Dear Socrates (h2so4 8)

H2so4: Socrates, I wonder whether or not you would answer a few questions for us.

Socrates: Why, my dear youth, I have no objection to joining with you in inquiry.

H: Well then, can you tell us, Socrates, what is a relationship?

S: Your question is obscure. May I ask you, are we to think of a relationship as a harmony?

H: To be sure.

S: And does not the nature of every harmony depend upon the manner in which its elements are harmonized?

H: I'm afraid I don't understand you.

S: I mean to say that a harmony admits of degrees, and is more of a harmony, and more completely a harmony, when more truly and fully harmonized, to any extent which is possible; and less of a harmony, and less completely a harmony, when less truly and fully harmonized.

H: Most assuredly. Do continue, Socrates.

S: Let us examine the matter from another point of view: Do you imagine that a harmony or any other composition can be in a state other than that of the elements out of which it is compounded?

H: Certainly not.

S: Then a harmony does not, properly speaking, lead the parts or elements which make up the harmony, but only follows them.

H: That is probable.

S: And what are these elements?

H: Passion and friendship are two elements, I would imagine, and I suppose there are others.

S: And what is passion? Can you tell me?

H: I would rather that you answer that, Socrates.

S: He who is given over to passion does not easily rise out of this world to the sight of true beauty but like a brutish beast he rushes on to enjoy and beget; he consorts with wantonness, and is not afraid or ashamed of pursuing pleasure in violation of nature.

H: You are quite right, it seems.

S: When one given over to passion is side by side with his lover, he is not in a state in which he can refuse the lover anything, although part of his soul opposes this with inward arguments of shame and reason.

H: To be sure.

S: Now.... What of friendship?

H: I would feign have you define that for me as well.

S. Fate has ordained that there shall ever be friendship among the good. Great are the heavenly blessings which the friendship of a lover will confer upon you; and the beloved, when he has received the lover into communion and intimacy, is quite amazed at the good-will of the lover; he recognizes that the inspired friend is worth all other friends and kinsmen.

H: So what, then, is the difference between passion and friendship?

S: Friendship is to Passion what Justice is to Rhetoric, or Cookery to Medicine.

H: I hate it when you do this; it is like the GRE.

S: I am, after all, a prime mover of the western tradition.

H: So it would seem. But humor me, and tell me what you mean.

S: Justice is an art; Rhetoric is a skill, a routine, that can be mastered without thinking. Medicine is a kind of knowledge, while Cookery is a knack. Rhetoric and Cookery are concerned only with securing pleasure and know nothing of what is better and worse. Justice, Friendship and Philosophy know what is good and bad, and learn this discernment through reflection. Passion seeks pleasure alone, and does not reflect.

H: And what is love?

S: The madness of love is the greatest of heaven's blessings. The lover loves, but he knows not what; he does not understand and cannot explain his own states; he appears to have caught the infection of blindness from another. The lover is a mirror in whom he is beholding himself, but he is not aware of this. When he is with the lover, both cease from their pain, but when he is away from the lover, then he longs as is he longed for, and has love's constant image lodging in his breast.

H: That seems to me to be a feeling of passion, in its fervor and its lack of philosophical reflection. Is love of the lower passions, or does it exist in the grace of true friendship as well?

S: False is the tale that when a lover is at hand favor ought rather to be accorded to one who does not love, on the ground that the former is mad, and the latter sound of mind. That would be right if it were an invariable truth that madness is an evil, but in reality, the greatest blessings come by way of madness, indeed of madness that is heaven-sent. Love is a gift from the gods, fraught with the highest bliss. A beloved pair must live for Love in singleness of purpose with the aid of philosophical discourse, else all time spent together amounts to thoughtless satisfaction of lust.

H: So how can I know love? What is it?

S: That which is known in the experience of love.

H: Ugh.

S: Let us proceed. Is love pleasant?

H: It is pleasant, I've heard.

S: And is this pleasure to be pursued?

H: So it would seem.

S: But is the pleasant the same as the good?

H: No, they are not the same.

S: Then we are agreed about that. And is the pleasant to be pursued for that sake of the good? Or the good for the sake of the pleasant?

H: The pleasant for the sake of the good, I would think.

S: Yes, my friend. And that is pleasant which we are pleased in the presence of, and that is good which we are good in the presence of, correct?

H: To be sure.

S: And how are we to pursue this good?

H: I am hardly capable of giving a ready answer to this question.

S: By seeking experience of it. Perhaps by dating?

H: If you say so, Socrates.

S: Then let us seek such an appointment.

H: You want to go out on a date?

S: Not you and I together, you ninny. But let us reflect on the nature of the date.

H: OK. They suck.

S: Well, a date is such a thing as appears to be always in flux. Men exist in various forms and dispositions, some opposite, some similar. When an attachment between opposites forms, it is fierce and furious, and often unreciprocated, whereas that founded on similarity is equable and permanently reciprocal. Where both factors, opposition and similarity, are present at once, as they are in most relations, it is often hard to perceive what the subject of this 'love' is really seeking, and he is distracted and baffled by rival impulses, one inviting him to enjoy the charms of the object, the other forbidding the enjoyment, or repulsed by the perceived annoying qualities of the object. The man whose love is a physical passion tells himself to take his fill and give not a thought to his minion's state of soul. But he whose desire is veritably that of soul for soul looks on enjoyment of the flesh by flesh as wanton shame. This conflict of desire is mirrored in the very composition of a 'date.'

H: I do not follow.

S: Well, by its name, it appears to be one thing, but in our experience of it, a "date" may transpire in myriad forms, so much so that it often seems that we can only determine what was a date retroactively. And yet these very different things contend that they are the same, by means of a name. And then what some would call a "date," others would call an "outing," and thus things which may be the same in nature are different in name. So I ask you, is a name subject to flux?

H: Clearly

S: And can things be known without names?

H: So it would seem.

S: But how would you expect to know them? What other way can there being of knowing them, save for through their affinities and through themselves? For that which is other and different from them must signify something other and different from them.

H: What you are saying is, I think, true.

S: So names that are rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things which they name.

H: Yes.

S: So let us suppose that you can learn things through the medium of names, and also from the things themselves. Which is likely to be the nobler and clearer way--to learn of the image or to learn of the truth?

H: I should say that we must learn of the truth.

S: So tell me, do things exist only in semblance or is there any absolute beauty or good, or any other absolute existence?

H: I cannot be certain, but there may be.

S: Then let us seek true beauty, not asking whether a face is fair, or anything of that sort. Time passes and all such things appear to be in flux. Let us ask instead whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.

H: O.K.

S: Is it?

H: Yes

S: So, are we likely to find such true beauty on a date?

H: I do not follow.

S: You are so slow. Is 'date' merely a name for something that can be experienced as different from what it names?

H: Yes

S: Thus it is subject to flux.

H: Indeed.

S: And is a date not established as that which exists in a state of flux?

H: Yup.

S: And is flux truth?

H: I think not.

S: Then a date is not real

H: I do not follow you.

S: Simply, how can that thing be real which is never in the same state? For obviously things which are the same cannot change while they remain the same.

H: Certainly they cannot.

S: Nor yet can such a thing in flux be known; for at the moment that you, as observer, approach it, then it becomes other and of another nature, so that you cannot get any further in knowing its nature or state, for you cannot know that which has no state.

H: True.

S: And that which cannot be known surely cannot be pursued.

H: Surely not. But...

S: Ah. Here is Agathon. And now I must take my leave of you.

H: But....

S: Another day, my friend, we shall continue our inquiry.

H: Very well, Socrates. Do you have any final words?

S: I owe a cock to your editor; will you remember to pay the debt?

[scribed by Jill Stauffer and Heidi Pollock, ©1998]