed person as embodying a narrow, deficient soul. The passions motivate robust action and the quest for the good; they respond to beauty and enhance understanding; and they inspire glorious self-transformation.