Thursday, 12 December 2013

Plato is a Smart Man.....

But he doesn’t know what Love is. This is the essence of Gregory Vlastos’s paper Plato: The Individual as an Object of Love(1973). With 101 footnotes and an appendix distinguishing Platonic Love as vulgarly understood from Plato’s febrile sublimations, this is the scholarship of shock and awe. Plato’s view of the person is instrumental, your value is located in your usefulness to others or to the state. This is in contrast to Aristotelian ‘philein’:

Let philein be defined, writes Aristotle in the Rhetoric, as wishing for someone what you believe to be good things - wishing this not for your own sake but for his - and acting so far as you can to bring this about.

Vlastos has the rare combination of precision and lucidity that makes reading a joy. After a night of insomnia spent reading it I toddled off to bed at 6A.M. quite rested. I found this paper in Philosophy Through Its Past (ed.Ted Honderich) a Pelican/Penguin from 1984.

As a theory of the love of persons, this is its crux: What we are to love in persons is the ‘image’ of the Idea in them. We are to love the person so far, and only in so far, as they are good and beautiful. Now since all too few human beings are masterworks of excellence, and not even the best of those we have the chance to love are wholly free of streaks of the ugly, the mean, the commonplace, the ridiculous, if our love for them is to be be only for their virtue and beauty, the individual, in the uniqueness and integrity of his or her individuality, will never be the object of our love. This seems to me to be the cardinal flaw in Plato’s theory.

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