The Focusing Institute Presents The Gendlin Online Gendlin Online Library Banner

Gendlin, E.T. (1970). What controls dialectic? Commentary on Plato's Symposium. Unpublished manuscript. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2219.html

[Page 1]

What Controls Dialectic?

Commentary on Plato's Symposium [*]

E.T. Gendlin

University of Chicago

The world-dividers, those powerful axe-wielders, to them the earth's crust is nothing. With their axes they go several inches in, and they make furrows in the earth, like those trenches with which one surrounds a camping tent to let the rain water run off. Only the axers build cement and steel gullies of them. Future archaeologists, when they will dig and find these, will not know what they were for, and will no doubt say that they must have had some peculiar religious significance for us. This time they will be partly right, because people are mostly mystified by these divisions and feel that it is forbidden to cross over. A smart scoffer, on the other hand, will use them for trails.

Now, in contrast, the humble geographer does the earth no harm. Wherever geographic lines are drawn, or planes passed through the earth, whatever hemispheres are cut, however straight the lines, the geographers persist in explaining that the earth is round and whole. The earth's axis cuts far deeper than those three-inch gullies, it cuts right through, in fact, and yet it leaves the earth undivided. Or take the plane that divides the northern and southern hemispheres: it leaves the earth whole so that it can again be divided into eastern and western hemispheres.

It is true that it is of great importance to the geographer, once a line is drawn, to make the other lines at equal intervals from the first. Once all this is done, a very exact location can be given to every village on earth. If you are even one three-hundred-and-sixtieth of a three-hundred-and-sixtieth off, you might be in an entirely different village than you intended, and you might be taken for an enemy or an infiltrator there. One can hardly say that these lines are not serious!

And yet, these lines are only one possible system of lines. The zero line goes through Greenwich in London. Had the English really had any conviction in the fact that London is the beginning of the earth, they would have chosen the very center of London, surely. As it was, they thought it just as well to be off center, and take their observatory in Greenwich as the origin line, thereby moving London westward by some miles. Don't say it doesn't matter, you wouldn't want to be lost in some of London's boroughs.

But we could make a worse mistake than to call these lines unserious—for example when the geographers show that the earth is round, we could tell them that they can't be serious in this instance either. If they wished then to prove it to us, and began to draw their lines to do a proof, we would catch them at it and reject the proof on the grounds that the lines were arbitrarily chosen.

[*]This manuscript was originally written in 1970, and slightly revised in 2007.

[Page 2]

Worse, we could take it as evidence for their lack of seriousness, that they themselves claim that an infinite number of different lines can be drawn even through some small space on the earth, and that this nonsensical statement describes the earth better than their own system of lines.

There are thus these two fundamentally different kinds of dividers, those whose divisions separate, and those whose divisions unite and help us get around better. Charted territory is more united or more easily uniteable by travel, and politically as well. We may even take the axers' divisions and use even them to get around, rather than to block us off. The serious has just one point of view; humor always juxtaposes at least two.

The division between the serious and the funny is the most fundamental axer's gully. All other axings are instances of it, only, whereas this one cut is really serious. If accepted, then thereafter anything serious isn't funny, and all humor is also lost on one, because anything serious is withdrawn to the other side and can't be hit.

Everything is then in one system of lines only, and cannot be made to be located differently viewed from another place. The earth is then really taken to be flat, Moscow is never north of Chicago, the truth becomes flat and thereby wrong. So it is the axers, who, in the end, render the earth as a system of lines. The Symposium must be understood from the end forwards, and from the top down. At the end, Socrates argues that the genius of comedy is the same as that of tragedy. This tells us that what is said playfully, and what is said straight-facedly, are not fundamentally distinguished thereby. It establishes that whatever about Plato's dialogues is comic does not thereby make the dialogues different than if they had been written straight-facedly—well, different all right, but not less serious.

Thus there is not a type of writing that is inherently to be taken more seriously.

The comedy provided by Alcibiades near the end shows how absurd it is to say that "love" is most beautiful and the highest good. In making us laugh it convinces us more fully than Socrates' serious statement earlier.

And, of course, Plato wrote both.

Plato held that any piece of writing is inferior to a real dialogue, because the assertions made in it cannot talk back, if questioned, and are not equal to really ongoing thinking. We can take this in two ways: We can misunderstand it to say that Plato could have written what he really thought, but he was afraid to do so and therefore what he did write was less than what could have been written. Or, we can take him at his word that what he considered the real thing could not be written, because of the very nature of writing, and because of the very nature of real thinking and of reality. If we follow the second alternative, then the dialogic fashion in which Plato did write must become clear to us as being more real, than if he had written only assertions and only ones that were all consistent with each other.

[Page 3]There is still another misunderstanding possible. We can become very serious and dour about how reality is beyond comprehension, and we can interpret Plato's fashion of writing as merely telling us that. But that can not be right, either, since that can be written in one sentence, and, in fact, that can be written. Were the point merely that no matter how we think or struggle we cannot comprehend reality, no genuine progress can be made, it is clear that much work could be saved. It is in fact largely to save work, I think, that people hold this view. Especially in regard to Plato, the difficulty of studying his texts is entirely cleared up thereby.

The aim of this paper is to reject those readings at least in regard to the Symposium, and to do it by making sense of it. One can surely make more sense of it, but not less.

We want to see how Plato's philosophy does at least as much as flat serious writings can, and then more. This means that there is at least a difference between having understood, and not yet having done so. Therefore it cannot be said that what he wrote cannot be univocally interpreted—only that there is more here than that.

Another way to put it: when a conclusion of Plato's is that we don't know something, I will show that there is a lot he has said, that we can know, up to that point, in fact that the point he calls not knowing is very highly informative specifically.

It is entirely false, and one of the misunderstandings I characterized above, to say that the great insight is that we don't know, that it is more sophisticated to know that one doesn't know, and no more than that. What this misses is the specific knowledge, many specific facets of knowledge, which go into any given respect in which we don't know something.

When a Platonic dialogue ends in what they call a "negative" result, this is what many readers miss. Actually, none of these dialogues have negative results. Rather, the dialectic in each dialogue consists of a series of positive assertions. After each, there are counter-examples and difficulties posed, which show not only that the assertion cannot stand, but give a very exact aspect or sets of aspects which are why it cannot. The next assertion in the sequence of positive assertions is not just any new try, but an assertion which states positively these facets which were discovered as the reasons why the last assertion couldn't stand. Therefore the point at which the last assertion was found faulty is a highly informative point. It gives information one didn't see when one first framed that assertion. Thus, if justice is paying what one owes, then if one owes weapons, returning them when the person is upset would fit the definition, yet it seems unjust. What is defined as just is thus unjust. This contradiction (Rep. I) gives information: what does one really owe the person who has loaned one something, if not the return of this something? Why, exactly, is it unfair to return what one borrowed, if the person is mentally deranged just then? Because he will harm himself with the weapons? That is sad, but why is it unfair, unjust? It seems clearly unfair. Why? Because when he loaned me the weapons he was doing me a favor, and when I return the weapons I am not returning the favor, just then. So it is a favor I owe, not weapons. And a favor is something that's good, therefore exactly, it would be unfair to return the weapons in that crazy instance. Later on, perhaps, we will say that it is always unfair to harm someone, but not here. That information is not here. [Page 4]The next statement is not to be just any old good statement, but only a statement which arises directly from what we got as information, when the last statement was found faulty, and this was that it was unfair to bring harm to someone who did us a favor.

Therefore, had the dialogue stopped at this point, without a further definition (and I didn't phrase one here), it would not be "negative" and its point would not be that justice is hard to define, and that we don't know what it is. Rather, the point would be that justice has something to do with good and bad given and returned, rather than objects or money being given or returned. (The definition which follows is that justice is giving good for good, and evil for evil.)

This information is never again lost, once one sees it and has it. Giving good for good and evil for evil is also not a tenable definition, but the additional information we get from its troubles are cumulatively added to the information we got from the demise of the earlier definitions.

A "negative" dialogue happens not to stop with one of the positive assertions in the series. It happens to stop with the interstice. It is therefore if anything more positive because where it stops there is nothing that is incorrect, only correct specific information. One has the facets which will go into a next better statement, but not yet that statement. (When one gets it,other facets will be discovered by what is wrong with it. Hence if one stops with the statement, the dialogue would stop with some undiscovered flaws.)

The key to dialectic is to see exactly how the negativity – the faults found with statements – is specific information which can lead to a new statement. A new statement also will later be overthrown, but the specific information which led to it will never be abandoned.

To take such a next step, new concepts must be made. By "new statement" I mean the fashioning of new concepts, I do not mean just rearranging one's terms or fixing some oversight.

Plato and Aristotle were concept-makers, they therefore knew something about how concepts are made, rather than merely used. They saw that concepts are made from experiences, from certain ways of proceeding with experiences. Any instance can be made into a concept that has general application, but of course one then cuts up the world along certain lines. Other instances will also lend themselves to concept-making, but with different world-cutting lines. Aristotle chose certain ones as the best, and they were good indeed. Very much of what he used came from Plato.

Plato himself, however, found the power for concept-formation infinitely truer than any one set—not because that left an infinity of possibilities, but because he discovered what controls concept-formation. That which controls concept-formation and keeps it from being arbitrary, corrects it and forces us to remake concepts when we find where they are faulty, that he called the truth.

[Page 5]Plato therefore did not characterize writing and set assertions as less than totally serious because the information or knowledge contained therein was unsure or relative or negligible or uninterpretable or not ultimately doubtless. Rather, it was exactly because by making concepts and then using them we discover further information, and this information is always sure, always concrete and experiential and there in the world, but when we come to conceptualize that further information, we are taking the first of three steps to discover more. This discovery of more comes about, not as further information making our earlier information untrue—but only as making our earlier statement untrue. The further information which makes that statement untrue is discovered by that statement.

The key here is that something controls what we can and cannot continue to maintain when examples from life make what we said seem false to us. This recognition consists of something other than our statements, concepts, definitions, and logic. With only these we could never sense the wrongness of anything that follows logically.

How is it, that one can be forced to abandon one's best definition because of some conclusion that follows with perfect logic from it?

Clearly something functions, other than definitions and logic! What is that?

Plato's Symposium is about that.

Another way to formulate the above is in terms of contradiction. In the example cited, returning the weapons is just (by definition), and unjust (by some other access). For the same thing to be just and unjust is a contradiction.

In a contradiction both positive and negative formulations (with or without "not") fail. Something other than formulation must function. Therefore dialectic requires a person. Someone must check each step, and at least say "very true," else when the words fail there will be nothing else.

Contradictions must not be taken as adding up to nothing. If how it is "unjust" were simply that how it is "just" is not true, nothing would be left. Instead, what one side means is not simply a denial of the other.

A way in which this error can be practiced, is to make each side mean only its negation, so that one can say about Plato that he is simply not serious, because he said he isn't serious. Then, usually in a different part of one's essay, one can also maintain that Plato is just plain serious because he also said he wasn't being funny, that comedy has the genius of tragedy. Thereby, instead of having nothing to say, one can take the contradiction as purely flat, getting out of each side only the plain denial by the other.

The right way to take contradictions is to notice that the information contained on the two sides is different information. One side doesn't simply say the other is not. But to combine the informations requires a new concept, new terms, new ways of drawing lines [Page 6]on the world. Until that is done, if one is to say the informations in the old words, one can say only: "It is X, but also not-X." A better way to say it would be: It is X in certain respects, and not-X in other respects. These respects must make a new concept.

Every paradox is like that. A paradox expresses an insight while still using the words one had before that insight. It can therefore be stated only by using the old words twice, not in the same way.

Thus a person is required, and there are not only words but also what the person has there which can be different for the same words used in two ways.

If justice is not "paying one's debts," then we can miss the point by concluding that justice is the non-payment of debts. We can discuss Plato as asocial, does he not say that we should disobey contracts? But since he also said it was just to repay, we must also later on call him a totalitarian and a statist. He had Socrates say that it was better to die because of unjust laws than to violate these laws.

Instead, we need to see that the information on the two sides isn't the same. One side says justice is a kind of obligation we do have, the other side says it is the return of a favor, not objects or money, but something good. The negating side thus tells us something more about what the obligation is.

Similarly, by taking only denials out of contradictions, Plato's view of knowledge becomes a kind of "activity therapy," because he says purely formal knowledge without the participation of much more in the person than the cognitive, isn't the highest kind. Or one can make Plato a formalist, the ultimate formalist, because he says such activity contradicts itself unless such activity, practice, education, politics, poetry, is guided, is really only imitations of eternal forms.

Again, one can say there is no knowledge, only ethics, for Plato, because he denies a true that isn't good. Or, there may be no ethics because only knowledge apprehends the good.

The assertion or definition which just then runs into trouble is in one sense retained and true, so one cannot throw it out, but where it runs into trouble is where one learns something more about it. This more, to be sure, forces a change in the formulation, but not a total change. It is a further differentiation, added in.

Thus Plato is first of all serious, and writes and makes conceptual formulations some of which are as good as Aristotle's (and some of these were taken over by Aristotle).But, then, also, in addition and not in subtraction, Plato does more than make a good formulation. He also makes other good formulations in other connections and contexts. And, what is really more, Plato also shows a method of concept-formation, and thinks this method much closer to the truth than any one product from the method.

If the method did not result in serious conceptual formulations, neither formulation nor method would be worth anything. Since it does, the method is of a higher order than one [Page 7]of its products, or even all of its products. Just as, only because our obligations are serious, therefore it is important to see that the good, and not the objects, are owed, so also, because formulating is serious, therefore the method of so doing is even more serious than any one specific product.

The method is a process, a generating. By the method, as in recollection, the eternally same forms (about which, later) are regenerated in a moving activity by us. This is method, dialectic, philosophy, love, being drawn and controlled by eternal but always newly generative forms, as the animals give new birth to the same form's instances, in new individuals and circumstances. This method itself must be shown and given, says Plato.

Thus Plato does more, not less, than give serious knowledge and formulations.

Of course, to say flatly in a formulation what the genesis-of-formulations is, what the method is, this can again be only one flat product. Therefore what I said above about the method must itself be lacking in some regards. Not only are other equally good ways of formulating it possible with different lines drawn on the earth, but also, any one formulation because it is only a formulation, will be able to run into some difficulty and teach us more thereby than it says.

I cannot at the moment see what my rendition misses, but we will no doubt discover something further on.

Also, if one used what I said or Plato says only as formulation, then one would in a sense miss even the seriousness of the formulation. Thus while one must not dump out one side of a contradiction, one must also not keep it without its being informed by the other further step. Thus the most serious use of a formulation is in further thinking, especially that further thinking in which the formulation discovers new aspects by running into its own trouble with them.

The furthest one can get from Plato is to view his philosophy as a kind of relativism, or ambiguity with limited interpretability. This would omit the order, the steps, the necessity with which just this, and not just any old further item is discovered by a given formulation. It would also miss the necessity with which the next and better definition or assertion is guided and controlled exactly by just was discovered when the earlier formulation ran into trouble.

With respect to further steps not yet run into, the assertion might be open (though even these are convergent and polarizing toward one outcome), but with respect to this one already discovered difficulty of the formulation, only a next step that combines what we had with just this new facet we ran into, will do. We may not arrive at a formulation, but only at an understanding of a formulation we don't arrive at.

Thus, although the aim of a journey and of dialectic is present in each transition, the specific effect of its control is different at each step, and cumulative. This is because the [Page 8]truth or reality whose facets we run into when we draw lines and then run into trouble with them, can be called "the truth" or "reality,'' but it can also be taken as just this facet we just now ran into with this formulation. As "the truth" it is always the same, and every transition is controlled by it. As this facet, it is different and necessarily cumulative. We cannot find out more about what kind of obligation we owe until we have formulated "obligation," and cannot find out why we don't owe evil, until there is a formulation which says we do, when someone harms us.

A journey is like that, in the above respect. If the goal of the journey were equally present in each town we go through to get there, then there would be no point in leaving one town that isn't our goal, to get to another town which also is not.

This also means that it is false to say that we will never get to the goal, the point is in traveling about. They offer us poor consolation, who say that we can never achieve what we strive for, but the point is the trying. It is an inherent part of trying, that one can succeed. Busy work is something else. Yet Plato says both that we can get there (Diotima says so in the Symposium), and that we cannot. In one sense, "get there" means to formulate or be the aim, and this we cannot. In another sense, "get there" means to a formulation or life which is formed from the controlling truth, and this we can. Thus, the negation of "can get there" really tells us how we can, what more exactly getting there means. And in this sense dialectic is not like a journey, or rather, it is like a journey in which the aim is not only New York, but the good to be done there, or somewhere. This good we do isn't the good that controls. We can get to the good in New York (or, if we see half way there, that it has to be done with someone else in Montreal, we will shift direction and get there). We cannot get to the good which makes what we do good, but to say this is very different from putting it into doubt whether there even is such a factor as makes what we do good, or not good.

Now we want to see more exactly how this control by the truth or reality works. It is not a "faith," not a general belief that we can get there, which makes going worth while, or makes it seen worth while. It must not remain some myth either, though to speak about that which controls as itself an object whose formulation it controls will be a myth. The control, in action, must be specific and unavoidable for us, so clear must it be.

To show this control in action is possible, of course, even easy. I did so above. But in the Symposium this control is shown in the very discussion about this control.

And we also said that the Symposium is about what makes that control possible for us, which is that in the person which is more than formulations and logic, and takes the two specific informations given by contradiction and forms a new concept from both.

Diotima, having shown that love is not good and beautiful, is now asked by Socrates:

"What do you mean, Diotima," I said, "is love then evil and foul?"

"Hush, she cried, "is that to be deemed foul which is not fair?"

"Certainly," I said.

[Page 9]

And later:

". . . love is neither mortal nor immortal," Diotima says.

Plato can show his method by doing it and letting it work, to let us see how concepts arise in the method. Thus, whenever anything important is said, it is always self-illustrative. It is about the truth, but can be true only in so far as the truth is just then controlling the saying of it. When we have this control, it is because we are moving through a contradiction because only in the contradiction have we run into the truth so that it can control our formulations. We run into it because we formulated, and in running into it our further formulation is controlled by it.

When it is his turn, Socrates isn't even willing to begin without some responses from someone (which will probably lead to a contradiction). He doesn't make speeches alone. Then, where Agathon can't be taken further, then Diotima must be invented, and the person moving through the contradiction is Socrates. The contradiction got from Agathon is that love is beautiful and good because it desires those, but also not beautiful and not good because it desires what it wants and does not have.

Were these statements all we had, zero would be the result. But Socrates as pupil is more than just these terms. He is also the loving or wanting. (207b)

Between beautiful and good on the one hand, and ugly and evil on the other, is not some midpoint, but the very process, movement, or method which makes new concepts, under truth control.

The contradiction good, beautiful, and mortal vs. their opposites, is in a sense the contradiction of all contradictions. In another sense every contradiction not only enables one to take a step to a better formulation, but also shows the method of doing so. Once you walk through the doors marked "X, but also not-X," you move by this method, and are controlled in this way. But between the terms good and not-good we may find better terms for the method which controls us in this special concept-making.

The content we seek to define, love, is what we call it qua content. Qua the actual movement it is philosophy, dialectic, inspiredness, concept-formation not just a concept.

The "mean" between good and evil or truth and falsehood which now is formed out of what we learned on both sides of the contradiction, is not a midpoint, half-good and half-evil, but a new conception. Taken as wisdom and ignorance, the contradiction produces "right opinion," that which has a reason but doesn't contain the reason.

So with love, it has an object but doesn't contain it.

A "mean" is a middle, a proportion in Aristotle's sense, a ratio, a reason, a relation. It is also a movement through the contradiction, and in this instance the movement, the relation between the divine and the human. Between the opposites is the movement.

[Page 10]The movement has always already occurred, if the person has run into trouble with a formulation. Thus, says Diotima, Socrates believes love to be not a god, despite Socrates' claim that he believes love to be a god. Diotima can say this before Socrates gets to it, because Socrates has already run into the mortality aspect of love when he agreed that love was not good and fair, which the divine is.

We might have scoffed, earlier, that one could ever hope to get beyond the contradiction inherent in what love and philosophy are.

But the everlastingness of love's object was already there controlling the process of how we moved, when we said that love seeks everlasting possession of the good. Again Diotima (207a) takes as the source of the concept of eternity, how we already moved (at 206a).

In being drawn or controlled by what we run into, we already have in movement the information for the concept we wish to form from this movement. Concepts are its products.

There is no reason to take Diotima's picture of eternity (aspired to by the species which has its form ever renewed in each individual) less seriously than we take the same thing when Aristotle says it straight-facedly (De Anima, II-4). The forms are ever the same and are knowable.

In Diotima's sense the eternal forms are of course quite different from the cosmic floating forms which are widely taken to be Plato's view. He ridiculed those in the first part of the Parmenides.

Recollection (which in Meno is defined not as memory but as continuing "inquiry" 81c) is similarly the ever new genesis of Diotima's forms. Recollection is thus a genesis, a concept-formation, a making, but under eternal forms, controlled by the desired eternity.

Only knowledge, or recollection (inquiry), is a genesis controlled directly by the eternity which controls both the actual things and the animals. Therefore here (208b) Diotima can assert "with all the sureness of a sophist" that anything mortal partakes of immortality in this being-controlled way. So also, Socrates says here that love is the only subject he claims to know. Yet the genesis of visible things is only the lesser mysteries. Animals, great deeds, political and social institutions and the ordering of states and families, and the creations of Homer and Hesiod are here. All these can be made from right opinion or inspiration without knowledge, and are thus indeed controlled by the eternity which they instance, but not by a direct contact with it first.

The direct contact, the greater mysteries, goes only through knowledge: from one physical bodily form to many, to all, an empirical generalization enabling practice (210c) is moved from, as one moves to concepts, knowledges. From these, to one unified knowledge (and we saw how divergent pieces of knowledge lead to one further formulation, so the single science is dialectic) and from this to one's sense of that which [Page 11]controls and cannot itself be stated except as again only a controlled (as here, for instance.)

Thus direct contemplation is not knowledge but not without knowledge, rather more than knowledge and on the shoulders of knowledge and dialectic. The direct contemplation should be taken at least as seriously as one takes it when Aristotle says the same thing.

But there is more here, for now Diotima, at this top point, is called a prophetess (where she was called a wise woman earlier, check the Greek.) That which is beyond formulation—as we saw earlier—is what inspires poetry and animal love, and functions in every transition where a person has more than could as yet be said. Thus what guides and draws prophecy functions before knowledge, then also in each step of it, and then also remains beyond it as well.

This always gives Plato's discussion of this point an odd quality he uses ironically, the poet is in a sense ignorant and doesn't know what he says (like Agathon), but in another sense inspired by the same truth which guides and remains beyond knowledge. (Agathon is so guided, as we will see.) But we must not remain content with this as a comfortable statement, but see here exactly the difference, what each side of the statement says. It says here that there is a great difference (lesser and greater mysteries) between these two ways of being inspired. And (212a) Diotima says now that only through this approach via knowledge and the beyond which knowledge gives at each breakdown and at the top, can one "bring forth, not images, but realities."

Socrates, addressing Phaedrus, the love object to whom all the speeches are really addressed, says he addresses all men and not only him, thus instancing the point about moving beyond one physical instance.

Practice has come twice in the progression, before and after knowledge. Before, it included the ordering of states and families (209a) and laws and institutions (210b). After and from knowledge only does it include education. At 209b also, lover and beloved bring forth the creations of Homer and Hesiod and Lycurgus and Solon, but these are only images of beauty compared to the true virtue (of 212a) which can be created in a person only by someone whose inspiration is from and after knowledge, and thus both knowledge and more than knowledge.

It is in this sense that Socrates drinks: for drinking is a kind of inspiration and can be had both before and after knowledge. Socrates is not for abstinence but from the same inspiration he is for movement.

What we call education, or practice, or drinking, or any of these activities can be done before as well as after knowledge, but then they are very different.

We saw that the inspiration is necessary, it cannot be dispensed with. Each step of coming to know requires this aspect of the person, this being-drawn by something one has run into which overthrows one's formulation (though it is discovered by this very [Page 12]formulation.) Only the love of truth, so to speak, leads one on past the desire to retain one's proffered definition. Therefore there is no knowledge without this love. More exactly, one is forced, even if one verbally denies it, to assent inwardly to any difficulty one's formulation encounters, one really cannot help it. The control is so strong.

Without this personal aspect of being drawn and controlled, there can be no steps of knowledge. One could only repeat one's definitions and get them only from someone else. There could be no generating of concepts.

On the other hand, if one has got to the knowing apprehension of what controls knowledge one won't be bowled over by any physical instance of inspiration, a beloved person or alcohol.

Thus it is the eternal object, but really only via drawing us and forcing us, which controls knowledge, and does it only through love, i.e., through controlling the part of us that is inspired, that "knows" before we can formulate, so that we may formulate from what we have encountered already.

We must say a little here about this control, how it is in terms of beauty and the good, not only logic. I have made clear, I think, how the control exceeds logic, making us throw out a definition with which logically nothing is wrong, because it gives a conclusion which, in a given instance, is sensed by us or inspiredly felt by us to be the opposite of what our definition said it should be.

This control involves good and beautiful. Logical formulation alone can pretend to a kind of "true" that need not be good and beautiful—therefore it is constantly corrected as it leads, via being controlled, to further steps. We have a perfectly logical conclusion about this instance—and yet we may sense that this can't be maintained. This has to do with what is good or bad.

For example, if justice remains the paying of debts, which in many societies it does for unthinking people, that's bad. With a greater sensitivity for the good and beautiful we don't want to maintain that it is "just" to dump what we came to return on the man's porch and go our way, self-satisfied.

Similarly, when an action was planned, many circumstances considered, and is then taken, we implicitly consider the action and its expected result good. We think of it as good in some way, perhaps not for others but at least good for us. When it then has results that we didn't want at all, we call it bad. But this has to mean that some of the facts we considered in advance were false, or that some true facts were missing.

Thus good and true are together exactly there where the control by reality occurs, i.e. in first having said or thought or expected one way, and then finding that what does follow feels wrong or bad. Thereby we have a truth or fact by the tail, though we may not yet know what this missing but indicated fact is.

[Page 13]Similarly, the beautiful is not just aesthetic form apart from true and good. Aesthetic form itself is some kind of resonance with our healthy bodies in nature as one system.

Joel Perlstein reported that, when after a year of studying soil erosion and conservation problems he returned to the most beautiful places he had seen the summer before, they no longer looked beautiful to him, for he saw the erosion and the results of the lumbering.

This does not make Plato an ethicist or an aesthetician, but places exactly the role which that in us, which is inspired by beauty (and as desire) has, in the process of knowledge. And objects of knowledge control, or can control this, and should, for only in this control of moving steps are the three together.

What is first to us is the process of being moved, from out of which we create the concept. What is first in nature (as Aristotle put it), are the most knowable forms and their way of being most knowable, but beyond knowledge, not themselves formulations.

This movement is through something more than logic, that in us which is inspired and desires.

Diotima shows Socrates (in the example cited earlier) that he already believes love to be other than a god and also, as I will show, each of the speeches contains a contradiction.

Now I need a case in which a speaker makes an assertion, and then something follows from the assertion with perfect logic, but is false or bad in the actual example. My own examples of this came from the Republic.

The only example of such a thing in the Symposium is Agathon's admission (199c) and now we see that even this example of dialectic is such that my assertion doesn't quite work here. In this example there is no logical conclusion which doesn't fit an example. Instead, Agathon's assertion leads to a logical implication by which it contradicts itself! It seems all done logically!

But now I recall that I also said, earlier, that the person is necessary not only for a step beyond contradiction to make new concepts to capture both informations, but also that the person is necessary to check each step, i.e., that the logical progression too requires the person. Even if the person only says "very true" all the time, this represents this checking, as the boy does in Meno, where the example is billed as an instance of recollection.

I was thus wrong to cut so sharply between logic and an instance in which the person's senses something not yet formulated; this "inspired" aspect of the person functions as well in logical steps. Without the insight at each step, nothing is achieved but verbiage.

Agathon is an inspired poet who attributes here to love the attributes (most of them right) of beauty. He attributes to love the attributes of its object.

[Page 14]Most of Agathon's assertions are of the form: Love is like these objects, hence love is that. The form is "Love verbs what has these traits, therefore it is like them." Softness, youth, virtues, beauty, delicacy, goodness, grace, are some of these. But "like" is not a good enough concept, for love is like these and also not like them. The verbs are different each time, but love is assumed to be like what it verbs: Love flees age, moves with youth, walks in what is soft, dwells among beautiful flowers, "like to like" Agathon says, love is like these.

But "like" is too crude a concept, love is and isn't like. Agathon does not distinguish between "is" and "of," or between "is like" and "is of."

Agathon also uses the word "of," and Socrates catches him in it. But Agathon could easily have avoided that one slip. Would he then have been contradiction-proof?

Agathon's speech is poetry and rhetoric. It is poetry because inspired—who could listen to it and not be moved? It is rhetoric and poetry in being inspired but not controlled along knowledge lines. What is mirrored here is right, what inspires is true. But what is formulated and asserted slips through the concept "like."

Agathon moves no further than "like," no further than likenesses. It is theatre, appearance. (He called the present discussion theatre at 194a, and Socrates calls his speech only an appearing to praise.)

In not having knowledge, Agathon doesn't get the attributes of the love object all of them right. He includes luxury, no doubt because he feels it to be good. He has no way to discover that it isn't, to sort out what is right and what isn't, from this result of his unknowing poetic inspiration.

He identifies the being inspired with what inspires, that to which love is like and not like, and hence the contradiction runs throughout, for everything he says is true (with one exception) of the object of love but not of love. The contradiction did not occur only in the one phrasing where it is most easily visible.

Each of the speeches has an easily visible contradiction which is tucked in so that we cannot miss it, and which instances the more basic and hard to see contradiction that would lead to the next step.

Agathon was going to tell of the nature of love itself (and in a way, did so, and in a way not, since he gave the nature or some inspired description of the likenesses of beauty) which the previous speaker failed at.

Aristophanes had said that love is not of intercourse, "but of something else which the soul desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark presentiment." Love, he says, "is the desire and pursuit of the whole." (192b and 193a)

[Page 15]This is true and prefigures where we are heading, but his original unity is wonderfully physical. The gods split us, yet love is a god who unites. The gods threaten to split us again.

The union or whole here is at one point said to be more, but otherwise said to be only the maintenance of the division. It is more and not more, than a person singly.

Much of this is an inverted farce of what Socrates says. Only the physical longing for personal union should be striven for. (189c) The presentiment of more is after all only this. By putting the opposites together, Aristophanes gets no more than again a human.

Now, in a sense Aristophanes has more here than Eryximachus had. Aristophanes opens his speech, or rather, precedes it, with a quip at Eryximachus implying that Aristophanes has a hold of something higher about the human frame than just tickling and counter-tickling. Indeed he does, it is seeking after union and the whole, but he calls this both the union of two physical persons, and also not just this, falling back then into just this.

So Aristophanes must cone after Eryximachus, but both "unite" opposites and get no more.

Eryximachus had indeed said that the union or harmony between the opposites is nothing more than just the right amount of each, so that a balance is made and they can be together. Thus the hiccoughs enable Aristophanes to exemplify, and to follow Eryximachus.

Eryximachus tells us his contradiction, when he discusses Heraclitus and says it is an absurdity . . . that harmony is disagreement or is composed of elements which are still in a state of disagreement." (187a)

Eryximachus means by harmony only a certain quantity. Nothing new arises, only what might be infinite (or any amount) is made to have a limit. Then it can be put with its opposite also to a certain quantity.

But on the other hand, Eryximachus wants this harmony to be more than that. He wants to have cured the fight between the opposites and made the whole something more than the opposites were.

Thus he puts the harmonious love (which is already the opposites) into combination with the inharmonious love, and treats these two over again as if they were each one of two opposites. (This is just what Aristophanes does in a way, putting two people together to get, not more or something higher, but again a human.) The opposites are both in us, all right, but their harmony is something different than just the two pasted together.

Thus he differs from Socrates in not drinking very much and being a weak head, in this regard. Similarly, instead of moving through inspiration and desire and excitement, he limits the amount only.

[Page 16]

Harmony, he says consists of harmony and disharmony together.

This is always so, Plato thinks, when remaining on a physicist's level. It is all only about more and less, filling and emptying, but the sameness is missed which such physical balancing recollects and re-instances, and which is the cause sameness is missed which such physical balancing recollects and re-instances, and which is the cause (Philebus) (186c, 207d).

But the pleasures which, in harmony, can be had on this level are, says Plato, partly pain, always. It is the pain being just then alleviated. Without this pain there is not the pleasure, and as soon as the pain is stilled, so is the pleasure. Therefore Eryximachus' contradiction is again not merely a matter of statement, but inherent in the pleasures of the physical, and inherently lead one, if one thinks, to the contradiction which, in turn, leads to something higher than merely tickling and cbuntertickling.

Eryximachus had begun with Pausanias' "lame ending," as he put it. Pausanias had begun grandly with the distinction between the two kinds of love, just and unjust, worthy of praise or not. But Pausanias ended by again falling back from this insight, excusing and including all the evil people do for the sake of love.

In each speech we are faced with the contradiction so that we wince and can't help having a sense of something beyond what, as a whole, it says.

Eryximachus is a real step forward from Pausanias, there is some real science here, a knowledge of how much and what countermeasures are needed. Eryximachus can cure hiccoughs. He has a hold of the measure and balance which, in turn, would lead further.

Pausanias, on the other hand, is dealing entirely in terms of appearances, what people think, and how they view things. He finds, contradictorily enough, that lovers and beloveds are viewed both as good and as bad.

This is more sophisticated and further along, than Phaedrus who saw it as all good and only one.

Pausanias says, both, that to have the just and praiseworthy love one must love justly, and also, that every manner of evil ways is excused and praised, if it is in the course of loving. He says lover and beloved "each of them have a law," and for the lover the law is "the entire liberty gods and men grant a lover" (183b and 184c). Even defenders of England's Charles I could not more vividly portray the contradiction, according to which honorable love is also dishonorable.

Similarly, on the side of the beloved, there is nothing dishonorable about being deceived, if virtue is what one aimed at. Thus virtue is also vice.

Thus, without knowledge, one cannot tell apart the real virtue from the appearance, and the appearance is enough for honor. There is no way to distinguish or set up tests for [Page 17]which is which, as is also shown by the tests of true love Pausanias cites, trials of strength and contests (184). Hearing this, how can we avoid thinking of better tests?

(Here, too, love is taken as the good thing, rather than what it is of, but that runs throughout and isn't yet what a contradiction directly points to.)

A good manner would make a bad action good, but by making it be a different action altogether, else no bad action is also good by being done in a good manner, or in the course of love.

But clearly, Pausanias is further back than Eryximachus, who at least knows how much badness to retain in a contradictory mixture or balance. Here the contradiction is flat, the bad actions are good if love makes them good, or rather, seem good.

Phaedrus, too, has a hold of something. While he misses the distinction between good and bad, he has the point, in a way, that love is to be evaluated by evaluating the object.

Therefore Phaedrus says that the beloved (which he himself is) is better than the lover: the lover only has the undeveloped beloved for his object, while the beloved has the superior love, namely of the lover.

But contradiction: He says the lover is so much better because he really loves, whereas the beloved does not have, or does not have much, love or desire.

Thus Phaedrus contradicts himself. Unavoidably neither lover nor beloved end up looking so good: the beloved doesn't love; the lover loves someone who doesn't love. Each is both better and worse than the other.

We need a new term, when Phaedrus is done, to distinguish "better" and "worse."

Of course the ultimate point of the series of speeches is already here, the problem that love isn't the good, but of it, and love cannot double as both object and process. The two must not be confused, for one is the movement and the other the direction or control.

(Phaedrus' love is Heracleitus' and the earlier pre-Socratics', the primordial constructor, the universe being made up of love and hate, coming to be and passing away, or being put together and again falling apart. We saw how this theme requires something higher than just putting together, the ratio and cause at which the given construction "aims" in the sense of instancing it.)

In the introduction Eryximachus, the lover perhaps of Phaedrus, prescribes the topic and arrangement, but attributes the origin to Phaedrus, his love object, who then must speak first, as being truly what draws the whole sequence.

In the outer introduction, Appollodorus shows us something about the sense in which a step of knowledge is ultimate and serious, and the sense in which it is not. He says: "I [Page 18]pity you rich men and traders, you think you work when you are really idling. And I dare say you pity me as an unfortunate, which I perhaps am. But I certainly know of you what you only think of me" (173c). Here it is clear that with respect to the last step one comes from, one knows with certainty, whereas taken in respect of further steps one has not yet encountered. there one must be unsure.

ŠEugene T. Gendlin

Note to Readers:
  • How Do I Refer To This Document? An example reference is at the top of this page. Please include the Internet address in the reference, even if you cite the document in a printed article, so that others can find the Gendlin Online Library.
  • Can I Link Directly To This Document? Yes. We encourage you to link directly to it from your own online documents. We have built "hooks" into this web page to make it very easy to connect to individual pages and headings in the text. For examples, see: How to Link to The Gendlin Online Library.
  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices (http://www.focusing.org) stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
  • If you see any faults in this document please send us an email.
  • Add a comment to the Gendlin Online Blog for this article.
  • See the reference for this document in the Gendlin primary bibliography.
  • More on Philosophy of the Implicit from the Focusing Institute website.
Document #2219 version 070928 build 071008