Comparing Plato’s Symposium and David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

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Comparing Plato’s Symposium and David Hume’s An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding

Philosophy, when broken down into the original Greek, is philos, which means love, and logos, which means word. Thus philosophy is the love of words or linguistics. There is not one way of viewing this love of words. Both Plato and David Hume examine philosophy in their texts, Symposium and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, respectively. I will outline, then compare, these two philosophers’ views of philosophy to show that philosophy is a balance.

Plato’s Symposium is a dialogue of speeches given by different orators on the topic of love. These discourses allow several views of philosophy to be expressed. These philosophical views relate and compliment the speaker’s view of love. Pausanias introduces two kinds of love: heavenly and common. In contrast to Eryximachus’ speech where “the love manifested in health (heavenly) is fundamentally different from the love manifested in disease (common/vulgar)” (Plato: 186B). Pausanias holds that “love is, like everything else, complex: considered simply in itself, it is neither honorable nor a disgrace – its character depends entirely on the behavior it gives rise to” (Plato: 183D). Pausanias views love as good and bad by what it brings. He sees that love with women and with little boys is of the vulgar kind, but love between older men, however, can have a powerful force in the community and therefore be honorable and heavenly. Therefore, in Pausanias’ eyes, love can be a valuable force within the community if implemented correctly. “Love’s value to the city as a whole and to the citizens is immeasurable, for he compels the lover and his loved one alike to make virtue their cen...

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...nsion is located in the soul; the philosophical study of love allows those aspects of the soul to be released, which in turn ties together all the perspectives of philosophy aired in the Symposium with this concept of balance. This balance of philosophy is not going to teach you anything you do not already know, rather it allows you to release what is in your soul. Hume stipulates that not only must there be a balance between the active and reasonable sides of humans, but also a balance of human understanding against abstruse and confused issues. Therefore, from the examination of Plato and Hume, there exists a common theme: philosophy is a balance.

Works Cited

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. 2nd edition. Hackett Publishing: Indianapolis. 1993.

Plato. Symposium. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. Cambridge: Hackett, 1989.

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