I know that Plato formulated the law, "like attracts like", using the Greek word philia for attraction. This is mentioned somewhere in the Republic, and is easy to verify with a Google search.

But what about the law, "opposites attract"? We know about this law from chemistry (ionic bonds) and magnetism (magnetic poles) but was there a similar formulation in antiquity, especially regarding human bonds such as friendship or marriage?

I read that 20th century sociology applied "opposites attract" to social contexts, but I'm more interested to know whether Greek and Roman philosophers did, too.

I also read (on this webpage) that the ancient Greeks were aware of magnets and the fact that opposite poles attract. Did they ever apply this principle to a social context?

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    Plato also makes a competition out of 'like to like' and 'like to unlike' at a couple points, one in the Phaedrus. The 'lover' is drawn to the 'beloved' by the ways in which they are unlike (old vs young, getting weaker vs getting stronger...), and the reciprocal attraction is built of similar differences (having knowledge vs being inexperienced, being strong vs not yet being strong...). – user9166 Jan 18 '18 at 18:07
  • @jobermark Would you say that Plato acknowledges, and sees merit in, both principles of attraction? – ktm5124 Jan 18 '18 at 18:09
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    Dissimilarity is seen both in the Phaerus (about romance) above, and in the Lysis (about friendship) as the origin of need and striving: "The opposites attract one another. For example, the full needs the empty and empty needs the full." So yes, both principles are valid, but 'like to like' is more 'pure' and less involved in contingent reality, where 'like to unlike' is common because of reciprocal needs. – user9166 Jan 18 '18 at 18:57

Empedocles proposed a world composed of four elements and two forces called love (φιλότης) and strife (νεῖκος)

The four elements, however, are simple, eternal, and unalterable, and as change is the consequence of their mixture and separation, it was also necessary to suppose the existence of moving powers that bring about mixture and separation.

The four elements are both eternally brought into union and parted from one another by two divine powers, Love and Strife. Love is responsible for the attraction of different forms of matter, and Strife is the cause of their separation.

If the four elements make up the universe, then Love and Strife explain their variation and harmony. Love and Strife are attractive and repulsive forces, respectively, which are plainly observable in human behavior, but also pervade the universe. The two forces wax and wane in their dominance, but neither force ever wholly escapes the imposition of the other.

Unlike the modern notion of force, say the attractive force of gravity, which is limited only to matter, the Empedoclean forces pervades not just matter but also the world of men, women and society as the extract alludes to.

  • Spheres by Sloterdijk is a good place to go for a modern reading of these ancient “laws of sympathy” – Joseph Weissman Jan 19 '18 at 22:56
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    @joseph Weissman: thanks. I'll look it up. – Mozibur Ullah Jan 20 '18 at 1:26

The key is Lysis, 215d, where the law or principle is present by the strongest implication:

... Once I heard someone say ... that like is most hostile to like, and good men to good men. ... And he said that it had to be the same with everything else: things that are most like are filled with envy, contentiousness, and hatred for each other. The poor man is forced to be friends with the rich, and the weak with the strong ... Then he went on to make a very impressive point indeed, saying that the like is totally unqualified to be friend to the like; that just the opposite is true; that things that are completely in opposition to each other are friends in the highest degree, since everything desires its opposite and not its like. (Plato, Complete Works, ed. J.M. Cooper, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997: 700.)

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