What the philosophers think about love

Love. It's been the focal point of philosophers and scientists for centuries. Although we may understand some of the biological urges of love and sex, it still manages to take us by surprise, our impulses baffling us. Here's what the philosophers have had to say about it over time.


Socrates: Platonic love


The great philosopher and orator Socrates didn't believe in the written word. His message has endured through his pupils, one such pupil was Plato. Plato places Socrates at the very same symposium where Aristophanes discussed those oddly shaped humans.

Socrates, being the wisest at the party, gets to speak last. He agrees with Aristophanes that love does come from a human lack, but he disagrees that humans require the 'other' to fill this void. He insists instead that what we really seek is the essence of what is beautiful and good. 

Love is a desire to possess 'the Good' forever, but us humans are mere mortals so how can we possess something forever? The solution is to produce creations that live on after us, inspired by the divine beloved. There are three methods available to us:

  • Biological offspring, considered the least important way
  • The next, heroic deeds and lasting fame
  • Finally, the things that make us human: art, education, science, politics, culture and so on

Indeed all of these can be inspired by the erotic love of a human being, but the best creations will come when our love is diverted away from lust and human desire and placed on the essence of beauty itself. This thought gave way to the idea 'Platonic love', a love which Plato places at the top of the hierarchy in The Symposium.  Although modern usage of this term has skewed slightly.

Next page: Love as a shameful act...