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The Art of Living: Love and Reason in Plato's Symposium

Who shall I be? How do I become? What highest value(s) ought I aspire toward? What is the end and aim of life? The Art of Living refers to the project and the problem of our lives as characterized by these fundamental questions.

This month's discussion will explore Love and Reason in Plato's Symposium and in our lives. What is Plato saying about desire, love, knowledge, and reason? To what highest value does Plato urge us to aspire? What does Plato think the end and aim of our lives ought to be? What can we learn from Plato about addressing the problem and the project of our lives? What can Plato teach us about who to be and how to become? For you personally, what is the importance of desire, love, reason, and knowledge in your life? How do these values fit in your art of living?

Although reading the Symposium is pretty easy as far as philosophy tomes go, you may find the video lectures by the Stanford professors to be more accessible. The discussion will also more closely follow the content of these three 50 minute videos about the text and its relevance to The Art of Living:

• "Visions of Love" by Kenneth Taylor

•  "It is not Hard at all to Challenge Socrates" by Joshua Landy

•  "A Life of Reason? Socrates v. Alcibiades" by R. Lanier Anderson

Read the text which is freely available on-line as either a Gutenberg eText for Plato's Symposium or a Librivox audiobook of Plato's Symposium.

This is the first discussion in a series inspired by an accessible, exquisite, free on-line course The Art of Living (, three Stanford professors discuss five great works to explore how philosophy and literature can help us practice the art of living. The three lecturers are Kenneth Taylor, Joshua Landy, and R. Lanier Anderson and the five works are Plato's "Symposium", Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling", Nietzsche's "The Gay Science", and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon". The course video lectures will guide our exploration of "The Art of Living" in a multidimensional way. For an overview of the topic, please watch the 50 minute video Introduction to The Art of Living

These are links to the other meetups in The Art of Living series:

1. The Art of Living: Love and Reason in Plato's Symposium

2. The Art of Living: Authenticity, Defiance and Right Action in Hamlet

3. The Art of Living: Faith in Kierkegaard

4. The Art of Living: Art, Science, Uniqueness and Affirmation in Nietzsche

5. The Art of Living: Self and Community in "Song of Solomon"

6. The Art of Living: Engaging the Project of our Lives

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  • Vickie M. F.

    Hello there -- I was on the waiting list for this Thursday's discussion at the Ethical Society, and apparently a space has opened up. I am now listed as attending. It might make it easier for me to do so if I could bring a guest. Is this permissible?

    By the way, I tried several times to send this as a message via this site to the group organizers, but I kept receiving a notification that the server could not be found. I'm not sure what that was all about.

    Thank you.

    Vickie Feldman

    1 · September 11, 2013

    • CJ F.

      Vickie, although we have never turned anyone away. We are very close to the limits of the room's capacity. We usually have a few no-shows: it is sadly unavoidable. If we have more no-shows than I expect (call it 5), then I'd be delighted with "walk-ins". But the event is already over-booked to deal with a few expected no-shows. So it is possible that we are already in standing room only territory. We won't know until show time. So there is no easy answer to your question. The safe answer is to assume the event is at capacity.

      September 12, 2013

    • Will B.

      September 13, 2013

  • Will B.

    C.J., you did an incredibly good presentation while balancing the discussion in a nimbly crafted way! All opinions were expressed and my thoughts on leaving were basically that, despite the passage of time and effort, the same questions are still being asked.

    2 · September 13, 2013

  • Bob B.

    Kudos to CJ for always doing a great job of guiding our discussions.

    2 · September 13, 2013

  • CJ F.

    I find art is mentioned in Aristophanes' speech at 192d Hephaetus is the god of artisans, at 203b Diotima has the parents of the spirit of Love as "Resource, the son of Craft" and "Need", and at 223d Socrates comments on theater.

    Socrates' speech ends at 212 "it is only when he discerns beauty itself through what makes it visible that a man will be quickened with the true, and not the seeming, virtue---for it is virtue's self that quickens him, not virtue's semblance." This pinnacle of the ascent speech ends with precisely what Alcibiades' speech shows is false. At 216b Alcibaides says "I know I ought to do the things he tells me to, and yet the moment I'm out of his sight I don't care what I do to keep in with the mob". That is he feels the pull of the good, but his inverse akrasia (weak-will) leads him back to corruption: the pull of "the good" is inadequate!

    Cognitive dissonance, contradiction & reversals characterize The Symposium; Plato's Forms are not triumphant here.

    1 · September 13, 2013

  • Jyoti M.

    Excellent !

    1 · September 13, 2013

  • Ahngelique D.

    This meet up is ALWAYS packed...fruatrating just thinking about it Humpf!

    September 11, 2013

    • Shalita H.

      Ahngelique, My +1 cannot attend so I'm going to change my rsvp now if you would still like to attend.

      September 12, 2013

    • Ahngelique D.

      How beautiful are you? Virtual hug but I rebooked my time to charity helping displaced workers. I guess for me the love is the ACTION not just the discussion. You showed love so you're on the bandwagon too. Thanks and hope to master the waitlist soon.

      September 12, 2013

  • Lori

    Rats. An important client is coming tonight!

    1 · September 12, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In addition to going deep into Plato's Symposium tonight, I would also like to bring the subject home and ask how does this great text affect you and how you live your life? How does The Symposium inform your art of living?

    How did the Stanford lectures affect your views on Plato? How did they inform your art of living?

    How are your views about desire, beauty, love, knowledge, Plato's forms, virtue and reason shaped or framed by your reading of The Symposium? Does Plato challenge your views? How do your views hold up to Plato's considerations. As a great work of literature, does The Symposium move you? How?

    For you what are the roles of desire, beauty, love, knowledge, "the forms", virtue, and reason in your art of living? How do they inform your values and your views on the end and aim of life? Do they shape your highest values: those which you would be willing to die for? How do they inform the problem and the project of your life: What shall I be and How do I become?

    1 · September 12, 2013

  • Betty

    I am sorry I am going to have to miss this tonight. I hope it will be repeated sometime in the future.

    1 · September 12, 2013

  • CJ F.

    My notes on "A Life of Reason? Socrates v. Alcibiades" by R. Lanier Anderson:

    His lecture is extraordinary: he addresses the points of Taylor and Landy and attempts to determine Plato's meaning by synthesizing the speeches of Aristophanes, Socrates, and Alcibiades.

    He humbly admits that he no longer understands "The Symposium". Landy's argument about irony in the text has convinced him the dialog is more complex than the orthodox view that Plato honors the forms with "beauty itself" as the highest good which attracts us all: corrupt, weak-willed Alcibiades' existence refutes it!

    He gives a deep analysis of the phenomenology of love as a surplus feeling (passion) and exposes flaws in the Platonic theory of desire (it is not about a lack).

    He concludes that Plato may hope the reliable qualities of the form of beauty provide a permanent feeling of being gripped by love. A platform for our art of living: isn't that truly wonderful!

    September 11, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Unfortunately a personal conflict came up so I'll decline and open a slot for someone else. Have fun discussing profound thoughts!

    1 · September 11, 2013

  • CJ F.

    My notes on "It is not Hard at all to Challenge Socrates" by Joshua Landy:

    He refutes the traditional "cocktail party" view of Plato's Symposium by showing that some of Socrates' arguments are rubbish. Alcibiades' very existence shows that not everyone is attracted to the good. He gives a long and wonderful account of the importance of irony in the dialog: this is an exquisite literary work!

    He takes a romantic interpretation of Alcibiades arguing that love is about uniqueness and appreciation not irrational loyalty as Taylor argued. He finds it significant that Diotima's "beauty itself" and the other views on love are not "the last word".

    He argues that Plato wrote the dialog as a challenging, ironic text to engage us to improve our reasoning skills, to spot the contradictions and ironies, and to learn the skills needed to lead an examined life. He thinks Plato's highest value is to put reasons to everything we think and do.

    1 · September 10, 2013

  • Liliya S.

    Sorry, can not come. Have a great time everyone. Excellent topic. I will miss you.

    1 · September 10, 2013

  • CJ F.

    My notes on "Visions of Love" by Kenneth Taylor:

    He discusses the contrasting views of love by Phaedrus & Pausanius. Is love morally improving or not? Does love necessarily make us better?

    He likes Aristophanes' speech because it addresses erotic love as a desire of completion or wholeness: a fusion with the other "to heal the wound of human nature". He asks what strategy for living your life can help here? Is there really just one dual you who is your perfect lover?

    Socrates' speech is attributed to Diotima who introduces the ladder of beauty with "beauty itself" at the pinnacle. Does only beauty itself deserve our love? Is it the true object of our love?

    He interprets Alcibiades' speech: the Socratic philosophy exerts a powerful pull of the good on youth and is therefore non-corrupting even against the determined ill-will of corrupt people like Alcibiades.

    What does Plato think is the end and aim of love? Of desire? Of reason?

    September 9, 2013

  • CJ F.

    The discussion is going to follow the questions and points raised by the three Stanford lectures. Each lecture is about 50 minutes. Although watching the videos is not required, you will get a lot more out of the discussion if you have heard the main points already. Next week, I plan to summarize each lecture. But that does not give much time to watch the videos. So I hope you can put watching these on your schedule:

    "Visions of Love" by Kenneth Taylor:

    "It is not Hard at all to Challenge Socrates" by Joshua Landy:

    "A Life of Reason? Socrates v. Alcibiades" by R. Lanier Anderson:

    The lectures are a bit richer if you have read the Symposium first, but they do stand on their own if you do not have the time to read first. Last week and in the event description, I detailed resources to read or listen to the text. Go to the event page to find those notes:

    September 5, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Last week I urged you to read Plato's "Symposium". I hope that's going well and that most of you are making progress reading or listening to this great literary work.

    Today I want to highlight the 50 minute introductory video for the whole "Art of Living" course at Stanford (which is the inspiration for our "Art of Living" discussion series):

    Each professor brings an interesting perspective to the subject which I will highlight during our discussions. For those who want a synopsis, I will provide it in my followup comment below:

    2 · September 3, 2013

    • CJ F.

      Synopsis of 3 perspectives in the video Introduction:

      L. Lanier Anderson emphasizes the value of education from a humanities perspective. He uses the works to impress upon us the importance of a "freedom for expansion and self-development". He quotes W.E.B. DuBois "the true college will ever have one goal, not to earn meat, but to know the end and aim of that life which meat nourishes."

      Kenneth Taylor powerfully urges us to take control of our lives: to choose the type of life that we want. He says "Your life is given to you as a problem and a project". As a problem the question is "what shall I be" and as a project "how do I become". He urges us to take on this project reflectively, with intention and with a firm conviction!

      Joshua Landy focuses on the "highest value" that each work expresses. He asks us to consider what values do we hold so strongly that we would die for them as Socrates died for his highest value, reason.

      Watch the 50 minute video:­

      September 3, 2013

  • Liliya S.

    There is a possibility, that I can not come on Thursday, Sept. 12. I will let you know as soon as I could.

    1 · September 2, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This looks like a great introduction to great ideas with a thoughtful crowd.

    1 · September 1, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Plato's "Symposium" is easy reading: there is even humor in it with Aristophanes' hiccups and more. It is short: less than 100 pages. So I highly recommend that participants read it (though that is not required to attend). Look for a paper version at your favorite bookseller. Or read it for free in several electronic formats at Project Gutenberg:

    You can also listen to a two hour and 15 minute audio reading from LibriVox:

    Some people may prefer to watch the three Stanford lectures to get an idea of the text before reading it. Others may prefer to read it before watching the lectures. Your choice.

    What does the "Symposium" say about love, desire, knowledge, and reason? What does it ask you to aspire toward? What is Diotima/Socrates/Plato's highest value? What does it say about the end and aim of life? What does it say to you that's useful for your "Art of Living"?

    Only 2 weeks until the discussion...

    1 · August 30, 2013

  • Marie

    sorry unable to attend

    August 20, 2013

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