Taken at face value, in the Symposium and Phaedrus gay love that remains unconsummated is regarded as the highest form of love between humans men.

It makes the soul rise upward to the form of beauty, which we once before our birth witnessed in the super-heavenly realm of ideas.

In the Symposium the core ideas come from the priestess Diotima. And in Phaedrus they're found in a speech Socrates holds as a tribute for Eros, to receive forgiveness for any insults in his previous speech.

Still it seems he accepted those opinions. But Socrates himself was married and had children (and Plato confirms this: Socrates' wife Xanthippe and one son appear in Phaedo).

Of course, we could argue, that his marriage to Xanthippe involved no love. Yes, but it surely involved sex. And in Phaedrus, heterosexuality is described somewhat contemptuously:

Anyone who was initiated long ago or who has been corrupted is not given to moving rapidly from here to there, towards beauty as it really is. Instead, he gazes on its namesake here on earth, and the upshot is that the sight does not arouse reverence in him. No, he surrenders to pleasure and tries like an animal to mount his partner and to father off-spring, and having become habituated to excess he is not afraid or ashamed to pursue unnatural pleasures.

Also, the source of sexual desire is recognized to be the dark horse of the appetite, which is to be resisted.

And in the Symposium Diotima nearly merges Eros and procreation. Eros is present then even if in its lowest form:

"Those whose pregnancy is of the body", she went on, "are drawn more towards women, and they express their love through the procreation of children, ensuring for themselves, they think, for all time to come, immortality and remembrance and happiness in this way. But [there are] those whose pregnancy is of the soul – those who are pregnant in their souls even more than in their bodies, with the kind of offspring which it is fitting for the soul to conceive and bear. What offspring are these? Wisdom and the rest of virtue ..."

It's not like he fathered his children by artificial insemination. So I presume that some form of desire must have been present on his part, and it's exactly of the sort that is reprimanded by him in Plato's works about Eros.

So wasn't he (Plato's Socrates) hypocritical about Eros?

  • 1
    Maybe Plato got Socrates wrong occasionally?
    – Scott Rowe
    Jan 23, 2023 at 13:30

3 Answers 3


To understand the theory of Plato/Socrates one has to place it in the proper historico-political context.

Plato's family was aristocratic and opposed athenian democracy, which he thought was prone to corruption and manipulation by its leaders.

This is made more explicit in Plato's Republic (and later in Plato's Laws), where the ruler is a type of philosopher-king, the sole proclaimer of what is right and good.

Socrates, according to Plato, held views similar to those of laconic Sparta. Views about restraint, austerity and obedience to the laws of the wise lawgivers, as a form of higher authority. This is known as laconophilia:

Some Athenians, especially those who disliked commerce, preferred a closed society and the rule of the few. They believed that the Spartan Constitution was superior to their own. Some even went so far as to imitate Spartan manners by going around Athens long-haired and unwashed, like the Spartiates. Plato's Republic, which is set in the 5th century BC, gives credibility to this claim by having Socrates opine that the Spartan or Cretan type of political regime is the favorite of "the many". [...] A group of extreme Laconising oligarchs, known as the Thirty Tyrants, seized power in Athens in 404 BC and held it for eleven months, assisted by a Spartan army. Their rule, however, was quickly overthrown, and democracy was reinstated.

And among philosophers:

Laconophiles nevertheless remained among the philosophers. Some of the young men who followed Socrates had been Laconophiles. Socrates himself is portrayed as praising the laws of Sparta and Crete.

Views about restraint and austerity, lead naturally to certain views about erotic activity as well. Eros (love) being related to passion, makes people act contrary to (the rule and ideal of) reason which, according to Plato's Socrates, is anathema and should be held in check. Plato's Socrates' adherence to (that strict and austere) reason as guiding the polis, leaves no room for passion and eros, except as some form of duty to the city's needs and as platonic love.

Platonic love is a type of love in which sexual desire or romantic features are nonexistent or has been suppressed or sublimated, but it means more than simple friendship.

Of course, this type of "sublimated love" is compatible with Plato's theory of eternal forms.

[..]"Ideas" or "Forms", are the non-physical essences of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations.

Plato offers this watered-down alternative of erotic relationships, exactly because erotic practice in various forms was common and widespread and he possibly thought an alternative would be better received than a ban of any relationship not conductive to the city's needs.


What does marriage have to do with love?

The Symposium itself has the passage

When they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children,—if at all, they do so only in obedience to the law;

Since the city they live in requires, and indeed needs, that children be begotten, and its laws require they be begotten in marriage, having children is a matter of duty rather than love.

  • doesn't mention socartes, but the plato section is mad "temporary marriages would be made at festivals, where matches, apparently chosen by lot, would be secretly arranged by the Rulers. Resulting offspring would be taken from biological parents and reared anonymously in nurseries. Plato’s reason for this radical restructuring of marriage was to extend family sympathies from the nuclear family to the state"
    – user64361
    Jan 22, 2023 at 21:32
  • 1
    The quote is from Aristophanes. Marriage may not have anything to do with love, but with sex, which is in Plato's works about Eros always regarded as more or less unwholesome.
    – viuser
    Jan 23, 2023 at 0:06
  • 1
    Aristophanes as a character written by Plato.
    – Mary
    Jan 23, 2023 at 0:11
  • Sure but it's just one speech in the Symposium, not one whose content Socrates agrees to - contrary to Diotima's.
    – viuser
    Jan 23, 2023 at 1:06

It isn't heterosexual love which is treated contemptuosly but a hedonistic life that pursues sexual pleasure at all costs. Note that Plato says:

He gazes at his namesake here on earth, and the upshot is that the sight does not arouse reverence in him.

In todays language we would say his sexual partners are then treated as merely objects. And that the implied meaning is that it ought to arouse reverence in him. What Plato is contemptuous about are those that treat Eros contemptuously. Plato also adds that this lifestyle of excess leads to "unnatural" pleasures. One needs only to have a look at a few adult sites to see what he means.

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