“There are the lesser mysteries of love…you may enter,” Diotima reveals to Socrates, “to the greater and more hidden ones…if you pursue them in a right spirit…” (The Ladder of Love, p.
1). In Plato’s The Symposium, Diotima mentions a ladder of love which can be viewed as the journey from the appreciation of the body to the knowledge of the Form of Beauty. According to Diotima, love is a desire for things one does not have. Since what a person loves is beautiful then this means that they themselves lack beauty (Levy, Santas).
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Love and happiness is a desire everyone shares and is obtained through possession of the good. People desire what is good for them, thereby making what a person loves (i.e. art, music, sports) good for them. This desire will never be extinguished since every person will forever wish to possess what is good for them. Love then becomes not just the desire for the good but also the desire for immortality (Challender, Levy). Diotima tells Socrates that, “…the mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be everlasting and immortal: and this is only to be attained by generation, because generation always leaves behind a new existence in the place of the old” (Socrate’s Speech from the Symposium, pg. 8).
However, the act of giving birth is not the means to reach immortality, merely mankind’s attempt at being immortal. For Diotima tells Socrates, “Marvel not then at the love which all men have their offspring; for that universal love and interest is for the sake of immortality.” (Socrate’s Speech from the Symposium, pg. 9). This way of life where one strives for immortality, Diotima describes, is as if one is ascending a ladder; each step having conditions that need to be met in order to reach the next step.
The higher one is on the ladder, the higher he is at reaching immortality (Challender). The first stage is where one falls in love with the physical beauty of a single individual. The second stage is where one (or the lover as Diotima describes the individual) comes to appreciate all physical beauty in the world. The third stage is where one falls in love with the souls of individuals. This is where the physical appearance is no longer a concern to the lover. In the fourth stage, the lover views physical beauty as unimportant. Instead, he falls in love with the appreciation of different laws, customs and ethics.
At the fifth stage, the lover now appreciates the sciences and undergoes a contemplation of the beauty of knowledge. At the sixth and final stage, the lover reaches the Form of Beauty. Diotima explains how knowledge and the appreciation of beauty are requirements for the birth of virtues in mortals (Challender) . By reaching the end of the ladder, the lover is able to contemplate on the Form of Beauty. This allows him to understand how the beauty of the world derives from the Form of Beauty and how beauty is eternal. With this knowledge, the lover is able to give birth to virtues, which are Forms themselves (timeless and eternal), thereby achieving immortality which is the end goal of love and life according to Plato (Challender).