Philosophy – In search of Absolute Beauty From Plato’s Symposium Webster defines beauty as the quality or the aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit. Is this correct? Cannot one persons definition of beauty differ from another persons definition? One person may find beauty in something another person finds repulsive. When someone says a woman is beautiful and another person says that a type of music is beautiful are he or she talking about the same kind of beauty? Everyone has a different idea about what is beautiful, so how are we to know what true beauty is? If everyone has his or her own opinion about what is beautiful is there a standard on which to base beauty (Dye 1)? Plato said that we see beauty in its simplest form, but with the right guidance we can see beauty in its purest form. He put forth the notion of ideal forms as a way for us to view the world in which we live.
In Republic, Plato used a myth, the Allegory of the cave, to explain ideal forms.In the Allegory of the cave, prisoners are chained in a dark cave and facing the back wall of the cave. A fire casts shadows of the outside world on the wall of the cave and these shadows represent the real world to the prisoners. They assume that the echoes from the outside world are made by the shadows and they even gave names the shadows, just as we have names for objects in the real world. The prisoners are released and led to the surface of the earth and are very confused.
They are unable to comprehend the true forms of things, which cast the shadows in the cave. And when the prisoners looked into the sun this new, foreign light, which is so brilliant, would blind them. The prisoners must grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. At first, he will see shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves.Last, he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another, and he will contemplate him as he is. This myth can be used to explain absolute beauty. We are like the prisoners, living in a dark cave, only seeing the shadows of what is real.
If we have proper guidance, we can see the world in its true, pure form and not just a world of appearance. You cannot see the true forms at first, just as the prisoners could not see the real world at first because of the blinding sun. But they took small steps and were able to see and understand more and more as time went on. We too can see the world in its pure form if we take the right steps toward ideal forms (Plato 514a-521b). We still don’t know what pure beauty is, only that we cannot see it without being enlightened. In Symposium, Diotma explained to Socrates what absolute beauty is and how to attain it.
It cannot be explained in one idea, but many which described the different aspects of absolute beauty. To understand absolute beauty you must perceive beauty as itself and by itself, not as an object or idea. Human ideas, perceptions, and actions can partake of it but they cannot improve upon or lessen it. Absolute beauty is eternal. It has no start or no end.It does not come to be or cease to be and it doesnt increase or diminish.
Absolute beauty is unchanging. It isnt attractive at one time, but not at another or attractive in one setting, but repulsive in another. Once absolute beauty is achieved, everything else in the world will pale in comparison. True beauty itself can make life worth living (Plato 211a-211d).Diotma says that things in the physical world can partake of absolute beauty, but nothing is absolutely beautiful itself.
I find this hard to believe. I have experienced many things in my life and surely something I have seen has embodied at least a little bit of pure beauty. Plato disagrees with me on this point. He says that there are five steps to ascend in order to see absolute beauty.The qualities of the steps are very clear, but how you ascend these steps is unclear. Whether you need a guide to go from step to step or if you are automatically enlightened at the end of each step is uncertain. The first step is to focus on the beauty of one person.
I believe this means to fall in love, but not lust, with a person. You should not focus on the sexual aspect of a relationship or you will become a slave to your desires and will fail in the ascent toward absolute beauty. This person must be someone whom someone can love everything about them, the good and the bad.You should love them not only for their physical beauty, but also for their inner beauty. After you have a meaningful relationship with one person, you will begin to see the beauty in other people and eventually in all people. The obsession with one person will grow less intense and after a while seem to be ridiculous and meager. You should now love all others with the same intensity you once loved only one person.
You should see people as beautiful for their differences and for their uniqueness.You should now see the beauty of people just for being one of your fellow human beings. The next step in the ascent toward contemplating absolute beauty is to look past physical beauty and see the beauty of the mind. You should now be past the love of the flesh and, looking back at it, see that love as crazy.
This step is where you discover a love for intellect and try to see beauty with your mind instead of with your eyes. When you reach this point, you should ascend to the next step, which is seeing beauty in the activities people engage in and the institutions they are a part of. Beauty should be seen in every activity no matter how different or strange it seems to you.I feel this step encourages tolerance of other peoples actions and their ideas no matter how different they are from your own. In my eyes, this very important step stresses the importance of the tolerance needed to rid the world of the plague of violence, hate, and racism that fills it today which will lead to a better world.
Once this is achieved, we ascend the last step of the ladder of absolute beauty before achieving sight of absolute beauty. This final step is recognizing the beauty of knowledge. No longer is the physical world the basis for beauty. You should now see beauty in thoughts and ideas. If everyone were to reach this level of consciousness, I believe people would get past the pettiness of everyday life and focus their energies on solving the world’s problems.War, disease, hunger and other forms of sorrow and despair would slowly begin to fade away and the world would become what everyone hopes it one day may be: peaceful and harmonious. The next step is attainment of absolute beauty. From this point, absolute beauty is a mystery.
All that’s known is that its perfect. When you attain sight of absolute beauty, where do you go from there? Do you get a glimpse of it and then go back to seeing things in their “normal” state or do you see absolute beauty for all times? And if you are able to see everything in their most beautiful state, is there something you can do to cause you to lose sight of absolute beauty? And what does absolute beauty look like? There don’t seem to be many first-hand accounts from witnesses of absolute beauty.What if its overrated? It seems like a lot of hard work to attain sight of absolute beauty for it to be anything less than perfect. The concept of absolute beauty seems kind of vague. Should people really try to work so hard for something so uncertain? The answer is simple. Yes, people should try to ascend to absolute beauty because it is the pinnacle of all that is good in the world.
Being in possession of goodness makes people happy, and I believe everyone strives for happiness in this sometimes cruel and harsh world. And if, while striving for their own self-happiness, people were to be selfless enough to do something to make the world a little better place for their fellow human beings, that this world would come as close to perfection as possible. Attaining sight of absolute beauty is not only the pursuit of a perfect beauty and ultimate happiness; it is also the steps one must take to become a better person.