Phaedrus by Plato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Phaedrus” is one of the middle Socratic dialogues of Plato (experts propose that the middle dialogues increasingly contain Plato’s own ideas [versus those of Socrates, himself.]) The subject of the dialogue is love and whether it is worth pursuing. Phaedrus has a speech by Lysias that he’s is quite excited about, one which claims that it’s better to have a “platonic” relationship than a loving one. As Phaedrus and Socrates walk, they debate about the speech. Phaedrus presses Socrates to deliver his own speech on the subject. Socrates delivers two; the first aligns with Lysias’ view and the second takes the opposing side.
Socrates concludes that, while love is a form of madness, it’s not the madness of human infirmity. Instead, it’s a form of divine madness, and – as such – should not be poo-poo’d too quickly. Socrates proposes that there are four varieties of divine madness (theia mania): prophetic, ritual, poetic, and erotic, and – of these – the latter is best and (again) shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.
After Socrates’ second speech and conversation that summarizes and clarifies it, the philosopher discusses how one can be led astray by elegantly formulated words, and how a philosopher should evaluate what is said to determine whether the speaker is wise or whether he (or she) just sounds sage by virtue of his (/her) poeticism.
While this dialogue can be a bit ethereal and mystic for my taste, it has some fascinating things to say. While I don’t necessarily believe in the “divine” part of divine madness, I do see that there are some people who are able to become unyoked from custom and convention, and to do so in a way that is not anxiety-riddled. I think this is a useful state to understand, and this dialogue is an excellent place to start.
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