Further Than Diotima

February 12, 2016

The encomiums delivered by those proceeding Socrates are all fine to look at. But apart from over-generalization (Eryximachus), baseless speculations (Aristophanes), what the weakness that I dimly felt really is was specified by Socrates as “to attribute to Love every species of greatness and glory, whether really belonging to him or not, without regard to truth or falsehood”, whereas Socrates, or rather Diotima strove to reveal his innate nature and her conclusion is quite illuminating to my delight:

the love of the everlasting possession of the good… of immortality.

In deriving this, I have no objection to the assumption that

Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires happiness; the answer is already final.

– a principle I base my entire life upon! Only that -as I’m still in a sophist’s spirit- the notions of the good, beauty, virtue etc are frequently used without substantiation, which can be subject to various interpretations. Despite the minor flaw, I have to admit the mysterious idea of beauty absolute sounds so compellingly romantic even though nothing of substance is said about it. Added to its charm is an interim stage where one recognizes that

…the beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms…

Feeling myself on the right track, isn’t it natural that I’ll be burning with curiosity to know what sits at the destination of the trekking? Nevertheless, even though her words strike my heart ever so powerfully, I carefully reserve a space at the back of my mind not to be won over so easily. For I do not wish to despise anyone anything, especially in a sense that I want to cultivate a humble soul that does not put procreation in the rank of barbarism, ignorance and backwardness or hold a pregnant mind that conceives child of wisdom at such high esteem. (The other narcissist self is currently banging behind the bars screaming “I totally do!”) Because after all, I doubt the existence of the good absolute. Consequently I shall not sneer at others without concrete scientific evidence of my own good being compromised by that of the others.

Now it’s nice that many phenomena of love can be explained by quote (1), where immortality is the key. However, this kind of phenomena that has been so for the past thousands of years need not be so in the next thousands of years. Recognizing the finiteness of everything earthly, why cling to something that is unattainable even theoretically? I could understand and appreciate that I’m able to write down these gibberish today all thanks to countless such futile attempts accumulated in the entire human history. All of a sudden this ungrateful small fry starts to talk about abandoning this axiom that nature imprinted on all the living things and that almost exclusively defines what life means?

But I find something more axiomatic than quote (1) that is quote (2). To me, quote (1) betrays a horrible sense of self-importance. Our mind has evolved to such a degree that we have generalized numerous traditionally narrow concepts to broader senses. For example, Diotima praises poets and artists who “conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain” alluding to the inferiority of the conceiving of mortal children. We definitely could eliminate the redundant association of happiness with immortality, which is probably genetically embedded in us in the beginning. But our happiness is now more governed by the product of our minds than any other materialistic things. Therefore it’s not hard to desert the cruel path of pursuing the everlasting once we recognize that it’s filled with agony and suffering. And if I must be labelled as one who has a self-destructive tendency, I must confess my intense love for the breathtakingly tranquil ending rather than the uncomely finale that the foolish pursuit of immortality is bound to yield, all the while noting that there WILL BE an end – the question is only how.

As for this transient moment, contemplating beauty, full of love of the infinite possibilities of the mind that creates fair and noble thoughts, I could not resist but, like in a swinging crib, be swayed by such flowery rhetorics, hither and thither.

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