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February 13, 2010

Question: Plato on Love

What is the definition of erotic love?  What are its origins, functions, aims and effects?  Are some kinds of erotic love better than others?  What is the relationship between erotic love and friendship?  Why do we fall in love with the individuals that we do, and is it either possible or desirable to transfer these erotic attachments onto other objects of desire?  What happens to the identity of both lovers and love if love is consummated?

Plato has much to say on all these questions, particularly in his dialogues the Symposium and the Phaedrus (both widely available in many translations; the Penguin translations are fine).  Over the next few weeks we'll be exploring some of the views put forward by characters in the dialogues, and also asking whether Plato gives us any clues as to which views are preferable.

First, though, I would welcome your definitions of erotic love.

And though much of Plato's analysis of romantic and erotic love is beady-eyed, to say the least, here are a couple of quotes (from a poetic translation of 1914) to get you in the mood for Valentine's Day.

'Well, when one of them ... happens on his own particular half, the two of them are wondrously thrilled with affection and intimacy and love, and are hardly to be induced to leave each other's side for a single moment.  These are they who continue together throughout life, though they could not even say what they would have of one another.  No-one could imagine this to be a [solely] sexual connection, or that such alone could be the reason why each rejoices in the other's company with so eager a zest: obviously the soul of each is wishing for something else that it cannot express ...' (Symposium 192c-d; translation adapted from W.R.M.Lamb)

And a powerful passage from the Phaedrus which describes how the soul of the lover starts to grow wings in the presence of his beloved:

'And as he looks upon him, a reaction from his shuddering comes over him, with sweat and unwonted heat: for as the effluence of beauty enters him through the eyes, he is warmed; the effluence moistens the germ of the feathers, and as he grows warm, the parts from which the feathers grow, which were before hard and choked, and prevented the feathers from sprouting, become soft, and as the nourishment streams upon him, the quills of the feathers swell and begin to grow from the roots over all the form of the soul; for it was once all feathered.'(Phaedrus 251a-b; translated W.R.M.Lamb)

Happy Valentine's Day!


November 20, 2009

Question: Ethics and Money

Here are a couple of questions for our new topic, on ethics and money.  As with all my Friday Questions (and Friday Responses in subsequent weeks), they are primarily aimed at those who have no or very little experience of philosophy, though of course I welcome comments from all, including those with some philosophical training.  But their chief role is to form part of the work I am doing as Senior Fellow in the Public Understanding of Philosophy, and I want absolutely everyone to feel that they can take part in the debate. 

Questions: Is there a necessary tension between ethical and economic considerations?  And what is the role of money (whether making it, investing it or spending it) in the good life?

Here is (part of) the problem.  Most of us are not primarily motivated by money, but only want money for other ends e.g the well-being of our children.  Usually we are aware of this (though sometimes we may be so busy or stressed that we lose sight of the bigger picture).  And yet most of us spend an enormous amount of our lives trying to make the money that we only value because we think it can buy us things that we value more.

Is there any solution to this apparent absurdity?

Some of my thoughts on these questions in my response next Friday, plus some further questions to enable you to clarify your own responses.   


October 28, 2009

Question: Freedom of Expression

Question: Are there any circumstances in which freedom of expression should be curtailed?  If so, on what grounds?  If not, why not?

Feel free to post your comments on this below, and I'll post a response this Friday (30th)


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